5 Things I’ve Noticed and Learned During Quarantine

This title is very similar to the one I used last week. I thought it was just as important to talk about the things I’ve noticed and learned during quarantine as well as the things I’ve missed. It’s important for me to take the lessons from the good and the bad as I move forward into what opening my state up is going to look like since this week is the start of the next phase.

One of the things I’ve noticed is how brilliant the spring colors are when I’ve gone for my walks. The green trees, the blue skies, and the many colors of the flowers have taken my breath away when I’ve been outside. I’ve been able to stop and really look at them in a way I’ve never done before. I’ve been still, and I think that’s where God has wanted my heart for the past few weeks. As Psalm 46:10 says, “He says, ‘Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.'” God’s creation is amazing, and I want to keep my heart and mind attuned to it as things start to open.

Another thing I’ve discovered is that my patience has grown during this time. Between staying at the speed limit while driving my son to his essential job and giving grace at the grocery store, I find that I don’t mind things taking longer. Why should I? There’s been no need to be in a hurry. I do want to admit I haven’t been perfect at this. Not by a long shot. But, I’ve made progress, and I want to make sure I keep making progress.

In the previous paragraphs, I wrote of positive things I’ve noticed and want to make sure I continue to notice. But, there are negative things too. Things I want to make sure I keep an eye on and turn towards the positive whenever I’m feeling or experiencing the negative.

The first of these is a lack of perspective. When news of the coronavirus first came out and shelter in place orders were enacted by governments, I thought of many other things that would be affected by staying at home. I thought of the possibility of unemployment which I’ve gone through before with my family. I thought of the ministry my friend runs and about how the people she ministers to are considered to be at the bottom of society. I thought of the likely increases in domestic violence, suicide, and other mental health issues. I wondered what the lack of human contact would do to people, and I wondered what would happen with my own mental health issues. (As far as I’m concerned, it’s been a rough two months.) It seemed to me that there were a whole lot of other issues that would come from fighting this virus. But, of course, most people only thought what we were doing to fight the virus was important. Now, don’t get me wrong. Fighting the virus was and is important. This is an illness we had never seen before, and people were dying. But, to think we wouldn’t have any other effects from shutting down our society was very unrealistic. So, just because someone hasn’t done things exactly the way I would have done them during this pandemic doesn’t mean they’re awful. Let’s exhibit perspective, y’all, not show our lack of it.

This lack of perspective that people have exhibited (especially online) has led me to the one thing God has told us not to have in Scripture. What is it? Fear. Fear of death. Fear of the unknown. Fear of this virus. I’ve gone through a lot of this time not exhibiting fear–going out to walk, going to the grocery store, and to the bookstore now that it is open. But it got me thinking. Was I supposed to be afraid? That’s what news, government, and health officials seemed to be promoting. I looked in Scripture, and there were a plethora of responses. I’ll just quote a few.

Philippians 4:6 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

Here’s one from Psalm 56:3. “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.”

I liked this one from Isaiah 41:10. “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

And, finally, from Psalm 23:4. “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

So, that’s the answer to my question. According to my faith, I’m not supposed to be afraid, and that brings me to the fifth and final thing I’ve learned during this pandemic. Faith. I’ve learned that my faith is stronger than my fear and lack and that it can help me notice and learn what God wants from and for me.

May we all lean into the strong faith God wants us to have.

God bless you all!

Five Things I’ve Missed While in Quarantine

I have seen many of these posts floating around in the blogging world for the past week or two and wondered if I would have anything different to say if I attempted one. I decided I did. I’m my own person, after all, right? Right! So, without any further adieu, here are the five things I’ve missed while in quarantine.

The first thing I’ve missed, and, for those who know me, this shouldn’t be a surprise, is going to a bookstore to browse. Yes, my TBR (to be read) pile is way too high, but there is just something about walking into a bookstore and taking a deep breath that is fulfilling to me. It is also one of the ways I find new authors. By looking through a book by an author I’ve never heard of, I see if the story is something I might like or find intriguing enough to read. Yes, I have my favorite authors. Yes, I see the books which are sitting at the front of the store because of their marketing campaigns. But, going through the shelves themselves, that is one of my favorite things to do. When I was able to return to one on Saturday since my state’s retail stores are now allowed to be open, I felt settling in my soul I haven’t felt in a while.

