Saturday, August 20, 2016

life, for now

There's something to be said for mothers. We are resilient creatures, we are strong, and we are dirty liars. No matter how bad things are, how sick we feel, or how many things are going wrong; ask us how we are doing, how we feel- and we'll answer with a smile and the token answer, "I'm fine."
We lie. We lie through our teeth about how we're just fine as the walls are crumbling down around us.
It is simply impossible to know just how dark the days are, how lonely nights can be, in one mother's life. There's no counting the tears or catching one's self before a breakdown occurs.
The nicu broke me, newly a mother to 4, of believing I was any kind of strong. I wrote this small bit while our son was in the nicu. I sat in the dining area with two of our kids, watched my husband head over to the nicu and then I broke down. I sobbed heavily and decided I needed to put words to my tears.
-For 3 days I have sat here, multiple times a day and had mini breakdowns. We sit here as a family and try to be normal for the kids. We have meals that we had at home. We eat fruit snacks and just sit for brief moments. Then either Arnie or myself needs to leave. It's time to see Jacob. My heart aches that I am away from him at all. I feel sick with worry. Heavy with guilt. Regardless of which one of us goes, I break down. I wait until I see him take leave out the front door or I stand, in my own world, in the west elevators and begin to cry. I cry because I'm angry. I'm angry at myself for being selfish. I'm angry for ever complaining about being "big" and pregnant. I'm angry that I didn't get to enjoy those last two months of pregnancy. They were robbed from me and from Jacob out of nowhere. It wasn't preterm labor that robbed me- but a fluke of nature that deep down, I am 100% thankful was found but at the same time, I'm so angry and hurt. I'm so mad that I can't just sit and really cry because it hurts physically to cry that hard. I'm mad that my kids see me cry so often and quickly want to know what's wrong. My three year old, in all his wisdom, answered the question on his own yesterday as I sat in this dining hall with tears streaming down my face. He answered by saying, "I think she's sad because she wanted to hold Jacob and wasn't allowed today."- spot on, son. He hit the nail on the head. I'm also angry because I want to feel remotely normal but instead I am a jumbled ball of wired emotions, all fighting to escape me at the same time. Everything causes me to cry. I can't even explain myself to Arnie without breaking down. On another level, I am elated to have this new bundle of joy, who is doing as well as can be expected for his sweet, young age. My heart pounds as I round the corner to his room and see his cute, tiny body laying peacefully. My soul aches to pick him up and love him...but instead, I cautiously touch him, careful not to startle or wake him- just enough to feel him breathe and soak in his warmth. I steel myself for the nurse's news, praying to hear good news, progress, or holding steady.-

So I'm writing *now* to just tell mothers: cut it out. Don't lie. We are not always fine. We are tired. We are angry. We are sad. We are hungry. We are great.
Just don't lie.

So today I am not lying. I am not fine. I haven't been fine since the csection permission forms were laid on the hospital table. I have been broken, perpetually worried, feeling alone, constantly sad (yet elated at Jacob's health), and drowning in my own tears.
I was traumatized by the shock of the quickness of our premature birth. I felt, and still feel, like the ultimate failure. My body failed Jacob and me and continued it's systematic failures by refusing to produce milk for my precious boy- what he needed to help sustain his life, to help him thrive, I could not provide. I did EVERYTHING in my power to get my milk supply up and nothing worked. I pumped every 3 hours for 24 hours in 30 minute intervals around the clock for 3 weeks. Nothing changed. I spoke to lactation consultants, i called doctors. I made myself sick taking supplements but nothing worked. I was chained to a pump to produce less than 2 ounces in a 24 hour period. I was told to give up.
I was torn every day on how to spend my hours. I needed to see Jacob. Even if I couldn't hold him. My heart ached to be near him. I had to pump every two to three hours; we were encouraged to be a with Jacob for all his care times (every 3 hours), and we also had our 2 toddlers with us who needed their parents and needed normal. No matter what I did, I felt like a terrible parent. And every time I was asked for my milk for Jacob, my failures multiplied. I was exhausted, physically hurting from surgery, and emotionally drained...but when someone asked how i was, i would force a smile and say that terrible lie: I'm fine.

