Is raising kids enough?

Mother in bed, feeding her children. Is raising children enough?

Is raising children enough, or does delaying your dreams make you ill?

“I always dreamed of being a doctor and traveling, but I had children and that killed my dreams. It’s okay, though, because I raised three kids. One is a doctor, one is a CEO, and the other is traveling the world working for a magazine. They are my contribution to society, and I guess that’s enough. It has to be. Oh, I’m okay with it, really,” Mabel said, as tears dripped off her face.

Sherry told me, “I planned to be a professional writer and speaker, to change the world, you know? But I didn’t get to do that. Instead, I gave birth to twins, and two more after that. Between taking care of my children, my husband, and my home, I never had time to think, much less write or speak. My husband didn’t approve of daycare, even though he could afford to pay for it. So I stayed home and reared my children and let my dreams die. I tried not to think about what my true purpose in life was. When I did, it made me cry, just like I’m doing now. I woke many a morning with a tear-stained pillow, but I just turned the wet side down, made the bed, prepared breakfast, and got on with my day. My health is gone now, so there will be no empty-nest career for me. I have nothing to show for my life except for my children, and I am useless now. But it’s alright. They’re grown now and have children of their own. They’re happy, doing what they like to do, so it’s okay that my life was spent on them. So I never got to do what I was designed to do. I created four good people. That’s enough.” Her face was red with shame, and didn’t match her assurance that it was alright.

Sad stories of lost dreams

I’ve spent over 30 years hearing stories like these, from women all over the place and from all socioeconomic levels… women who had dreams, goals, aspirations….women who gave up everything they wanted just because they gave birth and they thought they had to stay home and raise the children because religious leaders told them they had to…women who SAY that it’s okay, but who cannot say it without tears in their eyes and regret and shame all over their faces…

Not one, in over 30 years, has been able to say it’s okay (that they gave up their dreams) without showing those emotions and signs of deception all over her face. They do not believe what they are saying. In other words: they are lying. They lie to themselves, and they lie to others. It’s not okay with them. It breaks their hearts.

There are a couple of possibilities (that I can see) as to why.

The women were told that being a mother isn’t enough, that they should do more than that to make a worthy contribution to society. They believe that they did not do enough.

OR

Women really ARE wired to do more than just raise children and take care of a home. Having children is not “enough” for a person. Using one’s gifts and talents, pursuing one’s goals, those are needed as well, regardless of what pastors and others say about it.

Society says we have to do it all

What do I think it is? I think it’s probably both. Mary is held up as the Mother of God, and nothing else about her is emphasized (or even mentioned) in most churches. For years, I thought it was such a shame that “all she did” was raise Jesus and his stepbrothers. I wondered if perhaps she did do other things but they weren’t mentioned for some reason. Now, though, I think it’s such a shame that our culture teaches us to think that way!

I’m somewhat balanced on it at this point: I think it’s fine for Mary, and for any other mothers who truly want to have it be enough for them, and it’s fine for others who want to do more than that. Fighting societal messages is hard, but sometimes it’s needed.

Orthodoxy leaves room for different opinions

Each person is different. Each person has different goals and needs. No one should try to cram others into a mold. No one should try to tell others what they should and should not do, believe, or think. Abbot Tryphon shared a statement on facebook about how the Orthodox Church frowns on telling people what to do.

Women who are mothers have owned businesses or held jobs throughout time. It has been the exception, not the norm, for a woman to take care of only her own home and family. Taking in washing or ironing, baking extra bread to sell, babysitting, raising and selling vegetables and eggs… all of these were common in households all over the world, throughout time. If a woman did not do something to earn money, it was because she was well-to-do, not because mothering was enough.

People are goal-oriented

Humans are teleological. We need a goal to work toward, a purpose. Some things in parenting and housekeeping fit well with that, but some just don’t. Might a person have that goal-achieving need met by taking care of home and family? Sure! Especially if they write out goals and mark them off as they happen. But people don’t like to be someone else’s project. They dig in their heels at that. I know that all too well. So if housework goals aren’t enough for someone, they’ll have to get that need met elsewhere.

Perhaps a mother only has an hour a week free. That amount is not an unreasonably small amount for a stay-at-home mom. Can she accomplish any goals with such a tiny time allotment? Yes.

Learning new skills

She could choose to spend that hour following her dream of learning to dance, paint, or play a sport. Just 20 hours will give her a good foundation in nearly anything, according to Joshua Kauffman, the author of The First 20 Hours. She could develop two skills in a year, if she only has an hour a week. Over time, that will give her more abilities, more chances to do things she wants to do.

If she has an hour a day, she could develop 18 new skills in that year. Developing a number of new abilities seems worth having Dad take care of the kids for a change. Now, I know that some fathers take care of their children and give the mothers time to do things they want and need to do, but the vast majority of the ones I know don’t do much, even now. No hate mail, please.

Is raising kids enough for you?

Please don’t be like all of the stay-at-home mothers I’ve spoken to over the last 30 years. Whether you pursue hopes and dreams in addition to parenting, or whether raising kids is enough for you and you have no other ambitions, please, please do not get to the empty-nest stage and regret your choice.

Please don’t put things off in the hope that you’ll be healthy enough to do them once your children are grown, or even “older.” I’ve seen far too many people do that and find themselves confined to a rocking chair and chained to an oxygen tank. You might have the chance to do that, but please don’t count on it. Scripture is clear that we’re not promised tomorrow.

