Work and Rest

They are everywhere. I’m not good with identification, but I’ve seen over 30 of these reddish-brown, (what I think are) hornworm pupa. Hidden not far beneath the surface of the cool, damp earth in my garden beds, they wiggle a bit when you pick them up. My daughter says when the neighbor boy squishes the pods, they ooze white goo.

I’ve never had a green thumb, but I love beauty, so I keep trying. You name any plant, and I’ve probably killed it, from aloe vera to ivy. Oddly enough, the one plant I did manage to keep alive was a stunning, white orchid from Ikea. We lived in Maryland then, and I think the moisture rich air did most of the work for me. All I did was leave the plant on the patio and watered it whenever I went out for a smoke, which wasn’t very often. That was a long time ago. Over nine years, it feels like a different lifetime.

My husband was a teacher then, working a lot of long hours. My oldest was just a baby, but a really intelligent, talkative type of baby who you could have real conversations with. I struggled to get pregnant in between our oldest two girls, which ended with corrective surgery, so the biggest gap in years is between them. Ophelia was an only child for three long years, after that, siblings abounded.

Back then, our condo was on the second floor of a three-story building, so the only gardening I could do was in pots. Now, our new home is on a fair sized lot. I have a beautiful tree in the front yard that I don’t know the name of, but the flowers look like fondant cake decorations.

Ecclesiastes 3:1 | Mere Breath

One of the previous owners put down some tarp, just beneath the dirt in all the flower beds, which bothers me. I enjoy pulling weeds; it is cathartic. There are remnants of decorative bark and rocks scattered around, slowly, they will all go away. I think elderly folks must have put it in because clearly children didn’t factor into their decisions. Rocks are for throwing and bark is to be glued into dioramas. Dill grows wild here, so weeding smells like pickles. There’s ivy, and succulent ground cover and several mystery plants. I have my work cut out for me. But there are also roses, lilies, and raspberry plants, all of which I love.

I think it is kind of funny that I never did much landscaping before I had a passel of kids, you know, back when I had tons of free time. Now I try to keep all four of them interested as I work. We find cool bugs, I loosen up the earth so they can pull weeds themselves, and we make little habitats for caterpillars and pill bugs out of empty, plastic strawberry containers. Eventually, they lose interest and run off to play with friends. I stay outside, listening for any potential drama worthy of a Mommy Intervention.

My life is full to the brim with different types of disorganization. Kids who are still learning boundaries and manners, endless laundry, dirt brought through my house dozens of times a day on the bottoms of callused, summer feet (mine included). The garden desperately needs to be tamed, but I’m still buried in unpacking moving boxes. Having post-traumatic stress disorder also requires a good deal of mental and emotional organization. My responsibility is to take all the chaos and transform it into a reflection of the God we worship, the Alpha & Omega, the magnificent Creator; beautiful, helpful and glorious. It’s a tall order to fill.

Ecclesiastes 3:1 | Mere Breath

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1)

There was nothing, and He spoke light into being. He separated the light from the dark, the first day and night, and it was good. But then, He waited until the next day to tackle His second project (verse 5). It makes me wonder why. It wasn’t like He needed a nap. He could have easily done all the work on His checklist in the blink of an eye, but He didn’t. He repeats this pattern throughout the first week of the World’s life. Labor, admiration, night then day. On the seventh day, God breaks the pattern,

“And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.” (Genesis 2:2-3)

I think God was thinking of us when He created the six-day work week. Before the advent of mankind, He knew we’d tire, that we needed to sleep, that we would burn out. He didn’t want that for us. He loves us. I think He also knew we’d be slow to learn, so He taught us through both word and example; work for a day, appreciate the fruits of your labor and rest. Don’t worry if you have more to do, tomorrow you’ll be rested and ready to get back to work. God, with all His rightful authority, reserved Sunday to be the great day of rest. No work allowed, simply rejoice and rest.

