What I like about writing is what I like about photography. In photography you create your vision through the lens, including composition and framing. After you create the image in the camera, you transfer it to your computer and in your computer you can use various programs to further transform the image and complete your vision, if you so choose.
In writing you start with a rough draft, and that rough draft is the basic foundation of what you want to write. It’s essentially the skeleton of your blog post or short story or novel or book. The second, third, fourth and final drafts are building around that initial frame until you have a final product that is well built, polished and pretty to look at. Well built, polished and pretty to look at it doesn’t mean what you photographed or wrote has any feeling to it, though, and here is where I run into problems as a creator.
When I was attempting to be a professional photographer, seeing my services to families, people wanted well-polished and pretty. They didn’t care so much about emotion, and that’s where the disconnect came for me. I cared more about emotion and storytelling than well-polished and pretty. I find I have this same issue in writing. I’m not always great at being technically perfect in my writing. I don’t always add the descriptions or flowery language that others do. I don’t always explain myself or my story well. It’s not always “technically perfect”. I’m more concerned about emotion and the story than nitty-gritty details.
I have to learn to slow down in writing and focus a little more on the description, though, because in writing, descriptions help the emotion and the storytelling. We all have areas to improve on in our creative endeavors and there are times I focus too much on what I’m not doing well instead of on what I hopefully will do better in the future.
Sometimes I worry, like so many of us do, that the shortcomings I possess when I create will affect how God uses my creation. The good thing is that God can use anyone no matter their shortcomings, or the shortcomings they perceive they have. Dallas Jenkins, writer and director of The Chosen series, talks often about how he is giving God his loaves and his fishes, and that God will multiply what he gives for God’s glory. He is, of course, referencing the story in the Bible where there were only five loaves of bread and two fix and Jesus multiplied that food so there was enough to feed a multitude of people.
What an amazing idea that God can take our offering, no matter how small, and multiply it so it touches someone else. When God gets ahold of what we create, even if it isn’t technically perfect and pretty, he makes it beautiful, powerful, and exactly what we need to convey his message of hope and love to a hurting world. If he can create beauty out of ashes, then he can create something outstanding out of what we perceive as barely standing.
Of course, we should always strive to improve, to learn more, to hone our craft, but while we do, we (I) have to remember that God will fill in the gaps and make our meager offerings even more than we could have ever hoped for.
I looked at my computer screen the other day and I had six tabs open on my browser.
I was switching back and forth and my brain was trying to switch at the same time. It was really causing me a lot of stress. A lot of self-inflicted stress.
In a few hours my brain was mush, my thoughts were jumbled, and I was feeling jittery.
As I started to physically close the tabs in my browser, a thought hit me.
We need to close a few tabs in our life the same way we close them in our internet browsers.
Sometimes we need to shut off the news, shut of the TV, shut off the radio, and close the lid of our laptops. We need to turn off the phone, with only emergency contacts alowed to call us.
Then we need to walk away.
Walk way literally or figuratively. Either way we need to find silence, calm, peace and that might mean shutting off more than our devices. We may need to shut off the many voices in our minds shouting for attention.
Only when we close the mental tabs – one by one – can our brain find peace.
Sometimes we can’t close the tabs.
The windows popping up are out of our control.
Broken down cars, sick family members, finances, people we know passing away.
Those are the tabs we have to deal with, yes, but there are many times when we open more windows than we need.
Things like researching more than we need to about a variety of issues (health, politics, homeschool materials, recipes, diets, books, movies, etc.) being glued to social media, constantly updating news feeds, inserting ourselves into another person’s personal business, watching stupid shows, taking on more in life that we can possibly handle, saying ‘yes’ when we should say ‘no’.
It is the extra tabs we’ve opened on our own that we need to close.
Closing those tabs can be as easy as closing our eyes, taking a deep breath, letting it out slowly, and focusing on what is happening right now, in the moment. Shut off the television, the devices, remove ourselves from the craziness of our households for a brief time and find a quiet place to regroup. Regrouping could involve listening to a sermon and taking notes without distractions, listening to music or simply sitting in the silence and listening for God’s voice. That last one is a little scary, right? Sitting in the silence? Alone with your thoughts? Yikes. But being alone with our thoughts is often what is needed to slow our thoughts down.
