An Open Letter to Mandisa

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I feel God leading me to write another open letter to a celebrity that has impacted my life.  I wrote one a few years ago to Michael W. Smith about the way he eased a difficult time in my life.  Now, I need to write another…

 

Dear Mandisa,

First, let me say that I have been a fan since seeing you on one of the few seasons of American Idol that I actually watched.  I have cheered on Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and you.

The main reason I am writing is to say thank you.  Your music pulled me through a very dark time in my life.  I have written on my blog about my depression, but I have never thanked you personally.

I had known I would be a teacher in some form my entire life.  My sister found something I wrote in the first grade saying I wanted to be a teacher when I grew up.  Generations of my mother’s family before me had been teachers.  Unfortunately, my mother passed away exactly one year before I began my first teaching job.  She did not get to see me graduate with my Bachelor’s Degree in Early Childhood Education with honors from her alma mater.  She did not get to help me set up my first classroom.  She did not get to help me pick out my first day of school outfit.  However, I still felt her with me each year.  One small way I knew she was there was that each year I have had some form of the name Catherine in my class – Mom’s first name.

Fourteen years into my career, things got turned upside down.  I was told I was a terrible teacher by an administrator.  I was the only full-time income in my house since my husband was staying home with our then two-year-old twin daughters.  Our 10-year-old son was a student at the school where I taught.  In hindsight, I was probably still dealing with post-partum depression that had turned into general depression and daily panic attacks.  However, I was devastated and terrified of not being able to provide for my family.

Then the real blow happened.  An administrator told me that my students “deserved better.”  She meant that they deserved better than my depressed state and was trying to encourage me to seek help.  However, in my mental state at the time, I took it to mean that they deserved better than me.  The next morning, in the midst of a severe panic attack, Satan took that phrase and convinced me that my husband and children also deserved better.  In fact, my brain told me, they would all be better off if you were not here, so just end your life.

The blessing was that Jesus gave me the clarity to call my best friend.  She talked to me while I got ready for work and the entire drive in.  When I told her I was in my classroom and she knew I would be fine, she hung up with me and called my husband to let him know what had happened.  By the time I got home that afternoon he had scheduled an appointment with a Christian counselor.

The rest of that school year was an hour by hour fight with my depression and, it felt to me, for my sanity.  During this very dark time I would listen to your music all the way in to school and until my first class arrived.  I would listen again during my lunch time.  Your music gave me hope and the strength to make it through a few more hours.  Mostly, I listened to your Overcomer CD.  I would literally turn on the CD, put my head on my desk, cry and pray “Help me, Jesus.”

Three years later, I am seven weeks from finishing my seventeenth year teaching.  My daughters are now in school with me and my son is finishing middle school.  New administration values my teaching experience and expertise.  My depression and anxiety are pretty well controlled with counseling and medication.  However, your music still holds a very special place in my heart.  Satan sometimes creeps back into my head with thoughts of how things would be easier if I would just end my life, but I quote Scripture, and some Mandisa lyrics!

A few weeks ago my daughters and I were driving to school when you came on the J93.3 The Joy FM in Atlanta.  My girls recognized your name and started singing Overcomer!  I was shocked to hear that you had also been battling depression, and even during the time I had been battling the same thing!  Knowing that, I felt it was time to tell you how much your music had helped me through.

Mandisa, God used your music to pull me away from the edge of suicide.  Looking at my children, both personal and in my classroom, it saddens me to realize how close I was to that terrible mistake.  Thank you for the part you played in my endurance and healing.  Thank you for letting God use you and your amazing talent.  Thank you for being so open about your struggles and your humanity.  I am here today partially due to your willingness to be used.

Sincerely,

A. Leavitt

Living with anxiety

An open letter to Michael W. Smith

 

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One Day…

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One day this pain will be gone.

One day the tears erased.

One day the burden lifted

And again I’ll see your face.

 

But right now I can’t breathe.

I can barely lift my head.

I can’t see any hope at all.

I only see darkness instead.

 

Satan is attacking.

I hear him hissing in my ear.

Somehow his voice sounds like mine

And something becomes clear.

 

He’s had control for so long

I’ve made his job light.

He places thoughts inside my head

That I replay in the night.

 

I’m fighting FOR the enemy.

I’ve gotten turned around.

I crawl once again to You

And lay it all back down.

 

I’ve been here so many times.

Said all the words before.

But in You there’s no judgment

And You welcome me once more.

Why me?

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You had an angel chorus

And your own personal star

Announcing your arrival

To those watching near and far.

 

You had the wisdom of the ages

While you were just a child.

The wind and waves obeyed you

And even demons running wild.

