What Will Tomorrow Bring?

All day I’ve kept myself busy at home, properly sheltered in place. I worked during the work hours, attended meetings online, and planned lessons for the future.

In the afternoon, when work was done for the day, instead of indulging in my newest daily pleasure—what I call The Walk Up the Hill—- I stood in the sunshine on my front porch and ate ice cream.

It was thrilling, holding that little cup of rainbow sherbet while looking up at the clear blue sky. I took my time, tasting the variety of flavors while listening to the sounds in the neighborhood. When I’m in my front yard, it’s usually to rush from my car to the front door and vice versa. I like to say hello to the neighbors who are friendly—because we do have some that are not. But that’s another story.

Today, a friendly neighbor walking her dog passed by and remarked (from at least 5 yards away) that she was wearing her hole-y pants today because well, why not? I don’t know her name. I should know it. We laughed, and I replied that I was wearing pajama pants because, well…why not? When she came back around a few minutes later, she stayed all the way across the street this time.

Maybe I shouldn’t confess to people when I’m wearing pajamas. But really…who wasn’t in their pajamas today?

The evening passed quickly with an interesting homemade dinner, a nice Zoom meeting among friends, and a few rounds of double solitaire with my husband. Now, all is still….the hum of the refrigerator is the only noise I hear, other than the typing of my keyboard and this odd pulsing heartbeat rush I hear in my left ear every once in awhile.

Before going to bed, I checked the news online. I wish I hadn’t. Rule #1 of Sheltering in Place During the Spread of a Highly Contagious Virus = don’t check the news before bed time. But I did. Fear slithered in a bit, and I felt my breath become captured by a renewed sense of urgency.

But I have vowed to not give in. I will not give in to this fear.

The truth I have right now in this moment is that right now in this moment I am okay. So I will think on that. And when I think on the future, I will not think of the worst what-if-this-happens or what-if-that-happens in regard to myself and my family and friends. Instead, I am going to think on what am I looking forward to tomorrow.

What am I looking forward to tomorrow?

So many things. A waterfall of life-giving things that bring joy and comfort and calm.

Stretching when I wake up. Entering the stillness of the kitchen on a brand new cool morning. Reaching for my coffee mug, and then….oh, the hot, sweet coffee. Praying. Saying good morning to my husband while attempting to make him smile. Watching my dog practically do cartwheels to get to her breakfast. Eggs…I love eggs. Listening to the morning announcements on my job’s Facebook page. Seeing my colleagues’ beautiful, dedicated faces through the computer screen for our daily meeting. The kids. I get to see my students tomorrow. I get to see their smiles in those little boxes on my Chromebook, and maybe I’ll almost-cry like I did last week when I heard them read aloud for the first time in a week and I was so proud of them that my heart was going to burst. They are handling this whole distance learning thing with such maturity…and courage.

I could go on and on.

That’s my saving grace tonight. I’m stopping fear in its tracks by thinking on all the little things that for years I’ve taken for granted. But as many of our freedoms have been temporarily taken away in order to help save lives, we still have so much we can look forward to. We have riches that we didn’t even realize we have—in all the good things that are still all around us, every minute of the day. Can you see your good things? Are you looking beyond what you can’t do to see the beauty in what you can?

I hope so.

Tomorrow night, instead of checking the news. I will pray—for the ones who are sick, for the families who have lost loved ones. I’ll pray for our world, for its leaders, and for this virus to be under control. I look forward to praying. For when we pray, I know God is listening. That’s amazing.

Good night, friends. May your tomorrow be as bright as the light that shines from your heart. Don’t let anything dim it. People need your light to keep keepin’ on.

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For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.        -2 Timothy 1:7

 

 

 

A Letter to Struggling Writers

Dear Struggling Writer,

What would happen if you stopped putting so much pressure on yourself? Would your work crumble? Would it disappear? Would it turn out to be more awful than you already think it is?

Or would you be giving yourself more freedom to create…to allow space to let your words play and breathe and explore?

What would happen if you put what everybody else thought into a giant trunk, locked those assumptions away with a key, and shoved it into the garage to simmer for a month or two? Or how about forever?

Would you then be able to free your mind of the caution signs and stop signs and upended draw bridges and traffic jams of your thought process? If you could just write a sentence without hitting the brakes, without wondering if you’re going to get pulled over by the judgment police….wouldn’t that be…amazing? How liberating that would be!

And what about perfection? wHaT. abouT. thAt? Can you let go of it?

Just a thought, dear writers. Just a thought. Let’s work on this.

Let’s not let pressure, fear of what other people think, or perfection get in the way of pouring out your soul or sharing a good story.

You are good enough, you are bright enough, and you have time enough.

So get it done. I believe in you! We’ve got this.

