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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Be not afraid…

I am currently in the middle of writing a scene that is hard to write. In this, Maddie (from The Road to Hope) is enduring the wrathful abuse of someone she loves and trusts. And as I write, I am recalling moments when I experienced the same thing.

It’s been 12 years since he laid his hands on me, and a bit less since he intimidated me. Still, I get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach whenever he calls me (which isn’t often). I feel overly nervous, as if he can reach through the phone and continue what was unfinished over a decade ago.

This is what abuse does. You never fully heal. In the years I was with him, I learned to not look people in the eye, to not tell too much about myself, and to not let people get too close to me. I learned to let fear rule, because it was better to be ready than to be caught off guard. I was told the most horrible things – that my family would be killed if I left him, that I would never amount to anything without him, that I wasn’t to be trusted. He accused me of cheating on him so much that I had to watch my every move to ensure that it wouldn’t appear I was stepping out of line. There were times I questioned if I actually was sinning against him, as I was accused of so much.

We’re “good” now. When we talk, we’re respectful to each other. Our only connection is the kids, and we leave it at that. The kids are at an age where we don’t even need to speak at all anymore. It’s better this way. Still, the few times we do talk, we keep it simple and pleasant. It’s almost as if nothing ever happened.

Except, it did.

When my son was a baby (he’s 15 now), my ex and I got into a huge fight. It was in front of his brother, which seemed to make it worse. He didn’t lay hands on me this time, but he did call me horrible names and threaten me. I couldn’t believe we had a witness there, and he was doing this in front of him. I finally had enough, and I grabbed my infant son and took off.

I didn’t know where I was going, but I just needed to be gone. I ended up driving out to the ocean. As I drove, I cried out to God, wondering if he was even there. How could he just stand by and let someone treat me this way? What was the point in this?

“Are you even there?” I screamed at Him. In all my life, I’ve never doubted God was there. But in this moment, I was starting to think that maybe God really wasn’t there. In my head, I told God that if he was there, show me something red. That was it. No sooner had I thought it, I made a hairpin turn on the coastline. On my right was a cliff with hundreds of white flowers. And right in the center was ONE RED FLOWER.

I can’t even explain it, but I knew this was from God. I have never seen a red flower in that spot since, and I’ve driven past it several dozen times since. But in that moment, I needed to know that God was there. It was a desperate need. I needed to know that all this meant something, and I was getting out of this okay.

Since that day, so much has happened. I got pregnant again, and we lost the baby at 32 weeks. I lived through poverty. I suffered more abuse. I left him. I learned how to be alone. I cried. I felt alone. I experienced a depression so deep, I wished I could die every day.

And, I survived. In all this, I KNEW God was with me. I learned that he had reasons I couldn’t understand. I just had to be patient.

Today, I am married to a man who shows me real love every day. I have a good job that affords me things I once thought of as luxuries out of my reach. I live in a town where I feel at home. I have sincere friendships. I am close to my parents. My kids are the best things that have ever happened to me. I’m safe. I’m loved.

Fear is still a big part of my life, though. Because of the abuse, my life is forever changed. I still have a hard time looking people in the eye. I still let fear rule. I still keep people at arm’s length for far too long, or worry about what others think of me.

But the one think I’ve learned in all of this – I’m not alone.

In writing Maddie’s story, I’m sharing pieces of my own as well. One day I may have the courage to write a memoir. For now, Maddie is sharing some of the pain I endured – the pan that many women have endured – and the courage it takes to get away from the abuse.

This year, I’m determined for a change.

I spent the beginning of this year in a fast. During that time, I spent it talking with God and just hearing what he had planned for me. In that time, I heard him tell me to trust him more and to stop worrying so much. This is the simple answer to what I heard, and I might go more in depth on this at a later date.

Today, I tattooed this promise on my arm with my favorite verse in the bible, Joshua 1:9.

tattoo

This promise is a reminder whenever I feel timid or meek, or just too afraid or discouraged to keep going. It’s a reminder that I’m not alone when I believe I’m in a dark moment. It’s a reminder to have faith and keep going. It’s a reminder that I’m not actually in danger, that God is working the miracle, and my job is to just keep moving forward.

Also, I really, really, really love this new tattoo. 🙂

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.

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}}

Taking a soul retreat

It’s the first time in a long time that I’m not working on a specific project. I finished my latest editing job, and there’s nothing specific I need to be working on for my book – at least not until I get my cover. It’s a strange feeling. I don’t know what to do with myself.

This morning, I set my alarm for 6, as usual. I like getting up early before work because it allows me a pocket of “me time” between waking up and getting ready for work. Usually I spend that time editing other people’s manuscripts or working on my own WIP. But since I had no specific project, I figured I’d find something to bide my time in that early hour.

