I heard the doorbell ring. I had just gotten out of the shower and was still in a towel. Gabby got out of bed to answer the door, even though she was not fully clothed either. It was my friend and her coworker coming to clean our house.
This was the first time I had ever paid anyone to come clean my house. And now that these ladies were here, looking things over, already washing the dirty dishes that were still in the sink, the embarrassment and guilt came over me.
I do my best to keep the kitchen and living room clean during the week and to keep up with laundry, and it seems to me like if I get that done each week, maybe I deserve a prize. But it had been a loooooooong time since I had done any dusting or any sort of deep cleaning—and it certainly showed. (Except to kids under the age of 18…they don’t seem to notice any of that at all.)
I had asked to get my house cleaned because I knew that I needed help. I knew that I needed someone to start the process to get the house back in the shape it needs to be in. Even though I was embarrassed, I knew I had to push through the guilt to ask for help.
I came home after work later that day, and the house looked good—shiny even. But all day I had been asking myself, “Why did I let the house get that bad? Why couldn’t I do a better job of cleaning?”
I cooked dinner, and the girls and I ate together at the counter. But before dinner was even over, Anna and I started arguing about something. (Which is a little odd, because more often than not, it was usually Gabby and I who were the ones arguing, and poor Anna was the one waiting for us to stop.) The argument escalated—the topic was a sensitive subject. Before I knew it, I was sitting alone at the counter, staring at the dinner plates. Anna had gotten angry and went to her room. Gabby didn’t want to be a part of the argument, so she had gone to sit on the couch and turned on the TV.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been heavy-burdened before, if stress and worry have weighed on you so much that you can’t move. I bet you have felt that. Some of you have even felt it for long seasons of months and years. On that day, I was in the middle of a long season of that.
People would probably say I should have made Anna come apologize and have the girls do the dishes with me. But I knew Anna well enough to know that she needed space in that moment. And I didn’t think it was fair to ask Gabby to come help when she already had had to endure the tension of that argument.
So I stared at the dinner plates, too numb to cry, but too depressed to start cleaning. Why do these things always happen with us? I tried to give myself a pep talk: “Mary, just get up. One step at a time. Put these dishes in the sink. Then put the leftover food in the fridge. Then wipe off the counter.” I closed my eyes. My energy was drained, and this was just one more dent on my bruised heart. “Mary, you can do it. Just get up.”
But then I heard Gabby call out to me, “Mary, will you come sit with me and watch this movie?”
I looked back at the dishes, but knew which I would choose. “Yeah, I will.”
I grabbed a blanket for us to share and cuddled up next to her on the couch.
I laughed a little as we started the movie. I thought, And this is why I’ve been struggling to keep my house clean.
I felt too much guilt for how I wasn’t keeping the house clean enough. After that day, I started making some changes to help. But I also reflected on what was happening in my life that made this challenging…
When your spirit is tired and crushed, it is so much harder to keep up with the demands of life. I wasn’t kidding when I told a few people that I wasn’t the best version of myself at the time. My heart is healing these days, and I can look back and see a drastic difference in how much more productive I can now be on a day-to-day basis.
I made it to the end of this season—or maybe I’m just getting a break right now, maybe this is just halftime. Either way, I’m happy that I chose to just hang on and love. I have no advice except to remind you that love always perseveres.
Galatians 5:6: “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”
Mary is the author of She Won't Shrink Back: A Story of Building & Believing.
About 6 months ago, my girls and I were having a conflict one day—it wasn’t a huge fight, but it wasn’t a small one either. One of the girls was not impressed with how I was handling the situation, and she blurted out to me, “You need to go to counseling!”
Honestly, I was so mad at her haughty little attitude in trying to tell me what to do. But the next day I thought about her words and decided that seeing a counselor to help me sort through everything would be beneficial for me. And maybe it would be a good example to them.
