When You Have No Support

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Motherhood should never be done alone.  It should never be an isolated job.  It requires a support system of some sort, whether friends, grandparents, church family, cousins, neighbors, etc.  Sometimes I look around, and I see all these moms doing it alone.  And when they look for advice, and they look for help, and they look for encouragement, (because they are keenly aware that they are sinking), people tell them that they need some support, instead of actually offering support.

Having trouble in your marriage?  You two need some time alone, without interruption.  You should have a date night. (Um, thanks.  Care to watch the kids?)

Having trouble getting any rest?  Someone should come over every once in awhile and let you take a shower and a nap.  (So…when can I schedule you.)

Feeling overwhelmed?  What you need to is to go out with some friends and just get away.  (Sounds fun.  So can you be the friend or the sitter…or something?)

Feeling lost on how to deal with a child stuck in an attitude?  Are you having trouble just liking this child?  You need a mentor who has walked in your shoes.  (Great…so where do I sign up for a mentor?)

I’m not sure if it came with the onset of the “women’s choice” movement, where the culture shifted to “you chose this child, you deal with it” mentality.  We all see the thread of truth in that.  These are my children.  They are my responsibility and no one else’s.

But speaking directly to the church, we are called to hold each other up.  We know that, but there’s an issue with that.  Lean close, because I’m about to share with you one of Satan’s most basic battle strategies:

Make people feel isolated and alone.  Get a sheep away from the flock.

He knows we need community.

The strategy goes even further than that.  It’s not just getting anyone separated and alone.  He picks the people caring for the least of these.  He attacks the women and children.  He often attacks the children by attacking their caretaker.  It’s like getting 2 birds with 1 stone.

Have you ever been in that position, where you feel like you have no support system?  I have, for sure, during various times of my last 12 years of motherhood.  If you feel alone, here are some steps.

Acknowledge it’s a spiritual battle and treat it as such.

There are a few things that give away the spiritual elements of this.  They are Satan’s fingerprints, if you will.  First, there’s a bit of lie mixed in with it.  Sometimes we feel like we have no friends, when we do.  We feel like we can’t ask when we can.  We feel unloved when we are.  Satan loves to twist our feelings into disbelief to things that are true.

Another one of Satan’s fingerprints is your battle position in the home, taking care of the little ones that are so precious to God.  Let’s face it.  You’re wearing target on your back having a job like that.  Ask anyone else who is in ministry, whether a pastor or elder, or missionary, if they have ever felt spiritually attacked when they took their job.  You’ll get the same answer pretty much across the board: yes…of course.  When you recognize the importance of your position from a kingdom perspective, it won’t be so surprising that you feel like you’re falling apart.

Also, the feeling of defeat is a very common sign of spiritual battle.  When you are tempted to resign yourself to the fact that you will always be alone, that your marriage will always be bad, that no one will ever help, that you just won’t see your friends until your kids turn about 18 or so…you’ve given into defeat.  You’ve stopped trying.  And that’s exactly where Satan wants you.

Therefore…

Pray, because that is your biggest weapon.

Pray that God would bring you a mentor.  Pray for your marriage.  Pray for your kids.  Pray for your attitude. Cry out to God.  Speak Jesus’ name.  Get in the battle.  Fight back.  Pray when you don’t feel like it.  Wrestle with God if you need to.  He can take it.  Tell God you don’t feel like it.  Don’t come up with something pretty and fluffy that you think God wants to hear, tell the most gut-wrenching truth to him that you can muster.  The truth is powerful.  Pray it.  Sometimes when I pray what I see is real, and really wrestle or cry out to God, He ends up revealing the most life-changing truths that I refused to acknowledge, or showing up in ways I didn’t think were possible.  It’s worth it.

Keep your eyes open for opportunities for compassion.

I think that people who have experienced the most pain in their lives tend to have the most compassion.  It’s like they have this radar for people who are hurting.  They know what to say, because they’ve lived it.  They know how to show up because they know what someone’s presence can mean to someone who is hurting.

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have it’s full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”  -James 1:2-4. (ESV)

When we go through those deep dark places, we find ourselves uniquely qualified, dare I say chosen, to be an instrument to help others.  I heard a story once from a friend of mine who worked in refugee camps of Syrian refugees traveling to a refugee camp that was already full.  The UN had no more supplies in this location, and 600 or so more people were just going to show up because they had no where else to go.  So it was the Syrian refugees who were already living at the camp who took up a collection of food, blankets, and tent space so that these 600 newcomers would have food and shelter when they arrived.

