Posted in Blog, Faith

2018: My year of confidence

I should be writing in my novel right now. I have about 3,600 words to go before I reach the magical NaNoWriMo number of 50,000 (though there’s probably about 15,000 more words left of the story). But instead, I want to write here for a moment so I can share some things with you, and so I can document some things for me.

The New Year is coming up, and for many of us, that means making New Year’s Resolutions that will make our lives better. Of course, these rules are usually forgotten by February. At least, that’s the case for me.

2018

For the past few years, I’ve done away with resolutions. Instead, I dedicate my year to a word, and I let that be my focus. In 2016, my word was PERSEVERANCE. That year, I published two books, and I wrote two more. My freelance career took off, providing a nice second income that carried my book writing expense. I also started college. I let go of doubts and forged ahead, and it was the most productive year I’ve ever had. I sold more books than ever. I proved to myself that I could do anything I set my mind to, I just had to keep putting one put in front of the other.

But by the end of that year, I was just as exhausted as I was inspired. I knew I needed a new word, and I decided on the word community. But when I prayed on this, God told me this was not my word. He kept pushing me to trust him, and I kept pushing back. He finally revealed that my word was FAITH, and that I was to pray into this with a week-long fast.

Wait, what? No food for 7 days? Are you kidding me?

I eventually agreed, and planned to start Jan. 1. God had different plans, and made me sick as a dog in the last days of December. That’s when I heard His whisper. Do it now.

So I did. I lived on juiced fruits and vegetables for almost a week, then just vegetables during the last few days. It was an amazing experience. During that time, everything became so much clearer, and I realized that my word really was FAITH.

This past year was life-changing. I leaned back and let God lead. I stopped trying all these wacky things to sell my books, and instead talked with God a lot more. I relaxed.

Admittedly, my sales plummeted this year. This is a frustrating side effect, to be sure, but I knew this going in. I’m in this for the long haul, not in it to get rich quick. This past year has been about listening to God and leaning on Him, about coming back to center, about recognizing what’s important. I’ve also realized that my faith journey isn’t ending just because the year is. Rather, it’s an introduction.

Now that I’m nearing the New Year, a new word has surfaced. I’d asked God, once again, if my word was community, as I’d thought the year before. He quickly shot that one down, telling me instead that my word was CONFIDENCE. But this word has a separate meaning. It’s not exactly about appearing sure of myself to others. It’s more about knowing who I am, and WHOSE I am. Who am I trying to impress when I deny my feelings and remain meek? Whose opinion do I care about when I hide in the shadows or refuse to speak up? What is it that I’m trying to say in my stories, but holding back on for fear of offending others?

Confidence is saying what I mean and standing behind it. It’s about not censoring myself. It’s about writing books where the characters are messy, use foul language, and make mistake after mistake. It’s about being vulnerable. It’s about writing a blog post about faith and God, and publishing it here, on a blog that I sell books on, instead of putting it in my Faith Blog so non-believers won’t be offended. It’s knowing that some of you are going to turn away from this blog in disgust because your feelings about God don’t match mine, or because I’m not your version of a perfect Christian, and posting this anyway.

It’s about telling the truth, and that’s what I want to do this year. Tell the truth. Tell my truth, that being an author is both the best and worst decision I’ve ever made with my life. Tell my characters’ truths, that they do terrible things and suffer the consequences, and are completely human in every way.

I’m an author who loves Jesus, and says fuck, and allows my characters to be gritty and imperfect. I’m an author who has intense faith and debilitating doubts, sometimes in the same breath. I’m an author who doesn’t fit in with non-believers because of my faith, and I’m an author who doesn’t fit in with believers because I write sex scenes, cuss words, and drug use.

I’m me. And 2018 is my year to stop apologizing for it.

Expect a lot of truth from me in this New Year.

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Posted in Blog, Faith, Inspiration, Life as I know it, Reclaim Your Creative Soul

The story behind “Reclaim Your Creative Soul”

Last week, I was honored to speak to a group of people from my church about Reclaim Your Creative Soul, the book I published earlier this year about making more time for creativity. I began by telling them about my journey toward that book, and then I shared a quick rundown of the necessary steps to varying types of organization—both body, mind, and the space around them—so that their craft can be a priority.

This book is very personal to me. It shares many of the things I’ve come to know in my journey as a writer. I lay out the details of my writing practice, and the different ways I’ve created order in certain areas of my life to free me from distraction and allow me to focus on my craft. But more than that, it shares the spiritual journey I took toward actually writing this book. I’d like to share that with you here.