I’m looking at my yard. There is so much to do, and I’m continually interrupted by more important responsibilities, like feedingEcclesiastes 3:1 | Mere Breath my children and wiping away tears and dressing skinned knees. Deep breath. I don’t need to worry or stress, I will do the work set before me today, and tonight, I will rest. Tomorrow is Sunday; we will eat pre-made cinnamon rolls for breakfast and go to church. We will sing praises to Him, meditate on His word and fellowship with one another. When we get home, we’ll eat more yummy food, we might watch a movie or take a nap, we’ll eat again and then we will sleep. Monday, I can get back to work.

Of the Good Father and Appliances

We are completely moved into our new house! Of course, when I say moved in, I mean that everything is in or on the premises. Boxes are still piled high, but we are methodically unpacking them, one by one.

Top: Before. Middle: Painted walls and floor. Bottom: Unpacking. I don’t know why my walls look green in the last picture. The middle photo is the most accurate. I know it is dark, but we are absolutely in love with the colors we picked!

Already we’ve met many of our neighbors. One brought a lovely house plant to welcome us. Others dropped by to introduce themselves and welcome us in word. We live in a fantastic community.

Last week, we bought a refurbished washer and dryer. It was nicer than any other washer and dryer we’ve owned. We used one of those lease to own places, which is usually a truly horrible idea. The types of payment plans those places offer frequently amount to highway robbery; you can have everything you ever dreamed of, just sign away your soul on the dotted line. However, this particular place had a 120 days same a cash policy. When you have a family of 6, four members of which are under the age of 10, we didn’t think bargain hunting for this appliance would be prudent, however, just having bought a house, we couldn’t swing the full price up front. We could, however, easily pay off a set within three to four months. So we went into the shop, expecting to buy a new, but off-brand washer and dryer. At the first place, they didn’t even have the less expensive models in stock. Since waiting 2-4 weeks for a washer and dryer wasn’t an option (we wouldn’t have any clean clothes left!), we drove over to their second location to see what they had to offer. The other store branch had what we were looking for, but they also had a refurbished Maytag washer and dryer for sale in our price range. It was a nicer set; high efficiency, eco-smart (uses less water), and overall a more reliable brand. We signed the lease, and they delivered my new set 2 days later, on May 14th.

It was love! The set was quiet, could handle big loads, and worked quickly. I was back to my normal routine of doing several loads of laundry a day and enjoying every minute of it (except for folding; I’m not a fan of that part.) However, much to my dismay, two days ago, on May 20th, in an attempt to wash my son’s Spiderman bedding, the washer abruptly fritzed out. It stayed in the sensing mode and refused to spin the excess water out of the blanket. I was nearly in tears when I told my husband. He assured me that he would call the store we had our lease with the next morning and would fix the problem. He is my hero.

The next morning, he did call, and the store affirmed that our service warranty with them covered these things. They would send out an appliance repair man as soon as possible. Somewhat encouraged by their action, I resolved not to allow myself to freak out. Instead, I patiently went about unpacking other parts of the house, not getting stressed by the growing piles of laundry or the soggy blanket left in the broken machine. Lord, give me strength. Then, the store called back and informed us that since the set was over two years old, it was no longer under warranty with Maytag. However, since our warranty with them was active, they’d send out a replacement the next day.

The new set was just delivered this evening. It is a brand new Maytag Bravos washer and dryer! It has received good reviews by consumers, and the new dryer has a steam feature, “in case you don’t like to iron clothes”, the delivery man tells me. Is he psychic, I wonder.  The lease company isn’t charging us extra for the new set (easily an additional $400 dollars). This set remains under warranty from the store, but also through Maytag since it is this year’s model. The new set is just as quiet, just as efficient, and even more wonderful than our former set. I am still trying to wrap my brain around the unbelievably good outcome born through this series of events.

How is it possible that God cares about these things? He holds the world in His hand. He plans the routes of every beetle in my garden. He choreographs the waves that dance upon the beach unseen. He paints the sky and orchestrates each breeze that cause the leaves on the trees outside my window to tremble.Of the Good Father and Appliances | Mere Breath

“When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? -Psalm 8:4 (ESV)

And here I am, with my relatively petty problems; living in a beautiful home with amazing kids, a hero of a husband and more clothes than I could wear in a week. Woe is me; my washer isn’t behaving. Yet, God did care. He does care. He undeniably worked the situation together my good and His glory just like He promised (Romans 8:28), even though I cannot love and serve Him perfectly this side of glory. Do you see it? He loves us. He delights in us. God, the perfect Father, knows what to get His children when He wants to give us a gift. He doesn’t need an Amazon wishlist. He already knew what would make my heart sing!

