The Long Awaited…A Review of “Who Am I?”

My dearest friends and readers, allow me to introduce to you one of the most amazing women I have had the privilege of meeting virtually.

Megan Cyruleski was one of the first to review my book. She also interviewed me here, and then honored me with the favor of her presence here on Predatory Lies. You can read my interview with Megan here. 

And finally, what we’ve all been waiting for (me more than others–on pins and needles to read the Advance Review Copy of her book) a review of Megan’s soon to debut book, Who Am I?

So, without further adieu…

There are two things that make a book mesmerizing: either I find myself in the story or, I am captured by a narrative so far from my own reality that it’s simply hard to believe.

The second phenomena is something like being a deer caught in the headlights. Life demands that I get up and do something “productive”, (or finally put the book down and go to sleep as the case may be). Reason insists that the book will be there later but I am somewhat in a stupor, living in someone else’s world, stunned into staring at pages as the words get blurry and my eyelids droop.

Megan Cyrulewski’s book, Who Am I?, falls in the second category, and let me be clear—few books ever land in that category for me.

Megan’s story is truly her own, though at times it seems an impossibly difficult story. From the first line of the preface, it occurs to the reader that Megan’s life is not an enviable one. Tearful, in bed, crushed beneath the weight of postpartum depression, her mental mantra is, “Madelyn deserves better than me. I want to die.”

Megan then unfolds an ever more complicated drama. From rising out of the ashes of PPD, to protecting her daughter from her narcissistic ex-husband, to surviving domestic violence, Megan guides the reader with absolute precision. She provides dates, full text letters between attorneys and text messages between herself and Madelyn’s father. Megan’s wit carries the story with small doses of humor lifting the reader’s spirit and restoring optimism at just the right times.

I’ve fought my own battles, but none like those Megan faced. However, I believe that an untold number of women face similar issues. In Megan’s story they will find a seasoned companion. Megan’s story provides insight in a “been there-done that” format. Her humor will brighten the darkest days and allow them to search again for the light at the end of the tunnel. And perhaps, most importantly, as it concludes with resounding hope, Who Am I?, will allow many to see “themselves in Megan’s story and give them courage to reach out for help and find healing.

Dying to read it? Here’s the pre-buy link to Who Am I? 
Get it first!

From Riches to Reliance

This is a guest post supplied by my precious sister, Kelsey Gunderson. Any questions will be directed to her and she will reply as quickly as possible.

Kelsey Gunderson is a wife and mother of two living in the Dallas, Texas area. Hesitant to consider herself a writer, she shares from a vulnerable place of obedience to the God who loves and leads her.

Budgets. Whether spreadsheets, cash envelopes, budget programs, or monthly allowance methods, we all try to obtain (or say we do) some kind of budget—some kind of organization for the few dollars that pass through our hands that supply our families with everything from toilet paper to tools, from groceries to gifts. But what happens when you don’t have enough income to budget, when budgeting no longer makes sense? When you don’t have the extra 5% to put into an emergency fund, or 10% into savings, or when you don’t have enough to purchase the bonus-size box of diapers even though it really is a better deal? Well, that’s is exactly where my husband and I have found ourselves the last 16 months.

The change was abrupt, which by no means was an accident. When God wants your attention you can be sure He knows how to rock your world and bring you to your knees in an instant. My husband had been gainfully employed by the same company for 4 years and had already been able to obtain a promotion that most thought was out of his league. The pay was great, the hours were good, and our little family of 3 ticked right along quite self sufficiently. Which, on a side note, I believe is the where the problem started. God doesn’t intend for us to live out our lives “self sufficient” with little reliance on him. He wants us to not only need Him but to want Him as well. In March of 2013 we had a huge wake-up when my husband, through a sequence of unfortunate events, lost his job. If that wasn’t enough to get our attention God also decided to expand our family. One month to the day of him losing his job, I found out I was pregnant with our second little miracle. By “miracle” I mean just that, I had been told on multiple occasions that a second baby wasn’t in our future, but nothing is impossible with our God. He will go to great measures to bring His children to him.