In August of 2015, I reached my breaking point. My writing was suffering because I felt like I had no creativity left in the tank. My eating habits were out of control, which resulted in weight gain, lack of energy, and a feeling of gross worthlessness. I felt overextended at my job, which was eating away at me even when I wasn’t on the clock. The successful writing career I thought I was going to have was nowhere to be seen. I actually felt like my desire to be a writer was a curse, because everything I wanted was so out of reach, and I was sure I’d be chained to being a 9-5 worker for the rest of my life.

That August, I reached a point where I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I felt like this huge weight on my chest was consuming me. I knew if I didn’t do anything about it, I was going to go off the deep end. Something needed to change, I just didn’t know HOW. So I did the only thing I could think of doing. I took a day off from everything to focus solely on the three areas of my life that were consuming me the most: my career, my health, and my creativity.

I called this day my “soul retreat.”

During that day, I spent time with God, addressing each area that plagued me and seeking answers on what I could be doing better. I not only came away with these answers, I also received a better understanding of who I was, my worth as God’s creation, and my purpose as a creative person. I gained clarity I was unable to reach before. Most of all, I learned how to breathe again.

(I explain what happened in full detail in my book, and also in an earlier entry of this blog)

At the time, I didn’t know I was going to write this book. But the seeds began to sprout on the day I took my soul retreat. A few months later, I began laying out the bones of Reclaim Your Creative Soul: The Secrets to Organizing Your Life to Make Room for Your Craft. At face value, it was my answer to those around me who wondered how I was able to write books while holding a full-time job, raising a family, and everything else that kept me so busy. But more than that, it was a love letter to myself and those who needed to hear this message: The two biggest obstacles between you and what feeds your soul is fear and a feeling of unworthiness. More than following my guidelines toward structure and organization, my hope is that readers will began to believe they are worthy of contributing their creativity to the world, and that the world NEEDS this creativity.

Don’t get me wrong, the struggle I felt in August is not something that just magically went away . I still reach moments of overwhelm and an inability to focus. Right now, as I’ve rearranged my life to include college courses, I can feel that same weight bearing down on me. But whenever I feel this way, it’s when I know I need to pause and reevaluate where I’m at, where I’m going, and what I need to do to get there. And because of this book, I have a reminder on what needs to happen so that I can keep going.

If you are in a place where your creative life feels out of reach, I encourage you to pick up Reclaim Your Creative Soul and start working the steps toward creative freedom. Writing this book changed my life. I hope reading it changes yours.

Posted in Blog, Faith, Life as I know it

They’re right. God isn’t fixing this.

NYDailyGodYesterday, 14 people were slaughtered at the hands of at least two gunmen who mowed down innocent people in San Bernardino for a still unknown agenda. It was yet another senseless tragedy in our nation, on the heels of several mass shootings that have left us numb.

So many of us were left to ask WHY. Why does this keep happening? Why isn’t something being done? How can we change this? We’re left feeling helpless, feeling like there’s nothing we can do. And so, those of us who pray, PRAY. We pray for the victims and their families. We pray for our nation. We pray for our leaders, and for answers. We pray that this war on ourselves will cease fire, that we’ll embrace peace, that we’ll live in harmony. And we pray for our children, fearful of the world we are handing them.

Our leaders are praying too, offering their thoughts and prayers with the family through posts on social media. And while their sentiments are likely sincere, they are also leaving a bad taste in the mouths of many who believe these leaders could be doing more.

This was heavily illustrated by the headline posted on the NY Daily News, stating “GOD ISN’T FIXING THIS.”

I can’t even begin to tell you how angry this headline makes me feel, which means this newspaper is doing their job. Media outlets are competing for our attention, and the best way to do that is to incite some sort of emotional response to get us to react. This newspaper doesn’t care about God’s part in this tragedy. They care about our reaction to the word GOD, and are hoping we will respond, negatively or positively, just as long as we are talking about THEM so that their traffic goes through the roof.

I guess I’m helping that along, now aren’t I?

Here’s the thing, though. They’re right. God isn’t fixing this. I mean, how can he when we’ve done such an awesome job of pushing him out of our lives?

God isn’t fixing this, but don’t mention him in public because you might offend those who don’t believe the way you do.

God isn’t fixing this, but keep him out of our schools.

God isn’t fixing this, but don’t tell me how to live my life.

God isn’t fixing this, but remove the word GOD from everything.

God isn’t fixing this, because we’re not fixing this.