Contribution to society

Do whatever is going to make you honestly feel that you’ve made your contribution to society, that you’ve shared the music within your soul, that you’ve been who God made you to be—whatever that may include.

We must all choose either the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. The pain of regret never fades, but it does fester. Join the ranks of women who feel good about how their lives were spent, not those who cried bitter tears of regret and shame. Is raising kids enough? If it is for you, fabulous. If it’s not, that’s fabulous, too. Tell Daddy-O to man up and take care of the kids while you develop another side of yourself. In either case, I pray that you will be blessed.

God wants some people poor

When I was a Protestant, I heard all kinds of platitudes for “explanations” of why God allowed such horrible things to happen to me, including the abuse and poverty I endured. I hated the platitudes, and at times, the people who spewed them. It didn’t help. I didn’t want to believe that a loving God would purposefully allow, much less send, things like that into anyone’s life. I didn’t think anyone deserved those things, much less that I did. I couldn’t see any good reason for them.

Christian platitudes never end

Since I’ve become Orthodox, I’ve still heard a lot of those platitudes, along with some new ones, about how life is suffering, and I still didn’t like them. It seemed to me that people were still making God out to be a horrible Creature, and that anyone who accepted these ideas had to be depressed. Why would life be worth living, if all it’s about is suffering?

Then I began to see a longer-term perspective—a longer term going beyond this lifetime—due to reading some of the quotes from saints. What if it is—or could be, if we let it—a purifying process? What if it’s true that it’s not about whether or not we will suffer, but about how we handle it? What if the whole point is learning to handle these nasty things quietly, without kicking and screaming? What if THAT is the point of these difficult things?

Some people have come to this conclusion long before I did, many of them with far less suffering than I took to begin to see things this way.

How I survived

I stayed alive the first 20 years of my life or so by kicking and screaming most of the way, by objecting to the horrendous things that were done to my mind, body, and soul during all those years of abuse. Objecting to the things being done to me, believing that I deserved better, that there was something better to look forward to in life… that’s what kept me alive. Or so I thought.

And now, the terrible thought: what if, instead of being what kept me alive, what if that held me back somehow? What if, had I believed that I deserved that treatment, that it was somehow good for me, that it was a “blessing in disguise,” what if that would have cleansed and developed me more, somehow, if I had approached things with a different mindset? When I “tried on” those attitudes I heard from others, I immediately rejected them. They were not helpful in the least, at the time. But what if they had been? What if I had decided to respond in a way that could have transformed me into something even better than the way I dealt with it did? Could I be a saint by now?

Dealing with suffering

There are currently some pretty bad things going on in my life, though thank God I’m not being sexually assaulted or knocked around anymore. Some would say the current happenings are no fault of our own, but we all know that our decisions lead to consequences, so…though my husband and I were deceived by someone, and though these things are wrong and illegal, I still put us here. I also say the current situation is still better than the one my decision got us out of, and I hope it will be worth it in the end. Some Orthodox friends have encouraged me to get a lawyer, or to get out of the situation (both impossible for us to do).

The other night, when I read a quote about the importance being not what we are going through or getting it to stop, but HOW we go through it, it reinforced decision I had made to endure this. Maybe I hadn’t been doing it so quietly. I had been complaining about it somewhat. I can still pray that the situation will be resolved soon, but in the meantime, I can go through it with a quieter, calmer spirit than before.

The process of transformation

This is the part of Orthodoxy that I find so hard to explain to people. Yes, the historicity and therefore authenticity of the Church that Christ founded is all I needed to decide to convert. But this…this process of transformation…sometimes it’s so gradual we don’t notice it, and other times, we can see it as it’s happening. Who knows where we’ll end up, or what we’ll end up looking like, but we sure won’t be the same.

Maybe instead of going kicking and screaming, digging in my heels all the way, objecting, “This seems like a horrible idea, God,” maybe I can feel okay with the decision to believe that it really is for the best, no matter how idiotic or unfair it may seem to me. And plenty of things have seemed idiotic and unfair, and I have no qualms saying that. God knows exactly what I think, anyway, and trying to hide it is useless.

God wants some people poor

There was another statement by a saint, about how some are rich, and some are poor no matter what they do, and that even though it seems unfair, God is using it. I have railed against that notion since I was a child. I thought when people quoted scriptures along that theme, it was just wealthy people justifying the way they trample on the backs of the poor.

If anyone deserved to be wealthy, I thought… if anyone deserved to benefit from all her hard work, I was the one. I had so many dreams of helping so many people, but all I could do when someone else was in need was to cry with them and pray for them. Anything I had to give was just a drop in the bucket and didn’t make any difference. It was so frustrating to be unable to make any kind of difference physically, materially, practically.

And now, I accept that for whatever reason (I always swore it was because God hated me for some reason unknown to me), I’m going to be broke and unable to provide any kind of financial help to others my whole life. I don’t say “poor” because I believe in America, “poor” is caused by mindset and decisions; it’s a way of life and “broke” is a bank account status.

God wants me to be broke

So, apparently, God is going to keep me in poverty forever, living hand-to-mouth, and He thinks it’s a good idea to do that. Knowing my luck, he’ll keep me that way in heaven, too. There will never be the luxury of being able to buy clothing from a retail store, or to go out to eat on a whim, or to have a home that isn’t riddled with code violations. I’ll never be able to look at my bank statement and sigh with relief, knowing that when something comes up (in our lives or the lives of others), we can just write a check and take care of it, like so many people we know can. That has probably always been the truth, the way is was going to be, though only God knows why. It doesn’t matter how many books I read on building wealth, or how many decisions I make that line up with how rich people think and behave, or how many hours I work on my marketable skills each week (it’s “many” on all counts).

