The world outside the window fits the world inside me in this moment. What started as a light drizzle throughout the morning has become a downpour. Each week I enter this coffee shop while the stars still blanket the world, and I emerge after the sun has started to illuminate my table that acts as a writing desk for my weekly writing office hours. The sun should have emerged an hour ago, but the sky is grey and no light shines through. Folk music plays and the espresso machines whir; friendly chatter becomes the backdrop to my thoughts. Inside all is warm and dimly lit, creating an atmosphere of serenity. Outside the storm rages.
I’ve always prided myself on my strength. I come from a long line of strong women who worked hard, carried their families; women who did it all. I equated strength with quantity, with full and busy lives. So I followed suit. I launched myself into every endeavor with passion and gusto. When I travel, I seek to soak in every last moment, saying, “Who knows if I’ll ever be here again? I can sleep when it’s over.” I can do it all. I can have it all. That’s how I’ve lived for 35 years.
A decade ago my body started telling me that I couldn’t keep up the pace and the emotional strain of taking on everything with all of my being. My doctor finally named my chest pains and inability to catch my breath as what it was—anxiety.
Sometimes I have listened to my body, treated it well and found moments of relief; other times I pushed myself to the limit and pushed through the pain. I’ve begged God for relief. I’ve taken medication, diffused oils, stretched through downward dog and pushed my muscles to the limit in the gym. I’ve soaked in suds, played with my kids, escaped into books.
But I never stopped believing I could do all the things. I pretended I was slowing down when I turned down certain commitments. But I replaced those with new ones. I couldn’t let go of the addiction of activity, the rush of busyness. I said I wanted stillness but I didn’t really. When left alone with my thoughts, I was forced to face the realities I didn’t want to. Introspection became the thing I avoided with all of my doing.
I watch the gutters gush forth a full load, puddles spilling over like a tiny river that feet splash through on their way to the car. My heart fills like the gutters these days; it’s at capacity, overflowing...
The party was completely pin-worthy, Pinterest-perfect. Donning my little hand-made hat, I walked around the party watching the kids decorate their tea cups and laughing at the rabbit and queen of hearts costumes. The mad-hatter cake was just tilted enough, the frosting looking too good to cut into.
When a friend commented the next day how wonderful my five-year-old daughter’s party had been, saying “I don’t know how you do it all” I smiled modestly and cheerfully said something about just not sleeping but I was lying through my fake smile, hiding all the cracks underneath the surface.
Inside I was trying to do everything I thought I was expected to do and be something no one asked me to be, least of all my family. Like the slightly chipped teacups I bought at the thrift store for the party, I looked good on the outside but imperceptibly, quietly, I was cracking.
The voices on every side were bombarding me, telling me everything I should be doing. Feed your kids organic food, but live frugally and buy locally. Work out and get that perfect body, but make sure you don’t spend too much time away from your family. You can have that perfect party at little cost when you make it all yourself, but slow down so you don’t miss out on your kid's lives. The contradicting voices cried out, clawed at me, and made me feel inadequate, harried, and always less than enough.
By the end of that year, I was barely keeping the tight anxiety in my chest at bay, fighting exhaustion, and feeling far from God. I couldn’t fit everything into the day. Between my family, work, church, volunteering and everything I believed I had to do, God was relegated to the leftover edges of my life. I knew I couldn’t live like that anymore and I started practicing saying “no” to things.
Committing to live more simply, I pulled back on commitments, tried to let go of all the perfection, and promised to listen to God’s voice instead of all the other ones I had let become my Master that year. I spent more time just being with my family. Parties became small outings and I curled up with my new Bible study and asked God to speak.
The trouble was the voices didn’t stop bombarding me, telling me all the things I should be doing.
They came from authors of books and writers online who promised a more peaceful, spiritual life. They came from the very Bible study I hoped would be the answer to my spiritual dryness. They came from the pulpit on Sunday morning...
Today I am joining my friend, author Tina Osterhouse in her spiritual practices series, writing about the practice of letting go of everything you "should" be doing. Join me there?
I have become accustomed to doing my writing on the computer but there is still a power that a pen and paper hold over me. I have journaled since I was young, written countless notes to be passed in class, and doodle and jot notes that end up all over my house. After graduating from college continents separated my best friend from me and as she traveled through Europe she sent postcards from every stop.
