The Mask

People are never who they appear to be
We all wear masks to show who we want others to see
But in doing so we lose ourselves unknowingly
We take a mask and place it on our face
Allowing ourselves to enter into a new state
For each person in our view we shape and mold someone new
All while leaving behind little bits of what is true
Using partial pieces that cannot fully mend
Creating and conjuring whatever we can
These new mixtures help us to pretend
To portray this ongoing play
These temporary roles that never seem to fade
Line for line
Word for word
Never missing a cue
Failing to realize that we’re losing what is true
These characters are more than a state of mind
It’s a trap and we cannot escape
All these masks will seal our fate
Because even when every role is done
We’ll never remember who we were before it begun

Guilty

Time and time again we hear how motherhood transcends any and all other experiences. Carrying a child is a momentous journey and there is nothing more miraculous than the moment your eyes meet for the very first time. A bond begins instantaneously. It’s beautiful.

But what about when it’s not? What happens when what you should be the happiest experience of your life isn’t? How do you cope with knowing that instead of joy you have anxiety and anger? Recent research has found that postpartum depression affects approximately one in seven mothers. I am one in seven.

I had already experienced pregnancy, childbirth, caring for a newborn and raising a child. I was confident in my innate motherly instincts. But this time it was different. This time my instincts were far from innate. In fact, everything felt completely unnatural and guilt began to overwhelm me. Guilty. I felt so guilty. Guilty that I wasn’t able to appreciate my miracle baby the moment he entered into our lives. Guilty for not wanting to hold him. Guilty for growing angry as he cried. Guilty for each and every thought I had of leaving. Guilty.

Never before had I felt such shame. Never before had I felt so afraid. But most of all, never before had I felt like such a failure.

I should’ve known something was wrong. I should’ve been able to see that there was something causing my mood swings, anxiety, anger, intense irritability, sadness, excessive crying, withdrawal from my loved ones, fatigue and thoughts of suicide. But I couldn’t see. I couldn’t see because there are no visible signs for PPD. It’s internal. It’s chemical and it’s emotional. It’s a combination of hormonal changes, psychological adjustments and sleep deprivation.

“Postpartum depression is a very real and very serious problem for most mothers. It can happen to a first time mom or a veteran mother. It can occur a few days…or a few months after childbirth.” Regardless of when and how it happens, the pain is the same. But there is one other thing that is the same, the ability to overcome. I am not alone. You are not alone. We are not alone. Together we will overcome.

I would be lying if I said that I have completely recovered because I haven’t. It’s been a strenuous battle. Some days are great. Some days are terrible. But the days that are great are starting to surpass the ones that are terrible. I must be patient with myself, I must celebrate the small steps forward and push to avoid any backtrack, I must open up when feeling overwhelmed and I must remember that I may have postpartum depression but postpartum depression doesn’t have me.

Free and Fearless

My chest tightening. My heart thrashing. My body suddenly starts trembling and just as suddenly becomes completely still. Paralyzed. I am paralyzed. It seems like a scene from a movie, a freeze frame merely to emphasize fear. But this isn’t a movie, this is real life, my life. Here I stand, each and every fiber of my being filled with fear.

Fear by definition is, “an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain or a threat.” The thing is I wasn’t in danger, I wasn’t in pain, I wasn’t threatened and yet fear still had a hold on me. Have you ever experienced one of these moments? Has fear ever immersed each and every inch of you?

I wish I could say that this is something I’ve only experienced once. But that would be a lie. I’ve felt this overwhelming fear on several occasions. Many of which were minuscule and yet somehow something small would become very vast. I cannot count the amount of times that this has happened but I can say that it often occurred prior to a pivotal moment, a life changing moment.

I had been waiting for what felt like eternity just watching countless women walk in and out. Almost all of them alone, like me. We were in a room with each other but I’m certain we all had never felt lonelier. Finally, the speaker we’ve been waiting for entered the room. The judgement in her eyes was evident. In her defense, she did just walk into a room of pregnant teenagers. The next 90 minutes would mark a turning point in my life. It would be the very first time I finally stood and said the words that had been lingering for the past few weeks. “I…want…an…abortion.”

The moment the words escaped my mouth all the fear vanished. Finally, I could think clearly. All that time I was anxious to admit how I had been feeling and yet the moment I said it was able to see that the thought wasn’t mine, it was a dart the devil had thrown in my direction. The enemy feeds on fear. Much like a predator and their prey, he anxiously awaits moments of apprehension then makes his move. I was full of fear; the fear of being judged, the fear of being a teenage mother, the fear that my life would never be the same again. And it wasn’t. It was better.

Too often I hear someone say that they allowed fear to factor into their decisions, decisions that most regret making. I heard a quote in a movie once and I’d like to share it with you today. “The only place that fear can exist is in our thoughts of the future. It is a product of our imagination, causing us to fear things that do not at present and may not ever exist. That is neat insanity. Do not misunderstand me danger is very real but fear is a choice.