 

So it makes no sense to me

Why you would look my way.

You offer me forgiveness

And eternal life one day.

 

I do not deserve your glory

And even less your grace.

My sinful ways shame me

When I look into Your face.

 

You offer me forgiveness

But I can’t understand

For my sins crucified you

Along with all of man.

 

Why do you pursue me?

Why do you desire my heart?

I can do nothing to repay you

And you knew that from the start.

 

Still you reach out your hand

And lead me back to you.

Thank you for your gift of love

Even when we are untrue.

Not enough

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As a person that battles depression on a daily basis, not feeling like you are enough for someone is devastating.  The idea that your best is not the best.  That despite your hardest work, you still, and always will, come up disgustingly short.  In my life I have had this realization several times.  In the past 24 hours, however, I have come to another startling realization: it is my fault.

My struggle with the elusive idea of “enough” typically involves men in my life.  I feel there is a list of expectations that I am supposed to live up to, but I don’t have the list.  So I find myself desperately scrambling to fulfill any position I can find that is open in their lives.  While I felt I was filling a need that had been revealed only to me, I realized recently that it was my desperate attempt to control the situations.

Yesterday I realized an even more painful part of the equation.  It is facing the reality that someone means more to you than you do to them.  When you have hung so much time and energy on the hook of that relationship that when it all comes crashing down in front of you it is difficult to even grasp the glaring reality that everyone else has always seen: you put more effort into the relationship than they do.  You are always giving, going, doing and helping.  They…..do not.  It is exhausting and drains you of you.

Many women joke about being attracted to bad boys or men who seem dangerous.  My mom used to comment on how I brought home “lost puppies” in boys, as friends, all my life.  I managed to attract those who needed a family, a friend, or just someone to believe in them.  She practically begged me to be more discerning with those I dated as I neared that age.  I wasn’t.  My attraction to those who needed me continued and has caused me all the pain and heartbreak that she warned me it would.  I have wished many times that I could go back and tell her that she was right and apologize for not listening.

Maybe that is why I am in my profession.  Teachers are constantly meeting children who need them.  That need can take on many different forms, but typically have one root: they need to be loved.  That is one thing I am good at: I can love.

Love doesn’t fix everything, though.  Sometimes those lost puppies need more help than one person can give.  And sometimes the self-appointed rescuer is the one who really needs help.

It is my fault that I am in the mess I am in.  I looked toward those that I felt needed me for my validation.  They were my rescuer from facing my own issues.  Then they are gone and I am left with only the weak woman staring back at me from the mirror and she makes me sick.

I must remember that my validation and value comes from Christ alone.  He is the only one that sees every part of me.  He must be sobbing over the fact that I do not feel that I am enough.  After all, I am His creation.  I can’t imagine the pain I would feel if one of my precious children felt inadequate.  I must appear as amazing to Him as my children do to me.

I am telling Him that He is not enough.  I have the audacity to tell the Creator of all Earth that He is not enough.  That I know better.  That I need to be more than what He made me to be so that I can earn the admiration of another human?  What nerve!  Instead of acting as if I am not enough, I am acting as if I am superior to the Savior of all humanity.

I am resolving to work harder this week to look to Him alone for my validation rather than to man.   For Him I am enough and for me He is enough.

 

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.               Luke 12:6-7

Fear Not

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“Don’t worry about it.”

If I had a nickel every time I have heard that phrase.

I have always worried.  I used to just assume it was part of my personality.  I was told that all the women in my family worried.  It was just the way the women in the Sennett family worked.

After my mother died, however, the worry took a complicated turn.  It turned into devastating anxiety and panic.  I have had moments of anxiety that have driven me to my knees in the carpet and it took prayer to stand me up.  I have prayed my way into work many days – not because I was worried about something that was supposed to happen that day – but because I was anxious about something that MIGHT happen.

I can come up with “What if…” questions better than most Olympic athletes can compete at their sport.  The answers I come up with are always worst case scenarios.  That causes more anxiety.  It is a vicious cycle that I have allowed to steal many days from my life.

Today I am worried.  I have to leave in about an hour to take my six year old daughter to our local children’s hospital for a test.  The doctor told me what the test will entail, but since it is not one I have endured before, I can’t prepare her.  I don’t know if she will be in pain.  I don’t know if it will cause her fear.  I don’t know if I will be able to be with her.  I don’t know if it will be a good thing for me to be with her.  Will she sense my fear?  Will that make everything worse?

So I have to make a conscious choice to trust.  I have to trust that this children’s hospital knows what they are doing and will be a calming effect.  Trust that they understand my fears and hers.

