Two years ago a pastor and mental health advocate I adored died by suicide. When I read the news I wept.
He was such a strong, powerful voice for those who loved Jesus and also struggled with depression.
In the days that followed I was mortified to see speakers and influencers denounce him and say he should never have pastored if he struggled with depression.
1) that’s a poor view of God and who He can work through and 2) read the dang room and be respectful in the days of someone’s passing.
Over and over in the Bible we see God use broken, flawed people for His glory.
People who had a speech impediment, people who struggled with depression, people who used to kill Christians.
Every person has struggles. Every pastor, leader, teacher, speaker, and podcaster has a struggle you don’t know about.
Thank you Jesus we are worth more than our private issues! We would ALL be disqualified.
Dealing with anxiety/depression/trauma/intrusive thoughts doesn’t mean you can’t make a difference in the world. It doesn’t discredit your testimony or wisdom you have to share.
Mental health struggles are no different than physical ones, we just can’t see them. They’re a lot easier to hide or make assumptions about.
A pastor who may deal with depression can still speak truth to people’s hearts. A mom who has PPD can still love her children and teach them who they are.
Your bad days do not disqualify you from the race God has called you to run.
2 Tim 1:9 says He gave us a holy calling not because of our works, but because of His grace. Nothing you do can earn His love or freedom, it was given to you.
Our effort isn’t what qualifies us for our calling!
Look at Moses, David, Elijah… Elijah experienced a powerful victory in 1 Kings and a few days later asked God to kill him.
Jeremiah cursed the day he was born. His entire ministry was filled with such difficulty that he’s called “the weeping prophet.” He cried out “why was I born if this is my life?!”
David, the man after God’s heart, someone who did great things but also made terrible choices he had to live with – “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?” (Psalm 42:11)
The Word says that the Lord is close to the brokenhearted and He saves the crushed in spirit. (Ps 34:18)
If He can use these people, He can use you and me.
If you struggle with an eating disorder, that doesn’t disqualify you from God’s plan and calling.
If you’ve dealt with suicidal thoughts, that doesn’t discredit the giftings God has given you.
No matter your struggles, God has a purpose for your life. No one’s opinions or cruel words should steal that from you.
Don’t receive the lie over your life that you can’t ________ because you have had depression or anxiety or go to therapy or use medications or supplements.
Imagine telling a person with fibromyalgia they aren’t qualified to teach the word of God. They can’t help the condition they have.
Now imagine telling a person who Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that they can’t share God’s heart with the world as they deal with trauma-based anxiety.
That’s like telling God He shouldn’t use David because of all the times he lamented in the Psalms.
Do we believe in the God of the impossible or are we limiting what He can do and who He can use?
Even Charles Spurgeon wrote about the pain of mental health –
The mind can descend far lower than the body, for in it there are bottomless pits. The flesh can bear only a certain number of wounds and no more, but the soul can bleed in ten thousand ways, and die over and over again each hour.
God uses imperfect people to do incredible things. He has taken people with terrible pasts and given them bright futures!
Whatever you may be working through, what matters is that you are working through. Talk to safe people, go to counseling, change damaging situations.
What matters is your heart. Are you living in a way that shows people Jesus? Does your life show the fruit of the Spirit?
Just like a bad day doesn’t make a bad life, a bad mental health day doesn’t mean that’s who you are.
This week was extremely difficult and stretching for me and everything added up until I woke up one morning feeling the tension mounting inside me.
A glass falling off the nightstand and shattering was the small trigger that set off all my overwhelm, spilling over into an awful anxiety attack.
These moments the despair is so deep. The lies try to creep in to disqualify me, and imposter syndrome rears its ugly head.
“How can you expect to help people when you’re so broken?”
It’s easy to keep these thoughts and moments to ourselves, but calling them out takes their power. Reaching out to someone who loves you and will rebuke the lies calls you back into the light.
Here’s the thing, dear reader… The power of your testimony and victories, the stories of your struggles and successes, they will bring freedom to someone else going through it. Share your story, shame doesn’t get the final word.
Your struggles don’t disqualify you; they might just be what draws someone else to the Lord.
Your perseverance through your mental health battles will show someone dealing with the same thing that they aren’t alone, they aren’t worthless, and they have purpose too.
Whatever your calling in life might be: pastor, teacher, mother, writer, social media manager etc., you are an overcomer.You are a more than a conqueror. You are seen, loved, and valued.
If you ever doubt that God can use you, please flip through Scripture and see the long list of imperfect people that God used to prophesy, lead, evangelize, and heal.
You aren’t your bad days, you are more than depression or anxiety.
Most importantly – you are never alone and deeply loved above all.
I wrote this post a few years ago on my old blog, but I felt led to share it again.
This was written because I’ve met many other women who were raised in abusive homes struggle with Mother’s Day. There’s so many inspirational posts for new moms, great moms, those who’ve lost their moms, but not so many for those whose mom’s were harmful.
I submitted this post to a well known mom website who wouldn’t publish it because it didn’t fit with the cheerful vibe they wanted to present…. As a mom who has struggles in motherhood because of my lack of a mom that stung.
What about us, then?
Where are the encouraging posts to cheer us in despite our struggles working through trauma?
So I wrote what I couldn’t find. If you struggle with Mother’s Day because of an unsafe mom I hope this speaks to your heart.
Mother’s Day When Your Mom Wasn’t Safe
Around April, beginning of May, you start to see the mom posts. You know the ones – maybe your stomach sinks a bit when you read the titles…
The viral blogs about all the heroic, unseen tasks moms have taken on through the years, for those who can fondly celebrate their mothers.
People share the sweet photos of their moms gardening, cooking Thanksgiving dinner, smiles on graduation. It’s beautiful!
On the other side of that we see the bittersweet articles, the tender memories of those who’ve lost their mothers. We hurt for them as they share their photos in remembrance.
These friends share their favorite moments as they work through a holiday that won’t be celebrated quite the same ever again.
There’s another child who sees Mother’s Day approaching, however.