Now, to number two. The second thing I’ve missed is going out to eat or for coffee with my friends and family and actually sitting in the restaurant. I have seen doing this before as taking a break from life and spending time with the people who mean the most to me. But, we haven’t been able to do that for almost eight weeks, and I’ve missed it terribly.

This leads to the third thing I’ve missed which is seeing and getting hugs from my friends. I’ve seen a few people when it’s been necessary, but, of course, there were no hugs. I’ve also seen people with the aid of technology. But, it’s not the same. It can never be the same. Then, there are friends I haven’t seen at all. In the last eight weeks, there hasn’t been a good reason to see them, and I haven’t felt like I could call them either. All of us have been dealing with our own stuff, and it’s hard to know when it would be a good time to talk. Or maybe that’s just what our society has come to. 🙂 But, I’ve missed seeing and interacting with people, and it has become more and more evident that this is a gift from God which I’ve taken for granted.

The fourth thing I’ve missed which might be a surprise to you because of the previous paragraph is having space. With my husband working from home and my young adult children going to and fro, I have, most of the time, been quarantined with people. I love them, of course, but my introvert personality craves alone time so my brain can reset. That has been rare over the past eight weeks. I’ve been able to be alone when I’ve left my home, but not while I’ve been in it. Space, in my life and my home, has been a true gift from God, and I know how grateful I’ve been for it when it has been possible.

Finally, the thing I’ve missed the most since this pandemic and quarantine have started has been going to church and worshipping with my brothers and sisters. Yes, I know the building isn’t the church, but there’s just something about being in such a holy atmosphere and knowing that everyone is there for the same purpose as you that makes the experience more meaningful and the encouragement more lasting. I am grateful though for the time and effort many churches, including my own, have taken to make sure that we can have worship experiences online and what they’ve done to serve us during this time of isolation.

So, there you have it. The five things I’ve missed the most during this quarantine. Let me know what you’ve missed in the comments.

God bless you all!

Community Versus Individualism

For many of us, today marks the beginning of our seventh week of isolation. We’ve begun working from home, lost or been furloughed from our jobs, or continued working with jobs that have been deemed essential. If we have children in the educational system or who are college students, we’ve had to get used to them being home all the time and make sure they’re following their online educational requirements. All the places we consider important have closed down, and our lives have moved online. It all boils down to this. Our lives have been upended. What I want to talk about today is how this has affected our thinking about community versus what we can accomplish as an individual and how this meshes with my own experiences.

Community. For a while, I’ve had two different communities. One is mainly online consisting of homeschool mom friends (from when I was homeschooling), writer friends (who I’ve met in different places), and people who I’ve known since college (and no longer live in the same area with). It’s quite a diverse set of people, and I’ve gotten comfortable with online interaction more comfortable, I thought, than others. I’ve known some of these friends in real life in the past while others I’ve never met and probably will never meet. Some share my religious faith, and others don’t. Some share my writing and nerdy geekiness, and others don’t. It’s diverse like I said.

The other part of my community consists of people I know in real life. In my life, those groups of people tend to be the same. But, I interact with them in different ways because I do know them in real life. We go out for a meal or coffee; we might go for a walk together; we meet up at church or for a writing group, or we might spend time in one another’s homes. We use technology to keep in touch, but we see each other on a regular basis.

But, that has all been upended now because of the pandemic and the quarantine. The two groups have been mushed together online, and I don’t quite know what to do with it all. It’s hard, to be honest, and it feels weird. I’m alone with the thoughts in my head for long stretches during the day, and they invade my heart and soul. Thoughts like ‘This pandemic will never be over, and you’ll never know the pleasure of real-life friendship again.’ Or ‘This country is going to fall into a depression. How will you survive?’ Imagine those thoughts being on a constant replay through your head. Then, imagine the thoughts of not feeling worthy to be around other people or that other people even want you around. Those are hard things to think, and I don’t even feel like I can tell other people because why would they want to know. They’re all busy with their own stuff or struggling with fears of the pandemic itself.

This brings me to the individualistic part of this post. If I don’t feel like there’s anyone I can talk to about my deep feelings of depression and anxiety, then the only choice I have left is to handle them by myself. Handle my faith by myself. Handle my writing by myself. Handle living by myself. And I’ve done okay with that. I don’t have a whole lot of choice in the matter. But, I do pretend…pretend for the people I need to be around that everything is okay. Isn’t that what individualism is about? What my country, the United States, was built on. Mind you, there’s nothing wrong with individualism. We are all the ones that have to live our own lives after all. I can talk to God by myself. I can write by myself and usually do.  😉 I can experience the world by myself. And, in some ways, that’s more desirable to me. There’s no risk of getting hurt or doing or saying something someone disapproves of. I don’t have to be real with anyone either. So, right now, I’m confused between the two and unsatisfied with all the options. I want community, but feel like I’ve lost the realness of it. Frankly, there’s a part of me that wants to give up. That feels like I have nothing left to offer.

