How Journaling is Setting Me Free

Have you ever had the same message come at you through so many sources, you finally throw your hands up in surrender, and say, “Fine! I’m listening!”?

That is how my goal for this new year came to be.

I read “The Artist’s Way” with a friend last year, and Julia Cameron promises that getting up early and writing three pages first thing every morning will grow your creativity.

I listened to a Typology podcast interview with a spiritual director, who said, “Write three pages every morning to discover your areas of pain and growth.”

I listened to an interview with Rebekah Lyons about her new book “Rhythms of Renewal”, and she said, “Journaling every morning lowers your stress level and grows emotional health.”

I discovered a website called “The Cure For Chronic Pain”, and read, “Journaling for 20 minutes every day will release the deep emotions you hold inside, which are causing your pain, and free you from tension and discomfort.”

After the fourth time of getting the message to start journaling, I finally said, “Alright!! I will set my alarm even earlier in the morning, and I will give this journaling thing a try. It’s free, it can’t hurt, and even if it doesn’t heal me of all stress and pain, it will still be a great thing to do.”

I’ve journaled every single day for a month, and I’m hooked. It has been completely amazing, and so my goal for 2020 is to begin every day with journaling.

I turn on my new twinkle lights in the kitchen window, set my timer for 20 minutes, and just write. Sometimes I don’t have a clue what to write about, but the words start coming. Thoughts and feelings rise to the surface from so far down, I had no idea I’ve kept them stuffed inside. But they pop up and out onto my page, and suddenly I am undone, because I can’t believe I’ve carried that deep, dark truth for so many years. I’m not miraculously healed from my pain (yet?!), but I feel lighter every day. How can that not eventually affect my physical body?

Thoughts and emotions are deeply connected to the physical body, and while I’m holding expectations lightly about how this will affect me, I can’t believe how different I feel about myself after a month. I’ve learned more about myself in the last month than I have in the past few years. It feels like purging pain, bitterness, unforgiveness, and every negative message I’ve taken in or spoken over myself for my whole life. I wake up to do battle with old demons, and it feels hard and painful and beautiful and healing.

Sometimes I write to God, sometimes I write letters which will never be sent, sometimes I just write fragments of thoughts, fast and furious, that don’t need to make sense to anyone but me.

I ignore margins, I don’t correct spelling mistakes (Gasp! How out of character!!), I spill it all out. And when I’m done, I tear up my pages into hundreds of little pieces, and I throw all that garbage into the garbage.

Then I go lie on my living room floor to do my daily stretches, and I pray it all out. I pray for healing and perspective. I pray for new thoughts to replace the old ones I’m shedding. I lie there and try to soak in the feeling of being light and free and forgiven.

Morning by morning, page by page, I am finding my way through. I have always tried very hard to be a Good Girl – to say and do the right thing, and not get mad or be mean. I’ve hidden all the “unacceptable” parts deep down inside, and I’ve labeled my feelings as “Good” or “Bad”. But what I know now is that my feelings are just my feelings.

It’s time to stop labeling them as “Good or Bad”, and I’m changing the labels to “Time and Place”. My time to get it all out with brutal honesty is each morning with my pen in hand. My family sleeps, and I sit there on my dark, quiet house, spilling it all out, because God sees it anyway, so let’s just be honest already.

I never knew journaling could bring freedom. I’ve written for years, but always for my blog, which meant it had to be neat and tidy, and appropriate for public consumption. I didn’t know how much I needed to write just for me.

But I love it, and I highly recommend it. Do you journal? Do you ever feel like you might benefit from journaling? Do you have other ways of working out emotions which feel right and good? I want to hear all about it!!

Reflecting and Goal Setting

I love fresh starts and new beginnings! This time of year is one of my favourites, because I love tying up the end of the year, and moving into the new year with great anticipation.There are so many amazing articles and podcasts that lead people through year end reflections and goal setting activities for the new year, and I love to make use of them this time of year!

If you’re like me, and this week after Christmas has you feeling ready for some intentional reflection, here are some of the resources I’ve been enjoying:

End Your Year Intentionally With These 10 Questions (No Sidebar)

20 Questions for New Year’s Eve (The Art of Simple)

How to Create a Personal Life Plan Before 2020 (Building a StoryBrand with Donald Miller)

The Science of Setting and Accomplishing Goals with Michael Hyatt (The Model Health Show – it’s from last year, but it’s a great one!)

I’m trying not to go too crazy with goal setting – I tend to get a bit carried away, but I’ve learned that it’s easier to keep it simple, and only do one or two goals at a time!

For this year, I’ve decided to make daily journaling my goal. I started a couple of weeks ago already, and it feels like something I want to make a permanent part of my daily routine. There’s a lot to say about it, so I’ll write more in a future post. There are many benefits to journaling regularly, and I can’t wait to dig further in to this habit!

I’d love to here what goals you’re setting for the New Year! And let me know if there are any other great resources you’ve come across!

Happy New Year!

When the Right Thing Feels Like it Was the Wrong Thing

This last spring, I shared a post about Ben’s new job. We were excited and full of anticipation. We’d spent A LOT of time praying about our next step, and in many ways, it seemed clear that God was leading Ben to enter a partnership with a local company.

For six months, everything went really well. Ben loved the work, and it felt like a fantastic fit for him, as well as for our family. Every new opportunity was exciting, and we were full of hope for everything the future held.

But after six months, it became clear that things were moving in a different direction than expected. It was a confusing time – we’d felt peace about our decision in spring, and it had really felt right at the time. But now suddenly, everything changed. Had we made the wrong choice?