This one grew up with a mom they can’t, or don’t want to, celebrate on this holiday. Maybe they don’t even speak anymore.
I’ve noticed while there are many of us, there aren’t many blogs or support posts for those who endured abusive, unhealthy, negligent, toxic, manipulative, or addicted mothers on Mother’s Day.
Understandably, it’s a difficult topic to write on. There is a huge spectrum of people in different stages of healing from their trauma.
You seek support from friends or other family, but truthfully- they’ve not experienced it and cannot understand it at your level; and they don’t always know what to say.
They don’t know how hard this day is for you.
I have an amazing mother-in-law. Seriously! A phenomenal mother-in-love who is THE. BEST. NANA. to my girls and crazy loving towards me.
I am grateful for her every single day. And I am consistently reminded by people that while my mom isn’t in my life, I sure do have a great MIL!
Listen, I know! Trust me. I love her so stinking much.
But that’s incredibly invalidating and disheartening to hear – because its apples and oranges.
My mother in law has an awesome mother in law too! But she cannot replace her mother who lives states away, you know?
A square peg, while still a good sturdy peg, does not fit in a round hole. The round hole was made for a round peg that got broken.
I’m thankful for this family that I have through my husband… but they are who they are, and cannot quite replace that ache for what should have been.
I see my husband and his siblings and all the memories they share with their mom and my heart aches for all the memories and laughter I don’t get to have, because my memories aren’t pleasant.
My memories are screaming, threatening, name calling, emotional abuse and gaslighting; mine are my mom taking me on shopping sprees when she was in an up mood, because our house was hell when she was in a down mood.
Threatening to call the police on the family that took me in when she kicked me out. Speaking so cruelly to me that I struggled with horrific self harm and continue to fight anxiety.
Forbidding me to leave the house or have human contact, which drove me insane and led to three suicide attempts. Those are the memories that come to mind for me on Mother’s Day.
To all you who may be reading this with that strange knot in your chest on Mother’s Day. I see you.
You are not alone in that hard space, feeling sadness or envy for what you don’t have, and still feeling all the emotions towards that person who stole a healthy mom experience from you.
What a day, for the kids like us.
The ones who wept everyday, who wanted to die to be free, who were never enough, who hid, who served and gave more than we should, who lost our childhood.
What a day for women who’ve had to learn to mother their own children with no positive, healthy tools in their parenting tool belt, but plenty of fear of turning into her.
What a day for the father who wants to celebrate the mother of his own children and mourns the mother he should have had.
What a day for the people who chose not to have kids because their childhood was so traumatic.
What a day for those whose unhealthy mothers are still a part of their life, those who can’t buy a sentimental Hallmark card for the woman who hurt them, that must sit at dinner on Sunday and grit their teeth while honoring that person on “their” day
What a day for those who are still working towards their healing, plateaued in their healing, afraid of healing.
What a day for those who have moved on and found freedom and strive to do better than what was done to them.
What a day for the survivors.
Oh yes, I said it. You survived.
Its a word that makes some people pretty uncomfortable – it makes them reevaluate what unhealthy really is, what abuse really is, and its unfortunate impact.
I wasn’t beaten but my mind was beaten into submission with so much fear and hateful talk that I would rather end my life than try to leave… I’d say I survived. I know you did too.
You survived. You made it through what tried to break you, and you are on the other side!
You survived the negativity, the lies, the venom – you’re fighting back.
You survived the hitting, the punching, the slamming – they won’t touch you like that again. You are a whole human, even if you still sometimes feel like a bunch of shattered pieces.
I asked some friends to weigh in on Mother’s Day on the other side of a difficult childhood, and I’m sharing their quotes below.
“I choose not to celebrate, but when I did, when I felt forced to, I had the hardest time finding a card with a blank inside. I could never find it in me to profess all the fluffy feel goods that has been Hallmarked for this occasion.
The abuse I’ve been subjected to as a child did not stop at adulthood. Even though it was always denied. That changed on August 4th of last year. My relationship with her has always been on again off again. But on this day, she claimed to be remembering things. She then shared with me one of many memories that I’ve completely blacked out.
I really thought this was going to be a pivotal day in my life. I would imagine the ways the acknowledgment would change my life. How it would set me free.
It was a big deal and I know how much courage it took for her to admit to it.
I felt lighter.
I was so excited to share with a couple people who had the tiniest glimpse into my past.
I felt lighter until exactly two days later when the abuse continued. I permanently broke those chains my own self and the weight of her lifelong mistreatment ended there.
So I see you. I hear you. I understand your pain and the confusion of such celebrated days for us children who were born to women who couldn’t mother.
I appreciate the glimpse of your family life now and if I can offer any suggestion, it is to celebrate the mother you’ve become despite the place you were raised.”
“There’s so much conditioned guilt and shame if you choose not to have a relationship with your mother because she is abusive.
Mother’s Day is hard for me. I LOVE being a mom to my kids and motherhood has been so healing for me in many ways, but I also long for that healthy mother/daughter relationship that I know I’ll never get. I feel a lot of grief on Mother’s Day. It’s always bothered me the lack of cards in the store for situations like this. There’s so much pressure to fake it and have relationships with people that are toxic for you, under the guise of “that’s your mother”, as if we should be grateful for years of abuse.”
“This is a wrestle point for me this year as well. One of my core beliefs/practices is honor. How can I honor someone who isn’t there? What does it look like to love well when you can not directly love that person? Here’s two things I landed on: 1) I will not let someone’s bad decision steal my joy of celebrating or being celebrated in motherhood. I’m a powerful person because I choose to keep my joy. Toxic relationships steal enough, don’t give it your power too! 2) There are multiple ways to be a mom to someone. Yes, there is a woman who you were “fearfully and wonderfully made” inside of, but there are friends, sisters, cousins, aunts, in-laws, church moms, breastfeeding moms, etc who have poured love, knowledge, wisdom, understanding into my life. It’s ok to have more than one mom. It’s also 100% ok to be in a space to grieve these things not coming from a birth mom. There aren’t words that can fix that reality, but there is healing. Be encouraged, you can celebrate this holiday and be in the tension of grief at the same time.”