Accepting God’s will

(That phrase sounds so Protestant to me. Sorry. If there’s an Orthodox equivalent, I don’t know it yet.)

The only thing that has changed is now I’ve started to accept it. Do I like it? Nope. Do I think this is because I’m depressed? Clinicians would probably say yes, but I don’t. I think it means that I’ve come to the conclusion that for some reason, God thinks it’s good for me to lack in material things. Thankfully, I am surrounded by resources for spiritual growth, so at least I can work on that. Something tells me He won’t deprive me of those things, and in the long run—and I mean the eternal long run—those are better anyway, though the material is important to God or He wouldn’t have created it. It’s just not something He wants me to have.

It would be nice if God would lift this ban on good things and grant me some comfort in this life, but something tells me He never will. And something tells me that even though it will never be fair and I will never have the things I want no matter how long and hard I work, eventually it won’t matter anymore. In the meantime, I’m going to double my spiritual reading and prayer time again. Something good may come of it.

It definitely takes a load of stress off, deciding to stop trying to climb out of this hole, just hang out with the kids and become like them: have no aspirations in life. As long as I don’t think about it, just totally shut down my brain about it, I can live with it.

Thinking is the enemy

 

The moment I start to think, though…I’m right back to trying to make things better, even though it seems God wants the opposite. Something tells me that He’s going to have to remove the part of my brain that is responsible for seeing possibilities if I am ever to become a saint, because as long as I am aware that there might be a chance, I’m going to keep going back to fighting with how things are and trying to have a better life. I think that saints must be able to shut down that part of their brains, to be able to just accept things the way they are and have no desires or drive to make things better. I haven’t totally become okay with this even now. Maybe I’ll never be able to, but I can keep working on it, and I will.

Yes, abuse happens in churches

My latest critic took it upon himself to write a long and accusatory comment denying that a certain kind of abuse happens in churches across America: that of making sexual abuse victims feel worse by teaching a purity doctrine that compares them to worthless used chewing gum (or other disgusting things). To him, and anyone else who denies that some groups that call themselves Christian sometimes can and do teach harmful things like that:

Yes, this abuse happens in churches.

No, I am not saying it happens in all denominations, or by all leaders, as your comment seems to accuse. Does everything apply to everyone, all the time? When someone points out that a certain teaching is being taught and is harmful, does that mean that they’re saying that EVERY leader teaches that? Of course not. Not unless they clearly state that. Don’t assume they mean what you expect them to mean. Slow down and actually read what is there. In the last 35 years or so, I have run into some real pieces of work who are called “church leaders.” They have taught some extreme and incorrect things, harmful things, specifically purity doctrine and other disempowering notions. Their denominations run a pretty wide spectrum, too:

  • Mormon
  • Baptist (Southern, American, and Independent)
  • Free Methodist
  • Assembly of God
  • Nondenominational Christian
  • Orthodox Christian

I want to be clear, one more time: not all Christian groups, and not all Christians in those groups do the harmful things I might talk about in some of my posts. Just because I say some people in Group A teach a certain off-the-wall and harmful thing, it does not necessarily mean that everyone in that group teaches that and harms people with it.

But some do. And some = too many.

Disrespect, discount, dismiss

This is my experience, and when it comes to the topic mentioned in the post in question (about purity doctrine), it’s also that of many others. If you’ve never seen these kinds of things happening, that’s great. In fact, I would love it if no one ever saw those kinds of things happen ever again. But don’t you dare discount my experience—or that of countless others—just because YOU don’t think you’ve heard these harmful messages in your church. Maybe you haven’t heard them. Maybe they haven’t been sent in your church. I hope it’s true. But that doesn’t mean they haven’t been sent or heard in thousands of other churches. When you attack my writing using words like “everyone” and “never” and other all-inclusive and incorrect terms… When you tell me that everyone who reads it questions my motives for writing it… When you tell me not to speak these truths and accuse me of striking at the Church of Christ… It doesn’t send me cowering into a corner. It only shows that my post hit close to home and that you’re overstating the things you’re saying. “Always,” “never,” and “everyone” are usually lies. Is it possible that you don’t want the truth uncovered? If you are not perpetuating those harmful teachings, then what do you have to get defensive about? The Church is not harmed by shining the light of truth in the dark corners. It is made healthier by rooting out the evil being done.

Playing God

You played God with your statements, acting as if you could judge the hearts of other people, that you could know what each and every person who reads it thinks/will think of it. God’s shoes are some pretty big shoes to fill. You don’t know me. You don’t know my motives, or what I know and what I don’t. And you sure don’t know what’s going on in churches across America every week. That is, unless you’re present everywhere at once and you can witness what they’re teaching, and unless you’re inside every young person who hears those teachings and can tell what message they receive and what it does to them.

What kind of abuse happens in churches?

Abuse happens in churches sometimes. More than one kind of abuse happens. Financial abuse happens. Sexual abuse happens. Spiritual abuse happens, where people throw their weight around and try to control things that are none of their business. Young girls and women are made to feel less than human because of the chauvinism that still exists in many churches. And, when taught purity doctrine, (many? most?) sexual abuse victims receive the message that they are worthless now. Many Christian books have these teachings in them, so to tell me that I made it up, and just recently, too, is laughable. As of May 27, 2014, Google shows 7,580,000 search results for purity doctrine, and 3,000 for it in this specific context. If I “just made up that term,” as you claim, then I could take credit for all of those search results, but alas, I can only claim two so far. The rest of those webpages were created by other people—many other people. Many, many people have had this same experience, have received this same message, and thousands have written about it. I didn’t “make it up.” It’s real.

