Waves

waves

Life is full of changes.

Some are welcome. Marriage, the birth of a long-awaited child, or a professional success that validates and fulfills us.

Some are devastating. Natural disasters that literally destroy everything we hold dear, the loss of family through death or relocation, personal or professional failure.

I’ve been through several in the past four months.

I try to focus on the good. My health, the love of my family, the difference I make in the lives of those around me.

Then comes a wave.

And it’s never just one. It’s always several, usually three in my case. (Why do bad things always come in threes?) Just when I think I’ve dusted myself off from the first wave, another comes along and pushes me back down again. I feel myself slipping deeper into the same hole, the walls slippery with mud, void of roots or footholds with which to climb out.

When I do succeed in climbing out, I try to brace myself, to mentally prepare for the next wave. To reach out to God to help me through the trials that come my way. 

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. 

Last month I entered the same writing contest I did two years ago. I felt I had grown as a writer, my manuscript was complete and I had a better overall feel for what I was writing. On Friday I got the results – I didn’t win. I wasn’t even a finalist. Granted, this was a nationwide contest, and the category I entered – romance – provided some really tough competition. My chances of being a finalist were slim at best.

But I was hopeful.

Yesterday, I got an email from the contest coordinator with the comments and critique from the three anonymous writers that judged my entry. It was a hard pill to swallow, to say the least. Criticism is always hard to take, and in this case, when I worked so hard, went through those five pages over a dozen times, and agonized over every last word, finding out that it wasn’t good enough felt like a wave.

And not just any wave. A ten foot wave that pushed me into dark, swirling depths. Took away my breath and drowned me in despair.

I reached out my hands, begged God to help me, to show me that my efforts were not fruitless. To pull me from the waves and to calm the water around me.

And he did, in the form of two dear friends and critique partners. They reassured me, told me it was just one contest. To take the good critique and use it to grow.

It wont be easy, but I’ll try.

My faith still wavers from time to time. I still wonder if this is truly my calling. After all, if this is what God has called me to do, would it really be this difficult and heart-breaking? Are the words of self-doubt Satan’s attempts to pull me away from a calling, or God’s gentle hand guiding me to something else?

Then I look at the framed certificate on the wall by my desk. The one that I received for winning a flash fiction contest a year and a half ago. I remember the joy in my heart when a fellow writer came up to me after my story was read out loud and told me that it spoke to her in a way nothing else had. 

Tucked behind the frame is the seagull feather that I found up in Door County last year. The one that reminds me to always have hope. 

I think of you – my loyal readers and the lost souls who come across my posts in the middle of the night. Those who garner a bit of God’s strength, courage and wisdom from the words that I write in His name.

So I take a deep breath, I put fingers to keyboard, and I write. I hope and pray for each and every one of you, that God will bless you on whatever journey you’re on. I hope you can pray for me too, and anyone who falters as the wind and water rush around them.

Perhaps, together, with God’s grace and love, we can find away to help each other through these waves. 

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Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

My birthday is tomorrow.

This time last year I was in a dark place – dwelling on my fears and failures. Because of that, and in an attempt to make this birthday the joyous day it should be, I’ve been thinking about what I’ve accomplished in the past 365 days.

I’ve finished the first draft of my book.

I’ve been on three vacations.

I’ve taken up painting, and have three canvases that I’m proud of hanging in my home. (Hopefully more to come!)

I’ve done welding. (Book research, but wouldn’t mind doing it again!)

I’ve made some progress on managing my anxiety.

I’ve made new friends.

And I couldn’t have done any of it without –

My husband, who supported me and took time off work so I could take two of three vacations on my own.

My family and friends who were there with a listening ear when I needed to talk.

My therapist who has shown me that I am stronger than my anxiety.

And most importantly, I couldn’t have accomplished anything without God…

whose promises are new every morning

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whose love never fails

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who takes the troubles that I cast into His capable hands

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and makes them into something beautiful.

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All of this to remind me of yet another truth in the pages of my bible – one that I have yet to embellish in the margins.

Ps 139:14 “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”

We are all fearfully and  wonderfully made. All of us. From the greatest to the very least. 

Think about it – the same God who made a universe so vast that our minds cannot comprehend it, made each and every one of us. He knit us together, atom by atom, molecule by molecule, cell by cell, and into that being He infused a purpose.

I don’t know what the next 365 days of my life will hold. Maybe I’ll send out my manuscript and get that first rejection letter in my journey to publication. Maybe I’ll get a contract. Or maybe I’ll still be where I am.