If you take away anything from this, let it be that last sentence…
Be encouraged, you can celebrate this holiday and be in the tension of grief at the same time.
Our sweet, well-meaning friends, we love them.
Their words may help or they may sting, but we can’t judge them for what they don’t know – that tension, the dichotomy, the salty and the sweet.
The joy and the pain of loss all rolled into your heart as you take on the day. The gratitude for what you have now and the grief for what you went through, and wish you had instead.
Take heart, dear friend reading this, you are not alone here. However you feel about the day, celebrating or not, your feelings are valid.
My advice this Mother’s Day?
Hold strong to whatever boundaries you have, and if you haven’t set boundaries it is absolutely time to guard and protect yourself.If your friends or loved ones invalidate you in anyway as you process your grief/anger/emotions on this day, don’t react – choose to respond. And maybe gently enlighten them so they can understand and be more empathetic in the future.
Be kind to yourself. Don’t run from the memories – face them, acknowledge them, feel them, then let them free. Process in a healthy way.
If you’ve chosen to cut off contact with your mom as your boundary, that is okay. If you feel the need to continue contact and work towards healing your relationship, that’s okay too. Wherever you are in your journey with the woman who raised or birthed you, I stand here with you in a quiet sea of men and women who’ve endured too.
I ordered it in hopes that it would somehow elevate our cluttered mess of a dining room into one of those Waldorf forest homeschools where kids keep all their Montessori materials sorted in rainbow colored sets and listen attentively to poetry as they finish watercoloring their nature journals.
Alas, it sits covered in sticky fingerprints on a dust covered windowsill next to an abandoned Captain American LEGO project that is missing a foot. Cap has been sidelined for the foreseeable future just like my dreams of a whimsical home in which to educate my children.
The truth is that the prism brought us a lot of joy at the outset of the year, but has been shuffled aside under math workbooks and the flotsam and jetsam of four kids learning at home full time for the first time. The prism somehow got shifted aside as an afterthought because, if I’m honest, I’m not fully sure what I’m doing, I’m constantly doubting myself, and I never followed through on that light unit like I thought I would.
The prism hasn’t been shattered by my raging and screaming yet, so that’s a mercy. Turns out we’re not the quiet woodland family I had hoped we might be.
This morning as I lamented the wads of hair and dust that somehow always live on my stairs, and the shoddy job my children do of sweeping them, and the shoddy job I am clearly doing as a parent, I was struck by the prism. Its once pristine glass was noticeably clouded and foggy and I’m pretty sure it was handled by someone who had recently been eating cheese puffs.
But my breath caught as I watched a rainbow pour out of the dim prism onto the hair covered hardwood below.
None of this looks like I thought it would.
I haven’t managed to create a space that “measures up,” whatever that means. I live in a sea of uncertainty and often wonder what use my gifts actually are to the world.
It’s easy for me to dismiss my days as less than, to chalk them up to unfinished projects and problems unsolved. But when I consider the prism, I see more.
When I consider the miracle that a rainbow is at hand, that it dares to shine in the presence of my mess, that it is bold enough to shine onto my doubt and my fury and my fear, I am forced to stop. When I step back to take that in, I’m reminded that all is grace. All is gift.
You see, the truth reflected in the prism is that the miracle cannot be stopped. The rainbow is somehow not dimmed by smudges or filthy fingerprints.
However manhandled and bunged up it may be, the prism still exists to turn light into rainbows. The purpose of the prism is to reveal invisible, but ever-present colors so that they may be seen by the naked eye.
The miracle cannot be stopped because the prism cannot deny its purpose.
As a woman I am uniquely called to die to myself that I might nurture and grow the souls of others. As a woman I am designed to gently steward the souls entrusted to my care.
As a woman I am specially created to hold all that in my heart, to birth beauty out of struggle, to give life out of groaning.
We’ve all been manhandled and bunged up. None of us is the flawless crystal we might wish that we are.
Things don’t turn out like we plan or expect. People fail us, boundaries are crossed, our hearts are wounded in broad and intimate ways every day. Yet we are all capable of casting great beauty into the neglected corners of our world.
The miracle cannot be stopped because this is what we were created to do.
The only thing that can stop the miracle is if the prism is moved out of the light. If I shove my prism in a drawer, there’s no way for the light to touch it.
The same is true of our hearts, of course. If our hearts are hidden away, shoved in closets, shut down and shamed, it’s true that we won’t reflect much light. You can’t shine a rainbow from a shadow, it’s true.
And if I’m honest, seeking the light sometimes seems futile and foolish. It’s honestly kind of silly that I’ve kept my filthy prism on the windowsill through the gloom and clouds of the Cleveland winter.
To an outsider it seems like an exercise in futility but I believe the miracle. Even when there are days on end that I don’t catch a glimpse of rainbow, I have faith that the sun will come through the clouds and the cheese puff smudges.
I’ve seen it happen before and I have faith it will happen again. I’ve seen the rainbow on the stairs with my own eyes. I have witnessed the miracle.
And I realize the same must be done for my heart. I think a lot about how the Psalmist reminds us not to harden our hearts. He may as well be saying, “Don’t retreat. Don’t build up walls and separate yourself from the light.”
And I know in order for me to achieve my purpose, like the prism, I must remain in the light.
Every day I must claim the miracle. Every day I must accept my purpose as undeniable. Every day I must place myself in the light, smears and smudges fully exposed so that the miraculous love of the Father can penetrate my heart and cast His love onto the world through me.
It won’t work if I’m not in the light. It won’t work if I’m not reading scripture and attending Mass, receiving the Sacraments, praying with my friends. It won’t work if I believe the lies that I’m fed by the world, if I deny my belovedness, compare myself to others, or allow my heart to become hard.
To be in the light, we must be in the truth. If we are women who claim resurrection, the truth that should spur us on is that nothing is irredeemable.