Your comment has many incorrect assumptions about me and attacks on me that I think are, to use your own words again, “decidedly unhelpful to anyone.” As if you get to decide for others what is or is not helpful to them.

Helping others who have been hurt

Get to know me a bit and you’ll find out that the purpose of everything I do is to help people. Almost everyone who invests any time in getting to know me comes to that conclusion. Granted, I don’t always help people with a sugary tone. Sometimes helping someone doesn’t mean giving them what they want, but instead speaking some painful truth. Sometimes I fail, but I don’t let that keep me from doing what I can, when I can. I help people directly, one-on-one and in groups, and I help others in other ways, such as through blog posts that might help them realize that they are valuable and loved, no matter what happened to them. Sometimes helping people means quietly holding someone’s hand and letting them work through it. Sometimes helping people means standing up and saying “Hey, this is wrong, and it needs to stop.” As long as I’m able to, I’ll keep at it. I hope you further the cause of Christ as well, in whatever way(s) you’re equipped.

Purity doctrine says sexual assault makes you worthless

A friend shared with me a statement by Elizabeth Smart. When Elizabeth says that we’re taught that our life is worthless and has no value once we’ve been used sexually, she nails it. She was talking about abstinence education, but it applies to the entire “purity doctrine” message females receive. Purity doctrine says sexual assault makes you worthless.

Just to be clear: I fully support parents teaching their children that waiting until marriage is the right thing to do. I fully support young people making that decision to wait. This is NOT to say that abstaining from sex until marriage is a bad thing. I teach my own children that God designed sex to be for a married couple, that it is a way to grow their family and to grow closer to each other and to Him. Also, some churches get it right. They are not the problem.

Sexual abuse ruins everything

Sexual abuse strips you of all dignity, all control. It harms you all by itself. Hearing abstinence/purity doctrines makes it worse because it teaches you that sexual abuse strips you of your value as a woman. I have never heard male victims be told this (though I am aware of their feelings of deep shame associated with being abused), but I’m not saying it’s not possible for them to be given the same message. If you’re a male victim and did get that message, please let me know.

Purity doctrine says sexual assault makes you worthless. People who hold to purity doctrine teach that a female’s value resides between her legs, and there are only three possibilities.

  1. If she’s unmarried and not a virgin—whether she voluntarily had sex or was raped—she is worthless and no one will ever want her.
  2. If she’s unmarried and still a virgin, she still has her “value.” As if she’s a piece of property that could rise or fall in worth.
  3. If she’s married, her sexual purity belongs to her husband (again, as if she’s a piece of property) and all she’s good for is giving her husband sex, babies, and home-cooked meals in the house she cleans.

Damaged goods

No matter how much the fundamentalists who subscribe to this way of thinking protest and say they do not think that assault makes a young woman less desirable, it is obvious that they do. I’ve seen proof of it for over 30 years now. It underlies what they say. You’re a chewed piece of gum if you have sex before marriage.

That makes us feel even worse, to be told that we deserve to be thrown away by everyone who loves us, including God, told that we deserve to be rejected by any man we might love and that we are less worthy because we are not virgins.

A young man rejected me as “wife material” because he knew my history, and he had been taught by his church that any woman who wasn’t a virgin when she got married was “damaged goods” and “not worthy” of him. He had played around with innumerable women, several at a time, but he was still technically a virgin, so that made him okay and made me garbage.

Sexual assault and depression

If a girl who is raised in purity culture is assaulted prior to marriage, she will feel even more nugatory than other victims do after being attacked. That feeling alone is enough to lead to suicide, even in someone who was not raised with purity doctrine. How much more depressed and despondent would a person be if they were raised with it? Purity doctrine says sexual assault makes you worthless.

I was molested from the time I was an infant until adulthood. Moreover, my own mother and stepfather held me as a sex slave for years. Different church leaders—in several different denominations—my whole life have told me (some indirectly, some just flat-out) that I was worth nothing, that no one would ever want to marry me, and that I was not allowed to do certain things because I was “not pure.” As if I would infect the other girls! Needless to say, I was depressed!

Female oppression

Some groups teach that a woman is only good for taking care of her husband (sex daily and waiting on him hand and foot), her children, and her home. Christian women in these groups are told that they must service their husbands every time he has a “need.” Entire books have been written on it (see Debbi Pearl for just one example).

For abuse survivors, it’s a miracle if they are ever able to get married or are ever able to stand sex at all. The message, “This is all you’re good for” retraumatizes sex abuse survivors every time they hear it, not to mention that it’s wrong and should not be taught to anyone, even if it is packaged in a pretty bow and labeled “a woman’s highest calling.” Actually, especially if it is packaged that way, because that’s dishonest. At least call it what it is: male domination and female oppression in the name of God. Something tells me He doesn’t like that one bit. And according to every priest and monk I’ve spoken to about it, that is not Orthodoxy.

Abuse survivors need love and acceptance

Anyone who’s been assaulted should have tons of love, acceptance, gentleness, and consideration. They should never be made to feel like they are less than human, that their value depends on their state of virginity, or that God and their family members should love them less now that they have been “defiled.”