But, God…and maybe that needs to be my reason right now. To depend on Him to supply my lack. To read the words He has given me during the last few days. The Word Porn meme I found on Facebook yesterday said this. “To everyone with a mental illness who is currently in quarantine, sitting with their thoughts every day, be kind to yourself and hold on. The world needs you.” I cried when I read it because it’s very easy to think the world doesn’t need me. Then, there were the words said to me by an author who is getting ready to launch her book this week. You might have read the review of her book I posted a couple of weeks ago. From Rachel Macy Stafford referring to me, “Your vulnerability is a GIFT to this world!” I read these words again and know that my Lord and Savior gives me what I need when I need it. So very thankful!

When this quarantine is over, I will be a different person. We all will be, and I’m praying for all of us to have the strength and courage to move in the direction God wants for us.

God bless you!

 

 

Perspective

Many of us started the year with routines that have now gone out of the window. Some of us are working from home now or dealing with people who haven’t been there before. It’s been an adjustment all around. It’s been the same with my word of the month posts. But, I come back today with a word I think we all need to be reminded about. The word is perspective, and it’s important because the Internet and social media have made it easy to throw around judgments without getting personally involved in a situation and with the potential of hurting many people.

So, perspective, what does it mean? The definition I’m using for the purposes of this post is this one. Perspective is a “particular attitude toward or way of regarding something; a point of view.” (Dictionary.com) Now, we all have different perspectives, and that’s how it’s supposed to be since we’re all human. Nothing wrong with that. But, I have been reminded over these last six weeks of quarantine how fragile humanity is. I was able to ignore it at first. The little jab here of people standing too close together in public. The little jab there of people bringing their children to the grocery store. People complaining about others walking or running outside. Getting into fights (online) about valuing money more than people’s lives. It got to the point where I would just shake my head and roll my eyes at how vicious people were being with one another.

But, then it got personal. As most of us know, this pandemic has several moving parts–physical, mental, educational, and economic. We’ve also been divided into two camps–the essential worker and the non-essential worker. Don’t get me wrong. I applaud all the people who are doing the things we consider essential in our society. But, I think this labeling has been a good way to get fights started. The parts of this pandemic have also affected people in different ways. For me, it has been my mental illness and how confinement has affected it. The economic realities of being confined have also taken their toll. I have not made a secret of suffering from depression and anxiety and being confined has made my reality more difficult. I also knew that for every person saying it was too soon to release the restrictions and that many more deaths from the virus would probably result, there would also be another person with their hand out for the rent or mortgage payment. All of us have our own priorities, right?

So, anyway, I started sharing some articles and posting about my own experiences with mental illness during this lockdown. Nothing that attacked anyone. Just things from my own perspective. Things I felt were important to say. I received some support, but that was not the point of my posting. A few days later I read a post decrying anyone who had been posting about mental illness. Their perspective was that anyone who was not posting about the pandemic itself was being selfish. I thought back over the previous few weeks and the thoughts I had been battling of not being enough or not being worthy of being here anymore. I thought of how it seemed we were all on top of each other with no privacy to be had. This is not a good thing for me.

There were no names in the post, but I felt like I had been slapped. Then, I got angry and wanted to retaliate. Fortunately, I was talked down from what I wanted to do and blocked the person instead.  I decided to take some time to work out my feelings in my head and in my journal. My feelings of anger and my feelings of not being enough. (Remember, essential workers versus non-essential workers.) Finally, it came to me. The word, perspective. The person who had made the post had a very narrow perspective because of the job they had chosen for their life’s work, and they were unable; maybe even unwilling to widen it. I felt better then. It wasn’t my job to fix someone else’s perspective. It was my job to keep my outlook as wide as possible and to keep my attitude free from judgment. Isn’t that what God has asked us to do?

May we all keep our minds open during this time of isolation!