What do we do when we try to make the best choice we can, step out in faith, and then everything turns out completely differently than we thought it would? Does that mean it was a mistake?

The more we process the whole experience, the more I see how the outcome matters so much less than the fact that we were acting in faith and obedience to what we felt called to do at the time. God has taught me a lot about trust and faith in the last few months, and I’m slowly learning to have peace in the midst of great uncertainty.

And so we try again. This was all just one step, and there are many more steps to come. It wasn’t the wrong step – it just wasn’t the last one.

What’s next?

Through it all, Ben has finally gotten the courage to go after his true dream, and I’ve finally gotten the courage to support him in it. He’s always been better with taking risks than I am, but both of us are now ready to see what God is going to do. If the last six months had never happened, I don’t know if we’d have the courage to pursue this new dream. Maybe we needed to go through that season to prepare us for what’s next.Over the next couple of weeks, Ben will be getting ready to launch his new venture, and we’re very excited. I’ll share more details soon – including a fun giveaway for my blog readers to be part of, because so many of you have followed along on our journey for years, and have been lovely and supportive. (Thank you!!!)

But in the meantime, I just want to say that God is good, and He is faithful. He guides our steps, and holds our hands. What I want more than anything is to trust Him with my life, no matter what happens. Even when things turn out completely different than we thought they would, we can still trust Him.

He is not looking down from heaven, saying, “Shoot, I never saw that one coming!! How in the world am I going to provide for Ben and Kendra now???!!!”

He’s got it covered, and His ways are so much better than my own. He can redeem anything, and so we keep looking to Him for our next steps.

Things I Learned This Summer

Happy first day of fall! I have mixed feelings about this – I love fall, but we had a really good summer, so it’s hard to see it go!

I’ve been trying to get into the discipline of reflection at the end of each season, spending time looking back on what happened and what I learned.I’ve done it a couple of times in the past, and I really like the practice of it, because it make me more intentional, and it helps me to remember times of growth or discovery from each season.

I have tons of pictures to remember all the great times at the lake, but some of the little lessons learned might slip quietly by if I don’t take the time to pay attention. It doesn’t have to be deep, meaningful stuff, it can be the smallest things that somehow shift my attention or approach to life. Emily Freeman does this for each season, ad I always love reading her list, so here’s what I came up with for my summer:

1) Housework usually takes less time than I think it will.
There are some household tasks I avoid like crazy, because they feel so huge and daunting. But this summer, I tried setting a stop watch on my phone to find out exactly how long the dreaded chores took, and was surprised with the results. The chores were always quicker to do than I thought they’d be. The next time I’d need to tackle the same chore, I knew how much time it would take, and whether or not I could fit it into little pockets of time throughout the day. It has really helped me get more tasks done in a day.

2) I cannot grow brussel sprouts.
I’ve tried a couple of times now, and this is the year I give up! It’s time to stop wasting precious gardening space on something that is simply not working. It gave me a nice sense of freedom to admit it, and move on. There’s wisdom in knowing when to quit!

3) Clipboards make me feel official and productive.
I have an extremely long list of daily stretches, assigned by my physiotherapist and muscle therapist, and it’s hard to get it all done each day. I do them in chunks throughout the day, so I lose track of how far I’ve gotten, or I just run out of steam.This summer, I wrote out the whole list, stuck it in a page protector, and crossed each item off with a whiteboard marker as I went along. It worked very well, except the page was so flimsy, so it was a bit of a pain.

But when I found a clipboard, everything changed. It suddenly made me feel super official, and I got far more done because the whole thing was so visual and intentional.Now I’m trying to figure out what else can be given clipboard duty!😉

4) Settlers of Catan is still a fun game!

We haven’t played that game in years, but this summer, we played a bunch of games with our kids at the cabin and taught them how to play Settlers, and we all had so much fun!Because our kids are each five and a half years apart, it’s been tough to play games together that we can all enjoy.

But this summer, it finally worked! We changed the rules a bit for Everett, or he’d be on a team with Ben, but we figured out how to spend time together in this way, and it felt like such a fun new stage for our family!

5) Use a good pen and a junky notebook.

I’ve never understood my reluctance to use pretty notebooks, until I was reading the book Writing Down the Bones. The author says pretty notebooks make us feel like we have to write perfect, important thoughts. She suggests using a junky notebook so there’s freedom to write down whatever comes to mind, even the rough, ugly stuff.But she also says it’s very important to use a good pen. The ink needs to flow at the right speed, and feel good in the way it writes.

I tried it, and it’s totally true. But now I have this beautiful notebook Ben gave me for Christmas that I didn’t know what to do with it. And then I figured it out – I’ll use it for a gratitude journal, because that’s the one place where my written thoughts are always beautiful enough for a nice notebook! For all other journaling, junky notebook + nice pen!

6) This is the best book I have read in a long time:

Did you read Kisses From Katie? I loved her first book, but this one is even better. She writes about how to trust God even when your prayers don’t get answered the way you want them to, and how to have hope during times of suffering. Here’s one of my favorite quotes:

It is a brave thing to hope, to continue in hope, knowing that God might say yes but that He could say no, and choosing to praise Him anyway….I desire to enter fully into the joy He places before us and I desire to enter wholly into the suffering He places before us because both can be His gifts to us. Both can be made beautiful.

This summer was really wonderful, but there were some hard parts to it, as well. This book was such an amazing reminder to think about facing hard things with the peace and certainty that God will carry us through in the best way possible. And now, we move on to fall! I’m curious to see what new lessons this next season will hold!

What about you? Have you learned anything interesting or tried anything new lately?

