Prayers and Pills

2018 was not my favorite year. It did contain some great moments and lessons that I believe will set the stage for not just better years, but a better, stronger version of myself.

For starters, I spent (and am still spending) a lot of time recovering from my second ankle reconstruction surgery. Then, I became this person: http://www.singlemomzrock.com/blog/again/1/2019. Right, when I was at my most empty, October and the start of November introduced me to the reality of total sleeplessness, the stress of hair loss, and the constant feeling of tightness in my chest. My moods were unpredictable, and my spirit was weak. The spans of time when I felt like myself when I felt whole, became shorter and less frequent. I felt like a failure at everything I did, including parenting. I could not find joy. I could only fake joy to avoid more questions.

Then, November 10th hit. My campus community was rocked by a mass shooting and the loss of a student. My students, who had lost their friend(s) in the most devastating way, needed support. I wanted to be there for them, so badly. I wanted to dig up the real me from the pits of my soul and give it to them, to wrap them in love and receive their burdens as my own.

But, I was drained. There was none of me, of the real me, to give. I prayed to be filled up so that I could pour out to them. I was scraping the bottom of a drained pool with my fingernails, hoping for water to appear. How could I be so empty when people I loved needed me so badly?

Two days later, the local and campus community caught on fire, for days. The world for most everyone I know was turned upside down. Classes were canceled, lives were upended, homes were lost. Everything seemed to be falling apart. How could so much be happening at once?

In late November, I sought refuge, as I often do, in my Bible. I went to church. I volunteered. I studied the Bible. I prayed. I mean I prayed and prayed and prayed for God to re-fill the empty vessel of my soul. When I sought guidance from Christian friends, they affirmed that I needed to pray.

I prayed some more.

I gave to those in need.

I prayed some more.

I prayed more in a few weeks than I probably have in my entire life up to that point. Nothing changed. No, that’s not true. I did start to feel a new hole gnawing at the crater in my chest. I started to feel like a failure in Christ like I was somehow letting God down by not feeling healed by all of this prayer. I hated myself more, which I did not think was possible.

It wasn’t until someone suggested that I go see a therapist that I started to feel some hope. She suggested that I start taking an anti-anxiety medication so that I could start sleeping again. This was not something of which I was quickly convinced. In my adult life, I have tried to stick to natural wellness remedies, including physical activity, and always through prayer.

As a Christian, I have listened to countless testimonies about prayer rescuing people from depression, from learning difficulties, and from physical pain. Honestly, a large part of me was afraid that taking medication would mean that prayer was insufficient or, worse, that I was insufficient at prayer.

After about 2 weeks of this discussion, the therapist said something to me that finally took root: “Stop seeing prayer as a solution and think of it as illuminating the path towards a solution. It’s a conversation, not a directive.” We talked about my relationship with God. Did I trust Him? Yes. Did I try to have a relationship with Him? Yes. So, then did I trust what He was telling me/pushing me towards? I needed to. Anxiety was stopping me from sleeping and feeling, so she suggested medication as a way to return to healthy sleep and, hopefully, emotional recovery (including my faith in prayer). At my breaking point, I gave in and started the medication.

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It has been several weeks now and, for the past week and a half, I have been sleeping better. Some nights are more difficult but, increasingly, I am having restful nights. I am catching more frequent glimpses of myself. The tightness in my chest is subsiding. The dread that propelled me through the fake days and sleepless nights has almost entirely dissipated. It feels, finally, like everything may be okay.

I don’t know how I made it through the second half of last year. So much of it feels like a blur. Every step felt like an irrecoverable stumble leading me closer to existing as a void. I am amazed that I kept my job. I am thankful that I did not wreck my kids. And, in the most unexpected way, I grew closer to God.

I am in awe of God. I know that He answers prayers. I am confident now that His answer is not, “Thanks for praying, I’ll handle that.” But His answer was there, all along, in the people He surrounded me with. In the persistence of the therapist, in the unwavering support of my best friend, in the little bit of me, that refused to give up while the post-traumatic stress ate away at my soul.

This is not just my story. So many people are wounded and reeling in a world that preaches (and commercializes) self-care but doesn’t slow down for us to truly practice it. I think this tension is acute for single parents because there is never the opportunity to transfer our parenting burden to another adult. I think that this tension is often acute for Christians because we think that prayer is the answer in itself, instead of the way to find the answer that best works for our lives.

For me, the answer is still prayer. But, at least for now, it is also pills.


A. Smith

The High Road

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It’s been raining here in Oklahoma. The ground is wet. But, I didn’t think it was too bad, and I needed to get to my car. Living in an apartment has its advantages and disadvantages. And today, the disadvantage was I didn’t get home from work before my neighbors, and my car was parked down a bit. I didn’t want to stay on the sidewalk. I would just cut across the grass. It would save me 1.2 minutes. So, I took that first step. And then the 2nd. Then I was trying to hurry, because, with each step, my shoes sunk into the mud, hidden beneath the blades of grass. And my feet were getting wet. And cold. All so I could save a little bit of time.