Live, Love, Now by Rachel Macy Stafford: A Book Review

I first saw the opportunity to be a part of the launch team for this book a few weeks ago. I thought about it for a day or so. Could I do a good job with the review? Would I be able to relate to the book and its message even though I’ve finished raising my kids? I’m a subscriber to her blog because I like the way she relates to people with her words, but reviewing a whole book…I wasn’t sure. I’m happy to report the answer to all my questions was YES! This book is worth reading by everyone even if you’re a young adult who isn’t married and doesn’t have kids or a middle-aged mom or dad who’s done raising their kids. It’s worthy to be read by all of us. So, without further adieu, here is my review of Live, Love, Now.

The book is divided into three parts. The first part is entitled “Be a Truth-Teller, Not a Taskmaster”. Mrs. Stafford talks about when her children were younger and how she came to the realization that there were things about herself she needed to change in order to create a new reality for herself and her family. She was vulnerable in a way I could relate to. Vulnerability is not encouraged in any way, shape, or form in our society, but I was able to breathe when I read her words, an ongoing theme throughout the whole book. She also talked about how to reframe negative qualities with positive ones, the first two of which were acceptance and belonging. Finally, at the end of each chapter, of which there are two in each part, there are questions the reader can ask of themselves and the young people in their lives whether they be their own children or others they know in various ways. I believe these questions are the most valuable part of the book because they can help the reader do a self-assessment.

The second part was entitled “Be an Encourager, Not an Enforcer”. When I read both of the chapters in this part, I was taken back to my childhood and to my sons’ childhood. When I had children, I made a conscious effort to step back from how I was raised. I did many of the things she talked about automatically but still struggled with what my brain was telling me to do. Sometimes, I look at how independent my sons are and wonder why we were so successful in raising them when I didn’t feel successful.

But, I read through the last part of the book, and this was what drew everything together for me. Because I grew up thinking, and still think at times, that I am not enough. I worry about how people perceive me, and I don’t think I’ve ever come to a complete acceptance of who I am, warts and all. As I think about being resilient and worthy, a word comes to mind. Believe. Belief in myself. Then, I come to two quotes from the book that cement the work I am trying to do on myself now, as a writer and as a person. The first is from an essay Mrs. Stafford’s daughter wrote which is included on the final pages of this book.

“Open windows. Dare to ask hard questions. Dare to respond in your truth. (Bold text mine.) Dare to step out in courage. Dare to reach farther than you ever thought you could.” (pg. 255, Live, Love, Now, Natalie Stafford)

The second quote is on pg. 215.

“Is there anything more important than using one’s gifts to touch another person’s life?” (pg. 215, Live, Love, Now, Rachel Macy Stafford)

I cried. This has been my goal for this blog. I have nowhere near achieved the success of Mrs. Stafford, but she and her words have touched my life in a way I can barely explain. I am so grateful. My own version of success. It doesn’t have to meet anyone else’s, and I am thankful.

I recommend this book wholeheartedly, and I hope you receive as much benefit from reading it as I did.

(An electronic copy of this book was provided for me to read and review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.)

 

The Broken Sky

I started writing today’s post last week. I wasn’t making a whole lot of sense to myself through the writing so I stopped. The trauma of the week was too much to form a coherent thought. The threads in my mind were fraying, and I didn’t know what to do. Finally, it came to me. I was supposed to start speaking about mental illness. Giving a voice to those who were voiceless. I started writing a series of what I call uncomfortable posts on Facebook. I received some support on my posts for which I am very grateful. I also received some blowback stating, in not so many words, that I was selfish. I thought about it. Yes, I do have a mental illness, an illness that society says I should be ashamed of. But, many other people do too, and they are ostracized in the world and in the Christian community. Sad, isn’t it? We can’t get support in the places we should be able to count on it because we are afraid of stigma or the wrong people knowing. So, today, I thought I would share some anecdotal evidence (Nothing medical, I promise. I’m not qualified.) of how mental illness affects me and other people like me.

This topic is starting to become a passion for me. To use my writing to inject light into the darkness. In one of my writing emails last week, the author said that writing didn’t truly become good until you discovered what your passion was. Maybe, this is mine. Anyway, as we are entering our third week of quarantine, I’ve realized that my sky is broken and my routine is shattered. In case you didn’t know, people who suffer from mental illnesses thrive on a routine, me included. It keeps the voices at bay and enables us to be functioning members of society. Think you don’t know someone with a mental illness? Think again. It’s more common than you might think.