6 Things I’ve Learned About Marriage

This week marks 19 blissful years of being married to Ben!

A young couple recently asked for our best advice on how to have a good relationship. I guess I choked under pressure, because this is the answer I gave: “Being married to Ben is just really easy! I don’t have any advice.”They seemed disappointed with that answer, with good reason. That answer is helpful for exactly…no one.It’s haunted me ever since!! I’ve wanted another chance to do better, and I’ve thought about what answer I would give, if I could do it over.It is easy to be married to Ben – he’s super easygoing, very patient and kind, and the most selfless person I know. He’s tons of fun to be with, and makes me laugh all the time.Our marriage isn’t always perfect, but we’re very compatible, and that helps! Maybe my marriage advice is “Date very, very carefully!!”Beyond that, there are a few other things I would say, if I could have another chance to answer the question:

1) There is no other option.

Ben and I both committed to this relationship for life, so we will make it work. I think that changes everything about how a couple faces hard stuff. If you have to make it work, you will do everything in your power to do so. If there’s another option, it will affect whatever you do.

It’s like my planking challenge that I wrote about a couple of weeks ago – my muscle therapist once told me, “Never start planking until you’ve decided how long you’re going to go. You need to have that number in your mind before you even start.” Same with marriage! 😄

*I feel the need to acknowledge there are circumstances when this is not possible, and there are many, many stories out there full of pain and suffering. Obviously, life happens, and heartbreak doesn’t need judgement on top of it, so that is not my intention. Just wanting to promote an attitude of commitment, with a huge dose of love, grace, and empathy for those who didn’t get their happily ever after.

2) Pray together, even when you don’t feel like it.

When I was growing up, my parents prayed together every night. I always knew that if I went to their bedroom after they had gone to bed, I would find them reading the Bible together, and praying. There was nothing that made me feel as secure as knowing I would find them there together. I loved to crawl into bed between them and have them pray for me.

I thought all Christian couples did that, because it was so normal for me, so when Ben and I got married, that’s what we did. But over the years, I found out that my experience growing up had not been “normal” and I realized what a gift my parents gave to me with the example they set.

Ben and I have stuck with this, and it is such an important part of staying connected to each other, and to God.Sometimes, I do not want to do it. If I’ve had a really bad day, Ben has sometimes just prayed for me. But most of the time, we make it work. It’s difficult to pray together when we’re frustrated about something, so it means we have to work it out before we go to sleep.

It is not always easy, but it’s worth it.

3) Make time together that nothing else can interfere with.

This is easier now because Everett needs to be in bed by eight, so we have to be home a lot in the evenings, but it was harder before having kids. Life got so busy, we would go for long stretches of time without having an evening at home together.

But then I read a book about managing your home, and it included a chapter on scheduling. The author suggested that every couple or family needs at least two weeknights and one weekend night at home, in order to keep life balanced and under control. This may not work for everyone, but we started scheduling these times in. It was HARD, but we found that it made a huge difference for how connected we felt (especially for me, because my love language is quality time!).

But we also found that we had to keep it a secret from some people, because others wouldn’t always see it as “necessary”, and thought we should be meeting demands from other people instead of guarding our time so carefully. But we kept it a priority, and all these years later, we still keep an eye on the calendar, to set aside that time together.

Because our girls don’t go to bed at eight, we make sure to send quality time with them, and then they spend time in their rooms, reading and unwinding before bedtime, which allows Ben and me to have time together in the evening without it getting too late.This has worked very well for our family, and I would do it all over again. Guard your time, because no one else will do it for you!!

4) Honour each other with your words.

Ben and I try very hard not to say negative things about each other. We don’t make mean jokes, and we don’t use sarcasm. I can be critical about stuff in general if I’m not careful, but this one has always been a big deal to me in our relationship.

It probably stems from the example of my parents, as well as being in ministry for the first 10 years of our marriage. Setting a positive example in our relationship has always been a big deal, because other couples have done that for us. It’s not that we’re perfect, but it’s something we hold as important.

5) Work together.

One of my favourite things at Ben’s parents’ house is the way they make meals together. Ben’s dad especially loves to cook, but it’s always a joint effort, and I like watching them work together.

At our house, I usually do the cooking because Ben is working and I’m home all day, but if he’s around, he will always help get meals ready. When he notices that I’m getting overwhelmed by the mess in our house, he’ll round up the kids and be the energetic leader we need to get things cleaned up quickly.

It’s just more fun to work at things together.

6) Leave room for different ways of working through and expressing emotions.

This was my biggest lesson this last year. It’s taken me a long time to figure out that some people want to talk about their feelings, and others DO NOT. And that’s okay!I am a verbal processor. Sometimes I don’t even know exactly what I’m feeling until I’ve been able to talk about it. I feel so much better if I can get it all out, have a good cry, and clear my head.

Ben is the opposite. Most of the time, he does not want to talk about his feelings. He needs a chance to think through things before he’s ready to share anything. This is super hard for me, because I’ve always felt like I’m showing love and concern by asking him about how he’s doing. I actually feel cut off from him if he won’t tell me about how he’s feeling.