If we are women who claim the risen Christ, it is our duty to claim Him, to claim the miracle of resurrection in all we do. Our work is to set our hearts on the miracle, to seek it out, to draw our families and communities along with us as we encounter it.
Our calling is to claim the truth of the risen Jesus in ourselves, to speak it over our hurts and our pains, to repeat that truth to ourselves when we are at our weakest and to speak it over our sisters:
“You are redeemed. You are chosen. You are safe. You are loved.”
St. Josemaria Escriva said, “He did not say you would not be troubled, you would not be tempted, you would not be distressed, but He did say you would not be overcome.”
My place here in my family is not to curate a perfect home or achieve some other lofty goal. My purpose is not to fit any sort of mold of womanhood that’s been manufactured by the world or the church or anyone in between.
My purpose is to shed light, to cast rainbows into darkened corners, to show up and love despite my dinginess and my bruises.
The rainbow is no less beautiful because my prism is smudged. My gifts are no less beautiful because they come from an imperfect source.
If each day is an offering to Christ, I am receiving His light. If each day is a claiming of truth, I am receiving Him.
And if I am receiving the light of Christ, just like the prism on my dusty windowsill, I can be nothing but a channel through which that light enters the world.
Mary Susan is so dear to my heart! She creates a beautiful space of vulnerability, humor, and encouragement. She can be found at https://oh-bless-your-heart.com/ and here on Instagram.
While I was born in Ohio, I grew up in North Carolina. It will always be home to me, the place I spent my childhood and “grew up” and fell in love with Jesus.
I learned to drive there, I made lifelong friends, I experienced heartache and grief and joy and growth.
Ten years ago I celebrated my first birthday back in Ohio! A decade now of birthdays and life after coming back “home” to where I was born and growing up for real.
I’m turning 29! The last year of my twenties. I know that’s still really young to all the people who’ve lived a lot more of life than me, but the Lord has taught me a lot in these few years I have (and I know He has so much more to share).
In honor of my tenth Ohio birthday, I wanted to share ten lessons I’ve learned in my time here.
1. Crazy Faith Looks Like Crazy Obedience
I remember attending a youth conference when I first moved. During this season Crazy Love by Francis Chan was super popular, as well as the song Crazy Love by Hawk Nelson.
If you’ve ever attended a Christian conference you might know the “conference high” after you get refreshed and hyped for Jesus again.
We attend conferences and get amped up, on fire again after a stagnant season. We go home encouraged, ready to take on the world, spread the good news. Right?
But eventually that amped feeling fades. Because the conference high isn’t sustainable. What keeps the fire alive is intimate relationship with your Savior, not any certain speaker or worship singer.
Then, when God asks Crazy Love level stuff, we hesitate. We fear what people might think. We worry about the financial aspect. The “how.” Sometimes we don’t obey.
On the flip side, there are times we hear the call for crazy faith and we do step out. And “the world” doesn’t get it.
Nominal Christianity won’t get “it” either because it doesn’t make sense to human logic.
A friend once shared with our young adults group the time the Lord called her and her husband to tithe their entire paycheck.
If memory serves me correctly, they were paycheck to paycheck and in between jobs at the moment.
That sounds ludicrous and makes zero sense to the average human brain, right?
Yet they obeyed.
And God honored their faith and blessed their finances several times over that week; rent was paid for, her husband got a job, and they were blessed with an advanced check.
God asks some wild things of us sometimes… Give up an ivy league for the mission field. Donate your bonus to a homeless shelter.
My husband and I eloped at 20 + 19 years old and everyone thought we were nuts. Horrible things were said to us, I was almost pressured into signing an annulment by family, and it was a really rough beginning because of the opposition we faced.
Many people thought we made a really stupid decision, but we felt God led us to do so.
Was it always easy? No. But following God and obeying isn’t always easy. It’s often wild, crazy, and takes a lot of courage and hard work.
If we hadn’t stepped out in crazy faith we wouldn’t have the life we have now or be in the season we are now and I can’t even fathom it!
There’s been several crazy faith moments in my life but this one gave me everything I am so grateful for. Definitely worth it.
2. Romance Looks Different From What “They” Tell You
When Justin was pursuing me he took me to church, brought me medicine when I was sick, and made me laugh so much.
We had weekly date nights, went to the movies and geocaching, dinner out, all that good stuff.
But ten years in romance Looks different than the early puppy love. It looks like a husband that listens. It looks like learning what an anxiety attack and helping me through it with patience.
Romance is emergency take out dinners when he’s heard I’ve had a bad day, surprising me with my favorite pop, learning with me how to parent our kids well.
It’s brewing my coffee for me in the morning when the baby nursed all night. Setting firm boundaries to protect me. Hanging twinkle lights without complaint when I can’t reach.
Romance in the movies looks attractive (and sometimes unrealistic, honestly) and then marriages are so often portrayed as dry, loveless, and lacking.
With intentionality, purpose, and thorough communication romance doesn’t have to die off. It can shift and look different, but it gets better and better!
Love can age well.
Every year has been filled with more fun, more passion, more laughter, and more tenderness.
I still love surprise flowers and dinner dates. But I so love the quiet ways we get to love each other too.
3. Boundaries Are Vital
I majorly struggle with people pleasing. I have had a hard time saying no to things, to people, because I don’t want people to dislike me.
In the past few years I’ve learned how unhealthy that is. My mental health is important because it directly impacts my life and family, and taking on too much affects it.
The health and well-being of my spouse and kids is top tier, and we can’t say yes to it all, or they suffer.
This can be anything from jobs, ministry, school opportunities, family, friends… You name it. Sometimes we have to say no. I can’t. We aren’t able to take that on.
Without excuses, without over explaining or justifying. If something isn’t serving you and your family, you don’t need permission or some grand circumstance to turn it down or say “this isn’t okay.”
You can’t speak to me like that. We can’t do that. No.
This isn’t always easy (what in life is). You will inevitably receive backlash, anger, and plenty of upset when you or every aspect of your family/time/finances etc aren’t readily accessible.
