Don’t Say It, Do It!

It’s a complicated thing to be a parent. To be responsible for lives who aren’t born knowing right from wrong, A to Z, or even how to feed themselves. As parents we’re often exhausted, but the messy kisses and sticky hugs motivate us to grow in love.

Being a parent hits differently after a known tragedy though. Most of you probably know about the school shooting that took place in Texas yesterday, May 24th. 19 kids under the age of 12 never got to go back to their parents that night. My social media feed is littered with crying parents saying how they hugged their kids harder or prayed a little longer this morning. Some call for more gun laws. Some rage about how we all need to have the same outrage for other tragic deaths.

Regardless of how they reacted, everyone seems to feel something. Especially those who are parents themselves. Whether a bio parent, adopted parent, foster parent, teacher (who parent a whole class), a godparent (who parent through friendship), or an Aunt or Uncle (who parent through extended family). Regardless of your title, most of us are parents one way or another, and we feel the need to do something to protect our children.

As a fellow bio parent and foster parent (and praying to be adopted parent), I want to call our attention to the social media posts that made me pause today. I won’t call anyone out, mainly because most of these posts came from strangers on group pages. I stared at these posts as I lay in bed still wiping the sleep from my eyes as my kids played waaaaaaaay too early this morning.

The posts called for unnamed people to “do something.” One cried saying they wished they themselves knew what to do in light of this tragedy. These people were crying from a place of confusion. They simply know SOMETHING needs to be done.

And, I agree. And posts on social media might not be the best way to start. Ha, I can feel I lost a few of you there in that last sentence! Maybe 2 of you nodded your heads, but I know I struck someone in their soft spot.

Seriously though, I want to talk about what we CAN do. What WE can do.

All in good humor here…

I’ll start by saying I do NOT claim to be all-knowing. I’m not here to tell you I’m wiser than you or the next person, or I’m here because God appointed me as a great speaker. Nope. I’m humble Laura. The girl from southern Jersey who has dreams bigger than her wallet size and ideas more abundant than time. The girl who said at 5-years-old “I want to grow up to be a mommy and a Christian.” The girl who simply wants to be in God’s perfect will, no matter what.

As this simplistic girl, I come to you with the words that came to mind as I scrolled through social media last night and this morning:

God has fully equipped us for every good work.

In my devotions this morning, I looked up this phrase and there are several scriptures to back this up:

“By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence.” – 2 Peter 1:3

“May he equip you with all you need for doing his will. May he produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, every good thing that is pleasing to him. All glory to him forever and ever! Amen.” – Hebrews 13:21

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” – Ephesians 2:10

But this scripture inparticular stood out to me. Please read this one carefully…

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” 1 Corinthians 12:4-7

If you’re a keen reader who’s read my past blogs, you might have noticed the plural to the “kids” I referred to earlier. My husband and I were blessed with one amazing son, but I wasn’t able to have any more kids after him. At first, we simply put off the decision to have another baby. Then, due to cancer, I was told I shouldn’t have any more kids. We’d always wanted to adopt, so it became an easy decision to make our desires reality last year. Our adoption path though proved long and without success in matching with the little girl we were desiring. So, in March, we became foster parents in hopes that a girl would pass through our home who we would be able to adopt. One such little miracle entered our home a month ago. She’s not yet legally free for adoption, but we’re praying she will be with time. She’s our daughter, and we know this SO STRONGLY.

(I’ve sped through our little story here, but you can read more of our journey on this page.)

Even though this is the first I’ve mentioned her on my blog, I’ve brought up this life event a few times on social media. Friends, family, and neighbors have seen and loved on her as well. And with some interactions, I’ve noticed a curious thing I never expected. A common string of phrases tend to come from both friends and strangers. Like the messages on social media in reference to the school shooting, I pause. It’ll randomly pop up and I still don’t know the proper way to respond to these well-meaning words.

“That’s such a wonderful thing you’re doing. I could never have the heart to foster.” or “You must be so brave and caring. More people need to be like that. There are so many kids in the system…”

These people are sweet, but I hate to burst their bubble: I’m NOT NOT NOT any better of a person because I’m a foster mom. Just like a doctor isn’t more important than a nurse – or vice versa. A musician more important than a painter. A non-fiction writer more important than a novelist. A bowl more important than a cup.

All I did was go after a desire I had. A God-given desire. And I pursued it until it came true, no matter how hard the road. And boy, that road continues to be hard!! However, a difficult road for some can be easier for others. Since God gave me a heart for abandoned children, the difficulties melt away and become easier.

What frustrates me though is that some people look at this event as “so good” that they do two different things at the same time without realizing it. One: they see it as so good & difficult that it is unachievable to them. Two: they see it as so good and difficult that it pails other good achievements that they seriously should be doing.

I want to look at 1 Corinthians 12:4-7 again… “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

If everyone had the heart to foster/adopt, another part of our world might be neglected. For instance, I don’t have a burden for the elderly. I care about them, but I don’t have a desire to volunteer at a nursing home. Neither do I have a yearning to help the homeless. I care about their wellbeing, and have given money when convicted, but I don’t feel ambision to serve at a soup kitchen. These are just two areas I know of that need help and care. Am I any less of a person because I don’t volunteer at ALL of these things? Nope. And NEITHER ARE YOU!

We’re all given a variety of gifts, services, and activities for the common good. Just like we’re all blessed with different talents, we’re blessed with different compassions on where to serve. Maybe someone was called to help teens like the 18-year-old gunman. Maybe someone was called to be a hero like the patrol officer that stopped the gunman without waiting for backup. Maybe someone was called to be a teacher who did nothing more than comfort and protect the children involved.

As a parent, we know in our hearts what’s best for our children. We know how to keep them safe and how to steer them on the right path. It’s an instinct we can’t always name, but it comes to us from God who is the ultimate parent. God shows and directs us what to do too. Sometimes it takes us a loooong time to figure out what He’s saying, but know that He is indeed there. He’s always a conversation away.

When we say “I wish I had the heart for this,” or “I wish I knew how to change that,” know that those questions are only the beginning. Don’t stop there. Maybe you do actually have the heart for that service or you do have the ideas on how to change that event/cause.

Start with prayer. Start with talking to our Father. Then ACT. Act on the convictions in your heart. Don’t content yourself in writing a social media post that does nothing more than state a wish. Don’t content yourself in congratulating other people in simply doing what they were called to do. Be the change God made YOU to be! Because we were all made for such a fantastic purpose. We’re all pieces to the world’s puzzle. All parts to the same body. And I for one can’t wait to see what we’re all meant to do! And I’m excited to be a part of this journey with you all.

Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. – Hebrews 13:20-21

Spring out of Winter

Spring is such a happy time of year, don’t you think? The pastel colors. Pops of red. And endless growing lime green.

But there’s one major thing that makes spring wonderful. Without it, spring wouldn’t even exist. That cold, bitter season many of us wish would discontinue.

Winter. Seriously, winter.

Now, South Carolina doesn’t have as long or brutal winters as my past homes in Northern Pennsylvania, New York, or New Jersey. Brrrrrr. Winter lasted from October to April. On my first anniversary – October 30th – we had a foot of snow. There were more than a few blizzards in mid-April too. But when May came to Pennsylvania…..oh, it was beautiful. Those first crocuses peak through the brown mud, and frost-covered tan grass. Sunny daffodils wave hello in the crisp winds. I appreciate spring. I NOTICE spring. The colors make me pause because they didn’t exist a few days ago.

Some tropical places don’t even get a spring. Sure, the calendar still holds the spring equinox. They celebrate the first day in late March, but spring can’t have physical evidence in nature. Without the cold, the trees don’t need to lose their leaves. Without the frost, the grass doesn’t disappear. Without a freeze, even the bugs don’t take a break.

Winter can be a season of rest. A season with no harvest. A season where we hold onto trust, hope, and faith. The trees appear dead, but we trust they’ll grow back in the spring. Those daffodils, hostas, irises, daylilies, etc. lay hidden in the ground, out of sight, and we have faith they’ll return with warmer temperatures.

Like those long winters in the north, sometimes life’s “winters” feel extra long. Maybe you’re waiting for an answer to your prayers. Maybe you feel like no one hears you, or listens to your cries. Maybe you feel like you’re in an endless loop of work, mundane responsibilities, or thankless jobs. You’re stuck in a cycle of laundry, dishes, errands, school, taking care of others, etc. Or, maybe, you don’t feel like you’re accomplishing anything because you see no evidence of making a difference.

I’ve lost count of how many “winters” I’ve endured. Sometimes I feel like I’ve been part of one endless winter with mere glimpses of sunlight through the thick clouds – that’s depression and I won’t dwell there, but I will say this: no matter how you feel; no matter how depressed or hopeless you feel… God never desires for you to stay in that place. NEVER. While wait periods, peace, rest times, and mourning seasons are normal, wallowing in pity, guilt, and anxiety aren’t meant for us. Depression and rest are two VERY DIFFERENT things.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. – Matthew 11:28

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. – Isaiah 26:3

That all being said, winter can definitely hold a lot of sorrow, trials, and turmoil we wouldn’t wish on our worst enemy. But, even those things can be used by God.

I bet the blind man in John chapter 9 felt like he was in an endless dark winter. He wasn’t resting, just waiting. Waiting for a spring he didn’t know was coming. Even the disciples thought he must deserve his predicament. Perhaps he was depressed. I know I would be if I had to sit stuck in the dirt on the side of the road. He was alone. No friends. No comforts. Then Jesus walks up and says He’s “the light of the world.”

Do you know what thing makes us notice light more?

I bet a blind person would know the answer.