This last year especially, it became clear that we needed to get better at dealing with this difference in our relationship. Here are a few tips we figured out:

  • Be honest. It is helpful for me when I ask Ben something and he says, “I will answer that question, but I don’t feel like talking about it right now.” I can’t read his mind, so I appreciate when he communicates clearly with me.
  • Don’t take it personally. I’ve had to work hard at understanding that Ben is just different from me. He’s not trying to shut me out, he just needs time to be quiet with his feelings, as much as I need to talk mine out!!
  • Be brief. Sometimes I’ve felt so worried about Ben, I’ve really wanted to know if he’s okay, and how I can pray for him. But I also want to respect his need for space. A compromise that’s helped is asking him to give me one sentence summing up how he’s doing, and then dropping the subject. It helps him to know we won’t dig into his feelings, but he can still honour my need to know where he’s at.
  • Find other ways to show support. During rough times for Ben, I want him to feel like I care, but if I can’t show that by listening and talking through emotions, I try to look for other things he appreciates. I turn the lights on outside if he’s getting home after dark, just to make our home look more welcoming. I make sure his comfy sweat pants are clean and in the drawer so he can find them easily. I keep the container of homemade granola filled and ready for his favourite snack. Basically, I do anything I can think of to care for his physical needs, because I can’t do much to help with his mental or emotional needs.

These things have helped a lot, and I always appreciate when Ben talks about issues even when he doesn’t feel like it, because he’s also making an effort to adapt to my way of dealing with things.

That’s what I’ve learned after 19 years! A lot of this is wisdom we’ve learned from other couples we know, or from good books we’ve read, so I’m very thankful for the positive influences we’ve had throughout our marriage.

I’m also just really thankful for how fun it is to be married to Ben! We’ve had good, good years together. There have been some hard things to work through, like my health issues, miscarriages, infertility, and some tough transitions throughout the years. But when I look back, I’m really thankful for everything we’ve gone through together, and for all the lessons learned. We have a beautiful life together!

Choosing Peace During Uncertainty

Yesterday, I shared the exciting news that Ben has a new job, but if you’ve ever taken a huge leap of faith, then you’ll know there’s always a story lurking behind a neat and tidy announcement.

Today I want to share a bit more about what we’ve been going through the last few months, as we’ve waited, prayed, and tried not to agonize over the whole process.

Late last fall, Ben decided to resign from his position as Executive Director of the Steinbach Chamber of Commerce. It was a hard decision, for many reasons, and it was a stressful time. He had some ideas about what could come next, but we didn’t know if anything would pan out. There was a lot of uncertainty and financial questions, and all the kind of stuff that makes me very anxious, because I do not have Ben’s gift of embracing the unknown as an adventure. He was excited, and I was a mess. I went through a bad stretch for a few weeks, and things felt very dark. My health took a big hit from the stress, and I was struggling badly to get my footing.

But one night when I was kneeling down to pray about our situation, it became extremely clear to me that something needed to change. I was so incredibly miserable and desperate, and I reached a point of just knowing I couldn’t go on dealing so poorly with the stress of it all – not now, not ever. I was suddenly overcome with an intense desire to be free from the thought patterns and worry habits that have controlled me for most of my life.

Suddenly, I got this very clear, kind of strange picture: I saw a bubble, like the kind our kids blow in the summer, that floats aimlessly on the breeze, gently bobbing around until it finally twirls over the neighbor’s fence and disappears. Our family was in that bubble, bobbing along, without a care in the world. I could see everything passing by us, but it felt a bit distant, because we were safe and sheltered and separated from it all by that bubble.

Photo by fotografierende from Pexels

And just like that, the fear and anxiety were gone. For weeks after, I bobbed along in that bubble. My thoughts and emotions were changed in an instant, and it took absolutely no effort for me to stay in that place of peace and calm trust.

I’ve never felt that way in my life, and it was heavenly. I never wanted it to change. I bobbed right through Christmas, amazed that life without a paycheck could be so relaxing!

Then January hit, and my bubble burst hard. It was a harsh return to handling things the old way, and it was terrible. For two weeks, I tried to get my bubble back, but it was just gone. It felt as though God had removed His protection from me, and I was disappointed and confused. But one day as I was praying about the whole thing, I realized that God had never removed it – silly me, in all my humanness, had somehow gotten the idea that I didn’t really need the bubble so much anymore. Surely once Christmas was over, Ben would quickly find a job, and this hard time would soon be over. I had climbed out all by myself.

When I realized this, I knew I didn’t want to handle stress the old way, on my own. I was ready to climb back into my bubble, and there I stayed. I’m still bobbing along. Sometimes the temptation to take things into my own hands and get lost in worry comes creeping back, but the more time passes in my bubble, the less appealing the old way feels to me. I can usually catch myself pretty quickly when I start down that path, because it feels so panicky and miserable. I try to spend time praying and getting my focus back on God’s protection and provision, and off we go again. There’s only room for one day at a time in the bubble!

That may sound ridiculous, but it’s what’s working for me right now. Or maybe it sounds too easy, and it is and it’s not, at the same time. I have to be hyper-vigilant about staying in a good place. If I let my guard down for a moment, I’m sucked into the old mess, but if I stay focused, I can stay in my beautiful, safe bubble. In the beginning, I think God was just gracious with me, and I could stay there without trying, but now it takes effort. Overall, I’m learning that it’s much easier to stay there than to try to get back there after the damage has begun.

It’s hard to explain it without it sounding too simplistic – although we’re called to faith like a child, so maybe it’s okay for it to sound very simple. And maybe it sounds like I’m trying to be oblivious to real life, but it’s not that, either. It’s more like a visual reminder for me, in my head, to protect myself from mentally running too far into the future. The bubble is about staying in the moment, and trusting that God will carry us where we need to go. I still have rough moments, but I’m learning to choose peace instead of worry.

Now, while all my lessons in bubble floating were going on, God was up to something else. On the morning of the very same day Ben resigned from his job, a man from our church was on vacation, taking a stroll with his wife. He had started a consulting company two years previously, and had been on his own journey of trusting God, as he developed a company focused on leadership training and team building.