His kindness abounds, His love is obvious and I feel incredibly lucky to belong to Him.

Worth It

Horrible and scary things are happening all around the world right now. As Christians, we must trust that God is ultimately good and ultimately able to stop each and every one of those bad things, but He has chosen not to because He has a better reason to allow them.

This has been true in my life over and over again. All the bad things, all the things that hurt me, that scarred me, that continue to challenge me physically, mentally and spiritually — they happened for a good reason.

This is our hope, that all wrongs will be righted, grace and justice will be simultaneously served and it will all be worth it.

Mama

I know I’ve been quiet. I’ve been very busy. We bought a really cute house with a ton of potential. The walls had been painted the color of dry wall. The house was covered carpet — even the bathroom. The lease on our current home ends on May 15th, and we just closed on the new place on April 30th. The last week has been a mad rush of ripping up floors, painting, spackling and sanding. My amazing mother in law watched our youngest boys all week so I was able to put in 10-12 hours days every day, while my faithful husband worked at his job and finished up this semester’s classes. It has been a whirlwind. You can imagine the conditions of (both) my houses right now. The freshly painted subfloors are drying in the new home, and our current house is a mess of boxes, take out containers and dirty laundry.

My in-laws brought the boys back this evening, “MOMMY!” my little men holler in delight when they see me. My husband kissed me as he left for work, you know, just your average hero leaving to do his part to save lives. My father in law took Mom C and I out for dinner. Our four-year-old son walks boldly into the restaurant and promptly orders “monkey.” My three-year-old son climbs into my lap after claiming several of my kisses. My father in law and I order the same cocktail without knowing it and my girls order their own food, clearly and politely.  My mother in law catches me up on how my sweet sister in law and her family are. I convince my four-year-old that lamb burgers are monkey (I know, it’s a bold-faced lie and I don’t care).

I can see the mountains from our outside table at the restaurant. They are beautiful and the air smells like sunshine. All of my kids are enchanted by my clam entree. We sneak the empty shells into our take home boxes and I scrub a couple clean so they can play with them.

At home, my youngest has a meltdown. It is hours past his bedtime. We work on the problem, I pray with him and hold him until he is smiling. We try to read before I put the boys to bed, but they are too wound up so we get out some Duplos instead. I pray with them and say goodnight. The littlest man has another meltdown so I go through our routine again. I snuggle up with him and sing until he falls asleep in my arms. It’s been a long time since he has done this. As I stare at the Spiderman art on his bedroom wall, I remember when I was sick and on bed rest, with a doppler pressed to my stomach, listening to his unborn heart beat. When I’m sure he is asleep for the night, I pray again with my older son. It is a challenge to get his 4-year-old attention span to stay in one place. I have him repeat after me,
“The boy goes down, so the girls go free.” He doesn’t know what the heck I’m talking about yet, he will one day. I pray they will grow into men who sacrifice themselves, who are brave and wise and faithful. He kisses me goodnight. I grew up in a very non-touchy-feely family. I’ve grown to cherish the hugs and kisses I’m smothered in these days.

I go downstairs where my girls have made me a special Mother’s Day confection. My nine-year-old has written, “Enjoy!” in hesitant cursive. I let the dog out and water the lawn before the girls and I settle in for mom/daughter time, which is code for dessert and reality tv. Sometimes it is Cupcake Wars or Cutthroat Kitchen. Tonight it is My Fair Wedding. We pick the episodes with the least amount of drama. We talk about dresses and colors and food. My six-year-old tells me she wants a ninja themed wedding. My nine-year-old tells her she’ll need David Tutera to pull that off.