Here’s the thing. God is not some convenient genie in a bottle. His job isn’t to grant our wishes or mend everything we screw up. We are also not his chess pieces. He doesn’t sit there, plotting our every single move. He doesn’t force our actions. He doesn’t even force us to follow him or his ways. He’s granted us FREE WILL, offering the gift of choosing how we will live our lives, as well as the freedom of living with the choices we make. Sometimes our choices are good. Sometimes they’re not. And hopefully we’ll learn from those choices and become wiser because of them.

Thing is, we live in a world where everybody gets to make choices in their lives. And sometimes those choices don’t just affect them, but the people around them. Sometimes they affect people on a much larger scale, even. This can be a good thing, like when people encourage others to do good through their own actions of kindness. But it can also be bad, like when someone picks up a gun and kills others for no other reason than to wield power and send fear through the nation and the world.

This is what happened yesterday, and in every other mass shooting we’ve experienced through terrifying news stories. And as we watch the details unfold, held captive by the images we see on the screens or read about in the papers, we feel helpless, filled with sorrow, and unsure what we can do.

And so, we pray.

The NY Daily News called the action of praying “meaningless platitudes.” I call it a good start. We should all be praying for our nation. We should be praying for our leaders. We should be praying for change. We should be praying for answers.

And then, we should listen.

Because God isn’t going to step in and fix this. But he will use us to make things right. If we all we do is pray for God to fix this, things will never change. But if we pray about how God can use us to change things, and then let him guide us, change will happen.

The NY Daily News may have used their headline to cause anger on both sides of the fence, particularly among those who just read the words “God isn’t fixing this,” and leave it at that. But I encourage you to see those words and let it inspire action.

God isn’t fixing this, because he believes YOU can.

Posted in Blog, Faith, Life as I know it, Soul Talk

How to take a soul retreat, part 2

The other day I took time away from everything to come back to center and find the answers to some very serious dilemmas in my life that have been plaguing me. I called it my soul retreat, as it was time I had set aside to get back in touch with my soul.

The Tides Restaurant in Bodega Bay

My biggest takeaways from this experience were to BREATHE and LOOK AROUND—as in, take advantage of every free moment in my life to just do NOTHING. You can read more about that in part 1.

Before I left for this personal retreat, I had to have a game plan. So I mapped out a course.

The first thing I did was to decide WHAT I would be addressing. I think that was probably the most important part of this whole exercise. If I didn’t know the WHAT, I wouldn’t have been able to find the answers I was seeking. I know that sounds so basic, but sometimes we don’t know what it is that’s bringing us down in our lives. By identifying these problem areas, I am being very clear on what I hope to accomplish.

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The gazebo at Walnut Park in Petaluma.

Next, I chose different places where I would be tackling each issue. For me, there were three things I wanted to address. So I chose three different places I would be traveling to throughout the day. My biggest rule about these places were that they couldn’t be at home. If I stayed home, I wouldn’t be able to relax. So I chose places that spoke to me with each issue, places that would bring me a sense of peace as I tackled each issue.

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My new favorite spot in Petaluma, the boat dock with a view of the bridge in the Turning Basin. Expect my new novel to be written here….

Third, I armed myself with wisdom. For me, that meant finding scripture that addressed the very issue I was struggling with. For you, it could mean a few inspirational quotes, a poem, a passage from a book…anything that speaks to you, and is about the particular issue you’re facing. I recommend that you find at least three pieces of wisdom for each dilemma you hope to tackle.

Finally, I created a schedule. I don’t mean a timed schedule—there was no way for me to know how long each issue would take. But I mean WHAT I would be doing to address each issue. Here’s what that looked like for me:

  • Arrive at destination.
  • Be still.
  • Read wisdom and meditate on the words.
  • Pray/focus on wisdom and the issue at hand.
  • Be still, remain open for answers.
  • Journal.
  • Prayer of gratitude.
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A bench at the Children’s Bell Tower in Bodega Bay. Expect more on this in a future post. The place is really amazing.

Here’s the funny thing about the wisdom I chose before I set out on my journey. When I chose it, I knew that it spoke to me. But I didn’t know how it would speak to me in the moment I would be meditating on it. As I focused on each passage I chose, there were certain words or ideas that would ignite inside of me, almost as if a light bulb went off. The words I chose in the morning ended up holding a brand new meaning as I meditated on them, offering me new insight into the dilemma I was facing.