As Darrell and Elaine walked along that morning, he said to her, “I think God is leading me to get a partner.” And that afternoon, Ben happened to email Darrell to say he had resigned from the Chamber.

They met for coffee numerous times those first weeks, but I was not excited. Out of all the employment options Ben was considering, this one scared me the most, because it didn’t involve a regular, dependable paycheck. It was by far the riskiest option, and it was the one Ben was most drawn to. He would come back from coffee with Darrell, bursting with ideas and enthusiasm, and I would pretend to be interested until I just couldn’t fake it anymore, and then there would be tears and panic. (Obviously, I was a very lovely, supportive person to live with during that stretch!?)

Part of the reason I was so nervous was because Ben was so excited about something that felt very unpredictable. He’s talked about this kind of opportunity ever since he got his Masters in Leadership years ago, and it’s what he’s wanted to do most. But we weren’t planning on it happening right now. It was always a dream for the future, when we would hopefully be more financially stable, and our kids would be older. Yet here it was, and I didn’t want him following a dream. I just wanted a regular paycheck, so we could feel safe and secure – not in a worldly way, of course, just a practical way, I’d tell myself.

But Ben’s enthusiasm did not disappear, so one day I prayed, “God, if you want this to happen, change my heart.”

And then I promptly forgot about praying it, because I knew it would never happen!

Fast forward a couple of months, along with all of my bubble dwelling, and one afternoon, Ben and I were driving around running errands, discussing his employment options. He had kept moving forward in discussions with Darrell, but after awhile, he began to get cold feet. “It’s the riskiest option,” he said. “Maybe it’s best just to forget it.”

And then I forgot about this being the moment I’d been waiting for, and instead of agreeing with him, I passionately responded with something like this: “Ben, it’s your DREAM!!! It’s what you’ve wanted to do for years, it’s exactly what you’re gifted at, and who cares if it’s risky!!! We’ll find a way to make it work in the beginning until things get easier. When you look back in 20 years, you’ll wish you would have done it. We should just trust God, and go for it!!!!!!”

And suddenly, after months of not thinking about it, that desperate little prayer popped into my head, and I thought, “Oh my goodness, who am I, and what am I saying???!!!” The miraculous had happened, and my heart had changed.

From that point on, I was in. As a friend said, “This whole thing smells like the Holy Spirit!” And that’s really how it felt.

It wasn’t an easy decision process, though, because it was a big decision to make, and Ben loves to take a looooooong time making up his mind, but none of that bothered me very much, in my bubble. I just had peace because I knew it would all work out somehow, and then finally it did.

Ben and Darrell officially became partners just over a month ago, and God is good, and I want to stay in my bubble forever! We feel really blessed and thankful to Darrell and Elaine for their part in this process. They opened up the business they started from scratch, and we’re excited to experience this adventure with them.

So that’s what we’ve been up to for the last six months – a lot of growing, transitioning, and learning to trust. It’s been hard, rich, and very good. There’s still a lot of work and trust that needs to happen, but right now, we celebrate the start of something new and exciting!

To see what Ben is up to, check out the SCOPE website.

How to Stop Overthinking Things

I was listening to a podcast recently called “How to Stop Overthinking Things”, which was basically made for me. It came at the perfect time, too, because I was actually right in the middle of overthinking something, and this podcast saved me.
There were two tips in particular which I found most helpful:
1) Stop thinking and start writing.
I’ve heard this before, but I keep forgetting how helpful it really is. I’m the kind of person who has to get everything out, but usually it’s in the form of verbally venting to Ben. Poor Ben. He doesn’t need to hear all of that. Writing it out helps me to get it out into the world, without the world having to deal with it. I’ve actually avoided journalling for years, though, because it depresses me to have a bunch of beautiful journals filled with my lowest moments. So I’ve recently started something we’ll call “Dump and Junk” – dump it all out on paper, and then throw it away.
I have many gratitude journals that I will keep forever, because those are filled with beautiful thoughts and memories which make me very happy, but when venting thoughts, there is no need to hang onto those.
2) Give yourself a time limit.
Chalene Johnson shared how she gives herself half a day to think about something. No more. After that half day, it’s time to stop thinking and move on. It will only get you into a negative spiral if you let it go longer.
This was exactly what I needed to hear in my current episode of overthinking, because I was stuck deep in the muck of nothing useful. I had made a big mistake a few days before, and although I’d apologized, and I’d prayed through the whole thing and knew God had forgiven me, I couldn’t forgive myself. I kept going over and over it in my head, beating myself up for not knowing better.
There were some very helpful moments of realization at a few points along the way, and I feel like I learned some valuable lessons, but I had moved past anything helpful, and was just dwelling on it in an unhealthy way.
When I listened to the podcast, the time limit hit home for me. Take the lessons, and move on. Be okay with making a mistake, and try again next time. If I get too bogged down by one mistake, I’m not focusing on the fact that I’ll have another chance to do better in the future.
Of course, the thoughts wanted to come creeping back in, but I kept telling myself, “Time’s up! I’m done with that, and I’ll do better next time.”
I feel like it’s giving me permission to be a work in progress, and sets some useful boundaries.
Do you have any strategies to stop overthinking?

Be Kind, and Be Yourself… If You Want

Kaylia came to me the other day with a deep, dark secret – something about herself that no one must know, because she thought her friends would make fun of her. I listened to her pour her heart out, and promised not to tell a soul, but when she went off to play, I kept thinking about what would be the best way to help her through this.

A memory suddenly came back to me that I hadn’t thought of in years, and I remembered what it feels like to hide who I am, because the world doesn’t feel completely safe….