Most of all, I have to trust that God loves my daughter more than I could ever imagine.  Whatever happens today is in His will.  A quick Bible Gateway search of the phrase “fear not” brings up over 150 verses that teach us not to fear.  They stretch from Genesis to Revelation.  They are direct commands from Moses, Jeremiah, Isaiah and other prophets speaking on God’s behalf.  They are commands from Jesus Christ Himself.  They are teachings from the epistles of Paul.  This might be an important topic, huh?

Trusting in God is easy when you have a back up plan.  Trusting in God is easy when it is a choice between good options.

When it is something completely out of your control……..not so easy.  When it is the well-being of your child that is out of your control…excruciating.

Today I am having to make a conscious effort to trust.   Today I am having to renew that effort every few minutes.

Today I am having to quote some of those 150+ verses over and over to myself.

Today I am choosing to learn from my daughter, who is contentedly reading a book – completely trusting.  She knows that Mommy and Daddy prayed over her last night and that we will be continuing to pray.  She is confident in that power.

Matthew 10:29-31   “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

Ten Ways You Know…Vacuum edition

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10 ways you know it has been too long since you last vacuumed

 

10. You have more pet hair on the floor than carpet.

9. You have a strong suspicion you may have lost a pet under the pet hair.

8. Your toddler points to the floor and says “EW!”

7. Your toddlers don’t know what a vacuum is.

6. You’re not sure you know how to work your vacuum. You’ve owned it for over a year.

5. Your bagless vacuum has to be emptied twice. In one vacuum session.  In one room.

4. You find a toddler spoon you’ve been missing. It was in plain sight on the floor.  You couldn’t see it under the pet hair.

3. Your pets go into traumatic shock and might have to be treated for PTSD when you do vacuum.

2. Your toddlers scream like they are being hunted by the vacuum.

1. Your third grader comes into the room after you have vacuumed and says “What happened in here?!?!”

 

March 12, 2012

Aaron Burr, Sir

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Like much of the live theatre loving population of the country, I have become captivated with the Broadway phenomenon Hamilton.  I have not yet been blessed enough to get to see it.  I have, however, purchased – and memorized large parts of – the unbelievably amazing soundtrack and am currently reading Mr. Chernow’s book that Mr. Miranda based the musical on.

I have become increasingly intrigued by the character of Aaron Burr and his motivations.  Mr. Burr served eventually as a senator of New York and Vice President of the United States under President Thomas Jefferson.  However, deep inside, I believe he was an insecure and fearful little boy.

We know Aaron Burr was orphaned at a young age.  He was raised by an uncle.  In the soundtrack to Hamilton, Burr is described as completing his education at a record pace to fulfill the wish of his deceased parents.  He is very motivated by the desire to maintain the legacy his parents began.  I believe that Burr’s biggest flaw is being an extreme people pleaser.  In the soundtrack, he offers the advice to Hamilton on several occasions, “Talk less; smile more.  Don’t let them know what you’re against or what you’re for.”  Deep inside he was missing the praise and encouragement most of us receive from a relationship with our parents.  Since he lost that opportunity, he looked for it from other people he saw as important.

We see him looking for the approval from George Washington both on the battlefield and in politics.   He seeks out a secretary position in Washington’s cabinet, which he does not receive.  He seeks out approval from the people of New York, by actively campaigning door to door for the senator position, which he earns.  He seeks out approval from the people of the United States by running for the position of President, which he did not receive.

As a people pleaser myself, I can understand a little of what Burr seemed to be enduring.  While I had a good relationship with my parents growing up, like Burr, I always felt I was second place to others around me.  I never had the opportunity to shine like friends did.  I remember a conversation with my mother about a part I was auditioning for in my high school drama department.  I was auditioning for a lead part.  My mother told me to pursue my dream, but to keep in mind that I was “not leading lady material.”  While I now understand her statement, at the time it crushed me.  I thought that even my own mother did not believe in me.  When I, in fact, did not receive the part I was auditioning for, but once again got the part of the comic relief, I decided I was always going to be second place, if I was lucky.

In my adulthood this has continued.  I still find myself longing to shine.  However, I have learned that instead of looking to be the best, I need to look to find God’s purpose for my life.  Jeremiah 29:11 says “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (ESV) While I may never shine by the world’s standards, I need to fulfill my purpose and shine in my own life and mind.

I can’t help but wonder what Aaron Burr could have accomplished if he had looked for his purpose rather than his next spotlight.  What was his true purpose?

We have to each make the decision if we will search out glory by the world’s standards or if we will look to God and allow Him to tell us what His purpose is for us.  Will we be like Burr and Hamilton and leave people wondering what we could have done if we had only been given more time, or will we use every day to the best of not our abilities, but His?