All of those things are lies straight from the pit of hell. Stop telling those lies. People say they don’t send that message, that they actually think sexual assault is a horrible thing and that the victims should be helped, and yet they say the victims must have sex with their spouses. They are wrong. They do send that message.

One “leader” even went so far as to tell me that I had to do it at least three times a week, more if my husband wanted it, and preferably multiple times a day, every day.

Make victims feel even worse

Such harm is perpetuated on us by the people who are supposed to love us, because they put emphasis on the wrong thing. When we are used in that way, we are not choosing it. We are not defiled. We are not made dirty. We do not become impure. Our hearts belong to God still.

When we are older, IF we choose to get married, we give our hearts to our spouses. We are faithful. We are pure. The violence perpetrated on us has nothing to do with that. Teach victims that they are STILL PURE, that their assault has nothing whatsoever to do with that, if you value “sexual purity.” I never use that phrase with my kids. I hate that phrase. I teach them that sex is just for their spouse, and that assault has nothing to do with their value or holiness.

Stop degrading women

As a survivor of over 6,000 sexual assaults, at the hands of a number of people, over the course of over 20 years, and as someone who’s had years of counseling and has helped other victims, too, I think it’s pretty safe to say I know what I’m talking about here. I speak out against abuse and those who perpetuate it, especially the ones who don’t know that they are perpetuating it. They can be the most dangerous of all.

Quit telling girls that whether or not they’re a virgin at marriage has anything to do with their worth. Purity is in the heart and it has nothing to do with whether or not we were molested. We honor God with our actions—the only ones we can control: the ones WE take, the ones we take from now on, not the ones someone else takes, ever, and not the ones we took in the past. Our worth has nothing whatsoever to do with sex or sexual abuse. Nothing. Ever.

Update:

I have been asked to provide more people’s opinions and experience than just my own 30+ years of experience with it, besides the link to Elizabeth Smart’s statement at the beginning of this post. Here are a few.

Purity culture teaches women to put up with abuse.

It’s not okay to say no to sex with your husband, because his needs are all that matter. 

You will be like a cup of everyone’s spit if you are not a virgin when you get married. 

Also, someone just told me that I just invented the term “purity doctrine.” Apparently, between the time I published this post and this update (about 8 hours later), I managed to create 7,580,000 Google search results for my new, made-up term. 😉 Sorry, sir, but I didn’t invent it. It’s been around quite a while. Every woman I’ve spoken to who was raised with that teaching who was also molested or raped said that she felt doomed because of that teaching.

Quitting bad habits – drink less soda

Sometimes, to do less of something, we have to stop doing it completely for a while. Trying to cut back a little, while still doing it, just doesn’t work. I think we all know this down deep, even if we never consciously think of it this way.

Drinking soda is a bad habit

Cut back on soda, I told myself. It’s a bad habit, I told myself. I even wrote it in my nightly notebook as a goal.

Trying to consume fewer cans of soda in a day just resulted in my having more of them. Then my husband quit his second job, plunging us past “We can’t really afford anything” right up to “There isn’t one red cent in the bank, so there will be no soda (or anything else).”

So there was no soda at home. What my husband did at work is another story, irrelevant to my growth here. No soda at home. I did that for a while. Then one day my daughter found one lone can of diet soda (the only kind I’m “supposed to” have), hiding under a shelf. Oh, joy! SODA!

Changing a habit

Bet you think I guzzled it, right? I fully expected to do exactly that. But no. I actually shared it with my daughter. The part that I drank, though, I relished. And I didn’t chug it, I took my time with it. I let the rush of orange goodness pulse over my tongue while my taste buds cavorted in ecstasy. I could almost taste it for days after that, whenever I thought of that soda. When it was gone, instead of wanting another can, I was satisfied. Part of one can was enough. Ordinarily, I’d drink an entire can without stopping, then grab a second one for the slower, “sitting down to work, with a soda on my desk” kind of drinking. So right there was a 75% reduction in that bad habit. If you count the others I would have had during the day (another two to four), it’s an even steeper improvement in the habit.

This example might be enough in and of itself, or it may seem trivial to you if you’ve never struggled with addictions or excess. But it also points to something greater, to that truth in many areas of life.

Striving is a bad habit

I was trying so hard to find a way to increase our income, and not just because we love soda in this family. Of course I was getting nowhere. All I succeeded in doing was stressing myself out and making my kids feel less of my love for them and more tension.

So the Onion Slicer in my life (then our lay pastor, now he’s our Deacon) told me I had to knock it off. Of course I freaked out when he said that. Stop trying to survive? You’ve gotta be kidding me.

Only it wasn’t survival that was at stake. I mean, really–we had a mortgage-free home coming to us, and a paid-for vehicle. We had no payments except student loans. My husband had some money coming in. Even if we ate only beans and rice for days on end (and there have been some times), we’d have enough food to stay alive. So what my brain was terming “surviving” was really more than that.

It would be more accurate to say that my dreams and desires were at stake. Give up what I want? Those deeply-rooted things, the struggle I’m so used to (decades of that habit), the drive that makes me who (I think) I am?

Come to terms with it

So once I got it through my thick head, accepted that we would have to cope with only my husband’s current and insufficient income, that the church would bring us food if necessary, and my world wasn’t going to come crashing down, my stress level dropped. I stopped trying. I stopped striving. I accepted that I would be “just” a mom and would “just” take care of the kids and the house the best I could (as for the house, disabilities keep me from doing that the way I’d like). At first I hated it, hated my family, and was really torqued off at our pastor for it. That was several months ago.