Those who are poor can’t stand seeing someone go without.  One of my best friends and I connected in a place in our lives when we both felt lonely, and it was a huge connection for us to see that the other one truly understood what we were going through.  Keep your eyes open, because you have something in your vision that others may not see.  Look out for that other mom who looks like she’s sinking.  Say something encouraging to that stranger with the toddler screaming on the floor of the grocery store.  Love on others the way that you would want to be loved.  It could be that is the purpose in all of this hardship and if it is, then don’t miss it.

Keep asking for help even when you hate it…but wait for God’s timing.

So you’re praying for help.  Your eyes are open for those who can help, and for those who need help.  Now it’s time to be vulnerable…again.  When I move to a new place, or my old mentor moves away or moves on, and I need a new mentor, I usually get turned down 5 times before someone says “yes.”  I’m finding that’s pretty normal.

As far as physical help, I’m not sure if it’s the midwest culture, or if it’s just general pride, but asking for help is often frowned upon where I live.  Whether or not that’s true, it feels that way.  Where I live, you wait to be offered help.  When you are offered help, you should politely turn it down at least twice.  If they insist on helping a 3rd time, it’s okay to accept, as long as you show reluctance.  At least that’s an old family joke.  You don’t just come out and say: “Could you help me?”  I have even asked for help once, after my big car accident.  The woman who was asked stayed for about 30 minutes, explained to me everything that I was doing wrong as she sort of helped with something on the table, and then left, basically saying she was glad I didn’t look hurt at all, and if I could get more organized and my kids better behaved I’d be good to go.

Wasn’t that helpful?

This is why you pray about it first before you just start asking people for help willy-nilly.  You need the person with a servant’s heart.  You need the right person to help you, the prepared person.  You need to have a prepared heart, and they need to have a prepared heart, and God is in the prepared heart business.

On the other hand, when I started praying about it, a woman in my homeschool group called me up and said, “Gretchen, I’d love to come over to your house and chat with you on how you are doing.  When would be a good time?”  She came over, we chatted and before long I started crying as I told her how I felt like I was drowning and couldn’t keep my head above water.  She talked with her 17 year old daughter, who then came over every Thursday afternoon to watch my kids so I could rest and clear my head, and maybe even get some work done in peace.  She did this for months.

She was the person God had prepared.  And God had prepared me to open up when I wanted to appear strong.

I’m so thankful that I have a great support system now.  It has taken a long time to build, and as people move to different places, or just move on, a support system can end up being a very fluid thing.  I’m also thankful for the lonely times (in hindsight) for all that they have taught me, and it has given me the ability to recognize the need in someone else that I would otherwise be oblivious to see.

You are not alone.  God has not left you.  Pour your heart out to him, and keep your eyes open.  He has so much in store for you: blessings that will come in the most unexpected forms.  Sometimes he sends help.  Sometimes he’s just working something in us for the purpose of his kingdom.  Sometimes it’s both.

But you are not alone, and you are not forgotten.

How this Diet is Changing my Child

So.  We’ve done a little over a month with David on his new diet.  A lot of my friends have been asking me how he’s been doing.

He is fantastic.

I feel like I’m living a big, long sigh the last couple of weeks.  I’m doing a lot of reflecting, mostly on how life has been the last several years.  I’m relaxing again.  I don’t think I’ve been able to relax this much since…I have no idea.

This is going to sound awful.  I said it out loud a few days ago: it feels like Knut and I have been abuse victims.  It sounds harsh, but that’s the trauma attached to it.  It’s something I haven’t had the courage to say out loud before.  I mean, we always knew David’s heart underneath it all.  It always sounded like we were making excuses for him.  But life with David was scary.  On this side of his recovery, I feel like I’m honestly facing what it was.

Knut and I walked on eggs shells around him, mostly because if we asked him to do anything, or stop doing something, we had to be ready to go the the mat with him in enforcing it.  If we didn’t enforce what we said, he went absolutely crazy, as though he lost all security.  So we chose very carefully what we asked him to do for our own sanity.  It was like everything was a fight and if we were too lazy to fight, things got 100x worse.  The tantrums were physical.  There were times I had to call Knut home from work because I was scared of David he was so violent.

I haven’t told many people that before.

These are the stories that parents are afraid to tell.  But I know there are a lot of you out there with these stories.  Your emails have been flooding my inbox.

Though David loved us just as passionately.  We saw that too.  We saw how he was struggling to get himself together.  We saw him wrestling with himself.  We took him to a child psychologist.  I haven’t told many people that either.  We took him to other doctors.  He was extremely tender at times.  We got several prescriptions that were optional to fill, and we didn’t because none of the doctors answered our questions or concerns sufficiently.  Actually, most of them shared our questions and concerns, but had no other options to offer.  We took the prescriptions, and just prayed over it, never getting a peace about it.  The doctors used terms like “borderline” a lot and “optional” a lot.  My least favorite of all of these references were “David doesn’t need these medicines, but you can give them to him for your sake.”  I can only imagine what parents who deal with this full blown have to deal with.  We talked with occupational therapists, asked for prayer from several people, and just tried to make it through each day.