I was in grade nine, and the teacher gave us an assignment which had me feeling miserable. It sounded easy enough – choose your favourite song, copy the lyrics out, illustrate it and answer some questions about the meaning of the words. I knew I could do all of those things, except the first: choose a favourite song.

Junior high can be a hard place to admit truly liking anything, and music was especially a problem. I’ve always loved music, but I wasn’t allowed to listen to any of the music my friends listened to (for which I’m very thankful now, but at the time was not cool). I never spent any money on buying my own tapes, like my younger sister did, so I mostly contented myself with listening to her music, or whatever my mom was listening to. I knew that I could never use one of my mom’s songs for my project, because that would earn me unbearable amounts of ridicule, so my only choice was to find something from my sister’s music to use for my project. But since only Christian music was allowed at our house, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to find anything that would pass the scrutiny of my friends.

In a desperate attempt to choose something socially acceptable, I went with Steven Curtis Chapman – I guess it seemed like a good idea at the time. There was a song he did together with a friend who was a rapper, which was unfortunate all around, because Steven Curtis Chapman was most definitely not a rapper, and sadly, the song was called “Got 2 B Tru”, adding irony to the pretense of presenting it as my favourite song.

I remember feeling ridiculous about the whole thing as I got my page of lyrics out at school the next day, hoping no one would notice, but of course, my friend looked over and loudly burst out, “Got 2 B Tru?! What kind of stupid song is that???” Everyone turned to look at me, and added their own comments on my song selection, as I tried to make myself as small as possible in my seat, wishing I could disappear.

I went home and threw those silly lyrics in the garbage (no offense to Steven Curtis Chapman), and tried to figure out what to do. I decided to choose one of my mom’s songs that had a line in it that I’d always liked, and hope nobody would notice (no offense to my mom!). For the rest of the class time we spent on that project, I was careful to keep my paper covered and out of sight.

It was a huge relief when we moved on to a different assignment, but in some ways, I never really moved on. I chose to avoid music, even though I loved it, because the embarrassment of that experience didn’t fade much. I wouldn’t admit to liking anything, to avoid being mocked.

It kinda worked out okay, because when I started dating Ben, he was happy to share his large collection of cd’s with me, and always had music playing. I didn’t necessarily love his choice of music, but I didn’t dislike it, so for years, we listened to whatever he liked.

But one day, maybe about seven years ago, I was reading a blog post that included a song, and as I listened to it, I realized: “THIS is the music I like. If I would choose my favorite, it would be this style of music.” It was a strange feeling – I had never admitted to anyone, even myself, what I really liked. I’d never claimed anything for my own, and labelled it my “favourite”.

I didn’t share it with anyone – I felt like I needed to keep trying it out on my own, so when no one else was home, I’d listen to the song secretly. I wasn’t worried that Ben would make fun of me, or anything, it just felt so new and different to actually say I liked a song, instead of just listening to what everyone else listened to.

This went on for a couple of days, but one day, Ben came home and caught me. My song was playing, there was no hiding it anymore, and he asked, “What kind of music is this?!” He was obviously confused, since he’d never heard the song, and in all our years of being married, I’d never turned music on when I was home alone.

I explained how I’d come across it, and that it was the kind of music I actually loved most, and he wasn’t sure about it, but after awhile, he said he kinda liked it. So he set out to find every song he could that had a similar style, and made me a playlist which we called “Happy Music”.

Over the years, we’ve kept adding to our happy music, and now it feels funny to think there was a time when I wouldn’t let the music in, and claim it for my own.

And so I remember the feeling of hiding, and thinking it wasn’t safe to be real. I tell this story to my kids, and I know the typical moral of the story would be “Be yourself”, but I’m not so sure.

I want to tell Kaylia to be brave, to just like whatever she likes, and not be afraid, but at the same time, I know what it’s like to hold something so fragile inside yourself, it doesn’t feel right to bring it out where everyone can see.

There are times when it’s great to take a chance and open up, but there are also times when it’s okay to have a small inner circle, and smile mysteriously to yourself, knowing that your secrets are safe with just the close few. That’s also being true to yourself, for those of us who hold things a little closer. And so I like to use my story as a reminder to be kind. source

Be kind to yourself by understanding that it’s okay not to push yourself, if it just doesn’t feel safe or comfortable. I felt so mush pressure to reveal what I didn’t want to, and then guilt and shame as I tried to find my way through. Rather than feeling all those heavy emotions, I wish I could have simply seen myself as kind of private, or slower to reveal parts of my heart. There is nothing wrong with that.

I do truly value the idea of being yourself, but there’s also wisdom in discerning the right time and place for sharing from your depths. I don’t want to hide who I really am, but I’m okay with having many layers, and waiting, quietly holding some things in for a time, until they’re ready to come out, until I feel safe, until the layers have gently been pulled back.

And being kind to others can mean being a safe place where others know their secrets will be protected, should they choose to share them. If I know what it feels like to experience mockery and ridicule, then I know how important it is to be the one others can feel safe with. So be yourself, but take your time. Be gentle with yourself, and with others. Be the safe place where they can bring their secrets to the light, in their own time.

Overcoming Fear of the Future

I was sitting in the waiting room at an appointment one day, paging through a magazine, when an article caught my attention – “How to Overcome Fear”.

I hesitated for a second – I’ve struggled with fear and anxiety for most of my life, and although I desperately wanted to overcome fear, I wasn’t sure if I was brave enough to dig into that whole thing again. Curiosity won, and I began to read. And that was the beginning of a lot more than I anticipated.