It’s always worth it to protect your family, your marriage, your mental health, your home, your budget, and your time.
4. I’m Worthy Of Good Things
I grew up thinking I was an inconvenience. It felt like I was a problem that ruined my mom’s life, that stole her freedom, and I wasn’t worth it (whatever “it” was in my little mind).
The burden sat heavily on my shoulders for far too long. It’s an inner voice I still have to ignore and fight off sometimes (aka way too often).
“The way we speak to our children becomes their inner voice” hits me hard. Because it’s so true.
But I’m not an inconvenience. I was designed by a Creator who fashioned me carefully, every detail for a reason. I was created with purpose for a purpose.
I’m not useless, I’m not an imbecile, I’m not worthless. These are not my identity.
My identity is beloved. Daughter. Redeemed. Worth dying for. Treasured, adored, fiery, lovely.
His voice is louder than all the rest, when I remember to listen.
I’m worthy of good things. I’m worthy of joy, love, laughter, and friendship.
I deserve people in my life who love me well, respect me, and don’t mistreat me. I don’t need to accept treatment that doesn’t align with that.
5. Feelings Aren’t Facts
I used to think if I felt something, it was true. This was before I learned that anxiety is a liar, that my inner dialogue can be abusive talk still ingrained in me, and that the heart can be deceptive.
We need to keep our thought life in check. We can hold space for hard feelings but we can’t keep holding on to them, lest they become bitterness taking root in our hearts.
I might feel ______ but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s truth. I might entertain ______ for so long and it’s fine, but then it spirals me into a bad place for my heart.
The what-if’s and the but if I‘s aren’t helpful. Intrusive thoughts aren’t reality. And assuming the worst doesn’t actually prepare me for anything.
I could feel like my husband is mad at me because his tone was off, assume the worst, and act out of that assumption and let it affect my mood and behavior towards him…
Or I can assume the best and turn those thoughts around, maybe he’s having a hard day, maybe he needed to burp and it came out funny (I speak from experience).
I can communicate with him and ask instead of assuming the worst.
Learning about feelings and the power of my thought life has been a game changer for me and my freedom and emotional regulation.
6. It’s Okay To Have Bad Days
I used to think if I had a bad day, and wasn’t cheerful all the time, or made a mistake/lost my temper/had an attitude that I was a bad Christian.
We have to be the salt of the earth! I have to be a witness. I need to be the light in the darkness and if I appear to be a human with emotions outside of joy ever than no one will want to know Jesus.
This is not healthy. God gave us emotions, and we can use them as tools to understand what’s going on in and around us.
Losing my temper with my kids after an exhausting day doesn’t make me a bad mom.
Sometimes I’m snarky because I haven’t eaten and my blood sugar is dropping! (Hello, fellow hangry people.)
It’s okay to have a day where things go wrong, or dinner gets burnt, or I yell or spill coffee.
A bad day doesn’t mean a bad life.
A bad day doesn’t mean I’m a failure. And it doesn’t mean I’m a bad Christian. I’m just a human with humanness, who happens to also live Jesus.
7. My Too-Muchness Isn’t For Everyone
I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve heard “you’re too much.”
It’s been said in jest, in anger, in exasperation. It used to hurt a lot.
I don’t wear it as a wound anymore though. It’s a unique badge of honor that I wear proudly (sometimes… Haha).
See, I am a lot. I’m loud, all the time. I am loud in every color and emotion! I am passionate about many things.
There’s some weird stuff too, like sensory overload, stuttering, major fantasy adventure nerdom, ADHD behavior (I could write a whole novel on that topic alone)…
The whole package of *waves at all this* can be a lot for some people. And this really bothered me (recovering people pleaser that I am) for a very long time. I had to prove myself to them, and I was crushed when my Too-Muchness wasn’t their cup of tea.
Some people think I’m weird (I am, but they do in the “that’s a bad thing” way). Some people think I’m too loud. They don’t get it about how I am.
That’s okay. I don’t need to be everyone’s friend.
There are people that love all my Too-Muchness and adore it. My volume, my Lord of the Rings quotes, my passion about whatever soapbox I happen to be on. And I treasure them.
And I try not to hold it against the people who don’t like my Muchness haha.
8. I Am Resilient
My anxiety might like to lie and tell me otherwise, but dare I say – I am resilient. I’m going to toot my own horn here. (My husband inspired me to write this one so I have permission, I won’t be cocky I promise!)
I can do hard things. I have been through the RINGER and back, okay? It’s too much to even sum up in here.
As I mused what I should include here, my husband brought this up to me. That even in darkness and “the depths of despair” (if you’re my level of nerd you’ll get the quote) I don’t give up.
My faith has been through the ringer too, but it just goes deeper.
This lesson is 1000% God, not me. His grace alone has gotten me through suicidal seasons, miscarriages, backstabbing and so much more.
I am resilient because I cling hard to the hem of His garment. Sometimes I’m holding on by a thread, or the skin of my teeth! But guys, I’ve tasted and seen His goodness. It’s all that matters. It’s what’s kept me alive.
This one could take an entire series, a few paragraphs here won’t do it justice. It’s coffee date level. Jesus has brought me through it all, His strength is what makes me resilient.
9. Gratitude Is The Key
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 Thessalonians 5:17-18
It’s easy to complain. It’s so easy to focus on the bad and not see the good. I got so stuck in that cycle, viewing life through the negativity lens.
It’s where my Finding Daily Delight project came from. I wanted to rewire myself to look for the little things to take delight in again and practice gratitude.
I could list countless scriptures about thankfulness and gratitude! It’s repeated so many times.
Think about it, if you are focusing on the negative only, it will affect your attitude. (Remember earlier when I mentioned thought life? Mindset matters!)
This isn’t about toxic positivity. This is about operating from a grateful heart space. Holding space for the both//and, where you can have both hard moments and joy, and not settling into despair.
Paul was able to worship and praise from a prison cell. David wrote Psalms crying out “where are you God?!” in one breath and worshipping Him in the next breath.