Here is a tactic I learned from Emily P. Freeman (author of The Next Right Thing) to keep myself “grounded” to my surroundings:
Close your eyes and say outloud or to yourself your name, what day it is, what year, what time, where you are, what you hear, smell, feel around you, and what is the next right thing you need to do out of that that whole list that is swirling around in your head. Then take a deep breath, hold it a few seconds, and let it out again.
Example: “My name is Lisa Howeler. Today is January 28, 2021 at 3:06 p.m.. I am at home in my living room. The sun is bright and warm on my face even though it is cold outside. I can hear the television and smell woodsmoke from my woodstove. Right now I need to cook dinner. I will worry about the rest of my list later.”
Repeat it all more than once if you need to.
This helps — when I actually do it. Don’t be like me and just tell people to do this. Actually do it yourself.
You can do this.
And so can I.
I’m going to go close some more tabs and I encourage you to do the same. Let me know in the comments below which tabs you closed in your life.
So this week I had a breakdown.
Like a full-on “I-Can’t-Take-It-Any-More!” breakdown. It wasn’t a very long breakdown. Only about five minutes, but it was embarrassing because I blew up on people I don’t even know and made a donkey out of myself (censoring my language there with the use of donkey. wink). I’m used to making a donkey out of myself, but I’ve been better in the last couple of years. Not perfect, but better.
My tongue and fingers have gotten me into more trouble than I like to admit. I know I’m not alone in this, especially in my family. Members of our family have a history of blowing up, feeling horribly guilty, and apologizing for it later, even if the other person deserved it.
One reason we blow is that we shove our stress and anger down inside for too long and then it spills out later and takes everyone in its path with it. Remember how a couple of weeks ago I was writing all about trusting God when we feel anxious? Yeah, so I often don’t follow my own advice, and this week I didn’t, at least part of the week.
I listened to a podcast/sermon this weekend that seemed to come up just when I needed it most. It was about how to channel our anger so it can work for us, instead of against us. The idea was to talk out our anger when we feel it, instead of seething and holding it in, and then exploding later.
We don’t have to scream our anger as soon as we feel it, but we need to be honest with ourselves that we are feeling it, think about why we are feeling it, and then gently share with the other person that we feel agitated, even though we probably shouldn’t.
For many who battle anxiety, like me, their anger isn’t rooted in actual anger, but in anxiety and worry. Depression can also make people lash out.
I don’t like pointing to anxiety as a reason for my anger because it feels like I’m trying to make an excuse for being a jerk. However, I know that anxiety is definitely one reason I lashed out this past week. It doesn’t excuse me at all, but it helps me understand it so in the future I can redirect that anger by stepping away from the situation and praying about the fear I feel.
When I say that I have been dealing with anxiety, I don’t mean I’ve been in a corner rocking back and forth. I’m not having massive panic attacks. I’m not popping Xanex and don’t feel the need to do so. The anxiety is simply a constant hum or buzz just below the surface of my subconscious. It seems to be there no matter what and flares when someone talks about viruses or politics or the end times or anything else that creates the “what-if” questions in my mind.
You know the “what-if” questions. The ones that go like this: “What if my parents get COVID and I can’t help them and …. “; “What if they start mandating vaccines but I feel the vaccines are rushed and would prefer to have some more testing and –“; “What if I get the virus and I end up in the hospital and die and leave my kids behind and –.”
Once those questions start, they usually just keep going, swirling around and around in our brain until we are drowning in them. We can fill our heads with so many “what-ifs” that we end up making ourselves sick with worry, which can eventually lead to us actually being physically sick. Worry lowers our immunity and, as the Bible says, doesn’t add one more hour to our life. I would say that instead off adding anything, worry subtracts from our life.
I can say that worry is unhealthy. My brain can know it is unhealthy. I can hear and read the verse that says “be anxious about nothing”, but being anxious isn’t a sin. God knew we would be anxious. There are something like 300 or more mentions of anxiety, fear, or worry in the Bible, with the majority of them included in verses aimed at comforting us and reminding us that God is with us.
God knew we would have to be reminded – again and again, and again. I don’t know why he didn’t make our earthly bodies free of worry and anxiety. Maybe he left anxiety within us because he knew it would lead us to him, bring us to him when otherwise we would lean on our own understanding and solutions.