I like to nickname my hubby “Andrew the bat.” I’ll usually call him this as I laugh at his squished face when I brighten our bathroom in the morning. He’ll be standing there at the sink, washing his face in pitch darkness. I’m sorry, but I need light to see where I’m going. Light illuminates the area, showing what we can’t see at night. And in that dark bathroom, the sudden flick of light calls attention to the brightness. The burst of colors momentarily blind us in their brilliance, and we acknowledge the light’s existence.

The bible doesn’t describe the moment the blind man found his sight. It simply says “he came home seeing.” I like to imagine he ran home with a spring in his steps, jumping for joy. He wasn’t shy in proclaiming the miracle to his neighbors, so we know he was excited. He appreciated the light because he knew what it was like to live in darkness. Like Jesus said in verse 3 “this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.”

Knowing this story helps me look back at the “winters” and dark moments in my life in a new light, if you will. The sicknesses, depression, lost careers, deaths, disappointments, and valleys weren’t brought on because of sin or as a punishment… they were present so God’s work could be displayed in my life. Here, let me break it down in a simple list format:

Cancer caused me to thank God for health, and trust that “by His stripes, I am healed.”

The lack of having more kids naturally caused me to appreciate the one I do have. It also gave us the desire and opportunity to become foster parents and prospect adoption.

Depression caused me to appreciate joy. Joy everlasting. To seek out Psalms and the words of David when he also went through depression. I declared myself a woman after God’s own heart.

My failed careers each brought me to the place I am now. To quote Chariots of Fire: I feel God’s pleasure when I write. I know I’m where I’m supposed to be, and can’t wait to see the next steps He has in store.

Each waiting period forces me into God’s word. Some people might need far less to get them to see, but I know I need a kick in the pants too many times. I need a winter to notice when an answer to prayer sprouts life. I need a dark valley to notice the bright morning joy.

When you look up the definition of spring, two examples say “originate or arise from” and “a sudden jump upward or forward.”

It’s time to arise, my friends. Rest when you need to, endure the trial if you’re currently in it, but don’t neglect your call to jump out of it. Don’t stay in winter. Sprout into spring. Grow from the difficulties. Arise from the ashes. It’s time to thrive and spread the joy everlasting!

A Psalm of David. I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord. – Psalm 40:1-3

35 Reflections

Birthdays are a perfect time to reflect. Mine is next week.

35.

35 probably sounds young to most of you. – maybe older to a select few of you. It IS young. I FEEL young. I’m used to being the youngest in my groups of friends. I got married young. Gave my life to Jesus young. Became a mom young. And started my own business when only a teenager.

On the other hand, I also feel I’ve lived several lives. I’ve worked through multiple careers and lived in multiple states and homes. Each one feels like a separate lifetime. I was a vegan pastry chef, owning my own catering business for 11 years. I was a teacher of art, theater, and culinary for 3 incredible years. A business manager. An office manager. Now, I’m an artist and writer. I’ve lived in New Jersey. New York City. 6 different homes in Pennsylvania. And now beautiful South Carolina.

I’ve been through Christian schools, homeschooling, cyber schools, culinary school, business courses, and numerous writing classes. I’ve had rare cancer. Been healed from said cancer. Seen miracles. Been penniless, yet never hungry. Been married for twelve amazing years. Had a child whose first breath came at the name of Jesus, after being born with the cord wrapped around his precious neck. And been told I should never get pregnant again.

I’ve seen a LOT in my 35 years of life.

As long as I can remember, I have never seen a godly man abandoned, or his children forced to search for food.” Psalm 37:25

I’m remembering a time ten years ago. It sounds so silly now, but 25-year-old me felt old. I was tired and drained in my catering business. All I wanted to do was act! I’d wanted to be an actress since staring in a play when I was 7. A year younger than my son is now. 2 weeks before I left for Culinary School, I remember crying to my mom about wishing I could just be an actress. I didn’t though. I went to NYC and became a chef. And at 25-years-old I regretted my decisions. I searched out auditions, casting calls, watched YouTube videos on how to get into the field, and bought stacks of books on the subject. I did all of this until I discovered a trend – an age trend. Directors wanted actors ages 18 – 25. Any older, and actors were considered the “older” category. I let myself get discouraged before I even began. I gave up; defeated before I went to one single audition.

Ugh. I feel so silly the more I think about 25-year-old me. I thought, “I missed my chance, so why start now?” If I’d plunged into that passion, I’d probably be in Hollywood or Broadway right now. I seriously believe that. Did you know Steve Carrell from the show “The Office” didn’t start acting until he was in his 30s? There are many similar stories of “late bloomers.” 25-year-old me neglected that bit of info.

When I was 27, I finally quit baking. I stopped lying to myself that I enjoyed that work: I hated it. I don’t regret quitting my business. Not ever. That same year, I started writing my first novel. I almost didn’t finish that either. I wrote 13 chapters and gave up. Praise God, He brought incredible friends in my life who encouraged me to get back into writing (shout out to Alison & Lauren! 🙂 ). At 29, I finished my first book and spent 2 years editing it. I then wrote 2 plays, 3 picture books, and started this blog. At 34, I finished my 2nd novel. And while I’m super proud of this latest book, I fear it’ll be forgotten like every career, job, house, and friend I’ve lost throughout the years. Let’s be real here: my life isn’t exactly a success story. At least, not by the world’s standards of success.

But as I sit here, thinking about the events of my 35 years, I can’t help but feel thankful for the lives I’ve lived. The failures and mistakes I’ve made.

Missed opportunities force me to sharpen my eyesight so I don’t miss the next one. Failure shows me what not to do again. And times of want always cause me to trust God all the more. It also helps to keep moving. Keep pursuing. There’s an old saying about it being easier to turn the wheels of a moving car than a stationary car. It’s very true. It’s also a lot harder to find your dream when you’re bundled up in self-pity on your couch.

In all my years, I’ve never lacked for dreams. If one dream died, three more would take its place. I’ve dreamt of having a huge family in a house on the ocean…this turned into a desire for a home in the suburbs of Greenville, South Carolina with a blend of biological and adopted children. I dreamt of being a famous actress where I could use my talent to show the passion God gave me… then having my own bakery where I can encourage my customers through healthy comfort food… then my dream became to be a New York Times best-selling author of multiple books, changing lives with the words God gives me.

They’re different dreams. But, if you look closely, they’re the same dream: be loved, and show love. Through people, and through the talents God’s given me.

It’s not too late for those dreams. The first part is already happening. (All glory to God!) I’m still young. But even if I was turning 85, I’d still believe God has more to do through me.

Just like God has so so much more to do through YOU!

If you’ve made it this far while I’ve been talking all about myself, thank you. I know I can be long-winded when I’m trying to make a point. Words haven’t always been my thing. I still SERIOUSLY struggle to articulate my words verbally, so I appreciate you reading my thoughts in this format. I love to write. I really, really do. I know it’s what God made me for. I know this because I’ve been in places I wasn’t meant to stay in. It’s not about it being hard or easy either. – Writing is far from easy most of the time! – It’s a feeling that’s difficult to describe without living it first. It’s peace, joy, passion, commitment, satisfaction, and excitement all rolled into one. It’s a feeling in your soul – the pit of your gut – that you’re doing what you were created to do. A peace that passes all understanding. Can you think of moments in your life that brought these feelings? What desires has God placed in you?

I lay pieces of myself here in order to encourage you to stop making excuses about not pursuing those dreams God gave you. Never let age stop you. Never let life’s circumstances stop you. And definitely never let other people dictate who you should be. Friends encourage you while a competitor will do anything to keep you beneath them. I’ve had to overcome a few of those too.

I look back at my life and I see blessing after blessing. In times of depression, and in times of joy. In times when we didn’t have enough money to go grocery shopping, and in the times we were able to bless others with a hot meal. In times when I’ve cried to God for answers, and in times I felt His voice. In the time I was told I had cancer, and in the time God told me I was healed before the doctor did. In the mountains of rejection letters, and in the future day I’ll find out I made the best-seller lists. In lonely nights, and in parties full of genuine laughter. In times of failure or success, God has been faithful.

I can’t wait to see what the next 35+ years will bring!

In honor of my 35 years, here’s a list of 35 things I’ve discovered in life so far. I hope it brings some joy to your life and sparks the courage to go after your desires!

  1. Killing a plant doesn’t make you a murderer, just remember to water your kids and pets more often.
  2. If you have enough time to check your phone, you have enough time to talk to God.
  3. Try listening more than talking.
  4. On that note…if he’s playing a video game, he’s not listening. I don’t care if he answers, he’s honestly NOT listening.
  5. Pray with your spouse. It’ll bring the two of you closer to each other as well as to Christ, and to a whole other level in your relationship.
  6. Laugh. Smile. Giggle. Snort. It’s healing to your soul and mood.
  7. EVERYONE is going through something or dealing with something. No one is perfect. Treat them with care.
  8. We’re all more alike than you think.
  9. Cats are better than dogs.
  10. But… not everyone likes cats, so that’s why God created dogs. I respect that.
  11. Life’s too short to not have chocolate.
  12. You can’t please everyone. Actually – you can’t 100% please ANYONE. Even yourself. So stop losing sleep over it.
  13. You’ll learn a LOT from having friends that are all different ages, races, and backgrounds.
  14. Watch where you step in the ocean…(long story)
  15. Sunsets are beautiful, but there’s something extra special about getting up for a sunrise.
  16. You don’t have to listen to every piece of advice given to you.
  17. But make sure you consider each piece of advice given to you.
  18. Your career isn’t the thing that defines you.
  19. Don’t walk through your kid’s room barefoot.
  20. Doctor Who is the best tv show of all time, but not everyone has the time to accept this fact.
  21. This time next year you’ll be thankful you started that project NOW instead of procrastinating it.
  22. You’ll never remember that thing you’re telling yourself in bed. WRITE IT DOWN!
  23. You don’t have to follow the recipe. Live a little.
  24. No matter how many times you read the Bible, you’ll always find something new.
  25. Lists are amazing. Satisfying to write, and even better when crossed off.
  26. Forgiveness is more for your sanity than their’s. Just like bittereness effects you more than them.
  27. ALL of God’s promises are Yes and Amen.
  28. There might be no place like home, but real change happens when we leave our comfort zone.
  29. You can never have too many books. No, really! Tell my hubby this one!
  30. It’s OKAY to rest.
  31. Kids are sometimes the best source of wisdom.
  32. You can get used to almost anything if you’re around it long enough. That’s not always a good thing…
  33. Men just think differently. It’s weird, but he doesn’t accociate the silence as a sign I’m mad with how he acted last Tuesday.
  34. Drink more water. Don’t be like your plants.
  35. You’re never done learning new tricks.