We can too. Both//and. Gratitude unlocks next-level joy and peace.
10. I Like Who I Am
It’s okay to be different and weird and like strange things. I used to despise that about myself.
Surely, I thought, if I just dress more normal or liked this type of music or hopped on that diet wagon or this fad I would come across as more normal and then people would like me.
This was before I discovered my Too-Muchness. Striving to be what people wanted me to be so I’d have their approval led to a lot of unhappiness on my end.
I’m loud, I am neurodiverse, my playlists on Spotify range from anthem worship to punk rock to folk and bluegrass.
I like who I am. I like the things I like because those things make my soul come alive.
Lake Erie might be a smelly mess to some people but it’s where I feel Jesus next to me in the car. I love that I love Lake Erie, I love that Jesus meets me there.
I like that I cry during Hallmark Christmas movies. I’m “sensitive” and feel all the things and Hallmark movies are a safe, cathartic release.
There is not box for me to fit into, my design is unique just as yours is. Quirks, dislikes, the things that make us laugh… Trying to change or fit into someone else’s peg is pointless.
I enjoy who I am growing into. I’m excited to see who I am in ten more years!
Here’s the thing about all of these lessons: I don’t have one of them mastered. God still works on these same lessons with me.
Even my birthday today. 90% of this post was already written. My morning was splendid, but by afternoon some stuff hit the fan. My birthday wasn’t sunshine and rainbows.
It could have ruined the rest of my night. I had to fight off those thoughts that I was a failure again. But as my oldest says, we had a restart! The rest of my birthday evening was redemptive and sweet.
Happy ten birthday, Ohio. I’m so glad to be home. When I celebrated my first birthday here I never imagined in a decade I’d be watching my daughters run around our front yard from my porch. This is what dreams are made of 🧡
This week I had a phone date with my “NC BFF,” who I am so blessed to still have in my life 11 years and 500 miles later. She’s known me since my early teen years and been by my side through a lot of pain and joy.
She remembers who I was before the life I have now, and as we chatted recently she mentioned how this *gestures broadly* was my dream.
18 year old Alyssa didn’t know if she could have kids. She didn’t think she could be a mom because of her upbringing.
She had grand ideas of producing movies and being a bestselling author, living a wild life to numb the pain she carried, never getting married because boys hurt her, but underneath it all was the dream to be a wife and mother.
I didn’t know how I’d ever achieve this dream, of a husband who loved me and kids and a home and joy.
Lo and behold… here I am with everything I prayed for and didn’t believe possible. A sweet husband, three beautiful girls, and a house I get to make into a cozy home.
I was thrilled. Those early years had their fair share of hardship, but it was everything I wanted. I’ll never forget the morning after my husband, baby, and I moved into our “big” apartment. I woke to sunlight streamed in, hitting our new yellow quilt and a smiley baby. For the first time I felt absolute contentment.
This was it! Hashtag wife life! Starting the day feeding my girlie oatmeal and fruit. The faraway dream was finally reality.
And yet, somewhere along the way something whispered to me. A lie crept in and deceived my heart.
This lie told me it just wasn’t enough. I was just a mom. I wasn’t there yet.
It stole some of my joy, and striving took it’s place.
If I do this then I’ll matter. If I do that, or serve here, or work there, or get a degree, or do ______ THEN it will be enough. When I finally get a house, when I work a “real” job, when we can afford _______.
I know moms aren’t alone in being fed this destructive lie. Women from all walks of life experience this!
I have ________ but I still need to get married and then I’ll be happier. I have the dream job but I still need to visit _________ or do ________ and then I will be accomplished. I need to take that class or have this certification and then things will fall into place.
I should be doing more. I can do it all. If I can’t do it all, there’s something wrong with me.
Let’s break that off right now. May I be bold?
You are enough right where you are.
You can still have goals, you can still walk the steps to get there! But listen to me right now: you matter, you are worthy, you are enough in this season. Before you get to the next one.
Don’t let the “hustle” lies tell you otherwise.
Whether you are a mom, or work at Subway, or are in law school or anywhere in between!
You are enough.
Comparison and striving steals our joy from the right-now moments.
You can have dreams, you don’t need to step into all of them right now. You deserve joy before you get there, on the way there, and when you arrive.
If you are an intern in this season of life, you get to be the best intern you can be. You have purpose. You can have joy!
If you are a mom in this season of life, you get to be the best mom you can be. You have purpose. You can have joy!
The same goes for pastors, counselors, students, graphic designers, artists, and farmers.
You don’t have to be married to be whole. Wanting a partner to do life with is absolutely valid, but you’re a still a whole person on your own.
Traveling the world is amazing! It’s okay if you start small and get to know the city you’re working in til you can afford bigger.
Wanting to be in ministry is an incredible goal! It’s okay if you can’t right now because your family is your first ministry and needs your time more.
Culture sells us “more” but so often we lose hold of what we already carry to grab hold of it. Where you are right now deserves your attention.
This past year has brought me back. 2020 was difficult on so many levels, but it forced me to slow down and reevaluate. To rewire some thinking and take charge in my mental health, boundaries, and growth.
I think the Lord set me free from that deception. The weight of that burden being gone… It makes me feel light as air sometimes (when life drama doesn’t remind me there other weighty things haha).
This picture I have framed on my hutch gave me pause as I perused Pinterest one day.
The little girls, the baby wearing mom with coffee in hand, fresh bread and a cooling pie. The windows open to show off a gorgeous sunset.
A little moment of my dream captured in folk art.
Of all the things inspiring me lately, giving me joy, helping me fall in love with life again… This little painting has stood out time and time again.
It’s the background on my phone now too, because it centers me to my most-importants. It reminds me of what used to be my dream, what I have now that’s so important.
Right here is pretty stinking awesome. I could live only looking forward, dissatisfied with what I’m missing, and pining for the future… but I’d really be missing out.
My season of life can be hard, but it’s still good. It’s where I am. I still have goals and dreams! But I am no less of a person whether I’m “just a mom” or an author too. This goes for you too, my friend.