Our God wants to commune with us. He created us because he loves us. He wants to talk to us and be there for us. He can use the uneasy feelings, the trials, the outright anxiety to show us he is with us even when he doesn’t remove us from the situations causing our anxiety.
I haven’t apologized to the person I blew up on yet. I don’t know them personally, or really at all, and sometimes apologies can sound so insincere in writing. Plus, I’m horribly embarrassed by my behavior — even though I didn’t curse them out or tell them to go to hell (thankfully, I’ve never told anyone that!).
I will decide this week how to handle the apology part, but I have already decided I will learn from it and will be grateful it is being used to show me the anxiety is building and that I need to talk it out with others and with God before it explodes on people who don’t deserve it.
After scrolling through news and social media sites (for much less time than I once did) this week I felt nervous butterflies and a sick feeling. I wondered how next week’s election would change the lives of my family and myself.
Or would it? Very possibly no, no matter who won.
So I wondered to myself, ‘Why are you even worrying?’
And then as I felt the panic starting to rise and a thought struck me: Who are you trusting, Lisa? Are you trusting in politicians to make your life better?
I realized that yes, to a point, I was.
Let’s get honest with ourselves.
Really think about it.
Who is your trust in?
Are you trusting in men (as the term mankind) to sustain you?
Are you trusting in men to protect you?
Are you trusting in men to provide your security?
Are you trusting in men to provide your happiness?
Are you trusting in men to give you peace?
Because if you are, you are going to be very disappointed.
Mankind will always disappoint us.
They will always disappoint because they are not God.
Only God can provide us peace of mind.
Only God can provide us security and protection and joy.
It doesn’t matter who wins the election tomorrow.
It doesn’t matter if the candidate you voted for isn’t victorious because our victory is not in earthly situations but in heavenly proclamations.
I read a opinion piece this week that reminded Christians in this country that our hope is in Christ, not in presidential candidates.
“No matter what happens, God is sovereign,” Erick Erickson wrote. “The God who gave us Barack Obama and Donald Trump could choose Biden or Trump. God’s will be done. The God who brought bread from Heaven and water from rocks and raised you from the dust of the Earth and stitched you together in your mother’s womb is going to still be on His throne ruling the universe the day after the election. Too many of you are convinced the country is going to hell in a handbasket if your guy does not win. Well, I have read the end of the book, and I don’t mean this to be a spoiler alert, but everybody is going to hell without a handbasket, except for those who put their faith in Jesus Christ, not a politician or a political party. So, calm down.”
Like Erick says: “Calm down”
All of us need to calm down and look to the one who is in control. If the candidate you voted for does not win, trust that God already knew what was going to happen and he ordained it.
Tough times could face our nation, but God is there in the tough times the same as he is in the good times.
John 13:7 Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
As Christians, we are called to keep our eyes on Christ, but this can be such a hard thing to do when so many other things and people are vying for our attention.
No year has made this struggle more prominent than in 2020.
This year has been like a roller coaster ride gone out of control.
We can shut off all the news, block ourselves out of all the social media sites imaginable, but if you’re like me, you can still feel “it” — the perpetual tension in the air.
Between coronavirus, politics, social issues, moral issues, poverty, personal financial struggles, and family relationships breaking down, many of our heads are spinning. We don’t know where to focus, or more importantly, who to focus on.
I’ve found myself focusing too much on politicians and media; people who can’t provide me the peace I’m seeking.
I heard two sermons this week that focused on putting our focus back on the one who can help calm the storms within us, even as chaos reigns around us.
When the world is raging around me, I find it hard to keep anxiety from raging within me as well.
Jesus has called us to let him settle the storm within us, but we can only do that if we realize that, ultimately, he is in total control of our world.
Does it look like God is in control right now?
I know there are days it doesn’t look this way to me, but that is because I am looking at earthly situations. I am looking at what is tangible and right in front of me and not at the battles within the hidden realms.
“Hidden realms?” you might ask yourself. “Has Lisa gone all Lord of the Rings on me?”
Well, yes, and no. J.R.R. Tolkein was a Christian and he knew that there is a world beyond our own – a world where demons and the Prince of this World battle against the heavenly hosts for our souls.