And then, one day, instead of trying and striving and pushing and getting nowhere, which I had done for pretty much my entire life…

I found that I had very peacefully and quietly started doing things. There was no more striving, no stress, no feeling that I was pushing my entire family up a hill. Much less effort, and yet, I started getting some things done.

Stop trying, and start doing.

Losing weight eating anti-inflammatory foods

In my previous post, I told you about what I did to start feeling better, to get healthier, and how I felt about Father Michael’s statement that I’m not supposed to get full during times of fasting or abstinence. Here’s the next chapter in that story.

Losing weight

About a week later, I was still hungry all the time, still eating about 60% of my normal amount, and still eating kale, spinach, carrots, and the like…I didn’t know it at the time, but they are anti-inflammatory foods.

I noticed that my jeans were baggy. A lightbulb went on over my head, and I hurried to the bathroom to weigh myself. Sure enough, down ten pounds. My jeans were about to fall off of me, and I knew that I couldn’t wear them like that, so I had to find something else to wear. Problem was, I didn’t have any jeans that were smaller. But wait. I did have one pair, somewhere, that I had put into a box to cut up and use for sewing projects… where were they?

Skinny jeans

I found the box and found the jeans I put in there a while back–jeans that I had been sure I would never fit into again. I wondered if I should even hope–but before I let myself think anything, I just tried them on. They FIT. I yanked them off and looked at the size. Four sizes smaller than the ones I had been wearing. I had lost four jeans sizes in about a week.

A week after that, I had lost another three pounds, and the jeans weren’t as snug. They look great on me now. I haven’t juiced in a while, but have been eating the salads and a small dinner. I think I’ll do some more juicing here and there, but will definitely eat the greens every day for as long as I can afford it.

I’ll probably level off and stop losing weight, but frankly, as long as I keep feeling good, that’s fine. I’m fairly tall, and have huge bones (wrist bone over 7 inches – very large frame), so I’m never going to see a small number on the scale, and that’s fine. I feel “hot” and happy.

I certainly would never have predicted that in less than a month, I’d be used to eating like this, or that it would be good for me in these ways. Spiritually? Yes. My God is no longer my belly. Energy better? Yes. Weight better? Yes. Diabetes better? Yes. Even my relationship with my children is better.

Anti-inflammatory foods

Of course, we’re not saving much on the grocery bill, because the fresh greens are more expensive than what I was eating before, but that’s okay, too. As long as we can afford it, I’m going to eat this way. I don’t care how tired I get of eating greens. It’s good for me. Those foods are decreasing the inflammation in my body, and they are better than the medications I’ve been on for so long.

If anyone–and I do mean anyone–had told me that I should do this, and these are the results I would get, I would have thought they were a wack job. I’ve done all of this stuff before, and it didn’t do any good. Why it’s working this time, I don’t know. My guess is that it’s probably the cumulative effects of going gluten free and dairy free several years ago (which allowed my body to start absorbing nutrients), then starting to use SaladMaster pans last year (they keep all of the nutrients in the food, so the nutrients that are in the foods you cook STAY in them), then starting to juice and eat lots of anti-inflammatory, alkaline foods… My body is finally getting lots of nutrients now.

Food is medicine

I never believed that what we ate had much to do with anything. My family taught me that the purpose of food was just to get your stomach to shut up and leave you alone for a while. Of course, they all had the same celiac issues, so they didn’t absorb nutrients, either, and so it didn’t matter what they ate–they wouldn’t get healthy, and they all gained weight. I was the thinnest in my family–most of them were over 300 pounds. It never mattered for me, either, until we went gfcf and started the healing process.

I am so glad we found Orthodoxy. We have had Orthodox people (here, and in heaven)  praying for us for at least three years now. I think that has made a big difference in my health. For the longest time, doctors told me that I would be lucky if I lived to see my children graduate high school. I had too many systems that were too messed up to even hope to live more than a few years. There were days that it was all I could do to get out of bed and get dressed and keep an eye on my kids. Forget cooking, or cleaning, or going anywhere.

Heal kidney disease?

A few months back, my doctor said she was pleasantly surprised at my Granular  Filtration Rate (the gauge for how bad a person’s chronic kidney disease is). Turns out that what she meant was is went from being in Stage 3 CKD to back in the normal range. From what I understand, that does not “just happen.” It certainly doesn’t happen without medication or major life changes. Did I take meds for it? No. Did I have major life changes? Only if you count the prayers of the saints and twice-daily worship. And I do. That was even before we were chrismated, before the Eucharist.

That was cause for celebration. It meant that the death sentence I had been dealt was lifted. It meant that I would probably live to see my children graduate,that I might even live to see grandchildren. It also meant that my attitude could change for the better, and it did. I hadn’t realized how much of a downer I had been. In a way, I’m glad that all the posts here were wiped out – such bad attitude. Kicking and screaming. Bleck.

Feel better fast

Now, it’s all a different story. I still have chronic illnesses, don’t get me wrong, and I still have to watch that I don’t overdo it, or I’ll trigger a flareup. But things are better. I feel better. Not as good as I did when I took a short course of steroids several months ago, but I have some of my energy back, and my health is improving. It’s better than I had any “right” to expect it to be. I actually played with some of the kids at church one night while we were waiting on some parents.