With my husband looking for a new job that would support our family and allow me to stay home with our not only one child but second that was rapidly headed to her debut, the walls seem to slowly start closing in. Fear and anxiety seem to be the only emotions I knew. I had never had to face financial instability quite like this before and at first it was down right terrifying. The smile covering up the panic wasn’t going to cover for long, but God will never give us more that we can handle and He always provides (1 Corinthians 10:13). It is’t until we reach a complete state of instability and uncertainty that we truly began to see God’s active hand in our lives. Over the course of the next several months, we saw God’s hand in so many undeniable ways, anonymous gifts, HSA contributions that shouldn’t have been, mortgage refunds, guilt free/unprompted family assistance, and tax reimbursements that came just in time.

My husband was able to land a local contracting job several weeks after being let go from his job. The contracting job was an answer to our prayers, but was hardly the end our journey. Contracting jobs by nature are flakey (at best) providing a paycheck but nothing more and very little promise of continued employment. So the search continued, and still continues to this day. We have had our hopes rise with phone calls, interviews and follow-ups only to drop with a rejection, job “fall-throughs”, and no callbacks. We’ve seen financial stability on the horizon only to have a storm blow in.

I’m not going to lie and say that it’s easy to trust God when what you need is something real and tangible and it feels like God is anything but tangible; however, I can tell you that this last year has been a year that I would never change. God has brought me to my knees worldly speaking but at the same time has picked me up and placed me in His lap. I have never felt that peace and confidence in Christ that I have felt this past year. Handing over finances to God is one the hardest, yet most rewarding, things we have ever done.

The past year plus has been hard, financially wearing, mentally exhausting and emotionally taxing. It has stretched our finances, our marriage, and our trust, but I wouldn’t change any of it. The thrill of seeing God at work and knowing it’s for the best out weighs everything. I even said at one point that even though I long so much for financial stability again I have also learned to love the instability because it allows me to see the active hand of God. As I look back on the past 16 months and remember the up and downs, the tight weeks and financial gifts that made things possible I realize that this whole situation never was about money or employment, it was about trusting God to provide. Every tight week feels worse than the last, but ever gift is sweeter. I have learned through these gifts that it’s not a coincidence or an obligation on someone else to help us; it’s the hand of God at work. Working through someone else to make sure he provides for his children. I often thought back to the Israelites and their escape from Egypt and how many times they doubted that God would provide, how each situation felt worse than the last, and how they missed out on beauty of trusting God. I don’t want miss out! Even this very day I look at our bank account and wonder how we will make it to the next paycheck and if I will be able to buy diapers before we run out; the problem may still there, but the fear is slowly diminishing. Fear is being replaced by fascination; the fascination of what God will do next.

 

Prove It, God

dried-flower-721462-mI wouldn’t have even seen her, she was so frail, but for the blood curdling scream that rent the air.

My dog and I had just arrived at the pediatrics floor of the local hospital for therapy visits. Ashana, (I don’t know her real name for confidentiality purposes) was just leaving and stood at the elevator with her mother around the corner from me. The doors yawned, they stepped inside and she was gone. I found out later from the nurses that four-year-old Ashana is terrified of dogs, butt as our conversation progressed I learned a little bit more.

Ashana has cancer. They found it when she was two. For the last two years, she has spent ten days a month in the hospital receiving treatments.

“That’s not the first time I’ve heard her cry like that,” one of the nurses said. “It happens almost every time she leaves. She loves it here. But if you think about it, this hospital will probably be most of what she remembers of her early years. It’s like a second home to her.”

I pictured that tiny little girl and her mother. Talk about a trial, a refiner’s fire.

When someone is in the middle of those flames, the worst thing you can say is something like, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” or, “God is working in you. You’ll come out of this much stronger on the other side.”

But that’s what we think isn’t it? We imagine that God crafts our personal struggles to test our faith. But maybe, it’s the other way around. Maybe, God allows struggles and pain in our lives to prove HIS faithfulness, not to test ours.