We're home now, thank God, but these feelings haven't left. I can't see a pregnant lady without fighting back tears. I can't show up at some place without realizing that the last time I was there, I was still pregnant and things were still normal. So, I cry. All the time. I am not fine.
Don't tell me things could be worse. My dark and terrible brain has already run the gamut of how much worse it could be. Where i am now is dark enough and I feel like I am hanging on the rim of a deep well. Am I fine? Hell no, I'm not fine... but I will be. I just need time. I am working on it. It starts by being honest with yourself and with others who care. I'm not fine yet, but I will be.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Book Review of Cottonmouth and the End (C.S. Fritz)

Cottonmouth and the End by C.S. Fritz is the final book in a series of three that carries you through the spiritual and physical journey of the young Frederick Cottonmouth and the mysterious creatures he meets along the way.
Your heart will ache for Frederick. You will sympathize with his desires. You will root for him to do the right thing. You will be pulled down "the rabbit hole" through the detailed illustrations. Fall in love with this book, with this series; fall deep into the words and feel the breeze on your face, hear the river that Freddie finds so comforting.
Pick up this book, no matter your age, and open its pages with the innocence of a child. You will find, as you finish this adventure, just as Freddie did, that God is near you, always.

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Monday, September 15, 2014

Book Review of Kelly Pulley's Treasury of Bible Stories

When I received Kelly Pulley's Magnificent Tales, Treasury of Bible Stories (Rhythmical Rhymes of Biblical Times), I was overjoyed. It is a hardback book, beautifully and colorfully decorated on the inside and out.
I sat down the first day and read the book to my 2, 3, and 10 year old kids. We took our time, enjoyed the illustrations and often read pages over and over in different sing song voices.
Kelly Pulley takes from the Bible and tells the stories of scripture in such a fun and easy to understand way that it kept all my children captivated and they did not want to put this book away. It has been my go to night time book since receiving it and it has taught my kids so much about the Bible!
The illustrations are realistic, yet have some cartoonish aspects to them, making them fun to look at and educational at the same time. The bright colors on every page grabbed everyone's attention and held it.
I have struggled for a while with sharing scripture with my younger two children and being able to keep things on their level and keep their attention for any amount of time. I have a stack of children's bibles that have not cracked the code of my kids. This book has done the trick. They love being read to from Kelly Pulley's Treasury of Bible Stories!!
I highly recommend this book for anyone who works with or has children of any age. Not only is it a blast to read, it is entertaining to watch your children read through this book and it is absolutely heart warming to see their love of scripture grow with the turning of each page. 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Book Review of Kyle Idleman's Aha

Kyle Idleman’s book, Aha, steers you away from the self-help section of the land of books and helps you realize that maybe, just maybe- you aren’t enough to help yourself. Perhaps you need . . . something more.

You are taken to a place in the Bible that, if you’ve ever wondered from the familiar (be it church, your family, anything) and turned your back on it all, you will either already know- or you will just feel better about "coming home". It is the story of the prodigal son. It’s a story that I cannot read without shedding a tear. Not because it makes me sad, but because I have been there and I know the truth of this story. Our loved ones (and God) want us to come home. They do not care where we have been or what we have done while we were gone, they simply want us home.

"He sat straight up and suddenly realized what his life had become. He wondered how things had turned out this way. When he’d left his father’s house, he’d never imagined it would have come to this. This was never part of the plan. But now life had his attention, and he knew things had to change. One moment he was sleeping, the next he was awake." (Idleman. 2014. P.30, 31)

Ever been there? Does it sound or feel familiar? If it does, then read Aha. Read it with openness. Read it with your Bible open beside you. Kyle Idleman takes passages and parables from the Bible and he will help open your eyes to the "alarms" that may already be sounding in your life. Stop hitting the snooze button. Stop walking into libraries and book stores, and thinking books written by other humans with just as many problems as you can help fix you. Throw your misconceptions about God (He’s unreasonable, unpleasable, unmerciful, uncaring, etc) out the window and see that God just wants to you to come home. I read somewhere on Facebook a quote that said, "Satan knows your name, but calls you by your sin. God knows your sin, but calls you by your name." There is truth in those words. God does not care what your sin is or was, He’s there to tell you it doesn’t matter, He loves you regardless, and it’s not too late to do the right thing. (Idleman. 2014. P.37)