Either way, as long as I’m still here in 365 days, I’ll see that as a blessing.

If your birthday is tomorrow as well, I raise my glass to you, offer you a piece of cake (with ice cream and sprinkles), and wish you the best that life has to offer.

For you, my dear readers, are fearfully and wonderfully made.

Strength in Numbers

As summer begins, my facebook page has lit up with the usual array of early June pictures. The last day of school, graduations, and of course, weddings.

Until recently, June was the most popular month to get married, passed recently by October. While I can see the appeal in getting married during a cooler time of the year, something about the month of June resonates with me as a time for new beginnings. Gone is the chill of winter and the rainy days of early springtime. June in Wisconsin is filled with soft lake breezes, gardens full of flowers, and the promise of the lazy days of summer. A wonderful time to celebrate the union of two souls in marriage, starting their new life together.

Weddings are beautiful. I will never tire of them.

Seeing two people, holding hands and pledging their love to each other stirs within me memories of my own wedding. As I type, the three diamonds on my engagement ring sparkle in the light of my desk lamp. My husband explained to me after I said yes to his proposal that those three stones had a special meaning. The two small diamonds on the side were the two of us, and God was the larger one in the middle, holding us together.

Sometimes, a marriage is about more than two people joining together. In the case of my co-worker and friend, Mandy, her recent marriage was not only the union of a husband and wife. It was also that of a family as her fiance became stepfather to her son.

For the reading at her wedding, she chose Ecc 4:12

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In her case, this passage refers not just to the joining of her, her son, and her husband into a family. In a nice little twist, her married name is an anagram of the word “strand”.

In the first few lines of this passage, God shows us how two is always better than one, whether it be working together, facing adversity, or lifting each other when they fall. In the relationship between friends, a husband and wife, or a parent and a child, we are put on this Earth to help each other. 

My in-laws have a little saying – the family that prays together stays together. This couldn’t be more true. When you let God into your life, His presence strengthens the bonds already made. My closest friendships are the ones that God is a part of. Our faith holds us together in a way that nothing else can.

This leads me to the third, and I believe most important meaning behind Ecc 4:12. It signifies the joining of God’s love into the love of every relationship, much like a braided rope is stronger than one or two ropes twisted together.

The union of two is stronger than that of each on its own.

But bring God into that equation and well, you have a bond that’s unbreakable.

May God bless all of your relationships and strengthen them with his love.

 

 

Time to Bloom

I won’t lie – it’s been a long winter. And really, by Wisconsin standards, it hasn’t been that bad. While I have had my share of harrowing commutes through blizzard-like conditions, we’ve never gotten more than six inches of snow at a time. And some of the snowfalls have been kind of pretty,  like this one.

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Through it all, it’s been hard for me to keep my chin up. I was blessed with the opportunity to visit a friend in Texas at the beginning of February, to meet her newly adopted children. Yet when I returned a mountain of snow and bitter cold greeted me. I wanted – no needed – to go back to Texas, to warmth and sunshine. But I pushed on.

Then another mountain buried me.

Girl Scout Cookie Season.

In my fourth year as the troop cookie mom, you’d think it would be easy by now, but it wasn’t. Each year brings new challenges and this year was no different. By the time the last box had been sold, I still felt buried by the weight of all the responsibility.

We all feel it sometimes – like our troubles, our anxieties,  and our fears weigh us down. They push us deep into a hole that can be nearly impossible to climb out of. 

A few weeks ago, when I had myself in a particularly dark place, I came across this quote, shared by a local retreat center’s Facebook page.

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It made me realize something. All of the adversity I have endured in my life (and it’s been a LOT), all of the pain and sadness has been God’s way of planting me. When buried by my loneliness sixteen years ago, spring came and with it the man who would become my husband. Thirteen years ago my self-doubt over being a good mother buried me yet again. But on that glorious summer day when my son was born, I bloomed into motherhood.

Most recently, my doubts as a writer buried me. I didn’t think my manuscript would ever amount to anything. I actually almost lost everything at one point when I couldn’t find my laptop. I spiraled into despair so deep that it took me days to pull myself out of it. (My laptop ended up being in my closet the whole time).

There are many different kinds of seeds. Some are planted deeper than others, but all have the same purpose. In fact, sometimes the seeds that are planted the deepest become the most beautiful of flowers. Tulips and daffodils, for instance, are planted in the fall, at least six to eight inches underground. Then they sit there for five to six months, surrounded by frozen soil, covered with snow and ice until the warmth of spring revives them and they push through the soil to sprout, grow, and finally to bloom.