So, as I said, things are broken right now. I’ve done my best to establish a new routine–physical fitness, spiritual study, writing, reading, and household tasks, but there’s one missing component–community. There’s no one around to encourage progress. And that makes the voices stronger. The voices that say I’m not good enough, that say no one wants me around, and that say it’s useless to even try and fight. I say that’s hogwash. But, first, you have to know your enemy and to do that, you have to be able to speak of your enemy. That’s where we fail as a society, and that’s where we fail as a church. People who are struggling with our new normal shouldn’t be bullied into bucking up or not speaking out. Being able to talk about a broken sky might be the difference between life or the end of life. If you’re one of the bullies, do you want that on your conscience? Or do you truly not care? If that is so, I feel sorry for you.

I’ve got one more thing I want to mention. Many of us who suffer from mental illness take medication, sometimes more than one. The medication mutes the symptoms, but never totally takes the voices away, takes the urge to sleep all day away, or takes the urge to not care away. It’s something  I will have to deal with for the rest of my life however long that might be.

I pray for those who have the coronavirus, those who are working in essential jobs, and those who have other physical ailments. Would you do me the courtesy of praying for those of us who have mental illnesses and those who are dealing with their own broken sky during this confusing time? Thank you, and God bless you!

I Thought I was an Introvert and Other Random Thoughts During Quarantine

When we went under quarantine just a few days ago, I was almost giddy with excitement. As an introvert, I have always treasured the time I’ve had alone–even from my family. There’s just something about being alone with my thoughts and not having to answer questions or have conversations.  In addition, I was anticipating more time to read and more time to write–two of my favorite things in the whole world. But, now we’re on Day 6 with no end in sight. (I know many of you have been under quarantine for far longer, and I don’t mean to minimize anything that has happened to anyone.) I just want to use this gift God has given me to process what has happened in our world.

So, it’s Day 6 for me. The first question someone might ask is when I am counting from. I am counting from the day I heard we weren’t going to have church services or classes for two weeks. That caught my attention and caused me to listen to the news more carefully. Worship, and being able to see my Christian brothers and sisters, has always been the highlight of my week.

It’s part of my routine, and if you’re anything like me, you don’t like your routine being disrupted. But, disrupted it was. I’ve had a lot of time to think and to read and write over the last few days. Words have spilled out of me, and I’ve been able to immerse myself in fictional worlds when the real world has gotten to be too much. I’ve also prayed and talked to God a lot. Prayed for patience when I’ve been tempted to say something I shouldn’t. Prayed for the courage to endure. Prayed for strength to defeat the dark thoughts. Prayed for trust when so much is out-of-control.

Peace and a commitment to stay focused came and are continuing to come from those prayers. It’s hard though. A hard-fought-for peace that only Jesus can provide. I can’t do it myself. I know that.

You might be wondering about the first part of my title though. Why do I no longer think I’m an introvert? It’s a tricky thing. While I’m feeling a hard-won peace in my heart, I’m also feeling deeply lonely. I find that I miss seeing other people and interacting with them more than I thought I would. Don’t get me wrong. I love my family, and my Lord and Savior has been a constant presence and reassurance which I’m grateful for. But, I’ve missed seeing other people, and I didn’t expect it. It’s like energy has flowed out of me that I can’t explain. Everyone is talking about all these things we can do virtually which I plan on taking advantage of, but it seems like something is missing. The presence of another person. I took it for granted before because crowds tend to overwhelm me, and I tend to retreat when that happens. But, I have good friends who I enjoy seeing every week and living life with. It’s hard to think that this might be the last time I see some of them, and I haven’t told them what they mean to me. But, they do. They mean so much. And if you are one of those, you do mean the world to me.

As I am dealing with this new world of quarantine caused by Covid-19, I’ve come to realize that I am a mix of both types of personalities. I also know my Lord and Savior is okay with our expressing the good and the bad that has come with the changes in our society. I pray that you and your family are safe and well and that you know His presence in a deep and meaningful way today.

God bless you all!

Fasting Avoidance

I read about this fast the other day, and God has been nagging me since then about writing a post about it. As I said in my last post, I am the queen of avoiding an unpleasant situation. If I am uncomfortable in any way or don’t know what’s going to happen, I have the potential to react badly. So, I thought I would go further into that today.

Actually, now that I think about it, the title of this piece could be changed to Fasting Avoidance and Control. These are both things that I use to make myself think I have the illusion of control over my life. And, “illusion it is,” or at least it should be. For those of us who believe that Jesus is our Lord and Savior, He should be the one who is in control of our lives, not us. But, we don’t let go of that easily, or at least, I don’t. We fight and claw to maintain the illusion that we have some good in us though Scripture is clear that there is not and that we are all in need of a Savior.