Idleman goes on to discuss how deeper spirituality, more often than not, results from difficult circumstances. You may find that your day is filled with clutter and insane schedules. You may have little to no time for God or prayer in your life. But then something devastating happens: in my own family’s case, unemployment. I would like to say that I spend a little time every day talking to God in prayer, but prior to this circumstance, I doubt I did. I can guarantee you that in those long drawn out months of not knowing what we were going to do financially, I spoke to God every day, and it wasn’t just about my problems. I learned in those months to celebrate the smallest victory and to stop complaining about things in general. I learned to be thankful for everything. I learned to trust my husband in every course of action and to verbally cheer him on in his ventures. Without the difficult circumstance that happened in our lives, I would not have grown closer to God. Along that same thought, Idleman tells an abbreviated story Gerald Sittser who through incredible loss and grief comes to the realization (as we all should) that it is not the loss, the hardship, or the difficult circumstance that becomes our story; it is our response to it that will define us. (Idleman. 2014. P.56,57)

I have heard Psalm 46:10 for the better part of my life from multiple facets: "Be still and know that I am God." I have never really found comfort or great meaning in that verse. While some of you may be gaping at the screen right now, it is true. I would read it and think, "that’s nice." That’s it. It was not a great, fantastic, moving verse for me. Until it was what I needed. My life had gotten too busy. Everything was hectic, we were always running late, (we still are, but without the negativity) I was angry all the time, our family was falling apart at the seams. Then, I read that verse. It hit me as though I had run full force into a brick wall. "Be still! Be quiet, sit still, and just listen and know that I am God." My heart stopped pounding with panic. That short verse from Psalms packs a punch. It just took a lot of alarms going off in my life to realize it. Idleman illustrates this perfectly.

In closing, you should know this book will contain a lot of "kick yourself" moments of looking back on moments in your life and realizing you should have seen the signs. It speaks to the obvious a great deal . . . and while that seems simple and you may ask yourself why in the world you would need to read it- I’m going to ask you to just stop. Stop and listen. Is your life spiraling out of control? Do you feel like your marriage is on the verge of failing? Do you feel like you’re on the edge of a constant disaster? Do you simply have a feeling of guilt that you constantly push away because you do not want to deal with it right now?

Read this book. Read it and open your heart. Maybe it isn’t speaking to you, but to a friend or a loved one. Read it. Read it and realize that your problems are probably bigger than you and your stack of self help books, but nothing . . . nothing in this world is bigger than God. Kyle Idleman’s book is not a self help book, as he will tell you. It is a book that makes you feel good, that will convict you on multiple levels, and reminds you through parables, Bible verses, and true life experience, to be still and listen to God. This book made me laugh and this book made me cry, but most of all this book caused me to realize God is always there, always willing to give us a warning (if not more than one) before we make some cataclysmic mistake that will cost us dearly in some way. Never has the phrase, "make wise choices" made so much sense.

Read this book and come home.

Follow me on facebook (name Amber Maynard Dugan) and become entered to win a free copy of Aha, or simply order your copy here:

Thursday, February 6, 2014

faith as small as a mustard seed

"...Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, "Move from here to there," and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you." Matt 17:20

This past year, 2013, was a learning year for myself and my family. We thought we had faith, we truly thought we did. We had prayed for several years about moving closer to home and to family, and at the end of 2012, we moved on that prayer. We took a huge leap of faith and moved. 2013 came with so much prayer and I'll be honest- worry. It just seemed like we were hit by challenge after challenge. We began to wonder if the move was really what God had intended for us. It took us 4 months to find a place to live *after* we had moved.

and so we prayed.

I cried a lot. I knew Arnie was unhappy in his job. I knew the job wasn't what he was meant to do. He knew it as well, we just didn't know what to do. The unhappiness and discontent was affecting everything in our lives.

and so we prayed.

In October, we were faced with an ultimatum. for probably one of the first times in my life, I gave up control and just went with it. We were a family of 5 and we were without a job. We were without a job from November until February. That's FOUR months without an income.