Hope you enjoyed those! Have a blessed day!

Oh, and be on the lookout for my new newsletter! Woohoo!! Sign-ups will be posted on March 1st. All who sign-up will get a FREE recipe booklet with original recipes inspired by the dishes in my upcoming book, Neutral Extinction. Stay tuned!

Vision For a Better 2022

Hello, 2022. Nice to meet you? … I think?

It’s two weeks into 2022, and the taste of this new year is still a mystery. Half my mind feels frozen in 2020. While the other half wants to surge ahead to a future date. I don’t think I’m the only one either. The world seems to be approaching 2022 with apprehension, caution, and distrust. A popular meme states that 2022 sounds like “2020 too” and implies we’re in for another rocky year.

I know these memes are in good fun – and they made me giggle and snicker – but they also made me sad in the knowledge that most people expect 2022 to be, well, not a great year. Too many people are going into 2022 with hopes of simply surviving instead of thriving.

Even resolutions are down this year:

Not everyone makes New Year’s resolutions, regardless of the year, but most hopeful/visionary people tend to make them.

Of these hopeful people, too few have plans of improving their lives OTHER than health/exercise in 2022. According to a CBS poll, only 10% of resolutioners desire to “enjoy life more.”

Why?? Why has hope plummeted to staggering lows? Why have people conformed to the mundane and substandard?

WHY HAVE PEOPLE STOPPED TRYING?!?!

I imagine that last sentence echoing in a vast room. The walls line with slumped people, sitting like abandoned dolls with blindfolds over their eyes. The center of the room fills with a mountain of wrapped gifts, each more beautiful than the next. Secrets are held in each precious package. But the vast room stretches for miles, and the expanse lengthens in between this mountain of gifts and each person. People are tired, asleep, or bruised. Too many have tried and failed to cross the expanse. Some have simply resigned to not try. While others give up halfway there, stop mere inches from the target, or get there but forget to open the gifts they hold. All because they haven’t taken their blindfolds off; they don’t realize how close they are to their gifts.

It’s too easy to miss what’s right in front of us because we can’t see past our current situation. To resign. To lower our expectations. To lean against the wall – or sit on the couch/bed/desk – and let the crazy world go up in flames. To say “at least this world is only temporary, I’m just going to bide my time as I wait for heaven and/or Jesus to return.” We wait for those gifts to be handed to us, or learn to live without them at all.

When did the world stop having vision? Please tell me you’re not one of these people, fair reader. I know you’re not the norm. YOU have a vision. You have SO MANY amazing, incredible, wonderful, life-altering, and world-changing visions!! You do. You really, truly do.

A vision is “the ability to think about or plan the future with imagination or wisdom.” We all have it. ESPECIALLY you. “The one who gets wisdom loves life; the one who cherishes understanding will soon prosper.” – Proverbs 19:8

Through this wisdom, God has gifted us the ability to imagine even the unseen future.

“So no wonder we don’t give up. For even though our outer person gradually wears out, our inner being is renewed every single day. We view our slight, short-lived troubles in the light of eternity. We see our difficulties as the substance that produces for us an eternal, weighty glory far beyond all comparison, because we don’t focus our attention on what is seen but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but the unseen realm is eternal.” – 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

This unseen realm isn’t just existing after we die, or after Jesus returns to bring us to Heaven. He says our inner being is “renewed every single day,” thus the unseen realm is present EVERY SINGLE DAY.

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1

Every single day, we have the ability to act in faith. We have the ability to “focus our attention on what is unseen.” This includes the future, visions God gives us, praying in the Spirit, etc. Each of us has a mountain of gifts. Beautiful. God-given. And meant to be opened now on this Earth. They’re for eternity, but eternity doesn’t simply exist in Heaven alone. Eternity is eternal afterall.

I grew up hearing that life on this Earth is “the waiting room.” I’d listen to whole sermons dedicated to this “vision” of convincing the congregation we’re simply waiting for the real event: Heaven. “Just be a good Christian, don’t sin, store your treasures in Heaven, and don’t get attached to this Earth.” While these statements are indeed rooted in scripture, the idea has been distorted. So much so that many of us have forgotten to actually live. And live ABUNDANTLY. The Bible does indeed say to “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” However, this is referring to material things, not our day-to-day actions. Because the Bible also says “I (Jesus) came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance [to the full, till it overflows].” That doesn’t sound like God wants us twiddling our thumbs in a waiting room.

Patience might be hard, but sitting is easy. Too easy. It’s far easier to sit in our current circumstances than risk following a dream/vision into the unknown. (Cue Frozen 2 song Into the unknooooooooowwwwwwwwwn…) I find myself making excuses why I shouldn’t do something I don’t have all the answers for. I might fail. I might be wrong. I don’t want to offend. I don’t want to rock the boat. I’m not going to risk my mental health.

Visions are hard when you can’t see. Sounds like an oxymoron, right? But there is one who ALWAYS sees. Come on, you all know the answer to that one: Jesus. Jeremiah 29:11 is pretty clear on that point, right?

So, knowing all of this, why do we still hesitate? Why do we still find ourselves lacking hope? Lacking the ambition to write down our visions for the future? Why have we stopped trying?

Short answer: after 2 years of hurts, canceled plans, and deferred hope, our souls feel sick. It’s easier to halt the visions to protect ourselves. To nip our hope in the bud before it’s cut off.

How can we change this?

We change this by first healing our sick souls. We can’t have vision without healthy eyesight. How do we heal our sight? Well, it’s not through a shot. Jesus healed a blind man with His words…through faith…

Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road. – Mark 10:52

It’s truly as simple as that.

The Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous.” – Psalm 146:8

Through God, we have the assurance that our vision will no longer be blind. No more blindfolds. We don’t have to fear our hope being deferred, because we don’t live by the rules of this world. We live eternally in the unseen realm. The realm where God’s rules trump the world’s sick rules.

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” – Isaiah 43:2 (i.e. no matter what happens in the world, you won’t be consumed/overwhelmed by it!)

With God, we can have a true vision. Seeing through spiritual eyes. All we have to do is ask for HIS vision. HIS sight. He gave each of us visions of the future, we just need our blindfolds off so we can see them.

I encourage each of you to take the time to take out a pen and paper. Write down the visions of your heart. If you don’t know them, ask God to show them to you. But the important thing is to write them down. So you can see them and strive toward them every single day. Discover these visions by asking what God would want. What steps can change our current world? What gifts/talents has God given you that you can use to His glory? How can you serve others? How can you give? And…what do you want?

Close your eyes, and truly see.

I’m praying for each of you. May God give you the desires of your heart, and a vision to make it happen!

Darling, There’s a Better Future For You!

“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”

Some of you might recognize this famous quote from Stephen King. Writers often reference “killing your darlings” during the editing process. The message might sound cruel, but it means to delete the characters/plots/dialog/writing we THINK we love, but it drags our story down. He’s saying to cut the things that’ll make our story better once they’re gone.

If only we could do that in our own lives…

But how do we know which pieces to cut to make our lives better? We don’t want to cut something useful, after all. We don’t want to commit a Freddie Krueger slasher work to our dreams and future.

In 1 Samuel chapter 16, God tells Samuel to stop being depressed over Saul and anoint the next king of Israel. God simply says “I have selected one of Jesse’s sons to be king.” Complication alert: Jesse had 8 sons. Samuel needed to “kill” some of those darlings to find the true king.

When he got to Jesse’s house, he met 7 handsome, strong, and perfect darling sons. They were everything Samuel THOUGHT he wanted.

If I had a dime every time I THOUGHT I knew what I wanted…

When I was single, I made a list of the characteristics I desired in a husband. Some were important: integrity, faith, strong values, kindness, compassion, etc. A few were darlings that weren’t exactly important to a happy marriage. Blue eyes being the most superficial. Once I met a man, I took all the things on my list into account and decided which weren’t as important as I originally thought. In the same token, the important things on the list helped me weed out guys who weren’t perfect fits either.

Samuel had a list in his own head. Tall: check. Nice face: check. Dreamy blue eyes: check. Looks like a king: check. But God told Samuel “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God does not see as man sees, since man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

God’s list was different than Samuel’s. And on the surface, some might have said the “ruddy-faced boy” God chose was a few steps down from the first 7 sons. David wasn’t even invited to be a part of his family gathering. His dad left him to do chores while they feasted with the prophet. Samuel didn’t know Jesse had an 8th son until he asked!

This is something I believe we constantly miss in our lives. We choose a husband/wife, career, job, friend, or decision of any kind simply because we THINK it’s our best option. We fear nothing else will come around because this is all we see. So, we say it’s “good enough” or “I deserve this anyway” when deep down we know we’re meant for more.