Couple that with someone who suffers from depression and anxiety, and one could see that my whole make-up might be considered a recipe for disaster. Actually, I have a story I want to share from my own life that illustrates this clearly. It happened six years ago. I had been invited to a conference by a friend. This conference stated we would have an encounter with Jesus during the weekend, but did not give a lot of details about what would happen. (as was their right) I debated with myself over a couple of weeks about going because I don’t like not knowing what’s going to happen, but I finally decided it might be good for me. I went to the meeting place where we would take a bus to go to the conference center. Many women were there, but I only knew a few of them. Everyone else seemed to be fine with meeting new people, but I was terrified when my friend left me and said she would see me out there. I went to the bus with the other women and saw other people clapping and cheering for me. (Did I mention I didn’t like attention being focused on me either? I didn’t and still don’t.)

We left the place where we had met to go to the conference center, and I cried on and off the whole way there. I didn’t like the way this weekend was starting. When we got there, I was able to eat dinner, but the feelings of panic and fear returned every time I had to be around a group of people in a small space. By the end of the first evening, even though I had enjoyed the worship and the lesson, I was exhausted from the panic, anxiety, and being in a place I had never been with a group of people I mostly didn’t know. The next morning my friend asked me if I wanted to go home as that was an option. I wanted to go home, but, on the other hand, I wanted to stay too. I was a woman who was almost 50, and I was ashamed that I couldn’t handle this level of uncertainty. So, I took a deep breath and stayed. The people who were running things made sure I was either at the front or at the back of a crowd so my chances of having a panic attack were less. It ended up being a good weekend for myself and my faith, and I was glad I went.

But, I haven’t been back since, and I have to wonder why. There were many reasons besides avoidance, all of which were valid. In the six years between that situation and now, I had done many brave things including going to Honduras on a mission trip one summer with a plan to go back again this coming summer. But, there have also been things I’ve completely avoided which have affected my relationships with other people and being taught and encouraged in my faith.

With all that, I wonder if I have ever embraced the mystery of my faith and not just side-stepped it. In recent years, I believe I have taken steps in that direction, but I know I can’t say I have fully arrived. Not until I make a deliberate choice to walk in a direction I don’t want to walk in because God has asked me to. So, for that reason. I am fasting from avoidance today, and I invited you to as well.

God bless you all!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fasting Regret

For Lent this year, I’ve decided to go through the book 40 Days of Decrease by Alicia Britt Chole again. I went through this book last year and learned a lot. I wasn’t sure if there would be anything new for me to learn this year, but I’m a few days into it, and things feel different. Between reading this book and the book Praying Women by Sheila Walsh, my understanding of prayer and its impact on my life has jumped four-fold. In the midst of thinking about regret and the other topics in Chole’s book, I hope to come out on the other side of this season with a better understanding of faith and how being a Christian really does matter in my life.

So, regret. Why is it so tough to let go of it? I think regret leeches over into the new life we’re hoping to have. I read the response I wrote in the book last year, and it brought back memories some of which were painful to read, but some that showed where I was now as compared to last year. I’ve become more and more aware that Jesus meets me in the darker places, the places where I’m not sure how to move on. What Lent does is help me move through those darker places to the celebration of Easter, to Jesus’ resurrection.

I do have regrets in how I’ve lived my life. I think all of us do. What I’ve done with them mostly is carry them with me in the hope that I can avoid making the same mistakes again. I have rarely directly addressed the situations that caused the regrets. There are two reasons for this. One, I’ve never learned how to manage conflict well. Two, my fear of being rejected is great.

But, in the last few months, I have learned some things and am continuing to learn things about my faith that are helping with my prayer life and will help as I struggle to let go of regret. It’s not me. It’s not me at all. What I mean by that is Jesus needs to come first in our lives. Before spouse, before children, before extended family, before friends, and even before our Christian brothers and sisters. Jesus is first, and therefore, we should not expect or want to maintain control over our lives. One of the first songs Carrie Underwood sang entitled “Jesus Take the Wheel”  illustrates this vividly. This is also illustrated in Scripture. John 3:30 says, “He must become greater; I must become less.” Of course, I’ve listened to this song and read this verse many times, but it has become clearer to me what it means in the last few months. Control and the release of it. Let me explain. I’ve been praying for a situation, a situation that has caused me great grief and sorrow. And every time I’ve prayed, I’ve wanted it solved so “life would get back to normal”. God doesn’t want me to pray that way. He wants me to pray so He would be glorified whether the situation is resolved in my lifetime or whether it is resolved in eternity. This is a hard thing for me and contradicts most of what I’ve ever heard about prayer. But, it’s what God wants from my prayer life and from the things I regret and try to hold onto.