Dreams are good. God gives us dreams! He has a calling for every one of us. But sometimes we try to rush future dreams into the right now. We can invest in the future and still hold space for what’s valuable right now.
If you can’t breathe because you’re so busy, if you have no time for rest because you’ve taken too much on, if you’re finding yourself unhappy and overburdened… Some things might need to shift.
Plan out your goals, that’s not unimportant, but live in the present. Give yourself room to breathe and time to rest here. Don’t pack it all in to get their faster, because burnout is REAL.
You don’t have to get there before you’re real or valid.
You already are.
Live in that freedom, friend. You are loved and important in every stage.
2020 has brought on a “silent rise” in mental health crises.
It’s no secret that it’s been a rough year, but viruses aside, the job losses, bankruptcies, and isolation has had devastating repercussions for mental health.
People already struggling with anxiety and/or depression may feel like they’re barely treading water with their mental health. Others who have never (or rarely) experienced anxiety or depression have, unfortunately, begun having their own bouts.
I know for myself, dealing with end of pregnancy and postpartum, on top of dealing with repressed trauma responses… Covid depression has been the icing on the cake.
Of course there are good days. We feel a camaraderie, like we’re all in this together! We got this! It sucks but we’ll get through it.
Other days though might feel really dark. Numb and apathetic. Lonely and weary. What is the point of x, y, z?
Last Fall was a very difficult time for me, a lot of joy was stolen. As this season has approached I’ve entered it with a jaded attitude. A lot of pain is resurfacing for me to face, and I’m learning the dance of holding space for pain but holding on to joy too.
What I wanted to talk about today is the in-between of those two extremes. The both//and space.
You can hold space for hard emotions and bad days, and still look for the light shining through, for the joy moments and the silver linings.
You can also hold space on your fantastic days for the trauma that you’re still working through. You can enjoy things and still recognize that you are wounded and that there’s work for you to do.
Your joy doesn’t have to erase your pain.
It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. If you’ve ever worked through traumatic situations or had to process hard emotions, we can almost sort of gaslight ourselves if we have good days.
Like, oh I’m having a really good day maybe this isn’t bad as I thought it was. Until something triggers you or you’re faced with more emotions that you haven’t processed through yet.
Likewise, when you’ve dealt with depression or anxiety and have felt like you’re spiraling, we can become consumed with those difficult feelings as well.
Our vision can become clouded with everything that is wrong in the world because of the hardship that we are working through. It feels impossible to “choose joy” because everything is painful, or we are numb to everything.
We do need to be cautious in those circumstances though. We are not victims to our mind, and though we can deal with mental health issues, we must take authority over some areas as well.
Becoming consumed with our depression or anxiety, not seeking help or utilizing tools that can help us, can be destructive not only to ourselves but to those around us too.
I’ve seen depression and anxiety steal away so much from families; I’ve seen it in my own family growing up and the repercussions that it had for me as a child.
This has been the number one driving factor for me in trying to grow and heal, so that my problems would not negatively affect my children.
In that same vein however, we can also be consumed with running from our depression and anxiety, or our trauma that needs to be dealt with. This is also unhealthy.
Rather than communicate our pain, or face difficult emotions, we try to be happy and bubbly and ignore the pain. “Fake it til you make it” can be as damaging for some people as it is helpful to others.
Because pain that we swallow down instead of facing and processing will absolutely come back to bite us. It can look like rage, depression, fear and anxiety, and many other things.
So where is the line? How can we not let depression and anxiety rule our lives and steal all our joy, yet also not force happiness and joy when we are in the midst of pain and grief?
I’m no expert, I’m just a mom who’s done a lot of reading and praying haha. But I would love to share what I’ve learned, and what helps me.
Have grace with yourself. Have you ever heard that phrase? What does it look like though? I’d say it looks like being kind to yourself and what’s going on in your head.
Don’t be a bully. Don’t make yourself feel bad for what you’re going through. If your inner dialogue is making you feel bad, you need to reroute that language!
Even if you have to over and over, tell yourself no! And talk to yourself like you would talk to a hurting friend or loved one.
Would that dialogue be uplifting or edifying for a beloved friend? If not, than don’t speak that over yourself.
Another thing to consider here: when we are numb we might not even be able to give ourselves grace. But we can receive God’s gift of grace.
All praises belong to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he is the Father of tender mercy and the God of endless comfort. He always comes alongside us to comfort us in every suffering so that we can come alongside those who are in any painful trial. We can bring them this same comfort that God has poured out upon us. And just as we experience the abundance of Christ’s own sufferings, even more of God’s comfort will cascade upon us through our union with Christ. If troubles weigh us down, that just means that we will receive even more comfort to pass on to you for your deliverance! For the comfort pouring into us empowers us to bring comfort to you. And with this comfort upholding you, you can endure victoriously the same suffering that we experience.
2 Corinthians 1:3-6 TPT
This might look different for the person or by the day, but we can sit in His grace and comfort when we can’t give ourselves grace. He can hold you, just rest in Him.
2. Choose Joy
I know some people get super irritated by this phrase. I get it, being told to be happy when you’re suffering is upsetting.
But choosing joy in spite of your circumstances isn’t forcing happiness when you’re miserable.
It is tapping into a supernatural gift and a fruit of the Spirit which is yours to have when you know Jesus. The joy of the Lord can be your strength when you have no strength of your own left.
Choosing Biblical joy and gratitude isn’t faking happy, it’s a deep-seated soul joy, soul rest, to enter into.
I wanted to pick a Bible verse about joy but there’s so many!! Let me just reference a few:
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds…” James 1:2
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness…” Galatians 5:22
“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy…” Psalm 16:11
“So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” John 16:22
“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Romans 14:17
“You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.” Psalm 4:7
The list can go on and on! The Lord has joy for you that goes far beyond surface worldly happiness, another verse called it “inexpressible joy.” To me, that goes beyond a circumstantial emotion like happiness.