I remember the joy of seeing those little snatches of words showing up in my mailbox. They were barely a few sentences but it connected me to someone I loved far away and those words were like water to a parched soul. We mostly exchange emails now but every now and then a hand-written note from her will find it's way to my mailbox.
Since I became a mom I have kept journals for and written letters at the end of each year to my kids. I want to remember big and little moments in their lives, things I might forget if I didn't write them down. I want them to know one day what their childhood was like through my eyes, things they'd otherwise only know through photographs or stories forgotten down the years.
As my writing for others online has increased, my time to write for them has decreased. It was the third week of January before I got around to penning my year-end letters for them. I am woefully behind in updating photos I usually commit to a book to have printed for them each year.
Life gets busy with so many things and these important words get pushed aside. The words to the most important people in my life go unsaid.
So, for this month I will be sharing four letters I am writing to some of the most important people in my life. I will be taking some time to remember what I write for to begin with, what is at the core of what I want to say and who I want to say it to. I hope you will see nuggets of truth in these words. Though they are written for special people in my life, I hope they speak into yours.
I start with a letter to the person who needs to hear some hard words and believe them....myself.
There is a knot that has taken up permanent residence in your back, an ache in your arm. Sometimes a tightness comes across your chest and you realize you haven't taken time to breathe deep all day long. There are a thousand thoughts running through your mind. You try to categorize them into manageable to-do lists. You have a place for family, home, work, writing, ministry, that upcoming trip.
Something inevitably falls through the cracks and you feel the weight of guilt fall around you. There is that mom guilt you feel every day. Do you give them enough time? You have to work but you want to be with them more. You are called to write but does it take you away from them too much? You second guess your decisions even after you make them and care so deeply what other people think of you.
You can't keep juggling all these thoughts but still you try. Somehow the people you love get categorized, too. When you have so much going on they fall in with the lists and become nothing more than tasks.
A friend looks at you and says, "You put too much on yourself." You smile and nod but inside you think, "If I don't do it all, who will?" You know she is right but you don't know how to put it all down, all these things you carry in your hands, on your shoulders.
Honey, you can't do it all. You aren't meant to.
Listen to the words of the One Who Sees You, who knows all your neurotic control issues and loves you anyway.
Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” - Luke 10. 38-42, ESV
You can get so distracted, even by good things. Beautiful things. Things for God. God has a good portion for you though, a light burden He wants you to bear. You know it but can't accept it.
Lots of things need to be done. Absolutely, there is no denying that. But do you have to be the one to do them? Do they have to be done right now?
Please take a step back and open your eyes. There are people all around you that have hands, too. They can carry some of the burden if you will give it to them. They can hold you up when you are weak if you will allow them to. They can rub that knot out of your shoulder when it gets too painful.
There is a reason Jesus left behind a body to be united, to carry the burden together. You can't be the hands, feet, and hands. You can't do it all.
But you know the one who can. So, let Him.
One thing I am finding more as I delve into the creative process is how healing creative outlets can be for our spiritual and emotional lives. Not only can art be an outlet for emotions we can't readily find words for, but it can bring such healing in the sharing of things too deep for words to express.
I am thrilled to share the beautiful art of my friend Janine Crum today. Janine is a fellow Redbud Writer's Guild Member and I had the wonderful opportunity to meet her in real life recently and chat with her over coffee about God, life, writing, and art.
"So, this whole journey of making more art and writing and seeking God deeply started about a year and a half ago when I was pregnant with my son, Levi.," Janine says. "After his birth I was crippled by anxiety, panic attacks, and a deep depression that rendered me unable to care for my kids. Shortly into my journey I did a sketch in my sketchbook that really captured part of that process for me, and I shared it on my instagram."
Having struggled with anxiety myself and finding writing to be an outlet for me, I also know the power of sharing these struggles with others. Not only can we seek God through the creativity He has given us, but we can bring the process to others who we might share our art with. That is what I love about Janine's passion for delving into deep things not always spoken of so freely in Christian circles.
I also love these pieces, re-writing truths learned from Scripture and from fellow writers. Janine says, "one way that God sows His seeds deep into my heart is through the act of re-writing Truths I've learned." This is a practice I have begun through this series and am finding this to be so true - that the re-writing and meditating on these truths is helping me seek God in deeper ways.