I’m not talking about being discontent with what God has given you. I’m talking about settling for less than God intends for your life. Filling your life with events, people, and obstacles God wants you to subtract in order to accept what He desires for you.

Having 1 of David’s brothers on the throne could’ve proven disastrous. I bet Samuel was thankful he abided by God’s list instead of his own when he saw how fantastic of a king David would become. He could’ve made a history-changing mistake if he hadn’t listened to God. If he’d settled for something on his own superficial list.

I know. I know. You’re probably saying “But Samuel was a prophet who verbally heard God’s voice. How am I supposed to know what God wants me to do?!”

Don’t worry: God already told you!

Have you ever heard or said the phrase “God’s working on me concerning ____” or “God’s dealing with me about ____”? It usually pertains to something difficult, life-altering, or a path we don’t want to go down.

For instance, God has been dealing with me about my view of success. My idea of a successful life is changing the lives of multiple people, influencing thousands or millions with my books, and making profits to show these numbers. I see the avenue to this outcome to be by a popular literary agent, having a top 4 publisher, and a six-figure advance paycheck. I’ve committed to this list by e-mailing agents for years. Years. And tailoring my books to what I THINK these people want. Ugh. I fell victim to creating a superficial list of darlings that only matter to the world, not to what God might have in mind. I know this now because God has been “dealing with me” about what’s truly important. How do I know? Because He has been opening doors to other avenues. These avenues might be different than what my list included, but they align with God’s word:

“For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” Galatians 5:17

“Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” Ephesians 5:17

“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Psalm 16:11

I want to be clear that what God has “been dealing with me” about isn’t actually different than my true desires. They are simply guiding me via the path God wants me to go down to achieve them. My true desire is to have my words mean something, and have my books published. The how isn’t up to me, it’s up to God! God’s joy and peace fill us when we are on the right path. Our deepest desires are God-given, and only He knows the best way to achieve them.

In order to see what plans and pathways God has for us, we need to cut the parts we don’t need. The only way to do this is to know what parts we do need: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” In order to trust God, we need to have faith. Faith comes from hearing, and hearing from the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17)

Honestly, I believe that the real reason most people aren’t living to their full potential is because we don’t trust that God has something better in mind. We see missionaries living in poverty, Christians who never make millions, or faith-filled people who lack so much, and fear we’ll have the same “fate”. But are we looking at these people through God’s standards or the world’s view of success? When we look closer, we can see how faith-filled believers live BETTER lives when they surrender to what God intends. When they “kill their darlings” of the world and tailor a new list with God’s worldview.

Love. Joy. Peace. Faithfulness. Patience. Kindness. Gentleness. Meekness. Self-control…. a list that trumps wealth, power, and superficial beauty. It’s a list that means something to our future, and doesn’t fade with age and politics.

David was “a youth with beautiful eyes, and good looking.” He wasn’t ugly by any means. Just different than what Samuel had in mind.

Samuel’s desire was to have a good king, and God showed him the path to get there. What path is God wanting to lead you through?

When we surrender to what God wants, instead of what we THINK we want, we’ll find God has something much MUCH better in mind. Kill your darlings, friends, and see the beautiful story underneath.

You Are Blessed!

I AM BLESSED. It’s taken me many years to truly believe this statement. To live those words. To not be afraid of those words.

“Afraid?” you ask. Yes, afraid, and guilty. Riddled with guilt. Second-guessing the reality of my blessings. And doubting I even want to be blessed.

Maybe you’re nodding your head, or maybe you’re thinking this writer is crazier than a two-headed stray cat on distilled catnip. Everyone wants blessings. Right? Count your blessings. Right?

Well, for starters… In a world FULL of blessings, we seem to be defined by our latest asset, gift, or favor.

Notice Riker’s grumpy face setting in?

A few weeks ago, we took our son on an exciting day trip. On a crisp September morning, we traveled to the mountains in North Carolina to go apple picking, eat apple cider donuts, and enjoy an apple festival. Riker – currently our only child – got our full attention as he ate sweets, ran, conquered the playground, and jumped on the farm’s mega trampoline. He even made a new friend whom he played with and saw throughout the course of our adventurous day. We laughed and played together through the rows of apple trees. We went out to eat with new friends and Riker got his pick of the menu. Outside the restaurant, a parade graced the town’s Main Street. Riker jumped up and down in joy as each new float brought something he loved: sports cars, thrown candy, comic book characters, sports themes, and little gifts thrown his way.

After the parade, we waved goodbye to our new friends, and journeyed down the street to our parked car. We passed closing pop-up craft, food, and toy stands. Riker asked for a toy. He wanted to “get something.” Andrew and I told him “No, it’s time to go home.”

He halted in his tracks and whined. “This is the worst day ever!”

Needless to say, we did NOT let that last statement slide. After we laughed.

But, don’t we do the same thing in our own lives? We could spend hours counting each of our possessions, people we love, events we treasure, and things in our lives we’re thankful for. Then something happens: an accident, a sickness, a death, a disappointment, etc. We raise our head to the sky and scream “God, why me!?” Or worse, we expect these discomforts and disappoints so much that we let it eclipse everything good in our lives. They make us doubt we even have blessings. We forget our beautiful lives because of our current darkness.

This doubt isn’t where our worst danger lies. This isn’t the fear I referred to earlier. Disappointments eclipsing our lives is all too commonplace. The comfort we find in these dark places is the dangerous part.

Life in any career isn’t easy. I’m going to refer to my life experience as an artist because that’s what I know: it’s downright INSANE! I’ve been a chef, teacher, play director, writer, painter, and creator of many things, but each path in my career is plagued by harsh opinions, low income, rejection, and doubting my worth in our society. As a creator/artist my work defines me because it’s a literal part of me. As a result, the rejections and opinions of others define me too.

I’ve touched on these facts before, but let me venture into deeper territory… I have many friends that consider themselves artists, and they too live lives full of rejections and opinions. It actually has become a bonding experience for us all:

“I got five rejection emails last week from publishers.”

“I’m so sorry, my friend. I got six rejections as well. Want to look at each other’s work and see what we’re doing wrong?”

We make excuses for each other, try to give reasons for our failures, while also encouraging one another to “continue pressing on.” But what happens when one of us finally succeeds? What happens when we receive a blessing? What happens when we no longer relate to those still getting rejections?

Guilt sets in. We don’t wish to boast, so we downplay our victory. Or, maybe we believe this victory to be a fluke; we fear our blessing will wash away in a sea of disappointment. Misery loves company, right?

I’ve had too many “friends” over the years who got more excited in my failures than my successes. I am also blessed to have friends who cry and scream in excitement more than me when a victory happens. And let me just say, those two types of friends are both extremely blessed, but one type tends to live happier.

What those first “friends” need to realize is that just because one person has a victory doesn’t mean they can’t too. One’s God-given blessings NEVER subtracts from the blessings available to all of us.

When we don’t share our blessings with others, a new narrative takes its place. Without the knowledge of blessings, it appears like they no longer exist. In a society run by a news media who always reports bad news, a social media full of conspiracy theories and prayer requests, and gatherings masking possible smiles, it’s all too easy to get discouraged. We forget good news still exists. We forget our mountain of blessings because all we see is the last tragic event. We see our neighbor suffering so we think we need to be too, and our subconsciousness doesn’t even realize it’s happening.

This guilt is actually tied to our self worth. We believe ourselves unworthy of our blessings. If our friend/neighbor doesn’t have this, then why should we?

The answer is so simple that too many of us choose to ignore the obvious: all of this confusion grows because our worth doesn’t come from the amount or lack of blessings. Our worth comes through Jesus, and Jesus alone. If we realize this simple fact, the darkness engulfing our blessings fades. Because every blessing comes from Him.

Let’s go even further into this blessed knowledge: If our blessings come from Jesus, why are we feeling guilty about receiving a God-given gift? In fact, we should be EXPECTING these gifts. Says so right here:

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. – 2 Peter 1:3

In my parents’ old house, they had an old picture hanging in the bathroom. It showed a series of hills with a few cows grazing on lush, green grass. A scripture blanketed the sky: “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19

I used to stare at that picture and mull over its significant. If God supplies my every need according to His riches, then my needs are tied to His wealth. God also says He owns the cattle on a thousand hills. He created all things. His wealth is truly endless. That means the supplies to my needs are endless. I’m rich!!

But I forget this fact. I’ve let rejection, death, a bout of cancer, scars, lost friendships, and any number of other dark things dictate how I feel. I forgot Romans 8:32…

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

As I learn to embrace the statement “I am blessed,” I hope to also show you all how you don’t have to feel guilty, afraid, worthless, doubtful, or confused over whether or not you are blessed. Nor should you be afraid or guilty to share your blessings with others. Because we’re not boasting in ourselves; we’re boasting in what Jesus has done for us.

Jesus gave me these words. Jesus gave me a loving husband. Jesus gave me a fantastic son. Jesus gave us the ability to adopt another child who we’ll hopefully meet soon. Jesus gave me a home. Friends. Health. Jesus blessed me with EVERY good and perfect thing because it all comes from above.

I didn’t come by these blessings because of anything I did. I was nobody. And yet, when I asked Jesus into my heart I became His. Jesus is my blessed hope, and I am His treasure:

But you are God’s chosen treasure—priests who are kings, a spiritual “nation” set apart as God’s devoted ones. He called you out of darkness to experience his marvelous light, and now he claims you as his very own. He did this so that you would broadcast his glorious wonders throughout the world. – 1 Peter 2:9

YOU are blessed. Yes, YOU. Declare it. Remember it. Share it.