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Music: It Makes Us Feel Better

What’s your song? What tune do you go to when your heart is troubled, or when you need to dig deep to find some joy?

By last Wednesday I’d been sheltering in place for about 10 days, and up until then I had been pretty positive about it. I was looking on the bright side, finding humor on Facebook in an unprecedented situation, and I felt that as long as I took precautions I would likely be okay and not get the novel coronavirus.

On Wednesday afternoon, however, I had to go to the doctor for a follow up to discuss the results from a bunch of lab tests and a couple of scans I had taken four to six weeks ago. From November to early February, I’d been coughing non-stop. I had lost a lot of sleep, I was exhausted, and my lungs had been constricted in a scary way. It got to the point where, by January, I needed a couple of breathing treatments and had begun using a rescue inhaler regularly in addition to some other medicines that treat asthma.

I didn’t grow up with asthma. This was all new to me, so I had lived through the winter of 2019-20 more frightened than I cared to admit to myself. Each night for weeks, I would remind myself that God tells us to not be afraid. So I would shove my fear from my mind before attempting to sleep, and focus on other things. Tired as I was, I was able to rest in the peace of knowing that Jesus was there to pray to and that He would shelter me with His love.

A few years back, this would not have been the scenario. For several years in my thirties, I suffered greatly from anxiety. I feared death, and I hated not being in control of things. My husband and I love to travel, but I battled with my anxiety constantly while flying in airplanes, being in teeny tiny hundred-year-old hotel rooms in the U.K., or finding myself in a car where we were driving on the opposite side of the road that we were used to in the United States. My anxiety consumed me and pretty much robbed my joy for way too long. It was like having an extra roommate we had to deal with, the kind who wouldn’t pay rent and demanded squatter’s rights until you figured out a way to kick him out.

Anxiety is real and often comes with a physical response. If you’ve ever experienced it, then you know what I mean. You feel as if you are in a tunnel, and your imagination runs wild with all the what-if scenarios…you think worst-case for every possible situation. There were times during those years when friends or my husband would have to help me breathe through a panic attack. There were nights when I would pace the living room floor, or need to open the front door to walk outside and look at the stars and breath the cold night air just to calm my fears.

I was able to do my job and do it well, and I acted like nothing was the matter. But night time was the worst, once the day’s activities were over and the house would get quiet. Lots of time then to start thinking and wondering. And worrying.

It was the worst of times. It is something I vow to never ever go back to, now that I feel I have conquered the anxiety.

Ironically, those are the years when I paid little attention to music, one of my first loves.

As a young girl, I found that I could escape in three things: books, Jesus, and music. As a musician, music became a part of my daily life. When I began teaching full-time after college and moved to a small town, the music faded away. Coincidentally, my anxiety was born. But I have to wonder if that is a coincidence after all.

Music is so powerful, and right now as we are all sheltering in place…as we sit in our homes or walk or ride bikes outdoors six feet apart from each other, I’ve noticed that music is making a come back.

It’s always been around…from a distance. For decades, we’ve turned the stations on our car radios as we drive and we may turn up the tunes in our homes as we clean house or get ready in the morning, but in this time of quarantine music has reminded us that it has the power to lift our worried frowns into smiles and ease the frustration of having nowhere to go.

The first time I noticed people were turning to music for comfort was when someone shared a Facebook post of neighbors in a city in Italy who were singing in unison from their windows one evening. They couldn’t leave their homes, but they found a way to be united and bring each other joy.

Once our town was told to shelter in place, I began seeing on Facebook hundreds of ways people were getting creative while they were home-bound. Lots of art and home projects, but the thing I’m seeing the most is how music is being shared. Regular citizens are recording themselves at home, celebrity musicians are taking requests through Instagram and Facebook, professional and collegiate musicians are finding ways to collaborate remotely and produce some really beautiful works that are uplifting and that help to ease our minds, and even get us up and dancing.

There’s something about music that hits so many of our emotions. It’s amazing to me how there are particular chords that can match my feelings of joy, sadness, confusion, and even anger. When we hear those chords put together in song, we may not even be having those certain feelings before we play the song, but as we listen it evokes those feelings from us as if we were listening to a story. Words are not even necessary. You just feel it.

So last Wednesday, when I came home from my doctor’s appointment I started having anxious thoughts because I had been out in public and at a medical facility, no less. My imagination was getting harder to reign in and, because of my former experience, I was able quickly recognize the signs that these were nothing but anxious thoughts trying to slither in. But I’ve been committed to not giving anxiety any power over me.

And one of my weapons to fight anxiety is music. The next night, I asked friends on Facebook to list the most beautiful song they could think of in that moment, and before going to sleep I listened to each one. Halfway through the first song, my mind was calmer. By the end of the last song, my breathing was steady and I felt contentment and strength.