It was like our world centered around managing David.  But we had 4 other kids.

One of the biggest blessings of David’s alopecia on top of all his other issues, is that now our world recognizes that something is going on inside of David’s body that is not right.  I can’t tell you how many people just flat out didn’t believe us when we started sharing David’s issues, or assumed we had no idea what we were doing as parents.  People thought we just showed favoritism to David, or never disciplined him, even though disciplining him basically defined our relationship.  That’s the majority of what we did.  People said they understood, that all kids have tantrums.

People would tell us David wouldn’t have these issues if we didn’t homeschool him.  Oh, yes it often went there.  Even though he has been kicked out of every classroom setting we have ever put him in, and I strongly believe it would be unfair of us to put him in a traditional, all day classroom without medicating him (unfair to both David and the teacher). Getting to the bottom of how he learns and what’s going on inside his brain is just making up excuses.  So “people” said.

But now that David has no hair, people give him grace.  They acknowledge that maybe something isn’t right inside of him.  I’ve heard from many people close to us say “we had no idea it was that bad for you guys.”  I’m not sure if that’s due to lack of transparency on our part, or lack of understanding on theirs.

You see, before David had an invisible illness.  That invisible illness has gotten so bad that it’s now visible, and people now have sympathy.  I’ll admit, I struggle with some frustration in that, but mostly I feel relief.

I should state, that alopecia is not always connected up with ADHD and sensory processing disorder.  Those are not interchangeable.

But I really felt there was a core issue to all of David’s diagnoses.  The blood work showed that his body isn’t absorbing nutrients properly, which can effect multiple organs.  In David’s case it effected his nervous system and his immune system.  That is paired with a common gene mutation, that is easily treated, and his liver wasn’t functioning at full speed either so environmental toxins couldn’t be processed like other people.  That’s likely why he fell apart whenever he had synthetic foods like red dye (which is has a petroleum base).  While those are significant as well, he can take a pill for each of those.  It’s multiple things, but it’s all connected in the area of malnutrition.  This diet is centered around getting his body absorbing nutrients again, and I haven’t said much about that besides it’s hard.

But I have to tell you, I noticed a change in David’s nervous system the first week.  It was small.  It was more, “Hmm…that’s interesting.  He had a great week.  I wonder if that’s a coincidence?”

Week 2, he sat in church.  He sat in church people!!!  That is one thing that was especially bothersome to Knut before.  Knut wanted so badly for David to sit in church with the rest of us, and David’s sensory processing just went nuts in there.  He had to leave Sunday School pretty much every week for similar reasons.  He couldn’t handle it, and finally we discussed the idea of him sitting back in the fellowship hall, so he could listen, but his body would be able to move at will and it wouldn’t be so loud.  We made this change due to the psychologist’s recommendation months earlier.  It worked really well.  David could discuss the sermon and pay attention perfectly if he could pace in the quieter back room.

But on week 2 of his new diet, David came in to church, and sat down next to Knut, without any prompting.  And he sat the whole service.  No falling on the ground, sticking his feet in the air, rocking back and forth with his head in his hands, or needing any distraction.  He didn’t need his rescue remedy, or any of our go-to oils for calming him.

That made us take notice.  There may have been tears in my eyes.

On week 3 I found myself relaxing around David for the first time.  I started pushing him harder on issues, when he didn’t want to do something.  I started raising the bar so it was similar to what I expect from my other kids.  He fought me about as much as the other kids fight me.  But my fear of him freaking out was starting to melt.  Though all wasn’t perfect.

David did have a small meltdown during our family pictures a few weeks into his diet because the shirt I had picked out for him had the wrong feel.  When the pictures come out, only a keen eye may notice that most of the pictures have him wearing a brown shirt with stripes, and the rest of them have him wearing one of his black “ski shirts” as he calls them.  They are the athletic shirts that wick moisture, worn a size too small so it’s tight to his skin, and no seams.  They are basically sensory vests.  We had him change so he could make it through the photo shoot.  He was crying because he said he couldn’t make the itching stop, though we couldn’t find any source or rash of the itching.  The new shirt stopped it.

This hasn’t completely gone away, and maybe never will.  No answers here.  He’s gone from needing his calming serum 2-3 times a week to 1-2 times this month.  So that’s something.

My other kids are more willing to play with David now.  Their fear of him is melting too.  I see it in how they interact.

There’s been a lot of laughter in our house this last month.  