Let’s make a choice today.
Let’s choose to lay down our fears at the feet of Jesus.
Let’s choose to be free and fearless from this day forward.
“For God did not give us a spirit of fear but of power and love and a sound mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7

Dear Future Daughter-In-Law

I may not know who you are right now but I already adore you and am fervently praying for you.
My husband and I are working diligently to raise men of God and it is our deepest desire that you would be a woman of faith; a woman who understands the importance of having God at the center of her marriage, a woman who is kind, compassionate, patient, gentle and respectful, a woman who will one day give us grandchildren and raise them to pursue a relationship with Jesus.
To us, everything else pales in comparison.
The expectation to be the perfect homemaker? Not my expectation of you. If you haven’t learned how to cook (or just don’t like to cook) don’t worry, my son will know a trick or two. My mother-in-law showed me how to prepare a few dishes and I will gladly do the same for you. Maintaining a spotless house? Impossible. But if you happen to know how to accomplish that, then teach me.
All that I ask is that you choose to love my son each and every day. After all, that’s what marriage is, a choice to love and when we continuously make that choice, oh how tremendous marriage is. Tough times will still come though. It is my prayer that you will fight alongside each other, that you will balance each other, that you will be each others strength when the other is weak, that you will be constant despite the seasons of struggle, that you will honor, support, respect and love each other.
Never hesitate to call me if you’re feeling overwhelmed, even if it involves me son. I’ve known him his entire life so I just may be able to help. I will not judge you. I will try my best to understand. I’m part of your team now. I will always be rooting for you.
I love you, not just because my son love you but because you love my son too.
I know we have some time before we meet but I will continue to pray for you. And know that when we do meet, those prayers will continue.

Love,
You’re future mother-in-law

Dear Elijah

Dear Elijah,

Today was a rather frustrating day for Mommy. I am currently 34 weeks pregnant with Ethan and I have been physically exhausted. But today, today I was more exhausted than usual. Today I was having a day. Ironically, you also seemed to be having a day. You woke up before 7am with the biggest burst of energy; energy that over time turned into not listening, talking back, some whining and even some stomping. By 3pm you seemed to have used up all of my patience for the rest of the week. Daddy wouldn’t be home for at least another two hours and Mommy really, really needed a break. So I sat you down on the sofa with a snack and put on Octonauts then silently escaped to my room. I sat on my bed, took a deep breath and just began to cry. I cannot say how long I was there but it must have been some time because you came looking for me.

You stood by the doorway, smiled and said something so powerful.
“Mommy, let’s pray.”
You walked towards me and grabbed both my hands.
“Thank you God for protecting me, thank you God for Mommy and Daddy, thank you God for Octonauts, thank you God for donuts…Amen.”
Tears streamed down my face as I embraced you in my arms.
In that moment I began to say my own prayer.
I began to thank God for YOU!

I cannot count the days that I feel like I’m failing as a mother. Despite my exhaustion, today wasn’t one of those days. Today you reminded me that I am doing something right. Today you reminded me where my strength comes from. Today you showed me where your strength will come from too. Even if Daddy and I fail at everything else, I’ll be satisfied knowing that we have already taught you the most powerful tool of all, the power of prayer.

Tonight as I write this you are just three months shy of being four years old.
I don’t know when you’ll read this…
Maybe you’re 15 and hates our guts (as most teens do), maybe you’re about to graduate high school and you’re unsure what you want to do next, maybe you’re about to get married and are having some jitters or maybe you’re a parent with a three year old of your own and seem to be having a day
…wherever you are in life, I hope that these words bring you encouragement and remind you that you’ve always known how to get through any overwhelming moment.

I love you my little angel.
Always and Forever,
Mommy

Ellie’s Dream

There’s a small young girl, not even 10 years of age
She’s laying down in her bed with her blanket wrapped around her tight
She’s whispering
What is she whispering?
There are footsteps
“Please not tonight”
The doorknob twists and and creeps open
He walks in with a sinister smirk
She sees his shadow on the wall and begins to shake
“Please protect me” she whispers again
“Precious,” his wicked voice whispers
She slowly begins to curl up in a ball
He closes the door behind him and chuckles
She lay frozen
He rips the blanket off and begins to tug on her clothes
She tries to stop him but to no avail
Instead he smiles again
He likes it when she fights back, it amuses him
He holds her down
She squirms
His pants are already at his feet and he wastes no time
He’s already forced himself inside her
Deeper and deeper with every second
Bleeding
She’s bleeding
“Ouch!”
She feels like something is ripping
She starts to cry as she screams, “Stop!”
But he just puts his hand over her mouth and goes deeper
“Stop” she muffles
Tears rolling down her face
But he doesn’t
In and out, in and out
Deeper and deeper each time
He stops for a second and takes a deep breath as he looks at her with a grin
She covers her face with her small hands
He whispers something
She cringes in fear by the sound of his voice
He strokes her leg then pulls up his pants
He creeps open the door once more and disappears into the dark
She lay there in anguish
“I hate you God!” she cries, “You never protect me!”

Ellie wakes up drenched in sweat. Her body trembling. Her heart thrashing. It’s completely silent but she could still hear the little girl crying for help. She sits up and takes three deep breaths. It was the same dream for the fourth time this week. She walks to the bathroom, pats some water on her face, glimpses into the mirror and sees the little girl looking back at her. “Why didn’t He help me?” Ellie closes her eyes and starts to cry. It’s been years now and she’s still taunted by these vivid dreams. I know because Ellie is me.