So as I shut off the light, I left on some music—the six cello suites composed by Johann Sebastian Bach. If you haven’t heard them, they are six songs for an unaccompanied cello. Just the cello sings, a rhythmic and peaceful composition that helps me to tuck all my other thoughts away for the night.

I slept peacefully and woke up feeling rested.

That is just one example of the power of music and how it can suddenly take us on a journey that provides solace in our times of sadness and distress.

Find your song, friends. You will feel better for listening.

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Challenge Accepted

God gave us hearts, He gave us souls. He gave us personalities and lives, some pleasant and idyllic…but some complicated and tragic. And some of us teeter on the fence, perilously suspended somewhere between fulfillment and discontent. Which are you?

We can choose to conform to all of who others want us to be—demand us to be—or we can choose to be ourselves and not worry so much about who we think we ought to be.

Some of us are like square pegs, and we may never ever fit into the round hole.

And wouldn’t that be nice?

To flee from the formulas, the agendas, the criteria. To breathe and be with God and for God…and not let the people be who we want to please, but instead seek contentment with the Creator? To love like Him and show love like Him and be love like Him.

My heart wants to dance on the white sands of night beaches and be free of alarm clocks and lists. My soul wants to rip the anxious ties that bind it and explore creativity with reckless abandon.

And where do we square pegs fit in this world of ambition and competition and the aspiration of enough-ness…when all we want is to simply be?

Just be.

I know I have responsibilities and I will not desert them, but they do not need to overwhelm my every hour of my every day.  My lungs needs space, my heart needs to maintain its rhythm, and my mind needs rest.

And so I will focus on what needs to be done—but at my own pace, with my own skill, and rising to my own expectations…listening to the voice of reason and not losing sight of who I am.

Just. be. you.

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Let Joy Win

I’m doing laundry today. You know…my favorite thing. Just kidding! While my hands are busy, my mind has been engaged in a gentle spin of a thousand thoughts.

Despite a list of challenges I’ve encountered in the last month or two, this morning I woke up feeling energized and excited for the week ahead. Such a gift— a new dawn, a new day…and I was feeling good. Then, as I went to make my coffee and start the first load of clothes, the memories of those recent hardships tried to cancel out all those positive thoughts.

Thankfully, some kind advice from a friend earlier this week came to mind—the reminder to “take it all in stride”. Being able to accept and tackle difficulties well is truly a life skill, and one I have been able to accomplish more and more. But it takes practice. Instead of dwelling on all the negatives, I instead chose to shake off all those things weighing on my mind and trust in whatever the outcomes may be.

And just like that, joy wins.

Throughout my life as far back I can remember I’ve had my fair share of trials, as well as accomplishments. We all have. We all face obstacles that can feel annoying or insurmountable. They can threaten our joy. But we all have a list of things we can be proud of (and if you think you don’t, I challenge you to make a list of wins in your life to remind you of your awesomeness). It’s important to recall the good stuff.

In this last half of my life (because a few weeks ago the doctor declared I was middle-aged), I am never more thankful than now for the fact that God can see through to our hearts. He knows when we feel overwhelm…He knows what we can handle, and He will give us what we need to persevere. He is available to us through prayer, and His word will equip us through even the hardest of times.

We have that access to Him all because of Jesus and what He sacrificed for us. We are loved—YOU are loved—THAT much. The creator of the universe is our constant companion. We are not alone in our trials, and the love of God–the joy He offers–will carry us through, if we just seek it out.

So hold your head high, my friend. Follow the loving path of the One who loved you first. Remember your strengths and focus on that. You don’t need to dwell on the past…and you don’t need to fear the future. It is waiting for you with joyful anticipation, because with God by your side you can handle anything.

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“…Count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.” -James 1:2-3

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” -John 3:16

 

You Are Significant

Do you even know? Can you see it? That glow inside of you that the world sees?

You’re doing all the things. You’re doing the best you can, and you’re pouring out your heart and soul into what you think matters.

And you think no one knows, that no one can even begin to know how hard you work…how high you strive…you may think no one knows what you’re up against or what you’ve battled to get to where you are now.  What they think doesn’t matter…there’s only one opinion that matters, and that’s of the One who made you…who formed you into the special person that you are.

You plug in each day, you try your best, and you keep showing up. You are amazing. Your grit may not be noticed by the passersby, but something within you still says, “Just keep going. You’ve got this.”

So, you persevere. Because the alternative is giving in to self-pity—and there is no time for that. You’ve got bills to pay and people to feed and laundry to do and lives to inspire.

The world needs you…needs your voice, your love…your joy.

Your light is shining for all to see…can’t you see it? I hope you do.