Love you all. Be blessed, and never stop being a blessings to others. YOU ARE BLESSED.

Click on the above picture to be taken to my new online store where you can purchase my artwork on prints, mugs, cards, t-shirts, phone cases, pillows, blankets, and more!
Click the above picture to be taken to our GoFundMe adoption page. Thank you!!

Purpose…Now what?

So, you’ve figured out what God wants you to do. He told you directly, in a dream, through someone else, or by some other means. Maybe it’s thanks to reading my blog post last month: Living On Purpose. You just KNOW what you’re meant to do. Your purpose could involve a career choice, a growing family, a move, a new friendship/relationship, or something else life altering. You know your desires, but… now what?!

Now…you wait.

I feel like I’m an expert of the waiting game. The in-between times. The “what if” times. The transitions. The period of space where we know we’re meant to be somewhere or do something, but we don’t know how or when. And we start to doubt we have any purpose at all.

It’s the years after God told David he’d become king. He had to watch the reigning King Saul go absolutely crazy, try to murder him, and chase him through the wilderness. And he waited…and waited…and waited. He wrote half of Psalms during his in-between times of waiting on God’s promise over his life to come to fulfillment. It was literal years before he became king.

It’s the 120 years between Noah picking up a hammer to build the ark and the first rain drop fell in the flood. I bet his family and “friends” badgered him with questions and doubts the entire time.

It’s the years Joseph endured between his prophetic dreams and the day Pharaoh rescued him from prison to make him second in command. I imagine lots of long lonely nights in the pit and jail cell.

It’s the decades Abraham waited on God’s promise to be fulfilled in giving him a son. Scripture doesn’t beat around the bush in retelling Abraham’s MANY doubts on God’s promises of purpose.

The waiting game happens to all of us. But it doesn’t have to be a “game.” It’s doesn’t HAVE to be torturous, mind-numbing, depressing, and crippling. Lamentations 3:25 says “The Lord is good to those who wait for Him.” That’s a comforting promise.

But what do we do when it seems like all we do is wait on our next assignment, adventure, mission, and purpose? We know God will be good to us and has the best in store, but what are we SUPPOSED TO DO?!

I remember my first date with Andrew. Shopping, movies, and Starbucks. The perfect trio. The perfect night. I knew I met THE ONE. I literally knew it. I was the crazy sap who cried on the drive home, thanking God for bring me my husband. Thank God I had the decency of mind to not tell Andrew this until AFTER we got married. He would’ve run for the hills, and with good reason. lol

So, in that moment on May 10th, 2009, I knew my purpose. God showed me a glimpse of what was to come, and I rested in that reassurance. Since I knew my purpose, I could’ve twiddled my thumbs, coasted on these thoughts, and waited patiently for my wedding day. I could’ve, but I’m so glad I didn’t!

Instead, I acted on my purpose by taking steps to fulfill it: getting to know Andrew more, growing our relationship, testing to see if we were equally yoked in everything that matters, planning our life together, and learning to live with the fact he would never like Lord of the Rings or A Knight’s Tale as much as I do. Because of doing these things, I was ready to say yes when Andrew popped the anticipated question. Well, as ready as I humanly could be. There were still many surprises after the wedding, but I shudder to think how insane things could’ve been had we not used our dating time to get to know one another more.

David didn’t twirl his thumbs either. Like I said earlier, he wrote a LOT during his decade on the run. He also got married, had kids, and he gathered an army of followers who would help him become king once Saul died.

Abraham, on the other hand, made a few missteps. He chose to force God’s purpose by sleeping with another woman to have a son. This son, named Ishmael, would plague Abraham’s future son, Isaac, until God sent them away to start a new nation. This nation would later become Israel’s oldest enemy. But even in his mistakes, God fulfilled his purpose in His time. Abraham just made it more complicated than it needed to be.

I’m so guilty of this too: making times harder and more complicated than they need to be.

When God first gave me the mission to write novels, I wrote with joy and passion. But then I got consumed with self-doubt as I looked to what others were doing, and why I wasn’t good enough. I let other’s opinions dictate my work and how I edited. I let my own fears stop me from praising God and listening. I look back at my journey and reprimand myself for losing sight of the gift God gave me. Now my first book is a mess, and I’m praying for God’s guidance on how to fix it. I’m waiting for an answer. But I’m writing, learning, and growing as I wait.

It can be unnerving to not know how long God wants us to wait on our purpose coming to fruition. We don’t have those answers. He never promises ultimate knowledge in timing. But He does give many scriptures to encourage, uplift, and instruct us along the way.

If we knew how long to wait, then we wouldn’t hold so passionately to our faith. Our prayer life wouldn’t grow. Our praise wouldn’t increase.

It’s difficult, but not impossible. God promises to never give us more than we can handle. That includes the valleys of solitude and mourning. And the chasms where we don’t know if it’s possible to continue in the dark.

I’m currently waiting on multiple things in my life. My readers are probably tired of me mentioning my purpose of being published. But I really am still waiting on this exciting purpose in my life to be fulfilled: five years and counting. Over seven years if you consider the day I wrote my first sentence in my first novel as day one. There are hundreds of writers who’ve waited even longer. Much longer in fact. I found out that Laura Ingalls Wilder (who wrote The Little House on the Prairie books, and my name sake) didn’t publish her first book until she was 65. Yow! I certainly pray it won’t take me THAT long.

I’m also waiting on something huge that’s twelve years in the making. I believe I’m reaching the finish line soon for that purpose, so you’ll be hearing about it in the months to come.

My point is: while we’re waiting on God’s purpose for our lives, work toward that purpose by trusting in Jesus.

What can you do today that would bring glory to Jesus?

While Joseph waited in prison, he used his God-given talent of interpreting dreams to comfort a fellow prisoner. He didn’t wallow in self pity when this same man forgot about him. Instead, he impressed the jail warden by his actions and he never stopped giving glory to God.

Are you praising God even when you don’t know which step to take?

Jesus Himself waited 30 years to begin His ministry. After His cousin, John, baptized Him and God said “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased,” He had to wait ANOTHER 40 days before He could begin selecting disciples. Those 40 days must have been excruciating… desert. Hot. No food. No water. And plagued by the persistent devil who never ceased badgering Him. But Jesus praised God continually. And Jesus shows us what He wants us to do through His perfect example.

When the enemy tempts us to give up: retort with scripture.

When other people try to get us to doubt what God told us: retort with scripture.

When we ourselves doubt our strength, talents, and purpose: retort with scripture.

God’s word trumps all. Stay strong, my friends. Because God promises it’s worth the wait. I can’t wait to see what’s next, but I’ll wait as long as it takes. Because I want an Isaac, not an Ishmael.

Why are you in despair, O my soul?
And why have you become restless and disturbed within me?
Hope in God and wait expectantly for Him, for I shall again praise Him
For the help of His presence. – Psalms 42:5

Living On Purpose

It’s been a hot minute, y’all! I missed blogging in May, but my blogging week was consumed at an amazing writers conference. It gave me a break from my normal schedule, a chance to connect with kindred spirits, intense classes to challenge my career, and a boost in confidence.

Over the last several months, I’ve been struggling with mass rejections and exhausted faith; a week rediscovering my purpose was EXACTLY the recharge and refocus I needed. I love how God knows what we need when we need it. He sees our needs. He knows our desire. And God knows our purpose.

Purpose. We all want one. We all NEED one.

The best-seller lists are lined with books promising to give people purpose. The Purpose-Driven Life, The Pursuit of Purpose, What on Earth Am I Here For, and The Purpose Effect are just a few. And no, I haven’t read any of them.

There are many quotes on the subject. Here are a select few. And I’m going to say a disclaimer right now: I don’t agree with any of these quotes…

“The artist’s job is not to succumb to despair but to find an antidote for the emptiness of existence.” ― Woody Allen

“I believe purpose is something for which one is responsible; it’s not just divinely assigned.” ―Michael J. Fox

“Our purpose in life is to be happy. From the very core of our being, we simply desire contentment.” ―Dalai Lama XIV

Why do I disagree with these quotes? Well, first off, Woody Allen’s outlook is that life is empty. It’s up to us to at least make it fun. Art = fun, right? Art = color, imagination, character, beauty, or fun. So, he’s saying if you take art away, then you take purpose away. I will be the first to say art is mandatory to live fully. To create is definitely a type of purpose. I wrote an entire book proving how we lose our humanity when we strip away art. But can there be purpose without this artist’s existence? Is there a way without us searching for this alleged antidote?

Short answer: yes.

Long answer: I’ll write it below.

Similarly to Woody Allen, Michael J. Fox puts a TON of pressure on our shoulders. We’re responsible for finding it, doing it, and achieving it according to his humble standards. There’s no God in his world. Talk about depressing and exhausting! He does have the word “just” thrown in, which leads me to assume he believes a divine deity might have something to do with assigning our purpose. I would hope so. If we left finding a purpose up to humanity alone, we’d have eternal chaos.

The quote from the Dalai Lama is possibly the worst of all. Do you see it? Let’s see if I can explain the flaw with this one…

We live in a current world of a LOT of depressed people. I’ve struggled with depression for the past twenty years. What I have isn’t a situational depression; it’s not brought on by a bad day, a misspoken word, or horrible accident. It’s a struggle of low self-worth, motivation, uncertainties, and life’s pressures. I actually don’t struggle with happiness. I’m a positive person. I’m what’s called “A happy person with depression” or “smiling depression” (this is an actual thing, ugh). By Mr. Lama’s standards, I’ve achieved my purpose. And also by his standards I’ll NEVER achieve 100% purpose because I’m never truly content. No one who’s depressed lives in honest contentment because we’re never always happy. Happiness is fleeting.