I wonder something else about the things I regret and try to control. I wonder if I take the regrets I have over certain situations or people and attempt to maintain control by avoiding them. And, if this is true, have I truly let go of the regret. I weave a delicate web, I think. But, it’s important for me to consider these questions if I want to live a life with God coming first and me coming second. Do I get involved with every situation or ministry that’s available, or is it okay to hold back sometimes? And, if I hold back, am I holding back because I have regrets about the past or the people, or am I holding back because it’s not something God has called me to? Those are hard questions for me to answer. I would like to think I’ve moved beyond the situations or the people who have caused me regret. And, to a point, I think I have. But, when I avoid something or someone for fear of being hurt again, I’m not so sure. So, I know I have more work to do–in ceding control to my Lord and Savior and in being engaged in a Christian community.

So, I come back to regret and my need to fast from it. How, I ask myself? It comes back around to what is said in Scripture, specifically in Lamentations 3. Verses 22-24 say this, “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.'” I’m especially attracted to the part where it says his compassions are “new every morning.” We get a new start every day, all of us. Fasting regret is possible, and I pray we can all know God’s love and forgiveness. I begin this today. Will you join me?

God bless you all!

My Artistic Toolkit

I’ve spent this past week being inspired by the questions in my 52 Pep Talks for Writers book by Grant Faulkner, the executive director of National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo. I’ve talked about and participated in this organization’s events. They’re actually the group that inspired me to get back into writing so when I bought this book last year, I knew it would be useful for me going forward. The prompt that inspired me this past week and which I’m going to delve into further today is this one. “What is an art form you rarely engage in, but have respect for? What similarities do you see between it and your writing? What differences? Pursue it and notice how your writing is enhanced by your practice.”

I’ll start with the first question. There are two art forms I have engaged in before and really enjoyed. But, I haven’t engaged in either of them since the new year began. The first is using markers to color in those adult coloring books that are all the rage. I know this seems very basic and probably something more for children, but it spoke into my writing when I was doing it. Trying to decide what colors to use to make the pictures and the words on the pages stand out helped me to visualize the pictures my words were creating in other people’s minds. It’s a skill, I’ve read, that is important to authors of all abilities. When I color, my mind drifts, and the words seem to come more easily. As far as differences go, any art form that creates pictures that can be seen instead of imagined is very different from the creative pursuit called writing. While I know people can interpret any kind of portrait or painting differently, the ability to see the colors and the finished product on the paper or canvas is a different exercise than using the imaginations we all have to create the pictures in our minds like we do when we read our books or stories. I’ve been thinking I need to get back to this pursuit and seeing the benefits written in black and white might be the impetus I need to do so.

The other art form I rarely engage in now, but have the utmost respect for is crocheting or knitting. Crocheting was the one I learned, but both of them are similar enough that I felt like I should mention both. I especially like the pretty colors of the yarn and the way they can be arranged into patterns. This art form is more difficult than coloring, or at least I found it so, but I was able to make some small things I was pleased with. It helped with my writing in similar ways too. When I got to where I could do the simple stitches at a reasonable speed, I was able to come up with ideas for my stories while I created something that someone else would find useful. I was able to expand the creative parts of my mind while crocheting, and I experienced a time of expanded creativity.

But, it got harder, and I think that’s why I gave it up. I wasn’t able to create the potholders or pretty blankets I saw other people crocheting, and it was hard for me to see other art forms being preferred as gifts than the writing that was my offering. So, I gave up pursuing other forms of art so I could work on getting better at my writing. That was what made it different for me and made me think I couldn’t pursue other forms of art.

I’ve changed my mind now though. I’ve gained more confidence in myself since I gave up practicing the other forms of art. I know that having a wide variety of items in my toolkit can only help me in my quest to become a better writer. So, I’m going to start pursuing them again, at least one of them anyway, And I would encourage those of you who are writers to do the same with other forms of art that intrigue you.

Have a great day, all!