Thankfully I knew a lady from some church events from years ago who is a wonderful counselor. We had only been acquaintances, but I respected her. So I called her office and left a long message…that I’m struggling, that I feel emotionally unstable, that I have to make a change because my health and my sanity keep slipping.
We met a few weeks in a row. But more conflicts and difficult things kept happening in our home, and one day I laid my head down on my desk and thought that there will never be enough counseling sessions for me to untangle this struggle.
This week I read over 2 Corinthians 4:8-9: “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”
I was identifying too much with each of these phrases. But I realized that my outlook on my situation was confused. In this verse, it says, “hard pressed on every side,” which I relate to. But then it says, “But NOT crushed.” Unfortunately, my soul did feel crushed most of the time.
At church I serve alongside a man who has known me for probably five years. Not too long ago, he told me that he had observed my countenance and demeanor week after week, and he finally told his wife, “We need to be praying for Mary.” He could see it in my face that I was feeling crushed.
Maybe one day I can figure out a way to describe what led to me becoming crushed. So much of it is due to mistakes I made, and some of it is that I’m suffering the consequences of mistakes others have made.
I can’t go back and change the past.But I can't let myself be crushed either.
I have to be solid, firm in my identity as a child of God. The words and the decisions of others will press against me—and the more I care about that particular person, the harder their words and decisions will press against me. But I have to shield myself from letting them crush me.
God, even when I’m HARD PRESSED, help me NOT to be CRUSHED.
I chose to make these counseling sessions a priority because I want to come up from my situation stronger. My counselor is the type who will hold me accountable to make the changes that we discuss in her office. It’s not okay for me just to come in and tell her everything that has hurt me; I have to be willing to do the hard work of making things better.
She wrote down a few action steps for me. She showed me a few note cards that have biblical principles about parenting. The verses on those cards were familiar to me, but I hadn’t been able to implement them with my daughters in the way that I had hoped. The thought of that made me want to weep.
I didn’t break down completely; I kept my tears controlled.
She pointed to the action steps that she wrote down, and she asked me, “Is this something you can do?”
I stared at her list, and for the first time, I knew what people mean when they said that they are too scared to change. I really wanted the change, but the process seemed terrifying to me, and I knew that I didn’t have the strength to do these things.
I looked up at her. “The best version of me could do these things. But I’m not the best version of me right now.”
The next phrase in 2 Corinthians 4 is that we are “perplexed, but not in despair.”
Challenges make me feel perplexed. I’ve often prayed, “God, if you just show me what to do, I’ll do it….but I’ve tried so many things, and I have no clue what else I can do to make this better.”
Feeling perplexed is going to be a part of every struggle. But according to this verse, we need to guard ourselves from sinking into despair.
Unfortunately, during a huge conflict a little while ago, I gave into despair… I was discouraged because I was trying to implement the advice I had received in counseling, and everything still blew up. I felt like things were never going to get better—that even though we had gone to counseling, even though we had tried to talk about what to do better in these types of situations, we still couldn’t get through it without a big fight.
I flopped on my bed and said that I was ready to cry. I didn’t do anything for the rest of the day. I had other plans, but I didn’t want to go. I had given into despair. It was like my hope broke finally on that day, and I didn’t believe that things could get better for us. I felt like I had let the girls down because I couldn’t fix it for us.
But thank God—now that a little time has passed, I can say that things have gotten better. Of course, they got worse before they got better. The days that followed that incident brought a lot of stress and heartache...
But the Lord’s mercies are new every morning, and things did get better. Just this week I’ve been surprised at how God has shown me a few ways that He is working in our little family. And maybe the Lord is granting me a glimpse of clarity where I used to feel perplexed, new hope where I used to feel despair.
God, even when I’m perplexed, help me not to give into to despair.
Time to Rise, Part 3 is coming next week. xoxo
Mary is the author of She Won't Shrink Back: A Story of Building & Believing.
Mary works at Brookville Road Community Church, where she leads children's ministry and women's ministry. She is the author of She Won't Shrink Back: A Story of Building & Believing.