Remember the story of Elijah running for his life in 1 Kings 19? The wicked Queen Jezebel was massacring the Lord’s prophets and was gunning for Elijah. The prophet ran and hid in the wilderness of Mount Sinai. He was so miserable and lonely that he told God he would rather die.  But God sent birds to feed Elijah; He even came personally and allowed Elijah to glimpse His glory.

Elijah’s experience in the wilderness did not prove his faithfulness. In fact, it proved his weakness—He felt hopeless and wanted to die. The experience didn’t make him stronger, Elijah was not suddenly a mightier man of God than he had been before. Instead, those moments in the wilderness proved that God was faithful; in the middle of that trial, God proved that He was strong enough, able enough to care for Elijah when all else seemed lost.

Romans 5:3-5, urges us to find joy even in the middle of our pain: “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

Did you notice that Paul doesn’t say, “suffering makes you stronger”? Suffering produces perseverance. Perseverance means, “determination for a course of action, purpose”. (dictionary.com)

In our pain and suffering God proves His faithfulness; He proves His strength in the midst of our weakness. It is there, we see His faithfulness and understand that He is able to care for us no matter the situation.

Guilty as Charged?

If hell had water, I’d think I was drowning.

The contents of my head are pounding.

Tears swell up and overflow,

Satan whispers, “I told you so.”

If only I’d done a better job,

At obeying God.

This wouldn’t happen if I were good,

If I would be the Christian I should.

The Lie exposed in chapter 4 of “Ten Things Jesus Never Said,” is: If you really loved God, you’d be good.  Obviously, you don’t love him.  Why do you keep falling into the same sin over and over again?  Why do you keep falling like you do?  You must not be a very serious Christian.  (pg 62-62)

John 9:1-7 “As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’
Having said this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. ‘Go,’ he told him, ‘wash in the Pool of Siloam’ (this word means Sent). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.”

That pretty much cinches the whole argument.  The blind man had lived his entire life in dismal circumstances.  Obviously, the world around him, assumed that either he or his parents had sinned, causing his blindness.  But Jesus, dispelled that lie.  I imagine the blind man was as much relieved by the public declaration of his innocence, as he was to instantly see his reflection in the Pool of Siloam.  And his parents, perhaps they had been ostracized by their neighbors for their imagined sin.  Suddenly, Jesus had declared His own glory to be the cause of their son’s blindness – and then He had healed him!  What a relief to know that our shortcomings have always had a place in God’s sovereign plan.

On page 70, Davis asks, “Guilt or God?”  There he explains the difference between a guilty conscience and convicted one:

Guilt condemns; conviction calls you to something better

Guilt tears down; conviction builds you up

Guilt seeks to destroy; conviction seeks to restore 

“Guilt isn’t from God.  Grace is.” (pg. 75)

AT THE END OF THIS WEEK, I WILL BE GIVING AWAY A COPY OF THE BOOK, “TEN THINGS JESUS NEVER SAID: And why you should STOP believing them.”

MAKE SURE YOU LEAVE A COMMENT SO THAT YOUR NAME WILL BE ENTERED IN THE DRAWING!

Time Warp

I used to think it was just my husband.  Then, I thought it was only me.  Now, I’m convinced it’s nearly everyone.  It’s a talent really: we not so much cross timezones when we travel – we time warp.

Recently, while I was home in Kansas visiting my family, my alter-personality, “Sister” emerged.  I didn’t have my own schedule or set of friends in Kansas, so I clung to Rachelle’s shirt tales.  I had so much fun going to see the play, “The Little Mermaid” with her.  We lost ourselves in the characters of a crime show called, Without a Trace.  We painted our toe nails, ate frozen yogurt, walked her dog, and drank exorbitant amounts of coffee.