I hope you have been encouraged and inspired by the art in this series and that you will follow along with Janine as she seeks God and creates so beautifully from the overflow of what He is doing in her life!
**And now a fun bonus for all of my readers! Thank you for joining me as I write for 31 days in October. As a part of the Write 31 Day community, I am able to extend a great giveaway to you! DaySpring.com is celebrating all of the amazing Write 31 Days readers who are supporting nearly 2,000 writers this October! To enter to win a $500 DaySpring shopping spree, just click on this link & follow the giveaway widget instructions. Good luck, and thanks for reading!**
"To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.."
The first time I ever felt my chest tighten like it could cut off all airflow to my body was 8 years ago. I was less than a year into a job I loved but then my boss left and I took over the entire department. I was only 26, younger than everyone else in my department, and I felt like I was in over my head. Who said I had the authority to lead this?
I returned from a month overseas and my husband and I were praying about moving to the Middle East while doing this job. To top it off my grandmother, more like a second mom to me, ended up in hospice after a fall. I would run from work to the hospice, grabbing fast food on the way, trying to juggle a million things in my head and heart.
The physicians assistant told me it was my childhood asthma that was rearing it's ugly head again and making me unable to feel like I could catch my breath. The medicine didn't help and I found myself again sitting in the doctor's office.
This time my doctor and friend didn't even have to touch me to diagnose in a moment the anxiety that was wreaking havoc on my body. Part of me felt relieved that I wasn't also dying in the midst of all of the chaos in my life at that moment, but then there were all the doubts.
Why? What am I doing wrong? Is it a spiritual problem? Can I handle this on my own or do I need to be put on medication?
I found ways to deal with the anxiety. Yoga would help my chest to not feel so tight. Running, praying, hot baths, journaling. There were things I could do, so I felt in control again. But throw in a new country within the year, another family illness when I was a world away and couldn't even be there to help, and the rug was pulled out from under me again.
This time I pleaded with God to take the anxiety away. I knew I wasn't in control of what was happening to my body any more than I was in control of the circumstances that brought me to this place. In time, it passed again...
Years later there was an incidence of anxiety brought on by two impending international trips on top of a full-time job and two kids, to-do lists that had me drowning. Take it away, Lord! Please! I am slow at math but I finally reasoned: stress + me = meltdown.
So, I slowed down and began to say "no" to extra events. I was writing again, working out regularly, had a firm grasp on life. But the world started to spin anyway - again.
Barren. Parched. Empty. I think of the desert as I sit looking out over our backyard. Half of it is green, a carpet of grass ready for little feet to run and play on. The other half feels rugged and rocky underneath eager feet. Harsh rains and hail pelted us this winter and water would stand in the shady, low places killing whatever had grown there. The grass got little nourishment from the sun and stayed bogged down with water, unable to replenish itself this spring.
Barren. Parched. Empty. I think of a valley of dry bones as I sit, trying to quiet my soul. I started writing again this year in an attempt to quiet my spirit, to take the swirling thoughts, the anxieties and the chaos, and mold them into thoughts directed at God. I have tried to find a time to write in the last week, a half finished story waiting to be completed and posted to my blog. But my soul has felt as battered as the dry places of our yard, and I have been unable to find the words, unable to even put myself into that vulnerable place of sitting down with a pen to put my heart down on paper.
All week long I felt like I was drowning under standing water, unable to see clearly through the murky mind and heart weighing me down. The little storms that came into my life this week shouldn't have so thoroughly derailed me. A spring cold made me groggy, then my five year old fell and got a slight concussion, throwing my whole week a bit off-kilter. Work got overwhelming. Discouragement weighed on me as well as I tried to push the date to the back of my mind. I had submitted stories to two magazines I felt really confident that I was a good fit for, and this week the deadline to hear if they were publishing me loomed ahead. Each day I didn't hear back made me feel a bit lower, a little more unsure of my calling to raise my voice for God in this noisy online world.
Little storms, surely nothing that should have swamped my soul and left me in a barren wasteland. But I found myself in the old familiar territory of anxiety and discouragement when I didn't cry out to God in the midst of all these swirling storms in my soul. I wallowed in them, let them build up until they blocked out the nourishment my soul so desperately needed from the One who promises to carry our burdens if we will let Him. The light couldn't break through and my words dried up, my attitude was bleak, and I couldn't bring myself to write the story of hope I had been working on. It felt like a lie.