Exactly 10 years ago today, I found out that my body held two souls: mine and my daughter’s. Over the last decade, there have been lots of tears and a little heartache, but there has also been immeasurable laughter, overwhelming joy and untold satisfaction. I’m telling you all this, not because I think I’m a super mom, I don’t because I’m not. I’m telling you this to give you hope.  I am just a mama who loves God, loves her family and does her best — life isn’t perfect, but it is good. This is my life and I love it!

Mama | Mere Breath

Good

It is such a gift to have a Dr who calls you personally to check in. Even more so that she is level-headed. She reminds me that it is normal to feel a bit numb after starting a medication because I felt everything too acutely. Doh! I feel like an idiot for not seeing the parallel myself: my struggle with mental illness is an unbalanced amount of feeling. Left un-medicated I feel everything too much. It’s like the volume is turned up to 11. Medication helps turn the volume down, restoring balance to my mind. It is very good. The new meds are also not causing me to gain weight like the last ones did. I’ll never be a skinny mini because I just love cheese too much and hate exercising for the sake of looking “good” — but my size 12 pants fit again. It feels nice. Mercy upon mercy, blessings stacked up like cord wood. God is kind and merciful to those who call upon Him.

Words

Please, please, please, let us be more careful with our words. Let our blogs be based on knowledge and our tweets be founded on facts. Let us be among the last to speak our minds if we are not one of the first to know the truth. Let us not confuse a social media scroll with actual research. Hearing a report is not the same as the right to speak.

-excerpt by Kevin DeYoung in The God of Justice Hates False Reports

Better: Part Two

My heart is quiet. Peaceful. The turmoil I was pinned beneath only a couple of weeks ago has vanished. Medication is amazing. For me, it is the difference between tears pouring down my face and physical pain in my gut (that is mental pain manifest). I struggled to think clearly, there was a near constant migraine. I couldn’t get a grip.

There. I admit it, being a basket case comes frighteningly easily to me.

Now, I am a Christian. I believe that ultimately, God is the answer to all my problems. I believe that He alone will save me. I believe that He is very, very good. I believe that we live in a fallen world that is distorted by sin. I’m also what is called “post-mil” which means that I believe that when God’s son, Jesus, died on the cross 2,000 years ago, He reset the course of our history forever. He rescued us from eternal suffering and instead, paid the price for every sin ever committed. Think about that for a moment. Every. Single. Sin. Atoned for completely. No strings attached, no assistance needed. Done. He said, “It is finished.” and it was. Incredible, isn’t it? And now, we, His people, are called to usher in the new world, called Heaven. It’s coming, I can feel it. I can see it too. Life is getting better. Oh, I know it is easy to be distracted by the evil around us (ISIS, abortion, death), but when you look at the whole timeline of our world thus far, there has been vast improvement since Jesus died on the cross. This is why I can be hopeful. I can see the good things He promised would happen, beginning to happen. He is working at bringing about a better reality and it is exciting! I believe that part of our responsibility to help build God’s new Kingdom is through being a good steward in the world we habitate now, that includes (but is not limited to) understanding it. We should cultivate it and create awesome stuff from its fruits. I think medicine belongs in that category. My prescriptions and supplements, though we may craft them in a lab or in our own gardens, they all come from God’s hand.

All that said, Heaven isn’t here yet. There are still spots (large and small) of sin and suffering in our world. For starters, I am broken mentally. My head just isn’t right. God ordained several very difficult things to happen in my life; abuse, the death of a dear friend, long-term sickness — and my mind kinda short-circuited. I can no longer functional normally, independently. In some ways, it has been a blessing. If I don’t stay in God’s word, my heart slides into darkness faster than average. If I don’t immerse myself in truth, I get horribly confused and think I can’t go on living anymore. Telling the difference between truth and lies becomes extremely difficult.  And so,

  • I stay in God’s word.
  • I am honest with those I trust for accountability.
  • I go to counselling and
  • I partake of God’s gift of modern medicine.

If these are crutches, they are making me a better woman, so I don’t really care. 