I ended each session journaling what I had experienced, as well as offering a prayer of gratitude for the answer I had received. Journaling was an important aspect of this process, as it helped me to formulate what I had just experienced, and to ensure I wouldn’t forget. As for gratitude, we should always be grateful when God/the Universe meets us where we are and provides us with a path.

When I was done with my three issues, I came back home. The kids were already home from school, so I said my quick hellos. Then I locked myself in my bedroom for an hour, with a note to not bother me until that hour was up. I did a half hour of yoga, and then I took out my journal for the final time to record my takeaways from the day.

And I’ll repeat those takeaways here: BREATHE and LOOK AROUND.

Before I end, here are a few things you will want to bring with you when preparing for your own soul retreat:

  • Kleenex! Tears are cleansing. 🙂
  • A journal
  • A plan
    • What you want to address
    • Schedule of events
    • Destination(s)
  • Food and water (don’t let thirst or hunger get in your way of connecting with your soul)
  • A blanket or chair, or something comfy to sit on
  • Inspirational music
  • An open mind

If you decide to gift yourself with a soul retreat, I hope you’ll share your experience with me. Not the whole thing—that’s between your soul and God/the Universe. But let me know if it helped you to reach the answers you were seeking.

{{{Peace}}

Posted in Blog, Faith, Life as I know it, Soul Talk

How to take a soul retreat, part 1

Yesterday, I took the day off of everything to come back to center and seek answers to the path I need to take in some very perplexing areas of my life. I called it my soul retreat, as it was my chance to reconnect with my soul in ways I hadn’t been able to for months.

Let me start out by saying that the day was a success. I accomplished everything I had hoped I would, and received some very clear answers to my dilemmas, offering me a sense of peace. I won’t share all of these here, as they are very personal. But I do want to share some of my experience. Because this is kind of long, this post has been broken into two parts.

The day started out with a drive to the coast. I set my drive to the soundtrack of Sigur Ros, one of my favorite bands for getting out of my head and immersing myself in the task at hand. Usually, it’s my writing music. Today, it was my transition from a too-busy life, to time with my spirit.

I was battling two overwhelming emotions on this drive: fear and hope. I was hopeful that I would find the answers I was looking for, and looking forward to this time I’d set aside to seek them. But I was fearful that I wouldn’t find the answers. Even more, I was afraid I would find the answers, but they wouldn’t be ones I was happy with.

There were tears on the drive, and it took almost the whole Sigur Ros album to get there. I found the exact portion of the coastline I’d envisioned, and pulled into a parking spot that faced the ocean. Then I let the album finish out as I stared out at the ocean, losing myself to the vastness of the sea.

When ready, I came out of the car and found a spot on a picnic bench. I brought with me a box of Kleenex (which I had to buy on the way there since I’d forgotten!), and my journal. Then, as I watched the waves crash against the rocks below, I began my soul retreat.

Throughout the day, I felt myself being told two things: BREATHE and LOOK AROUND. These were the central answers to the dilemmas I brought to the table. Take a deep breath in and let it out slow. Pause.  Take a moment. Open your eyes. Look at your surroundings. Breathe.

Most of my stress has been the result of extreme busy-ness. In my life, I have many hats I wear throughout the day, and it’s hard to not feel pulled in all directions. But that busy-ness isn’t necessarily caused by those different hats in my life, it’s really about what I do with the time in between.

Let me ask you, what do you do when you’re bored? How about when you have a moment when nothing is being asked of you? How about when you’re waiting for dinner to be done simmering? What do you do the moment you wake up, or right before you go to bed?

For me, I reach for my phone. I check my email. I peruse Facebook. I check my book stats. I watch interesting videos. I play a game. I do anything that will keep me from doing nothing. I remove myself from being where I’m at, and place myself in dozens of different places via my phone in a matter of minutes.

This is true for many of us. And in doing this, we’ve lost the ability to just sit and breathe, and to be aware of our surroundings. We’ve forgotten how to see the world around us. Maybe it’s because life is unpredictable. We can’t control what happens to us in the real world. We can’t control the hurt, the anger, the sadness, the boredom, the fear. But when we’re immersed in a little 2”X3” screen, we can control everything we watch, feel, and experience. We make ourselves feel better through a heartwarming video. We share a moving article and feel like activists. We comment on a friend’s Facebook status and feel as if we’ve socialized.

But we’re not living in the moment. Me. I have not been living in the moment. I’m not allowing myself time to breathe and take in my surroundings. I’m filling my pockets of free time with moments of busy-ness instead of taking a deep breath in and letting it out slow.

Breathe. Take a look around. Be where you’re at. Such concepts…

See part 2 here.