As wrong as these quotes are, I do want to point out what they get right:

Woody Allen’s artistic antidote could indeed be our purpose. Our purpose should NEVER be to succumb to despair, thus we do need to find the opposite of despair. And without Jesus there is indeed an emptiness of existence. Jesus would be the artist’s antidote for despair.

To Michael J. Fox’s credit, it is our responsibility to accept Jesus. We don’t need to find Him though, because He’s always there waiting for us, but we do have a responsibility to accept His gift of salvation.

Perhaps the Dalai Lama suffered from a simple case of a writer using the wrong word. If we replace happy with “joy” the quote takes on a deeper meaning. David – who’s arguably the most depressed individual in the Bible – said in Psalms 118:24 “You have put joy in my heart” in reference to God. Paul says in Thessalonians 2:20 “For you are our glory and joy.”

I know. I know. I can hear you saying “get on with it, Laura. Enough of this back and forth interpreting quotes. What’s our purpose?!”

I’m so glad you asked.

Because when we know our purpose, we know where we’re going. When we know our purpose, joy consumes us – not the fleeting happy moments, but a joy deep in our soul even when we’re unmotivated in bed. When we know our purpose, the mountains of rejections become unimportant. Rejections become answers to whether that person was a right fit for me: no, God has something better in store. When we know our purpose, our life has meaning.

[For my determined purpose is] that I may know Him [that I may progressively become more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him, perceiving and recognizing and understanding the wonders of His Person more strongly and more clearly], and that I may in that same way come to know the power out flowing from His resurrection [which it exerts over believers], and that I may so share His sufferings as to be continually transformed [in spirit into His likeness even] to His death, [in the hope]. – Philippians 3:10

It’s that simple. Our purpose is knowing Jesus, and becoming like Him.

I’m done, right? Case closed. End of blog post. But it doesn’t feel quite that simple in our every day life, does it?

How can we be like Jesus when we do our jobs? i.e. writing, selling, speaking, helping, healing, manufacturing, creating….. wait… Didn’t Jesus do all of these things? Don’t each of our jobs involve at least a few of these activities? Jesus wrote through His disciples (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John). He was, in essence, a salesman of salvation (He described it and offered it at the one price of accepting Him). He spoke powerful life-altering words wherever He went. He helped every person He came in contact with. He healed better than any doctor or nurse. He manufactured items when He was a carpenter. He created the world, didn’t He?! As well as every food and material all jobs work with.

How can we be like Jesus when we do our housework, raising kids, loving our spouse, relationship troubles, sleeping, eating, etc. etc.? The Bible talks about each and every one of these life events, challenges, and responsibilities. It’s an amazing read. I highly recommend it. I have a horrible memory though, so I need to continually reread it.

I’ll be the first to admit it’s exhausting to try to be like Jesus.

I grew up with the WWJD bracelets and the fire brimstone preaching what will happen if we sin instead of being Christ-like. Both of these methods didn’t work with a majority of my generation. We don’t need reminders of our failures or proddings to be perfect. I believe this is why, first and foremost, Paul tells us to KNOW JESUS more deeply, intimately, so we can recognize and understand the wonder of who He truly is.

I think we as Christians can get so lost in what to do, that we forget the why. We forget who we’re doing it for. We forget the purpose of it all.

When we concentrate on all the things we must do, we risk exhaustion to the point of giving up. We need to realize WE can never be perfect. It’s impossible. We can study the word of God all we want. Wear all the cool Christian jewelry and garb. Spurt out “thees” and “thous.” Make carpentry our profession, and take up fishing. But none of these things will bring us our purpose. Because Jesus isn’t any of this. Jesus, well, He’s all of this and more…

“Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Heb. 12:2

“Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’” John 6:35

“Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die.” John 11:25

“These will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful.” Rev. 17:14

Those are highlights of what the Bible says Jesus is. When we know Jesus, we see our purpose because Jesus = our purpose. Jesus sets us free, and gives us the faith we need to live: “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

You know what’s also interesting? In studying the scriptures of who Jesus is, I see my own purpose written… Life. Giver of living bread/food (chef). Faithful. Author. Joy-filled.

I always find my purpose when I look to Jesus. Because Jesus IS my purpose.

What’s your purpose? I dare to say you’ll find it in Jesus.

Let’s Be Honest…About Goals

Where are you going?

In a world still full of travel restrictions, fear, mandates, and opinionated hypocrites, this question might seem a bit taboo. Many of us aren’t going anywhere. And if we do go somewhere, we might try to hide our whereabouts. No need to upset family and friends, or a job that’ll make us quarantine.

But where doesn’t have to be a new state or country. Where can be as localized or foreign as we desire. Where can be a state of mind.

But we need to go somewhere.

Do you wake up with a jump in your step, or do you curl into a ball under the covers? Be honest. Okay, I’ll go first: my bed is the comfiest mountain of soft pillows and billowing warm blankets. A black hole would be less magnetizing. It hurts to leave it every morning to take Riker to school. I want to forget my responsibilities, my worries, anxieties, and just stop adulting for as long as my covers will hold me.

It’s hard being positive 100% of the time. It’s difficult facing people, even when you’re an extrovert. It’s a struggle to take a step when the path is invisible. And it’s totally okay to admit that!!

I knew I wanted to write about goals this month. To beautifully ask what motivates us, and how our daily dreams bring brighter futures. How Christ set us free to be free, and not to be in bondage by condemnation any longer. How goals help us to spring out of bed with renewed strength. But, honestly, let’s just keep on being real here: how can I write about something I’m struggling with myself??

I’ve talked for years about my love of writing. How I dream of being a best selling author with book tours, tv/movie deals, and entering a book store to see my novels on the NY best seller shelves. I have several manuscripts that I’ve either finished or am starting to write (you can see my growing list in Upcoming Books). But, as you can see, half of this list are manuscripts that have been “shelved” until further notice.

The two shelved picture books might never see the light of day, to be honest. I love the stories and illustrations I created, but my style of writing tends to lean more mature than for children. I need to work on that if I want to pursue this genre, but honestly, I love writing for adults. So, I’m okay with these two being shelved. I LOVE the adult picture book I’m creating right now, and I like to think my illustration skills are improving with each picture. But, I still have so so many doubts. Test readers didn’t like my poetic style with my first two picture books, so why should I feel confident in this one? Do I dare let test readers tell me their thoughts so my hopes can be dashed again? This doubt in my talent haunts me.

If you follow my Facebook author page, or have met me via the Montrose Writers Conference in PA, then I KNOW you’ve heard me gush about my book The Judas Killer. The Judas Killer was my baby. My first finished book. The manuscript I toiled over for YEARS. It took me 3 years to finish it, and 3 more years to edit it through over a dozen rewrites. I had a bunch of literary agents interested, and such high hopes for my dreams coming true, but in the end I had 85 rejects. Yes, you read that right. 85.

I can’t get more honest than I’m being with you right now. I’ve never shared this number before. My first agent/publisher rejection came in March 2018. My last rejection came March 2020. And I decided The Judas Killer must die at last.

I love that story. I love the characters. But my writing has actually gotten better since then. So, I tell myself that writing The Judas Killer was like going through 6 years of literary college, and I move on.

The book I just finished is my new baby: Neutral Abyss. This book has had so many countless obstacles that I’ve lost track of its survivor story. I began writing Neutral Abyss in mid 2019. Writing was slow then because I was finishing up my job at Rock Solid Academy, we were getting ready to move here, and then I had that annoying cancer. Once we moved, I hit a beautiful stride despite having to home school, and finished the book in June 2020. Then I had 4 test readers quit on me before they even started reading. I had 2 quit after they started reading. I did have a few finish who loved it, but 1 of my readers spurred a political debate that sadly ended our friendship. I rewrote my first chapter 4 times. I rewrote my whole book twice.

Example of 1 rejection letter.

The good news: my latest readers LOVE it. It’s a strong story. It’s downright powerful. The characters are real. The message needs to be told. But, I can’t help but think about The Judas Killer and those 85 rejections.

Neutral Abyss is a dystopian time travel story about the love and struggles between a torn family. During the pandemic the need for “essential” jobs, the rise of hate crimes, and the separation growing in politics, sparked a question in my mind that I wanted to answer through this stoy: Is it worth sacrificing our art and individuality to create a peaceful society with no war, disease, or conflict?

But, I can’t seem to get any agent to read this book because I’m being told time travel is a “hard sell.” Cue the frustrated scream.

The rejections are building, and I’m struggling to be motivated enough to get out of bed.

There was a time in my life that I loved talking about myself. I freakin’ loved attention. Good and bad didn’t matter, as long as people noticed me. But this faded with experiences and age. I’ve been hurt over the years. Now, I rarely bring up my issues, my struggles, my thoughts. I don’t want to be a burden, and I don’t want to be hurt again. But it’s okay to be honest.

We ALL struggle. We ALL have issues. We’ve ALL been hurt in some way. We’ve ALL had rejection.

Sometimes when we only show our good sides, other people think they’re the only ones going through something. I’d be remissed to tell you all to “be positive” and “trust in God” if my own life was rainbows and roses.

I’ve been honest with you when it comes to my writing life. But, honestly, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. But that’s okay. I don’t need to share every bloody detail of my life for you to see a piece of me. An avalanche doesn’t solve a drought; a little rain will help the crops grow.

When our lives are drowning in rejections, failures, and comfy blankets, it’s okay to admit that we don’t know what to do. Yes, goals will get us out of bed. Yes, goals will give us ambition and motivation. Yes, goals help the world start to spin again. But, goals alone won’t solve our problems.