My kids commented on it. “Hey, Mom, you’re playing! You must feel good, huh?” I did. I still do. My body is still requiring more sleep, as it has been doing all year, which of course I hate, but I’ll learn to live with that, too. I will probably live to see grandkids! That thought is going to take some getting used to! 🙂

Lent and fasting

We did Lent last year, and partway through it, my doctor was about to order me to stop it. My blood sugars were running too high, and I was getting physically weak – my muscles were giving out at inopportune times, and that kind of think makes driving(among other things) dangerous. I wanted to continue with the Lenten fast, though, and so my doctor reluctantly agreed. I was sure glad when it was over, though.

Fasting rules

We’re Western Rite, and can have fish during fasts and abstinence, and Sundays are feast days, so we had meat then–how awful it would have been not to have had any meat for 40 days! I’m sure if we hadn’t been able to eat meat on Sundays, and to have fish every day during Lent, I would have passed out from weakness.

Earlier this year, I complained on facebook about not being able to get full on days we eat fish. If I don’t eat meat, it doesn’t matter how much I eat, I feel hungry again within minutes of finishing a meal. Our priest commented that I’m not supposed to get full.

That gave me pause.

I’m not supposed to get full? That was just about as foreign and apalling an idea to me as saying we should desecrate the altar. Do WHAT??? You have GOT to be kidding me. Only I could tell he wasn’t.

Being hungry

Hunger, where I come from, is a bad thing. A very bad thing. To be avoided at just about all costs. Being hungry means I could die. And here he was telling me that it’s actually a good thing?! I had a hard time wrapping my head around that one. Of course, I believed that he knew what he was talking about, so that helped. Otherwise I would have dismissed his comment as pure insanity.

Everyone in America knows that being hungry is bad. We fight hunger around the world, sending money to “Feed the Children” types of programs. And anyone can see that not many Americans go hungry or even deny themselves loads of food: just look at the obesity rates. I mean airplanes can hardly stay in the sky for all the fat tails on them. Being hungry is bad, and everyone knows it. 😉

Metabolic syndrome

After I thought about it for a while, I decided that I was just going to be hungry every day for the rest of my life. I might as well just learn to live with it. Because if I eat enough–at any time–to stop feeling hungry, I gain weight.

My body is messed up from both genetics and from multiple episodes of near starvation when I was a child (where I got my belief that going hungry meant I could die). A specialist once explained to me what metabolic syndrome means, what my body does: it treats 500 calories as if it is 2,000 calories. It defies the laws of physics, but it does it.

What this means is that if I eat “normally,” I get fat. He said to get used to one of two things: being hungry all the time, or being overweight. Even if I worked out all day long, he said, I’d never be able to weigh what I “should” weigh.

Feel better

My hunger is like a roaring lion. It might be due to the diabetes, or to some other issue. There are some medical conditions that make a person feel hungry all the time, and diabetes is just one of them. I hate feeling hungry. I hate feeling awful, too, being exhausted and sick all the time, taking three different meds just for the diabetes, not to mention a handful of other pills, multiple times a day… NO THANK YOU.

I had already been wanting to lose weight and to get healthier before Father Michael said we’re not supposed to get full. I started looking ahead to Lent, and thought if I’m going to be hungry all the time, I might as well embrace it, and start now, and just be hungry all the time.

Have more energy

So I cut my food intake down to about 40% of what I had been eating. Sure enough, I was hungry every minute of every day that week. But I noticed that I had some more energy at the end of that week. Huh! Who would have thought that cutting my intake like that would give me energy?!

I didn’t notice any changes in my size or anything at that point, but I was happy for the energy boost. When you live life as a Spoonie–someone with chronic pain and fatique–you’re thankful for every ounce of energy you can get.

I hope Lent this year is better than it was last year. I don’t want my doc ordering me to stop it. Our priest told us to do it three days a week instead of six. I’m pretty confident we can do that, and not have any problems. I will do my best not to complain about it, either. After all, I’m already getting used to being hungry all the time, and it’s not killing me – just the opposite, in fact, as you’ll see in the next post.

Prioritizing

A friend sent me links to pages on the Wayback Machine, where my blog posts were archived. I was so excited, because I thought I could repost them here. Alas, no. Each one I cilck, the Wayback Machine says it can’t find and that it doesn’t exist on the live web, either. I don’t know what happened there, but I’m disappointed. I’m kicking myself. I should have taken care of it that very day, instead of waiting until I “had time” to sit down and do it. Now, months later, I sat down to “reboot” this blog, and they are gone. That is one of my problems–I get too many plates spinning. More training to overcome.

So I’m purposefully choosing which plates to spin, and which to let drop.

I asked Matthew McNatt of McNatt Learning Center for advice on prioritizing, because I have a hard time telling what is going to be a good thing to do, and what won’t. Many things sound good. There are so many good causes out there, too. But, unless I have a crystal ball, how can I tell which ones are going to have a good impact? How do I know whether it’s better for me to try to sell websites, or transcription services? Or to write articles myself, or to coach people who want to be writers? Or to write ebooks about gluten free living or homeschooling? How can I tell whether I should join the Chamber of Commerce, or go to a BNI meeting? I can’t do everything all at once, and I don’t know what’s going to be the most effective–help the most people and make a decent amount of money for the time involved. I have found out over the years some things that are NOT effective, and some things that didn’t make any money but did lead to relationships. Writing online for certain websites, for example. Pennies, but the friendsihps I developed because of it are gold. I’d do it all again just for that. Relationships are very important! It’s good to invest time in them, and at the same time, I do have to make some money sooner or later. If you know of a way to tell what’s going to be a “winner” and what’s a waste of time and effort, I’d love to hear about it!