“Daughter” also appeared.  I voluntarily washed the dishes and helped with laundry.  Like a cat getting its back scratched I thrilled to my father’s compliments or gratitude.  I put my head in my mother’s lap and let her play with my hair.  For two weeks I wasn’t concerned with groceries, laundry, litter pans, dirty floors or mowed lawns.  When I did chores, it was simply because I wanted to help and it hardly felt like work.

Then, POOF, suddenly I came home.  I mean to my real home, in Virginia, where the adult Abby lives.  Wake up!  The lawn desperately needed to be mowed, the litter pan was lending its fragrance to the entire house, the dishes I had left drying on the counter were still there.  Suddenly I remembered that I need to fix the rusts spots on my car’s trunk, Patrick’s car needs new tires and I had a meeting at the church the very next day.

The stark contrast between these two or three me’s, easily makes one pine for the good ol’ days.  We admire, wistfully, the carelessness of a child.  The truth is: we don’t have to lose it.  I’m no expert, in fact, I rarely get it right, but I firmly believe that we adults have no more reason to worry than a child.  After all, doesn’t God say He is our Father?  I am relieved to still be His child.

I recently visited another blog called, Not Bob.  He wrote this poem that I find mesmerizing and I think it fits here as well.  I hope you enjoy:

I think the world is a pin cushion

There’s a space between everyday matters
that makes someone feel every day matters,
a breath or sigh in the darkness. We surround
our time with excuses and distractions, bind
those we love with commitments when we should be
splashing around in dark puddles while the rain
covers us in nothing more than what it is.

– Robert Lee Brewer, author of Not Bob

Interview With Leslie Cunningham

Abby:  Why did you start The After Belly?
Leslie:  It actually began as a gallery.  Following a divorce from an abusive marriage, I was living in a new state, with a nine-month-old baby.  I was the same person living in a new life in a new body.  I was battling loneliness in addition to being uncomfortable in my body.  I began talking to other women and I was comforted if not surprised that they ALL seemed to feel the same way.
I began taking pictures of women’s bellies and recording their thoughts about their body shape.  The gallery was displayed on Mother’s Day weekend in Salt Lake City, UT, to an overwhelming response.  Following that, many people insisted that it be made into a book.  That’s where Imprints of Birth came from.  After that, I began the website as a means of promotion and it has grown from there.
Abby:  Tell me about your workshops.
Leslie:  The workshops are really writing workshops.  They harness the power of journaling.  Using pictures, often from the book, women are given a journal and told to write what the picture evokes in them.  It is a timed exercise.  You must write the entire time.  Afterwards, we take turns reading out loud what we wrote.  The rules are that the individual may not comment on her own writing.  However, everyone else can say whatever comes to mind.
Abby:  That sounds intense!
Leslie:  It is incredibly revealing.  Often times we don’t even know the feelings we have until we are reading our words to others.
Abby:  Do you use journaling in your own life?
Leslie:  Yes!  I began journaling actually when Makenzie was born.  It was simply a method to remember everything she did or ate in order to share with the doctor.  But it continued as a chronology of her life and then a therapy for me.  Now it is probably the single most healing practice that I have.
Abby:  Can you share some of what you are learning from journaling?
Leslie:  I have discovered so much about myself.  I am trying to learn what it is that makes me happy, brings me peace.  I know that I am not often content with who and where I am.  I need to be.  In the book one of my favorite quotes that came from a journaling session is, “You are already everything you strive to become.”  There’s peace in that.  The concept, “flow” has really been occupying my thoughts lately – in the way that a river flows.  I am a very high-stress, type-A person.  But, I am beginning to shed that and step into the river.  It causes me a lot of anxiety sometimes, but I am trying to simply pay attention to the anxiety and be mindful of it.  I try to imagine what it would physically feel like to be floating in that moment.  Floating or flowing generally requires being relaxed, surrendering even as your body is going.
Abby:  It’s amazing to me that we got here from beginning to talk about how women feel about their bodies.
Leslie: I guess they are all forms of the same lies.  At various points in our lives we experience them and the pain they cause in different ways, but it is basically the belief that we aren’t enough just the way we are.
My next book is a collection of pictures and thoughts from women who have survived breast cancer.  Even though they are victims of cancer, their feelings about their bodies and themselves are remarkably the same.
My ultimate goal with Imprints of Birth and maybe the next book too, is to get them into hospitals.  I want women to know that they aren’t alone and give them the courage to fight the lies before they take root in the next generation.
Abby:  Me too!