The first step is to stop being so bloody hard on ourselves! It’s OKAY to rest. It’s OKAY to cry. It’s OKAY to admit we can’t do things on our own. Gosh, just read Psalms and you can see for yourself how often David cried and asked God for help.

The second step is to go forward. It doesn’t matter if it’s a crawl, baby step, or lunge. Just go forward. Step out of bed. Open your Bible. Turn that computer on and try one more time. Step out your front door. Call that friend. Send another e-mail. Try again!

The third step is DON’T STOP. Especially if you fail again. Get back up. Cry again if you need to. Eat the triple chocolate fudge ice cream with a side of “HELP ME, LORD!” and try again.

I didn’t know if I’d get a blog post out this month. It was hard. It’s hard to be motivated when you don’t know where you’re going. It’s even harder when the opinionated hypocrites love telling you what to do. But I’m going to admit I can’t go on without the guidance of my Jesus, take a step, and try again.

And, I did it, honestly.

I’m going to end this post the same way I started. Where are you going? Because I can’t freakin’ wait to hear your success stories.

My latest illustration for my new picture book for adult creatives.
May you part the seas today with whatever you do and wherever you go!!

Breathing Life Into Art

In my artist’s mind, inspiration can come from literally anywhere. From dreams, to the swirl in my coffee, to a random conversation. If you catch me staring into space, chances are it’s because something just inspired a plot twist or new artwork. But my favorite inspirations always come when I’m reading scripture. This time was no different: I opened to Ezekiel 37, and an image appeared in my mind’s eye.

In Ezekiel 37, God transports the prophet Ezekiel to a valley full of dry bones.

The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’” Ezekiel 37:1-6

Kind of creepy, right? Creepy like the painting that’s forming at the right of your screen. Andrew came home from work and viewed my painting in this early stage. As I asked what he thought, I could see the list of questions scrolling behind his eyes. He simply answered “oh, that’s nice. Kind of creepy.” Yeah, I’m not all joy and butterflies.

God doesn’t shy away from “creepy” situations either. He’s not scared of going into dark places. A graveyard with bones scattered every which way. Bleached white from the sun. Ripe for Halloween decorations.

I imagine a foggy mist circling around Ezekiel’s legs. Wind creaking the bare tree branches at the edge of the battlefield. The smell of bitter death singeing his nostril hairs. Hey, horror movies originated somewhere!

But then God spoke. He lay His mighty hand on Ezekiel and the prophet wasn’t afraid. Ezekiel never quaked, shivered, puked from the smell, or ran away like a bat out of hell. Instead, he walked “back and forth” and listened intently to what God had to say.

Man, I’d love to be that attentive. My mind would be imagining the skeletons grabbing at my ankles, pulling me down into hell. Or I’d imagine who these people used to be and why they never had a proper burial. “I’m sorry, God, what were you just telling me?”

But Ezekiel listened. Then He did what God commanded: he spoke to the bones.

So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’”

10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army. Ezekiel 37:7-10

Beyond the incredible imagery, this passage invokes a deeper message.

Words. Words are such powerful weapons.

The tongue can bring death or life; those who love to talk will reap the consequences. Proverbs 18:21

Death and life. Ezekiel saw both. I think we all have seen both in one form or another. I’ve talked before about hope and joy bringing life into our situations. I’ve also discussed how fear can bring disaster.

There have been many, many times I wish I could take back the words I’ve spoken. A simple sentence ending a friendship. A mixed-up line relaying a message I never intended. A shout in anger. Or even words I never said but should have.

Can you relate?

How about harsh words spoken over ourselves? I’ve called myself a loser, unwanted, not excepted, ugly, fat, disgusting…you get the idea.

If there’s anything to be attained through Ezekiel 37, it’s that words really are POWERFUL.

God could’ve brought life to the bones on His own. He could’ve said “watch this, Ezekiel” as He breathed life.

God also loves a good parable. He could’ve just TOLD Ezekiel the message in story-form. “There once was a vast army brought down by a mighty kingdom. The army lay waste in a dark valley where vulchers picked the bones clean. A man came wielding the power of the almighty God, and he spoke life into the bones. Just as I will bring the people of Israel out of their graves and into Jerusalem once again.” Simple as that. Done and done. Point across.

But, nope. God always has a bigger picture in mind. He doesn’t do a SINGLE THING in vain. This wasn’t just a message to Israel about how they’ll live again. It’s a message about the power of our words. – As well as other messages, I’m sure. – Because the word of God is living, breathing, and ever speaking.

God only commanded two things in this text “Prophesy to these bones and say to them…” Prophesy and say.

The definition of prophesy is to “say that (a specified thing) will happen in the future.”

The definition of say is to “utter words so as to convey information, an opinion, a feeling or intention, or an instruction.”

To sum this up, God commanded Ezekiel to utter words that would instruct something to happen in the future. Then He said the words.

All through scripture, we see God telling us to speak, to hold our tongues, and instructing us how to use words.

God told Moses: “speak to Pharaoh king of Egypt all that I speak to you.”

God told Jeremiah: “Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’ Because everywhere I send you, you shall go, And all that I command you, you shall speak.”

Jesus told His disciples: “For it is not you who speaks, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.”

As a result of these revelations, I’ve been watching what I say more and more lately.

I’ve never been a big talker. And since I’m an avid reader I have what’s called “reader’s dialect” where I say words differently in my head than speech. I get embarrassed quite often by how I mispronounce words. I’m not the best listener either because my mind loves to wander. But I do love to observe. My mind is a wonderland. A muscle that gets overused quite a bit. And I’m attempting to steer this muscle to mull over words before they exit my tongue. It’s quite a learning curve, to put it mildly.

Speaking what God wants us to say comes with a combination of listening and actions. I need to sit still long enough to listen. And not be distracted by the field of bones, or the mist blinding my vision. Then I need to act by saying the words, and saying them with authority over the situation. Because these words “instruct what will happen in the future.” Giving power to faith, righteousness, hope, and LIFE. Rather than death and fear.

Read Ezekiel 37 again. God told Ezekiel EVERYTHING. He gave him the exact words with His instructions, and then went on to even tell him what He meant. All God asks is for us is to agree, then act. Have faith! Don’t listen to any other voice besides God. And we agree with Him by saying the exact words God says.

Our faith becomes effective when we know who we are in Christ. Each bone in that field was created in God’s image. Each person. EVERYONE. Yes, even you are beautiful. Blessed. ALIVE in Christ. Let the redeemed of the Lord say so!

And, like Ezekiel, we have authority to speak life into the people around us. Like I hopefully am doing to you, dear reader. You are so loved. You are so beautiful. You are God’s chosen. Chosen to do mighty mighty things. Jesus said that His people would do greater things than He did while on Earth. Believe that. You are His masterpiece. Let Him breath life into your tired bones.

And never let ugly or hateful words come from your mouth, but instead let your words become beautiful gifts that encourage others; do this by speaking words of grace to help them. Ephesians 4:29

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and the evolution of my painting. Like most of my paintings and writings, the end result was similar yet worlds different than my initial vision. Just like our lives often are.

I struggled with the clouds and the grass, trying to manipulate the paint to my will. I used different tools, brushes, paints, and techniques. I layered and layered. And as I neared the finish line, I realized that each layer added a definition to this work. Each supposed mess up created depth. If I’d quit, then I never would have come to this final result. And I wouldn’t be sharing this now with you all. There’s lessons to be learned everywhere. Even at the end of a paint brush.

Be encouraged, and live your life to the fullest! Until next time, look for the art in life. 🙂

Perspective Is 2020

Boo!
It’s 2020.
For most of the population, I can think of nothing scarier on this Halloween. I venture to guess there will be many costumes dedicated to something related to this insane year. Miss Corona. A Karen. Hazmat suites. Trump. Biden. A boozed mother. To name a few possibilities.

I, for one, am dedicating my costume today to my 6-0 Pittsburgh Steelers. (woohoo!!) But that’s besides the point.

Who would have though a number that means perfect vision would be a year of chaos, distortion, calamity, and division? F—2020 is the most popular new phrase to type or say. Most people have just given up. They expect the worst. I’m already seeing memes of what new disaster November will bring. From burning buses to alien invasion. There’s a meme going around depicting us being attacked by Christmas trees in December (although, I will admit to loving the Doctor Who reference).

I admit this year has been full of the unexpected in the worse way. Some have experienced this more than others.
Kind of like the past two days have been for South Carolina (and the rest of the southern states): the high winds of tropical storm Zeta past through early Thursday morning. We lost power. Some still had power. We thankfully have a gas water heater, so retained hot water. Some didn’t have water. Some lost trees. Some had trees fall on their house or car. Some actually had a tree fall on them. Some complained over not having internet. Some invited neighbors over for a hot cup of coffee and generated-power to charge dead phones.

A disaster affects us all differently and in different measures. But it still affects us all. It’s about perspective.

I can hear you now: “Here it comes. She’s going to just tell us to think positively AGAIN. Doesn’t Laura get sick of staying positive during the worst year on the face of this earth?!”
Short answer: no. I don’t tire of giving a positive spin when hope merely appears lost.

I’m an observer. It’s the writer in me, I guess. I’ve observed many negative leaning people during these bombarding events. They complain constantly. They’re afraid. They’re actually TERRIFIED.

I’m not talking about the people that’ve lost loved ones either. My immense love and prayers go out to each of you who have lost someone close to you. I’m not referring to you, because your strength is immeasurable.