So must we also be. It might not be easy to remember, especially when you’re surrounded by darkness. But when you feel like the world has buried you, remember, you haven’t been buried. You’ve been planted by the loving God who created you, who is with you throughout every hardship, protecting you with his grace until the time is right.

And then, on that glorious day, you too will bloom.

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Happy Spring!

A Season of Hope ~ Week Four

Today marks the beginning, and the end, of the fourth week of Advent.

The theme today is Love.

I’ve written about love before. I’d like to say I’m an expert on the subject, as a writer of Inspirational Romance, but I’m not.

The only real expert on love is God, who gave us his Son. A son who came as a tiny baby born in a manger who 33 years later, would suffer and die on a cross to take away all of our sins.

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There are many kinds of love. The ancient Greek language has four distinct words for it – agape, eros, philia, and storge. Eros gets its name after the Greek god of love, and refers to passionate, intimate love – the kind of love felt towards a spouse. Philia is the love between friends – loyalty and community that binds us together as a human race. Storge is the love of parents for their children, or a patriotic love for one’s country.

And then there is Agape. Divine love. The one love above all others. God’s unconditional love for us. When Jesus gave his commandment to love each other, he speaks of this kind of love.

It is the hardest kind of love to give, because it requires us to be completely selfless. To set aside our wants and desires and to wish nothing but the best for everyone in our lives.

As we journey together into Christmas, hold on to that love. Spread it to those around you. Of all the gifts we will give each other, there is none more precious than love.

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

A Season of Hope ~ Week Three

Here we are, in the third week of Advent. This week the theme is Joy.

I won’t lie. It took a while for me to get to the point where I could write this post. Between sickness, a car battery that died when I was getting ready to pick up my kids from school, and a lot of sleep deprivation, I’d had enough. As I spiraled into a depressive state, all I could think of was how little joy I had in my life.

Oh, how wrong I was.

After a good cry (and we all need a good cry now and then), I stopped and forced myself to think about what I had in my life that I could be joyful about.

It wasn’t until I paged through my Bible that I found a passage which reminded me of a time when I felt joy. It’s the first entry I did, almost a year ago.

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In the spring, summer and early fall months, I am blessed to see the sunrise on my way to work. These moments, being witness to the dawning of a new day, always fill my soul with peace and comfort. It reminds me that through all of my trials, God’s joy in my life never ends.

I continued. I started to count my blessings.

My family. My friends. A roof over my head. Food on my table. And even though I might be sick, I could be worse. I have so much to be thankful for, but the momentary sadness overtook me to the point where I couldn’t see the joy beneath it all.

You’re probably thinking to yourself – “What’s this lady thinking? How can I be happy all the time? Even when I’m sad?”

Joy, real true joy, isn’t fleeting like happiness or pleasure. It is a constant, a flowing presence. It’s being content with where you are in life. Knowing that there is a purpose for everything. Knowing that God loves you, even when your world is falling apart.

We all just need to stop, to pause sometimes to remember that it’s there.

So if you’re feeling a little blue, go ahead and count your blessings, so that even when the day seems cold and dreary, underneath it all, you will find your Joy.

Just like the rising sun on a new morning.

A Season of Hope ~ Week Two

Here we are, the second week of Advent. The theme this week is Peace.

Less than two weeks remain until Christmas, and I don’t know about you, but it’s usually around this time when I realize just how much I need to get done. With a myriad of items on my to-do list, what fills my heart can hardly qualify as peace. It’s actually the opposite. With Christmas cards to send, gifts to purchase, cookies to bake, my life becomes a flurry of last minute activity.

And yet, like many people, I often neglect the one thing I should be spending the most time on – preparing my soul.

The readings at Church on Sunday were all about preparing the way for Jesus. The gospel is one I practically know by heart.

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My message today is a short one, and yet powerful. 

While going about your holiday preparations, set aside some time to prepare your soul. Cast away all of the sadness, fear and hatred that is holding you back. For me as a Catholic Christian, a good way to do this is going to Confession. For you, it might be an act of service, or an apology to someone you have hurt. Whatever you do, let God’s love guide you. Let his peace and mercy fill your heart. 

Then, when all of the presents are wrapped, the cookies baked, and the cards sent, you can rest knowing that another item has been checked off your to-do list.

The most important of all – readying our hearts to receive Jesus on Christmas day.