To not live in fear?  It’s worth this all.  Honestly, I was so in the thick of it I had no idea how bad it was.  It’s in the coming up for air that I realized how bad it was.

It’s taken longer for Knut to see this.  He’s deep into harvest season now.  He just isn’t around David as much.  But he does see him on Sunday, where David has been the last 3 weeks in church with us.  He sings alongside us, and stays in his seat the whole service, even when the option to go to the back of the church is there.  But we have been living with this for years.  I can tell Knut’s radar is still on high alert around David.  It may take him a bit longer to see it’s safe to relax.  He’s starting to recognize it, though.

It’s like David has been living with all of his nerve endings standing straight up like a porcupine, and for the first time in his life, these nerve endings are relaxed and laying flat.  That’s how it feels.

But his hair loss continues.  We haven’t shaved his head in 3 weeks now, and it hasn’t mattered.  There’s just a half dozen little hairs on each eyebrow left, but his eyelashes still remain intact.  The goal for this diet was that within 1-3 months we want to stop the hair loss.  Hair regrowth isn’t on the map yet.  So we know that this absorption issue isn’t resolved yet.  I can tell it’s slowing, though.  Before the diet/pills, the area of eyebrows would have been gone in a week once it started.  The hair loss moved so fast.  Now it’s been a slow loss over a month, that isn’t yet finished.

So how’s David doing?  I see his nervous system behaving in ways we have never seen before.  Man, that made me a believer of all this diet stuff.  Talking with his doctor, we see he still has a ways to go.  I’m just relieved that the first part of his recovery was his nervous system before his hair.  I’d take calm, sweet David who is bald over tantrum-ing, frustrated David with a full head of hair any day.

God with Us

Have patience with me.  I’m going through some stuff.  I don’t mean to be melodramatic, but I have no idea how to sugar coat how hard it’s been.

Like always, I’ll just write my way through it.  Many dear friends have been asking how I’ve been doing since David’s new diet that restricts several foods and put my world upside down.  I’m not sure how to respond.  The rhythm of my day looks kind of like this:

numb.

numb.

numb.

freak out on everyone.

guilt.  apologies.

numb…numb…numb…numb.

yell at everyone, over everything.

guilt.  apologies.  numb.

You get the idea.

Last friday, it was chicken butchering day.  A team of butchers came out to our farm and Knut and his cousin were busy helping them outside, and I was busy inside with the kids, and swatting the 186 flies that had come into my kitchen the day before as Knut was working on fixing the rotted front door frame, and let a bunch of flies in.  All day on Friday, as I went around, swatting flies, my chest just hurt.  It was a physical hurt, and one I’m familiar enough to know what it means.  It meant my anxiety was not in control, and a panic attack was looming.  That made me fear, which made the pain worse.  It’s how this whole anxiety cycle works.  Some of you know exactly what I mean.

My go-to in managing this chest pain is some medicinal tea which works the majority of the time.  I have tried several things, and this is what works.  I was drinking cup after cup after cup of this tea and I couldn’t shake it.  Swat!!  Slap!!  Flies were everywhere.

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The Cleaning Stages of Motherhood

seasons of motherhood

Does it feel like your house will never be clean again?  I have found that during different stages of my mothering journey, my house is different levels of clean.  It’s all about realistic goal-setting.  For those wondering what those stages are, or about to enter those stages, here they are.

Stage 1: Newborn stage

Objective: keep everyone alive and healthy.

Cleaning at this stage is about preventing infection, providing clean clothes so the baby doesn’t get a rash from being wet for too long.  (Babies wet in so many areas for so many reasons.)  Things like puke, poop, and yes, blood, are the main concerns for both you and baby.  Having clean dishes is also nice so that mold and rot aren’t present takes priority.  Also, getting everyone fed is a major household duty.  Recruit as much help as you are comfortable with having around, and say yes to everyone bringing food.

Cleaning concerns that are ignored during this phase: windows, bathrooms, ironing, sweeping, moping, dusting, bed making and general pickup.  Changing sheets/laundry/cooking/and other chores are only on an desperately needed basis.

Stage 2: Mobile baby stage

Objective: keep everyone alive and healthy…with new challenges.

So your baby is eating a little less often and you may be getting 3-5 hours of sleep at a time now if you are lucky.  Well, once you start to think you are moving out of survival mode, cleaning needs of your house pick up.

Cleaning at this stage is all the above, plus the added sweeping, moping and general pick up things from the floor to the cleaning necessities.  Also, depending on when solids are introduced, cleaning baby food off floor, high chair, walls and ceiling (and something else wet to clean off baby) are added to cleaning regimen.  This is my favorite stage to own a dog, provided it doesn’t shed or bark during nap time.

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