Joy is like a pressure washer.
A lot of people don’t really know that though.
Pressure washers are wonderful inventions, in seconds, they can remove years of build up. Years of caked on dirt in the most walked on areas around our homes.
We all have these areas, and I don’t mean around our homes. Around our hearts. Places people have walked all over us. Trampled on our hearts. Brought their dirt (and other things) into our lives. The areas that have become not only dirtied, but hardened from so much traffic.
Much of the time, we think we have to get everything cleaned up before we can be joyful. We think we have to have it all healed before we can get out of feeling down and dirty.
And those who think like that often never become joyful. They stay depressed. They stay bitter. They stay hurt. They stay is self-pity. All the while protecting themselves from the very thing that can remove it all.
The pressure washer of joy.
God wants to give us His joy to remove the years of build up. To quickly blast away the years of pain. To clear up the places that seemed impossible to clean.
Is. 35:10 says…”those the LORD has rescued will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.”
It’s joy that’s makes the sadness and sighing flee. It makes them run from us. It’s joy that blasts it all away.
Don’t wait to be joyful. Don’t fix everything before you smile and laugh again. Don’t wait. Don’t even hesitate.
Receive joy today and watch what happens as you do.
3. Glimpses of Gratitude
A few years ago I tried to keep a gratitude journal. I’d sit at the table and try to comb through my day to recall and write down everything I was grateful for.
While it was a good suggestion, it wasn’t realistic or sustainable for me. I often forgot to pull the journal out or just sat there with my mind wandering trying to pull out something to write down!
And on my bad days? I honestly couldn’t think of things. Of course there’s the I’m grateful for my home, my family, food in the fridge, etc.
Sometimes it’s really hard to see beyond that when depression has a grip on your feelings and everything is numb.
I wrote a post about taking every thought captive; intrusive thoughts, depressed thoughts, spiraling thoughts, and tips to help you realistically take those thoughts captive! Read that here.
Instead, what has been helpful for me is momentary glimpses of gratitude.
It can happen any moment of the day, but it’s something that lights you up. Morning sun dancing on the hardwood floor in my kitchen. My girls giggling and dancing in the living room. The way my warm coffee feels in my hand.
It doesn’t have to last long, but pause and sit in that moment and feel the gratitude. Thank the Lord for that glimmer in your day.
Instead of reciting off everything you’re supposed to be grateful for, look at your day or those moments with your God lens on.
You can even ask Him! Lord help me see with Your eyes today, help me see the beauty. Feel His delight in the moments around you.
Just like joy, there are so many verses about gratitude and thankfulness in the Word!
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3:17
“And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful” Colossians 3:15
“Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!” Psalm 107:1
“The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.” Psalm 28:7
“Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” Colossians 2:6-7
Gratitude is the key to a heart posture towards Jesus and walking in joy regardless of outward circumstances.
One of my favorite podcasters, Blake Guichet of The Crappy Christian Co. recently wrote about this topic and it’s so good!
“It’s not that our feelings don’t matter or aren’t valid – we should honor one another’s emotions and bear each other’s burdens, mourn with those who mourn, and rejoice with those who rejoice. But the line gets blurry when we start treating those emotions as though they are the facts of the situation.
I know that the reason I personally function this way is because of my generalized anxiety disorder diagnosis. Through years of therapy, I’ve learned to separate how I feel from the truth to avoid spiraling out of control. And for the most part, it really serves me well.
The truth without love is harsh.
Love without truth is enabling.
That’s why we tell the truth in love (Eph 4:15) This a necessary maturity of faith so that we are no longer tossed to and fro by our emotions, but deeply rooted in what God says about us and others.
I’m honestly thankful that our feelings aren’t facts. When things feel hopeless, we know they never are. When we feel isolated, we have the knowledge of God’s nearness. When it seems like the world is out of control, we know the One who holds it all.
Your feelings aren’t facts, friend. And that should provide you with peace. Let’s stop allowing our emotions to run the show and instead turn to the truth.
We are not victims, and living with a victim mentality will steal your joy and suck the life right out of you. Maybe you were wronged, abused, mistreated. That’s valid.
But staying a victim in every area of your life, not growing or healing, is super damaging.
The Word tells us we are more than conquerors, in ALL things. That He works ALL things together for our good. That the Lord can make beauty from our ashes. The ashes of abuse, trauma, accidents, pain, etc.
We see what’s right in front of us. But the Lord sees an entire atlas of roads leading from our current circumstances. We have no idea what He can do through us and our stories!
A note on victimhood…
Mental health struggles are not a free ticket to be a jerk.
Yes it happens. I’ve experienced this. I have seen awful, atrocious behavior justified because of where someone was mentally. This is wrong.
We still need to take responsibility for our actions; mental struggles cannot be a crutch or excuse for bad behavior.
Victimhood clouds judgement and can cause immense pain, for others, and yourself too.
You are not powerless, you are still in charge of you.
“You can sit here but you can’t stay here.”
Validation is important, but dare I say, needing validation can also be a crutch. Some feelings can’t be validated if they are skewed or untruthful, but they can be acknowledged.
Having safe people, trustworthy friends or family, who can lead you back to your foundational truths when you are blinded by pain, apathy, or spiraling thoughts is so important.
Staying somewhere unhealthy and stewing in negative thoughts is a counterproductive narrative that will keep you bound up. Stewing and processing are not equal.
We can sit with grief. We can sit with hard things that need to be processed. Ignoring doesn’t help!
But staying there is when it becomes dangerous. We can miss the steps towards healing that God has for us. We can miss the beauty that’s transforming by remembering only the ashes.
Don’t run from your pain, but don’t let it swallow you either.
You don’t deserve to be consumed by dark thoughts and days of sorrow. There’s a bigger plan for you!
Depression is real, I have felt it’s nasty claws. Anxiety is real, I have experienced is vice-like grip.
We can acknowledge our hard and still see the joys. We can find delight in little things, even when bigger things are going wrong.
Remember the both//and my friend, and remember you are never ever alone.