Another aspect of living in a fallen world is never being able to achieve perfection, even with the aid of chemistry. To anyone who thinks taking a pill to help with mental illness is a cop out, allow me to introduce you to a little something called Side Effects. They come in all different shapes and sizes. The last medicine I was on made me gain weight — a lot, like 30lbs. The new pill is, thankfully, allowing my weight to regulate, but right now, it leaves me feeling creatively and emotionally zapped. I am numb. It is work to feel the joy that I know for a fact resides in my heart. It’s frustrating, but I trust that God is doing something good with me right now, something I’m going to be able to look back on one day and be thankful for. That is just how He works. So I’m trying not to get frustrated or angry. I’m trying to be thankful here and now. Introducing a new medications can be like inducing a spiritual boot camp session: If I can be joyful when I don’t feel like it — well, that is a skill worth mastering. Thank you, Lord, for this opportunity.

In the meantime, if I’m not my bubbly self, if I am quieter than usual, please know that it isn’t personal. Please know that I am ok. The doctor says to give the new medicine a couple of weeks. There is a chance my body will adjust and I’ll feel myself again. That is the outcome I am praying for. And if that doesn’t happen, I trust God has something better in mind.

He is good and He loves me — crutches and all. 

Psalm 16:5-6 | Mere Breath

Mental Illness in the Church

It is common practice in churches, however, to treat mental illness differently. We immediately assume there is something else, some deeper spiritual struggle causing mental and emotional strain.

The fact is that mental illness and spiritual struggle can be (and are) related. We are not separate things, we are complex people—remarkable connected in spirit, soul, body, mind, etc.

But, let me be direct here: if we immediately dismiss the possibility of mental illness and automatically assume spiritual deficiency, our actions amount to spiritual abuse. I know those are powerful and pointed words, but I believe them to be true. Please, don’t miss them.

-Ed Stetzer in A New Approach to Mental Illness in the Church 

Two Years Later

Abra:

From the archives — we are now three years later. Last night I spent most of my evening nauseous, retching, fighting off the tears. The medications I am on have some really horrible side effects if you forget to take them. I am fighting to remember that these kinds of trials come from God’s hand and if I get angry about this, I am really getting angry with God. Which would be ridiculous because God has always carried me, blessed me and protected me. Slowly and painfully, we are training my heart to rejoice in these trials, and instead of complaining and looking inward to how I feel and what I want or what I think life should be like (or who to blame), I’m learning to look to Christ and it is there that I see all His kindness reflected back at me:

My husband, who is lovingly standing beside me, comforting me and nursing me in my times of helplessness.

My children, who are beautiful and challenging and resilient and ultimately a delight to live with.

My Bible, God’s word, which encourages my spirit and points me back to Him.

They are all there. Mercy upon mercy, piled up so high I can’t see what the future holds. But I am not afraid and I will not be discontent. I will not focus on this momentary suffering, but be strong of heart and laugh at the days to come.

The Lord is my shepherd, I can’t take my eyes off Him.

HappMere Breathy birthday, my funny, crazy, little Man. I wouldn’t change a thing! May the Lord bless you and keep you, Liam Daniel Baines Carnahan. The Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you,
And give you peace.

Originally posted on Mere Breath:

My youngest turned 2 today. He is so old and so young all at once. Such a little man. I love him.

Liam

I love all my kids. Even factoring in the hyperemetic pregnancies, the result is far greater than the effort I put into them. It is my custom to reflect on my experience with Hyperemesis Gravidarum annually in this public fashion. I do it because I don’t want to forget and because I have friends going through what I went through (and worse) right now.

This last year I learned a lot. I read more, thought more, sought more, and prayed more. It has been a good year. It has been a challenging year. I’m not sure I can blame all of my health problems on having had HG 4 times, but I know it contributed in a big way. When you starve long-term, are on mass doses of medications and…

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Gospel Suffering

“Whenever you love, you reenact Jesus’ death. Consequently, gospel stories always have suffering in them. American Christianity has an allergic reaction to this part of the gospel. We’d love to hear about God’s love for us, but suffering doesn’t mesh with our right to “the pursuit of happiness.” So we pray to escape a gospel story, when that is the best gift the Father can give us.”
-Paul Miller in A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World