If you've never been in this position, let me just tell you: it is a humbling, humbling experience. with every moment you spend not looking for a job, you feel more guilty. I spent hours...days...doing nothing but filling out applications and making phone calls....with nothing. absolutely...nothing. occasionally, we both needed breaks from job searching...and in those "break times", I felt nothing but guilt that I wasn't looking actively for a job. we heard nothing. no phone calls, nothing.


What many, including myself, don't realize are the little things. Everyone worries about food on the table. Everyone worries about paying bills... but you don't instantly think about laundry detergent, dish soap, toilet paper, shampoo, diapers, wipes, deodorant, etc. So many little things begin to pile up and you constantly question where you went wrong. you question everything you do. you pour over receipts wishing a mistake had been made..

I cried. I cried a lot. I spent nights staring at a ceiling, just crying. what were we doing wrong? what had I done wrong? we fought a lot. I felt like a failure. we didn't communicate well. we were failing each other. tears were endless.

and so we prayed. we told ourselves (and were told by friends and family) over and over...God has a plan.

we had family trying to help us, we had friends reaching out to help us, but nothing seemed to pan out. we had silence answering our prayers. our phones never rang.

and so we prayed. we repeated it, over and over: God has a plan for us.

as our savings drained down to smaller and smaller numbers, my worry fought my faith.....and yet, we never went without (much).
We continued to pray. it seemed as though every free thought, every spare moment was a small prayer.

finally, an answer came late this Januar: a job came through- just as our savings emptied and I had no idea what we were going to do. I know that during last year, my faith waivered but never failed. it was small as a mustard seed. and while at the time, I felt nothing was happening, I felt abandoned....I was wrong. I was dead wrong. my two year old knows how to pray now, she knows Jesus. She talks about Jesus and she loves her Bible. That happened this past year. I don't think that would've happened otherwise.

you know what else happened? my husband and I- we are closer now because of what happened. we learned to communicate better, we learned to make a true blue bare bones budget. we weathered a pretty big storm, and we came out on the other side still holding hands. our marriage isn't perfect, it never has been, and never will be, but we've conquered some pretty large challenges. I feel blessed to have him in my life....and do you know what else?

I wouldn't change a thing.

being in these positions teaches me a lot about character. I have learned to be a student in all situations. there is no area of your life that you cannot learn more in. don't ever look at something and cry, "why me?"...but look at it as a challenge and see how much you can gain.

"...I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through Him who gives me strength."-Philippians 4:12-13

Friday, November 22, 2013

a year without santa claus

this year has been difficult for my family. I struggle to type the word "difficult" because I know we've seen harder days but, as an accumulation, this year has seen its fair share of hurts.
i am constantly looking for the plus side. forcing myself to, as i know, just as well as you do, that things could be so much worse. i have much to be grateful for.

first you should know this: i HATE asking for help. it's ingrained in my system, i'd rather swallow hot coals than admit i cant do something on my own..
i had medical issues. i hate without going into them, i had to have a minor surgery, i didn't follow all the orders to a "T" (it's hard to do that when you have 3 kids at home, one of which, at the time, was only 3 months old) and in turn i tore a muscle near my incision making my life a great deal more painful. in the end, everything healed, i have my health. i'm not perfect, no one is, but i'm healthier now for the entire ordeal I've gone through.

we took an enormous pay cut to move home. we basically cut out income in half. it was a shock to the system, one we still haven't worked all the kinks out of--but we're home. we're so much closer to family, we have a more complete support system...and have i mentioned how much i love my home town?

arnie took a job that he really wasn't "made" to do. being a corrections officer takes a certain type of person. not everyone can do this job and when you aren't really "made" to do it, it can most certainly add un-needed stress to an already stressed environment. ...but this job is the reason we were able to move home. were it not for fantastic family and friends putting in good words here and there, we wouldn't have been able to make this journey.

at the end of a year, we made the heart wrenching decision to really, really trust God.
Arnie lost his job. i wont go into details, it isn't my story to tell, but i will make this clear: we've no hard feelings, no bitterness, and no anger at all towards anyone or anything- in fact, we've nothing but gratitude. at the end of the day, being a corrections officer wasn't in arnie's heart and this lifted a great deal of stress out of our home.

and so, here we are, nearing the end of November and searching diligently for a job, throwing applications, resumes, and references at nearly anyone who looks our way..and i am, most certainly, a very impatient person. when i submit something, i expect it to be reviewed immediately...which i know is unrealistic. i cant help it, though- i want things to happen NOW. i have a need to know that my gut feeling that everything is going to be alright is, in fact, right. I've been fighting myself here recently with the "countdown" towards Christmas...which is what got this whole blog rolling. i needed to stop worrying myself into sickness. worrying gets you nowhere, and it surely must be a slap to God's face when you start worrying the way I've been going at it.