In Hopeful Anticipation

I know that this site generally discusses lies.  But death is a reality, the final truth of life.  My granddad died on Wednesday morning.  His memorial service is tomorrow.  I wrestled violently with what I should do – go home? when? stay here? Finally, per my Heavenly Father’s leading and my mother’s graceful confirmation, I decided to stay here in VA instead of flying home to Oklahoma for the service.

As I prayed for wisdom on this decision, I journaled my prayer.  What came from my pen was a letter to Granddad, about two days before he died.  How comforting to KNOW that our loved ones know Jesus and are suddenly more alive than we are!

In Granddad’s memory and hopeful anticipation:

Dear Granddad,

I wonder what you’re seeing right now?

Have you closed earth’s eyelids and already glimpsed the face of Jesus?

 

When they say that to live will never be the same,

“How right they are,” you must be thinking!  “I never yet have lived!”

 

As you gripped the strong hand of Jesus

And he pulled you past earth’s clouds,

You might have turned and waved goodbye, uttered half a sigh.

In a moment’s years we too will know the real life that you see

And wonder why we wept down here and cried impotently.

 

I believe the grass is more verdant where you stand

And waterfalls shout acclamations of joy.

Earth’s been silent far too long

And you’re first to applaud heaven’s chorus.

 

To be honest, down here, I wrestle with protocol.

How best to mourn, how to comfort,

And yet how much is necessary?

Do you appreciate our tears?

 

I imagine you are already so enraptured in new-life, real-life,

That you may not even notice our sadness.

 

I don’t believe you’ve died.

I believe that you have proven that REAL life runs parallel to our petty shroud.

 

Perhaps like David, you’ve shad your raiment.

You are cloaked only in ballad of worship.

Granddad, dance, dance with all your might.

Honestly, Happy Mother’s Day

Your mom had eyes in the back of her head.  She saw through every little white lie as if they were told of cellophane.  She dug up half truths and sleuthed out deception with an uncanny wisdom that would embarrass Sherlock Holmes.

But a few insidious lies got by her. They weren’t the lies you and I told her, but the same ones we fall for. The false implications, the inadvertent comments and persuasions we adopt by simply living in the world. The same lies she spent your entire childhood trying to reveal to you.

In an age of feminists and women’s empowerment, women who make Mommy their full-time career are sidelined.  She might escape the downward glances of her more “successful” peers if she worked outside the home before she had children.  If she can boast more than one degree or start a profitable business from home, then she can quickly validate her decision to stay home with her kids.

And there’s a little lie that poisons our grandmothers.  Grandmas are not relevant anymore.  Generations X and Y have evolved into electronic geniuses.  They communicate better with their thumbs than their lips, so Grandma is resigned to showing off their pictures instead of hanging out with them.  A flip side to this little lie is that Grandma has earned retirement from all forms of motherhood.  She is no longer obligated to be a part of any child’s life.

I’m sorry, I sound so pessimistic.  I truly want to wish my mother and grandmothers and mother-in-law a HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!  The are the most influential people in my life.  If I grow up to be like them, I know the Lord will be pleased!

If you really want to honor the mothers in your life, do more than send a card.  You don’t have to do it this Sunday, but before next Mother’s Day, make sure you admire a stay-at-home mom.  Write Grandma a USPS letter or ask her opinion about something on your mind.  She’s smarter than you I promise!

Is this how you see it?  If you are a stay-at-home mom, what is your experience?  Grandma, what’s the last fun thing you did with your grandchildren?

And finally, a very light note, check out some of these hilarious lies that our mothers once told us!

Lies’s Our Parents Told Us