Here’s what I could have been doing in the hour and a half of extra time:

  • An hour of yoga
  • Prayer/meditation
  • Planning my book launch
  • Plotting my next book
  • Re-reading my Come Here, Cupcake manuscript
  • Writing my first chapter of CHC 2
  • Planning this year’s NaNoWriMo story
  • Reading a book for liesure
  • Create marketing goals for CHC
  • Write a poem
  • Update my Facebook covers
  • Plan out my work day

Here’s what I did:

  • Perused Facebook on my phone

At least I only did that for 45 minutes. But what a waste! Now I’m making up for it through journaling. 🙂

I’m taking tomorrow off work just to have a day of rest, when I can get back to center. But if I don’t come into it with a game plan, I’m bound to spend it playing on my phone and surfing Facebook. I will come back to work unrested, and the day will have been a waste.

The biggest purpose of tomorrow is to make personal time with God through meditation and prayer. I have a particular burden in my life that I need help lifting, and I haven’t paused long enough to hear what God wants me to do with it. This time alone is also about becoming more in touch with my own soul, whether it be through writing poetry, reading a book that helps me gain perspective, writing a short story for no one’s eyes but mine…

Here’s what tomorrow is NOT about: Finishing must-do projects, editing other people’s work, stressing about my writing path, thinking about my job, guilt, perusing Facebook.

For one day, I will not be burdened with anything, if I can help it. I will not be a worker, a mother, a wife, an editor, or anything but me. I will spend time with myself and my creator, and just enjoy the miraculous beauty of life.

Tomorrow, I will pause and just be.

Final thoughts: Sometimes we make ourselves too busy so that we can avoid our own creative endeavors or life goals. For the most part, this is because we are living in fear…fear of failure, fear of success, fear of screwing up, fear of the unknown….just plain old fear. I’m realizing that I’m slipping into this routine, making myself so busy, I “don’t have time” for my own projects. Are you doing this, too?

P.S. My friend, Molly, just started a new blog that will address getting back in touch with your spirit and doing what moves you. Check her out at her blog, As the Spirit Moves Me.

End of a pretty dang good year

Today I feel all warm and gushy inside. It’s the last day of 2013, and I can’t help feeling like I really lucked out in the good year department.

I entered this year as a newlywed, coming off the high of marrying my best friend and blending our smorgasbord family into one. Then I published my very first book, which led to two more published books after that, and two more drafts that will be published in the coming year. We introduced a puppy into our family, which has been both a blessing and a curse. And I said goodbye to my Wine Country Mom column – also a blessing and a curse (the ego has a funny way of making you want to hold on to something you don’t really enjoy anymore…).

This year also saw a few human moments.

My daughter moved away. It took all my strength to let her go and not force her to stay. And then she moved back home. (YAY!) And I believe we’re closer than ever.

My dog broke his leg a few weeks ago (in more of a canine moment than a human moment), and we spent more money than I ever thought I would spent on a pet (BOO). As a result, we had to postpone a trip to Hawaii we had planned for the whole family this summer. But our hearts were warmed as friends we knew, and some we didn’t, donated a total of $500 to help towards our puppy’s recovery.

Side note on the puppy: in the two weeks of his recovery so far, he has torn apart two cones, his cast, his replacement bandage, his bed…. And he has relieved himself on the carpet more times than I want to count. And still we love him to pieces. Go figure.

Also this year, my mom discovered she had breast cancer. And then she beat it. Now she is recovering from a knee replacement, a procedure that has stripped her of all control over her life on the way to something much better.

It’s almost a metaphor for life. Sometimes we need to journey through the pain, through the complete loss of independence, through the muck of all things horrible so we can get to the good stuff on the other side.

I see this in my own life. There was a time when my life was on the darker side of the spectrum. I suffered through a horrible marriage, and then struggled in life after divorce. It’s a dark place to be. When I could finally get on my feet again, the kids and I experienced an exhilarating form of poverty. We were only scraping by, but we celebrated in it. It was ours. And we made the best of it.

Now, we are more blessed than ever. I’m in a good marriage, we live in a good home, our community is wonderful and prosperous, and life is easy, comparatively. And now more than ever, I feel honored that God put me on a path where I got to experience both sadness and joy, poverty and blessings, heartache and love, meekness and courage, loneliness and friendship….

These are the things that make us human, the things that help us grow, the things that help us get to the good parts of life and appreciate them when we get there.

I loved this year. And I loved the one before that, and the one before that, too. And I can’t wait to see what happens in the next year.

Thank you everyone for all your support and love this year. I feel blessed having connected with many of you over this past year, and I look forward to even more friendships and connections in 2014.

Hope your New Year is filled with love and blessings, and that you see each one that comes your way.