I've decided (slightly from of being thrust into this situation) that Christmas in our home will be handled quite differently this year. if you're accustomed to receiving gifts from us, it may be homemade this year. money being "tight" is more than an understatement...and i don't say this for pity- i say this because "struggling" seems to be a taboo subject. no one really wants to talk about nor possibly hear about struggling, but it's real- it happens more than you think--and to people you might least likely suspect. i'm writing this because even though i know this is a darker time in our lives, it could be so much worse and there are people out there who have it much worse than we do. we have much to be thankful for.

i want this Christmas to stick in our kids' minds so that later, when we are blessed with much, we will remember when we had very little ( material wise) but so much more spiritually...and what it felt like and how we might possibly minister to those who need more than we do. i want this Christmas to be more about the true reason for the holiday and less about deals from black Friday.

right now, there are families that don't have heat...that don't have a home...that are wondering where their next meal might come from. cliché or not, it is the truth. i struggled with writing this because i don't want this to be a pity party, i am so thankful for what we do have, but i also wanted to make a taboo subject maybe become a little less taboo.

we're going to spin this positively, and try (hopefully with success) to celebrate: a year without santa claus.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

What changes.

If you were to ask me the biggest change that happens when you become a parent- it isn't what you think; it isn't the sleepless nights, it isn't the diaper nightmares, it isnt the surprising amount of times a toddler can vomit -completely unprovoked. it's something entirely different.
*It's the way a child grows your heart.
Whenever you grow, sometimes you grow too quickly, resulting in growing pains. You get those growing pains when you become a parent. Your heart aches with love for your little one. You will be overwhelmed with the feeling of love.
It's the increase in tear production. Who knew that when your little newborn infant involuntarily wraps his or her hand around your finger, it would cause your eyes to tear up? Or the first true smile, that knowing look of understanding- that makes all the crying, colic, and weeks without sleep so very worth it. Witnessing the firsts- first words (your name- mom or dad), first steps (toward you)...
*It's the increase in bravery. Hearing your name cried out in the middle of the night, running blindly to get to them, knowing you'd run through anything to reach them- feeling their tiny heart beat against your chest and wanting to take away whatever it was that scared them.
*It's the ability to become world's best and most strict safety inspector. Never in your life will you see more danger present in a playground than after you have a child. (And forget about jumping on the bed)
But the biggest change is the knowledge that those feelings, those changes- they never go away. if anything, they increase 10 fold as your child/children get older.
Heaven help us as parents. And God, show mercy on us.
This past week's events have made me all to aware of the fragility of life. And as so many have said; and it is proven over and over to us , we are not promised tomorrow. Don't put off until tomorrow what you can do or say today.
I look at my kids napping and I try to imprint the memories of today into my mind: Cain's mischievous smiles- the way he's learning words and surprising me every day.
Amelia's sweetness and cleverness. Even at two, her big sister powers are stretching, and she shows such love towards her baby brother and big sister.
Lily's maturity, at 8, she sees certain things and knows when to step in and help out. I sometimes forget her age because she shows such maturity in helping out- instead of calling to me that someone needs changed, she does it herself. She fixes snacks, pours drinks, and fixes boo boos as needed.
I don't want to forget the little moments of today. I want to wrap them up and save them for forever.

So when you think about becoming a parent for the first time or anytime after, and someone chimes in as a debby-downer, remember these things.
In truth- everything changes when you become a parent, but a few things are left unspoken- things that seem like common sense but until you have experienced it, until you have felt it- they are just words on a screen.
You can have all the "things" in the world and still feel alone and unfulfilled; and you can be as poor as dirt and have the love of your child and know you are as rich as you will ever be.

Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from Him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one's youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their enemies in the gate (Psalm 127:3-5)