*

Fear stayed on my mind for weeks after that. I’d woken a sleeping dragon, and it would take awhile to settle the beast down again. But I didn’t want to simply settle it – I wanted it gone. I began focusing on verses about fear every time the old thoughts gripped me, but I was frustrated – how many times had I heard or recited “Perfect love casts out fear”? What was wrong with me? I believe in God’s perfect love, but my fear wasn’t cast out. What would finally get me to the point where I was filled once and for all with that perfect love, and would experience the freedom of fear being cast out? Something wasn’t working for me.

*

I didn’t know if it was a wise choice or not, but in the midst of my wrestle with fear, I read my friend Kate’s new book.

Her heart is right there on the page, and she has a painfully beautiful way of writing about being diagnosed with stage four cancer at the age of 35. Reading about her struggle with the idea of dying and leaving behind her husband and their little boy was tough for me, and added to the weight of what was on my mind. But reading about her darkness was what led me to light.

She described a moment right before she was about to go into surgery, alone for the first time since receiving her diagnosis, and she was terrified about the depth of fear she would get lost in if she were left alone. But she wrote that instead of being overwhelmed by fear, she was overcome with a perfect love so beautiful and strong that it carried her along, not just through those moments before her surgery, but for weeks to come. It was such an amazing love that she didn’t ever want to be without it again, so she began to ask anyone who had gone through a similar experience, “Will it fade?” And they said yes, it would fade, but she would never be the same.

And that’s when it hit me: I do not receive miraculous peace and provision until the moment I need it. Like the Israelites who tried to collect extra manna, and ended up with a rotten mess, we do not get to save up grace – it’s a fresh filling, a supply and demand kind of thing.

*

The magazine article about fear said that most of the time, it’s imagined. If you were in a dim room, and saw a coil of rope lying on the floor in the corner, you might mistake it for a snake. You might feel fear, until the light was turned on, and then you would realize there was nothing to fear. It would feel real, but it was imagined.

This was comforting, but also made me feel ashamed. Kate lives with the actual fear and reality of life with cancer, while I just can’t get my imagination under control.

And Christians are the ones who are supposed to live with “peace that passes all understanding”, but I was stuck with anxiety that passed all understanding. So many times, Ben would patiently listen to my tearful worries and fears, but then he would say, “I just don’t understand the way you think. I want to help you, but I don’t know how to make you see that you don’t need to worry about those things.”

And so I stayed trapped in the same old patterns of thought, with my imaginary snake in the corner.

*

I got a phone call one morning during the early years of being married, as I was about to head out the door to work. It was a close friend, telling me that her dad had passed away very suddenly and unexpectedly, letting me know when the funeral was.

I drove to work in shock, my mind racing. It didn’t take long for my thoughts to go in the direction of imagining myself in her place – what if my dad passed away without a chance for me to say goodbye? How would I handle it? What would it feel like to lose him?

I did what many seem to do – get lost in thinking about their own imagined situation instead of staying in my friend’s current reality. I caught myself after going far too long in the wrong direction. My heart was heavy with the thought of what it would be like to be in her position – but I wasn’t. I couldn’t be present to support her if I was lost in my fear and imagination of what it would be like to be her. I just needed to be with her. It was my first time realizing that God would only give me strength for what was real – I didn’t need His strength for what was imagined.

Many times, I felt the pull to start thinking, “What if it were me?” And each time, for the love of my friend, I chose to stay present, in her moment of suffering instead of getting lost in the fear of my own.

*

When we first think a thought, it is not set in our minds in the beginning. We have some time to choose if it will become a habit of thought, or if we will reject it. If we continue to think it and solidify it, it becomes a well-worn path in the mind. When another similar thought comes along, the brain needs to figure out where to place it. Every similar thought zooms off down the worn path, causing a reaction so fast and strong, you don’t even need to be aware of what’s happening.

I was 21 when I first started having health problems. I had just moved out on my own, and was faced with overwhelming tests and doctors appointments. No one could figure out what was wrong with me, and my imagination ran wild with fear. I knew nothing about how to deal with everything that was happening to me. I tried to trust God and find a way through, but the fear path in my mind took some dangerous turns as I wore it down to a well-travelled path in my mind.

To this day, thoughts of fear and the unknown will immediately take off in the same direction as always, making me feel as though I’m carried along on a ride I didn’t even choose – except I did, many years ago.

The good news is there’s hope and it’s never too late to change the path, and make new thought patterns. But it takes a ton of work, and so I dig in. I face the imaginary snake in the corner, I search for ways to shine light so I can see fear for what it really is.

Another verse sticks in my head – “Don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” But I’m a master at bringing the imaginary into this moment. If I mentally prepare myself for the worst case scenario, I’ve fooled myself into thinking I will be prepared for anything. It’s a way of feeling like I’m in control, even though we all know that’s not possible.

*

Kate writes about a conversation with a friend about how to deal with her fear of having to leave her little boy. “‘Don’t skip to the end,” he says, “Don’t skip to the end.'”

Suddenly it all comes together in my mind – choosing to stay in this moment, trusting the perfect love to always be there no matter what happens in the future, stopping the fear before it runs down that well-worn path which only leads to a coil of rope in a dark corner.

*

I try to put this all into words for a friend. She listens patiently, and then she says, “When we jump ahead and imagine ourselves in a terrible situation in the future, we’re picturing ourselves standing there in the face of tragedy without the protective covering of God’s grace, and that is terrifying.”

Years of fear are suddenly exposed to me for what they really are – imagining myself without God’s protective covering. Not trusting that His perfect love will truly be there for me when I need it most. Frantically gathering manna before it is time, only to end up with rotten manna every time.