Matthew gave me a tip: separate my list of commitments from my list of possibilities. Address the commitments daily. Check the list of possibilities just once a week, and decide whether or not to add any of them to my list of commitments.

So, for now, I have these commitments:

  • Worship (at home and church, including reading Orthodox books)
  • Household/family needs (including homeschooling, music lessons, researching appliances we need to purchase, repairs, cooking, cleaning, sewing…)
  • Teach sign language to local homeschooling group.
  • HarshmanServices clients (websites, transcription, content writing, proofreading/editing, and running the writer coaching program)
  • Free Agent Academy
  • Adding content to our own websites (information sites with ebooks and other downloads for sale)
  • Edit CountingBy12s.com, and blog as a panelist there
  • Orthodox-Christian.com (this blog)
  • Send out 30 queries in 30 days during March
  • Read a book a week
  • Earn $500 a month (I know that doesn’t sound like much at all, but I don’t care what the hype says, it’s not easy to get started making money working from home, and it’s a start. The goal is that the dollar amount will go up over time. One step at a time. Plus, I homeschool kids and run a household, and we worship twice a day–that doesn’t leave a whole lot of time for money-making activities).
  • Get chickens.

My list of “possibilities” is probably endless, but here are a few:

  • Land E.S. as a client.
  • Create a website for my husband’s photography.
  • Get S.T. to sign the contract and send payment to get started.
  • Create a website for charity.
  • Set up a website/blog for my writing.
  • Transcribe F.S.’s sermons.
  • Move furniture/room usage around in our house.
  • Build a shed.
  • Get another insurance policy.
  • Look on ebay for icons and incense.
  • Cull emails.
  • Unsubscribe from stuff I don’t use.
  • Read Brain Alchemy.
  • Create a website for L.C.
  • Join the YMCA.
  • Go on a cross-country homeschooling/apprenticeship trip.
  • Read any of the hundreds of books we have in our house.
  • Relearn Spanish and Navajo.
  • Learn Japanese, Russian, or Mandarin.
  • Write book about gluten.
  • Write book about abuse and forgiveness.
  • Write book about homeschooling with special needs.
  • Contact book publishers about freelance proofreading.

That’s just what I can think of off the top of my head. I’m sure there are more…but I don’t have time to think of them right now. You get the idea: there are a ton of things that could go on my to-do list.

Getting back to blogging…

For those of you who were following my blog before (and for anyone new), due to an unfortunate situation, my blog was wiped out completely, along with the backup that was on the server. I did have some of the posts saved on my computer, but not many of them, because I blogged directly in WordPress. Lesson learned. Never trust your webhost (or blog platform, if you use one like Blogger) to protect your files. Write in Word, copy and paste, create your own backups, and save in multiple locations. So, here we go for another shot at this.

I’m not going to try to recreate all of the missing posts. Instead, I’ll just sum up the beginning here, and repost the ones I still have. If you have any questions about anything, just ask and I’ll bring you up to speed.

Ritual abuse

I came from a very abusive and traumatic childhood, and was basically phobic of anything that reminded me of satanic ritual abuse that occurred when I was an infant and toddler–especially gold, chalices, and robes! Anything that was formal or ritualistic was something I avoided. Even after more than a decade of therapy, the 18 years of different kinds of abuse still affected many areas of my life. I hyperventilated all the way through my wedding, for example, and I barely remember any of it. I never said “prefabricated” prayers, because that’s formal and ritualistic. When someone would say, “But it’s tradition!” about something, the hair on the back of my neck would rise. In some of my college courses, professors would mention and draw the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, and I almost always had this irrational urge to run up to the board and erase the quadrant that contained the word “tradition.” It’s funny now, and if I ever took action on that urge, I’m sure people would have laughed; I didn’t find it funny then, though–I found it uncomfortable and difficult to suppress.

Journey to Orthodoxy

A friend of mine shared Orthodoxy with me from the time she was a catechumen. Links to saint wikis, pictures of icons and churches, discussions about doctrine would show up in my email inbox and my chat box all the time. Her excitement was obvious. I think it was about two years from the time she first started saying she wanted me to find an Orthodox church, and the time I finally agreed to attend one for four Sundays.

Long story short, I resisted for so long because I knew that if I set foot in one, I’d be there for life. The way I had always believed turned out to match up to Orthodoxy (she often said, “You’re Orthodox at heart”) and I already knew and loved one of the two families who were in the mission station I’d be attending, so I knew I’d be “home” and stay there. So what was the problem? The problem was the formality and ritual of it all scared me and I didn’t want to have to overcome that. But I wanted my friend to leave me alone about it so I agreed to go for just four services.

Catechumens

Soon after that, my husband and children were going with me, even though there was no pressure for them to go. Two months after that, we were officially made catechumens. It would have been sooner, but our priest only comes every couple of months or so.

Fast forward a year, and we’re now members of the Orthodox Christian Church, and that friend is my godmother. She wondered if she’d be a good godmother for me and I said she was perfect for the job – she knew me well, knew what I needed, and she was the reason I came into the church in the first place. No other person would do.

Lest you think it’s been a nice, peaceful, and uneventful journey… let me tell you right now that it has not. I’ll share some of that with you in subsequent posts. But it has been worth it. And it’s good to be home.