I’m talking about the people that have no more to fear than what they hear on the news and concoct in their minds.
The mind is a scary scary place. I should know: I’ve created fictional serial killers & psychopaths in mine. Lol

Our minds can trick us into thinking a second shadow is there, when it’s not. Hype us into being afraid of a pain in our abdomen that could be cancer returning, when it’s only stress twisting our gut. Our mind can tell us a friend said something evil and hurtful with her tone, when she never meant anything with that innocent sentence. Our mind can wake us up with the thought “I wonder what disaster will happen to me today?” or “What joy can I bring out of this new day?”

I grew up hating Halloween. I know, I know. It’s a lot of people’s favorite holiday. But you have to understand that I wasn’t allowed to celebrate it. I never went trick or treating. I never dressed up as my favorite character. – Although, I did get to dress as Ruth in first grade. At the age of 13 my sister and I dressed up in anything exotic we had in our closets and danced around our house. When I was 15, I participated in my church’s “Judgement House,” which was fun in a sense. It’s an outreach program. I played a demon. I had fun scaring people. lol – But since my family didn’t eat chocolate and white sugar (long story), or celebrate because of religious reasons, the fun was lost to me. My husband was raised the same way (just add chocolate back into his life, hallelujah!).

As adults, we were continuing our parent’s tradition of not celebrating this holiday. Until I heard a message that twisted my mind into a new perspective. This article was written in 2014:

Actor Kirk Cameron is urging Christians to celebrate a holiday many fundamentalists shun: Halloween.

“Early on, Christians would dress up in costumes as the devil, ghosts, goblins and witches precisely to make the point that those things were defeated and overthrown by the resurrected Jesus Christ. The costumes poke fun at the fact that the devil and other evils were publicly humiliated by Christ at His resurrection.”
Cameron said the “real origins” of Halloween were related to All Saints Day and All Hallows Eve. According to anthropologists, the true origins of Halloween go back about 2,000 years to the Celtic holiday of Samhain, which celebrated the end of the harvest season. Ancient Celts believed the day marked the beginning of winter, a time of year when ghosts returned to earth to wreak havoc on their crops and possess the living. To combat this, the Celts would don animal heads and skins as part of their interaction with the spirit world. But Cameron claims Halloween is not about death, as often depicted these days, but about life, and he urges Christians to throw “the biggest party on your block” as a way to convert the masses. “Halloween gives you a great opportunity to show how Christians celebrate the day that death was defeated, and you can give them Gospel tracts and tell the story of how every ghost, goblin, witch and demon was trounced the day Jesus rose from the grave. Clearly no Christians ought to be glorifying death, because death was defeated, and that was the point of All Hallows Eve.”

Perspective.

I’m not scared of Halloween. I’m not letting the devil own a holiday like the old church used to believe. For the first time in my life, we’re going trick or treating today. I’m getting dressed up. Riker’s going full spider-man and gets to eat as much chocolate as his little self would like (within reason), and Andrew’s staying home to give out candy and Gospel tracks.

I’m not scared of 2020. Sure, it looks glum. Full or evil, darkness, and disaster. But I’m taking it back from the devil. He can’t have one single day, let alone a year. I’m choosing to have a new perspective.

I’m waking with a smile. I’m expecting blessings out of November. Not curses. There’s still time for this year to be the best yet. Oh yes, you heard me right. Two whole months. A lot can happen in two months. A pandemic could start. But healing can also take hold. Fires can be extinguished by a single rain storm. A year of poverty can become prosperity with a single job, sale, or gift. YOU have the power to turn this year around.

“And Hezekiah and all the people rejoiced because of what God had done for the people, for everything had been accomplished so quickly.” – 2 Chronicles 29:36

“Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.” – Matthew 15:28

So, what are you going to do with the next 2 months of your 2020? Are you going to see clearly? Or will you look through darkness? There’s a light at the end of this tunnel. God has great things in store, if we just choose to see it.

A Joy-Filled Pandemic

“How are you fairing during these trying times?” seems to have replaced the usual “How are you?”

I learned this month that 1 in 4 young adults have considered suicide this year. Depression rose 102% since February. Wow. I can’t say I’m completely surprised, but still… That’s quiet a number.

With all of this in mind, I’m going to be vulnerable with ya’ll right now. I’ve dealt with depression most of my life, and even considered suicide a few times. I’ve submitted to the doldrums of loathing myself, self-pity, not being able to get out of bed/couch for days, eating my sorrows, drenching pillows/blankets/clothes/etc. in tears, making myself sick, and consuming myself with a negative spirit.

That might or might not surprise some of you.

It’s a horrible place to be, and I’d return there too many times to count. It started when I was 14 years old. I believed I was fat (when I wasn’t), no one loved me (when they did), and I was worthless (when I was). Ages 18, 21, and a few other years were my lowest points. All these times had common denominators: I was stuck at home, very little social life, couldn’t see a future past that day, and I concentrated on what I didn’t have. Does this sound familiar to societies present situation? I think so.

Most people in our country, and world, are stuck at home, away from friends and family, unable to perform their God-given talents, and stuck in a routine they didn’t ask for. The refrigerator is always in sight. Kids are never amused. The couch is our only friend. But, it doesn’t HAVE to be this way.

“You’re crazy!” you might have said aloud. “I don’t have a choice. The governor/mayor has put us on lock down. Everything is closed. I have nothing to live for until a cure is found!”

It might anger you then to find out I just got back from a romantic anniversary vacation with my husband to the beach. It was absolutely beautiful. Five days and four nights exploring and enjoying Hilton Head Island and Savannah. Masks and no masks. Laughing, enjoying the sunshine, and not one ounce of depression. In fact, I haven’t had one suicidal thought or extreme depression this whole year. To top it off, I haven’t been staying home more than normal (being a writer, I tend to be home about 80% of the time to write anyway), we’ve had friends over, been out, gone to church, ate at restaurants, and hugged countless people. We’re actually living a more joy-filled life than ever before!

Huh. You might be fuming. You might be about to message me to tell me how irresponsible I am. I could have caught something or spread something. How could I leave my son with my parents, during the first week of school no less. It’s a pandemic: we should be at home!!

Why?

Oh, I just made you extremely mad with that question, I know it. I can see the smoke exiting your ears from here. But, what if I told you that you too could be happy? You too could experience the freedom I’m enjoying?

Being set free from depression has been a process. A process that took years, and then I was delivered all at once. I have down days like everyone, sure, but the difference is I don’t stay down. I’m actually excited about life. I’m excited about tomorrow. Pandemic or no pandemic. Trump or Biden. Lock down or freedom. Fat or thin. Friends or no friends. Rich or poor. Sick or healthy.

Because it’s not about our outward circumstances. The secret is knowing our worth in Jesus. When we TRULY understand this, then the outside situations won’t matter. But, they do actually get better.

I understand God wants the complete best for us. He wants us to be blessed. To prosper. I don’t desire a fantasy world, mind you, I desire what God wants for me. Which is everything we could possibly need.

Think about the book of Exodus. The Israelites were slaves in Egypt. Stuck in a perpetual existence of payless work, constant misery, and a dim future. Then Moses comes to deliver them, but their king (Pharaoh) won’t give them up. God has to send 10 horrible plagues to torment everyone. But wait, these bugs, pests, diseases, and weather conditions never effected God’s people. They were protected. Untouched by harm.

When we realize our blessings, there’s no room in our life for depression, anxiety, and a world-wide pandemic. We can actually enjoy our God-given lives.

I’m not talking about the feel-good how-to-book “count your blessings.” Gosh, you’ve probably heard that a million times. I know I have. I’m talking about REALIZING your blessings.

“Do you mean my family, what money I have, my job, a roof over my head, my friends, my car, food on the table, etc.”

No.

Although it’s wonderful to remember all we have instead of all we lack, I’m not talking about things. I’m talking about us. I’m talking about YOU. Your immense worth. Your talents. Your voice. Your mission in life. Your dreams. Your personality. Your smile (or your smize – smiling eyes – when wearing a mask). What makes you YOU. What you add to the human race. What you add to your family. But, most importantly, what God sees in you.

Depression is a scary and ugly thing. It stems from low self-esteem. Whether from a lack of something internally or externally. But it’s a disease. A disease that affects our minds and can morph into our bodies if we let it fester. And like any disease, it can be healed.

I read a Christian book recently that I hated the more I thought about it. I won’t say the title or the author’s name out of respect. The book was well written, the characters had beautiful arcs, and the story was moderately compelling. But the central message was dead wrong. The main character suffered from depression and suicidal thoughts. She’d attempted to kill herself a few times in her past after losing her spouse. This part was realistic and moving. During the course of the book a new romance blossoms. But she buries her secrets of depression and suicide until they come out in a nasty way. When her secrets are revealed, she believes the man will run away. When he doesn’t, she’s flabbergasted. He loves her no matter what. Then she says a line that I believe wrong to my bone marrow: my depression is a part of me and will be until the day I die; can you live with this part of me? Wow. Talk about depressing. I thought for sure the author would redeem themselves, but the story is left there. This character will always have recurring depression and suicidal thoughts the rest of her life, no matter how good her life may get.

That is NOT what God wants from us. When Jesus died on the cross, He took on all or our sins, diseases, and pain. He doesn’t promise us a perfect life, but He does promise to always lead us into triumph (2 Corinthians 2:14), He will perfect, confirm, strengthen, and establish us (1 Peter 5), keep us from stumbling, and instead make us stand before Him with ecstatic delight and endless joy (Jude 1:24).

When I know my worth, I’m happy when other’s are happy. I’m not jealous of what they have, but rejoice that they are relishing in a blessing I too can have. We are ALL worth abundance THROUGH CHRIST. That’s the important thing: our worth is in Christ Jesus.

When we realize that God truly loves us. Loves you. Loves me. Made us special. Made us to have endless joy. Made us to make a difference. TO LIVE! To experience life. To love. There’s no room for depression when we know our worth.