For many single moms, this is how our holidays go. We start out with great intentions, but we decide to get off the high road. The holidays can be difficult. It doesn’t matter if you have sole custody or joint custody, for a single mom, it’s hard! With joint custody, we have to share our kids with another parent. For the sole custody momma’s, you’re it! No breaks. No extra sleep. For the mom’s who get child support, it’s probably not enough. For the mom’s who don’t get any, you try to figure out how to squeeze pennies out of the budget.

Frustrations can build. Unmet expectations can crescendo. And before you know it, that high road is gone, and you’re walking in mud; wet and tired. And grumpy.

I’ve been a single mom for nine years. Nine years of joint custody. Each year has its own “hard.” Last year, I thought I had this holiday stuff down! Then, the call came. Their dad asked if he could take them to Texas. On my holiday. His grandmother was getting older and wanted them all there. Three days before Thanksgiving! As I talked to my ex, I asked how long he had known about this request. Five weeks. He had known for five weeks. Ugh.

After a big sigh and a quick prayer, I was reminded of the advice I had been given during my divorce. “The high road is never the easy road, but it’s always the right road.”

So, I agreed. In that moment, I chose not to look at why I wasn’t asked earlier. I got off the phone and called my kids. And when I told him that my parents and I were going to move our Thanksgiving back a couple of days, I heard the relief in his voice. “Thank you, mom.”

I thought back to other years when I dug my heels in. And just kept sinking deeper through the entire holiday season. I didn’t enjoy it. And my kids probably didn’t either!

I’m not saying that you should always give in! I’m not suggesting that time with you isn’t just as important as time with dad. What I am saying is that sometimes, we have to take the high road. The harder road. Because, when it comes down to it, our kids didn’t ask to have two homes. They didn’t want to share their parents. And, sometimes, we make choices for what is best for our kids. And last year, that was fulfilling a desire of their great-grandmother.

Take a deep breath, momma. Pray. A lot! Talk to your kids. See what they are feeling. And, try to stay out of the mud during this happy season.  

When They Get Quiet.

I’m a mom of boys. I just adore them. Those boys keep me hopping! They wrestle around and act without thinking. The last 23 years have been filled with high energy, ER visits, and lots of laughter. I know more about cars and Marvel Comics then I ever thought I would. Seeing the world through their eyes has been interesting and never boring!

But, the one thing I wasn’t prepared for was the quietness. As a woman, I can talk. A lot! I talk out my feelings, what I’m wearing, how I’m thinking. All of it. But, as my boys hit the teens years, the conversations slowed down. My little boys no longer ran to me with everything they were thinking. They could sit and not say a thing. As the mom, I wanted to talk! But, the more I pushed, the quieter they became.

I read the articles. I Googled how to talk to your teenage son. However, I was always amazed how my open-ended questions could still be answered by one word! So, finally, I prayed. Of course, I should’ve done that first, but sometimes, I just think I can handle it on my own. And I was simply led to a verse.

Be still and know that I am God. Psalm 46:10

Be still? Me? Didn’t God know I needed the conversations? I needed the connections with my boys?

But, I did it. I quit asking so many questions and just waited.

And you know what? They started talking. I started hearing words again. This time, though, it was about the things that were important to them.

The midnight conversation about a Play Station game.

Asking me to watch a TV show with them, then tell me why he liked it so much.

“Watch this mom” as he tumbled across the yard.

When I quit asking the questions that were important to me, I found out the things that meant the most to them. I discovered the things they liked. I heard the names of girls mentioned. I found out the teachers that were liked and the ones that weren’t. I listened to the hurt during holidays when they had to divide their time between two homes. I also loved the laughter that came at the silliest things.

By being quiet, I learned what their favorite cookies were, who they liked hanging out with, and which classes they struggled in.

But, another thing happened. I learned to trust God with my children. The relationship changed from raising littles who needed me, to having young men who needed to make their own decisions and choices. Those decisions weren’t always easy, and the right words weren’t always said. In the quietness those, I heard their heart. And I saw it.

Coming to change my air filters, fix my car, or mow my lawn.

My boys are now 23, 21, and 16. I’ve been a single mom for nine years. I’ve learned how to talk to my kids. For one child, texting is the way to go! For another, standing by him when he’s working on my car works. And, then, there’s the one who will talk nonstop for 30 minutes, then not say much of anything for three hours.

Each boy is different. Each has a different love language. Each sees things differently.

But, some things don’t change. Because when I get quiet, I’ll still get a conversation about the Marvel Universe and which movie will be made next and why it’s important. And in those laughter-filled-unimportant-small-talk-moments, I see a glimpse of my little boys, running around the playground again.

Gwendolyn Irene

www.gwendolynirene.com