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Break Time

Sometimes we need a break from being courageous. Just a little one. Just the simple gift of some needed space to breathe and grow. Then, once we’ve had time to get comfortable with our newest stretch marks, we can get back in the saddle again and try out our newest roar of courage.

Who are the courageous?

All of us. 

We are all getting up every day, putting on our badge of courage as we leave our homes. We go off in our cars to days unknown, filled up with hope, fueled up with faith, and fired up with courage. You may not even realize it, but it’s there residing inside of you.

Ambition rules our agenda, but courage leads us through it. It’s how you get through the day. Some of us don’t leave the house—some work from home, some keep company with pain from illness…some face the day fighting battles beyond the ordinary. Yet we are all bravely facing the things which propel us forward in this contest of life.

In some way, big or small, we all march on. We do the hard things. We say hello to the stranger at the grocery store. We sweat just a little (or a lot) under the pressure from our jobs. We blunder through social gatherings. We enter the hospital doors for one more treatment. We give our kids the tough love they need to grow into responsible, kind adults. At the cafe, we ask for a table for one. We show up to write. We show up to comfort. We show up to help out.

We. show. up.  That takes courage.

But even the brave need respite from the battles we face each day. Runners needs recovery days. Workers need weekends. Mamas need a day out with her friends. Dads need their time in the hammock. Kids need to play.

The warriors that we are need rest to gain strength and perspective. In the reflection of the place where courage rose, wisdom is found. When the hard thing is done, recuperation is needed for the mind, the soul, and the heart.

So breathe today. Deeply.

Forget about the scary thing that lies ahead of you for just a little while. Don’t let it rob you of your sleep. Don’t let it steal your confidence. Don’t let it blind you from the beauty that is within your current view. Seek out the person who is waiting for you to connect with them. Drink in the scene of the rolling hills that may surround you, the trees… and the listen for the sounds of the red-tailed hawks screeching among their feathered families. Shake off your your burdens and give them to the Lord. He is there to take them from you (Matthew 11:28-30).

As you rest, recall how far you’ve come and tally up your triumphs. Remember at the core who you are and tell yourself it’s okay to take a break for however long you need. You’re not perfect, you don’t always have to be the strong one, you’re allowed to stop and breathe.

And then, once you catch your breath…when you’ve reflected, and begin to make new plans (or shore up the ones you’re still feeling called to pursue)…get back into the hard things that make you stronger and wiser and able. The world needs you. Stay strong. Carry your courage all the day long. And remember you are loved just as you are, brave one.

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

-Romans 8:37-39 (NIV)

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Crushed By Gentleness

In a harsh world, where everybody is hyper-focused on their hustle, there are those of us who need the gentle space…a cavern of affectionate calmness. The need to be wrapped in rock-solid arms of comfort. The desire to be so still you can hear the heartbeat of the one who holds you.

We, who fear of not being good enough, who work so hard not to be underestimated but still believe we never seem to come up to par, just need to be completely crushed by the gentleness of arms that will hold us up until the tide of self-doubt and fear recede. When the waves rush over us, the busyness, the overwhelm, when we are barely breathing…we need the solace and the sympathy….we need a savior’s rescue.

It could be a vice we turn to, sometimes friends and loved ones answer the call…or it could be Jesus. I want to choose Jesus. The One who rescues every time. The One who is a refuge. He is waiting, and all I have to do is call on Him. He cares not if I am the best or the strongest or the one who has all the answers. He cares not if I am thick or thin, impulsive or cautious, ready or not. He just loves me so…and he loves you, too.

 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. -Matthew 11:29

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Hope Says…

I know hope.

Hope says, “Give me that challenge…I’m not afraid.”

Hope says, “I’ll persevere, and I’m not going to give up.”

Hope says, “I may fail today, but I’ll show up again.”

Hope says, “You can’t catch me…wait—maybe you can.”

Hope says, “Let me take your breath away.”

I know hope, and hope knows me.

We’re inseparable.

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An Image of Frustration

A man is shaking his fist at the indigo sky.  The horizontal lines gripping his forehead cram together as if it’s stuck in a trash compactor. The tight corners of his mouth dive down deep to meet his jawline. Tears pool and threaten to sprint past his hollow cheeks, dripping onto his shirt…his eyes are hauntingly desperate, his brow defeated with sweat.

But I see his strength in the bottom lip that quivers, like a table about to buckle because it’s been loaded with too much weight. As he struggles to yield to the hope which still exists within him, he breathes deeply and closes his eyes.  This torrent too shall pass.

For all those who are frustrated today, hang in there. Breathe. Pray. Choose to shake it off and focus on something that will make you smile. Or even better, something that will maybe make you laugh. Look for it.

The Lord says, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” -Joshua 1:9

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