Don’t skip to the end. Stay in this moment. Grace for the present. Strength for today. My daily bread.

Someday the coil of rope in the corner will actually be a snake, and I do truly believe God’s perfect love will cover me that moment. In the meantime, I pray for the strength to keep living only one day at a time. It is simple, and it is hard.

Are You Afraid to Create?

“Do you have the courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden within you?

Look, I don’t know what’s hidden within you. I have no way of knowing such a thing. You yourself may barely know, although I suspect you’ve caught glimpses. I don’t know your capacities, your aspirations, your longings, your secret talents. But surely something wonderful is sheltered inside you. I say this with all confidence, because I happen to believe we are all walking repositories of buried treasure. I believe this is one of the oldest and most generous tricks the universe plays on us human beings, both for its own amusement and for ours: The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them.

The hunt to uncover those jewels – that’s creative living.” (Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic)

I felt creative fear this last week. I was standing in my sister’s living room, surrounded by piles of shopping bags, and I was about to start decorating her bookshelves.

And just for a moment, I had this paralyzing feeling of doubt and fear of failure. I had flown out to Ottawa for the specific purpose of decorating her house, and I knew those bookshelves were going to make it or break it. They were huge and looming, and I wanted them to look amazing, but in that moment, all I could think was, “I don’t know if it can do this.”

That probably sounds far too dramatic, but let me just say that bookshelves are hard. They need to be full, but not too full. Coordinated, but not too matchy. Heights and sizes and flow are all important, if you want to get it right. If it’s done well, they’ll look awesome. If not, they’ll look busy and cluttered, or just bare and empty, longing for someone to come make them beautiful.

I recently came across a decorating company on instagram that advertised themselves as being “experts” in bookshelves. It kinda takes an expert, because it’s just really hard to do it well.

There was nothing else to do, other than dig in and get started, or else we would have wasted a lot of time and money on all the decor items we’d just purchased. I got through the first shelf, and was feeling a bit encouraged. By the second shelf, I was starting to have fun. “I think this is working!” I was thinking to myself. “Maybe I will be able to pull it off.” I stepped back to see how it was shaping up, and that was a mistake, because suddenly all I could see again were the wide, gaping shelves which still remained empty. Again, I had those sinking, doubtful feelings, but once again, I grabbed more books and got back to work.

When I finally finished, I plopped down on a chair, and just looked. I sat and looked and looked, because I had done it, and I loved it. I didn’t know if I could do it, and then I brought something into existence which was not there before, and I’d created something I felt proud of.

I keep thinking about this because I wonder what else I’m capable of, but don’t dig in and just start trying. My sister says I should start a decorating company. Ben says I should write a book. My friend says I should start a health blog. I don’t do any of them, because I am saying I don’t have time right now, with homeschooling and a three year old, but I wonder if deep down, it’s just because I’m afraid to start, or maybe I’m afraid I’m not passionate enough to make it happen.

I don’t know what is hidden deep inside me and I don’t know what I would bring out if I dug down to discover it. I’m afraid it won’t be perfect, I’m afraid it will be rejected, I’m afraid it’s all been done before, and I’m afraid it’s much too late to get it started. I’m afraid it won’t be significant or important. I’m afraid I don’t know enough to write a book, and there’s no chance that fiction is happening here, which means it would have to be real life, but my life is pretty small. And decorating someone’s house also seems kind of small, because we really could all survive with bare walls and empty bookshelves, so I’m afraid it’s not significant enough.

But when my sister came into the room once I was finished, she said, “NOW it feels like home.” And then I realized what my driving passion really is – home. My whole life, I have just wanted to make a home for my family. A safe, peaceful, cozy place where everyone can come in and feel something – I don’t even know what, exactly. Maybe just like they belong. I spend every single day of my life doing this for my own family, but when my sister said that, I realized I was actually able to give her the same feeling in her own home, and suddenly it didn’t feel frivolous anymore.

This is not a blog post to announce that I’m starting a decorating company or anything like that!! Rather, it’s just some ramblings on that feeling you get when you create something, in spite of being afraid, and know deep down that you did something beautiful. There is a little bit more loveliness in the world, because you chose to create.

I don’t remember to take pleasure in that often enough. I stick it under the label of “humility” – don’t take too much pride in something you made or accomplished. But I’ve swung too far over to the side of not allowing myself to feel any pride. Those twinges are quite persistent, though – when my pantry is perfectly organized, and I want to keep opening the door to gloat over it a little. Or when I put extra effort into making an especially colourful salad for supper, and I feel just a little proud of myself for making it beautiful. Why do I insist on stamping that feeling down and resisting it?

Kaylia proudly hangs her artwork on the fridge. Everett calls me over to see the train track he built all by himself. Anika has a flush of enthusiasm on her face as she tells me about an especially good scene she just finished writing in her book. Even Ben called me over to admire the garden box he built in our yard last summer, and sent me a picture of himself receiving an award this weekend.

I love to celebrate those moments with others – why wouldn’t I do the same for myself? I want to dig deeper, and see what I find when I’m brave enough to bring out what I can do and create and share. Maybe a bookshelf won’t change anybody else’s life. But maybe it could change mine. Maybe I have no idea what could open up inside me if I would take more chances, do hard things, just dig in and get started, and then bask in the sense of pride and accomplishment I feel at the end. Maybe I’ll actually write a book. Or find some more empty bookshelves. Who knows? Maybe it’s just enough to know that when I’m not sure if it will be great, I should just try anyway.

I hope you’re too brave to have any idea what I’m talking about, but maybe not? Is there anything you’ve been dreaming of creating, but haven’t had the courage to start?