For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. – Ephesians 6:12
The fact we are never completely in control of our own life is a hard concept for anyone to accept, Christian or not.
We can’t stop our car from slamming into a deer when there was no time to hit the brakes.
We can’t stop the hurricanes from destroying our lives, or cancer from taking our loved ones.
We can’t stop people from not liking us.
We can’t control what happens all around us on a daily basis.
What we can do is remind ourselves who is with us during the turbulent times.
The pastor at my parents’ church talked last week about the disciples being on a boat when a storm came up. Jesus wasn’t on the boat when the storm came, but walked to them from the shore, on the water. They thought he was a ghost.
“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
Jesus said simply “Come.”
He didn’t say “Oh, that’s not safe. Nah. Don’t do that. I mean, look at the storm raging around you. There is no way you are going to make it.”
He said, “Come.”
And he said “come” because he knew the power to keep Peter calm during the storm was in his control.
Peter did what Jesus said and began to walk on the water, on his way to Jesus’ outstretched hand, but then he looked around at the waves thrashing around him, the wind buffeting him — pushing and pulling at him — rain hitting him the face, and he panicked.
He lost sight of Christ and he began to sink.
How many times have we lost sight of Christ in our own lives and let the chaos of the world overwhelm us and drown out the Lord’s voice?
For me, it is so many times. So many times, it is embarrassing.
We can’t control the world raging around us.
We can’t control viruses.
We can’t control social unrest.
We can’t control elections or politicians (no matter how much we wish we could.).
What we can control is our trust in a God that is more powerful than our fear.
There was another time that a storm raged around the disciples and Jesus, but Jesus slept through it. The disciples were amazed, maybe even annoyed. “How can he sleep when the waves are battering this boat back and forth?” they might have said to each other.
Jesus wasn’t worried, though. He knew and still knows, who is in control.
As the pastor told us Sunday, “Jesus is saying to you, ‘I created you. I formed you. I redeemed you. I have called you by name. What wind? What waves? What are you afraid of? I will always be faithful to you.’”
The pastor also said, “Jesus is in the boat with us.”
What a comforting thought — that we are not in the storms of life alone. Jesus is with us even as the winds howl and the water rises around us.
The words “God is in control” is something we can say with joy in our hearts because that means we don’t have to worry anymore. We can give our fears over to him, walk away and let the peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7) ) settle over us.
We can close our eyes, take a deep breath, and remind ourselves that Jesus is in the boat with us.
He’s in the midst of the storm and he calms the storm within us.
“You keep him in perfect peace
whose mind is stayed on you,
because he trusts in you.
Trust in the LORD forever,
for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock.”
I’ve been dealing with depression recently. I go through these spurts from time to time. When I go through them I feel completely unqualified to be sharing about the need to draw closer to God, since I know I’m doing such a poor job of it myself. Maybe, though, I need to be honest when I’m failing at this trusting God stuff, or feel like I’m failing. After all, I know I’m not alone.
One reason for my social media break is that I often run to forums about my health or depression issues to attempt to find solutions instead of running to God. As I have struggled this week with wrong thoughts, I have really been feeling like God has been telling me to press into him.
I’m not exactly sure what that means, but I’d guess he means I need to trust him and not my circumstances.
I feel him asking me to trust him and not people on the internet or my own means.
I heard a clip of a sermon yesterday by Pastor Steven Furtick who suggested that when we are telling God “Hey, I’m trying,” he is telling us “I don’t need you to try. I need you to trust.”
But there have also been other outcomes, that weren’t my choice, that has strengthened me and taught me and taken me down life-giving paths I never would have chosen on my own. I need to remember those when my days are dark, my heart is heavy, and my mind is jumbled with worries and stress.
This week when I have awoken in the night with a weird symptom and that pounding, suffocating, and overwhelming fear that hits me, I am trying to press into God’s goodness, his desire to prosper me, not harm me, to draw me through the bad moments when I want to be lifted out of them.
So I often I base how well my day is going to go on if I think I had a good nights sleep. God is bigger than a bad night of sleep. I need to trust that I can have a good day whether I’ve had a good night of sleep or not because ultimate rest comes in ultimate trust that God’s got this, no matter what “this” is for each day.
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