…And I’m Still Writing!

Have you ever heard of people who were, say, an artist who lost her sight? Or a singer who lost his voice? Or an athlete who lost the use of his legs?

Sometimes, that talent or skill God gave you is tested or challenged by the difficulties here on earth. Sometimes that test isn’t something that can be overcome as much as changed in form.

That football player can find purpose in coaching young kids who don’t have a father figure in their home. That singer can find her music in a piano. That artist can find expression in the artistry that is dance. And sometimes that disability can be overcome to allow the artist to continue. That is what God has allowed me to do with my writing.

When I was a child, I loved writing. I wrote all the time, but I never let anyone read what I wrote for fear it wasn’t good enough. Truth be told, it wasn’t but I was only about nine when I started. With more encouragement, I might have begun to share my writing to reach more people much earlier in life. But, I did keep writing and I got better and more public with it each year.

I have often had to prolong my writing due to fatigue from various chronic illnesses, but it didn’t stop me from writing. It only delayed the finished products a bit, but I kept writing.

Later on when brain fog from insomnia made it hard to put two sentences together, I began writing one liners I call JoJoisms. One of my Facebook memories reminded me that:

JoJoism #493 “Being a writer with brain fog is easier when you write one liners. You only need to focus for a sentence or two!” JoJoisms: Revealing Life’s Truths…as I think of ‘em!

When I started writing my communication materials for Art of Eloquence, I had no idea how to get my books traditionally published so I decided to publish them on my own website! And then when I wasn’t able to print them myself, I found a local printer who only worked with large companies and talked them into taking me on at their same rates even though I was not printing nearly the amount they were used to dealing with. And I was still writing!

Self publishing meant I had to create my own website even though I was the quintessential NON Techie! It took me a while and many, MANY hours of a frustrating learning curve, but I taught myself how to create websites and update them as I needed. And I was still writing!

In my writing for Art of Eloquence, I was asked to speak at several online and offline events. I’ve been shouted down for my beliefs and what I write. I was even told by a public school administrator that she would buy my materials for the entire school district if I’d only, “take the God parts out.” I refused and was forced to work harder and longer to sell my materials mostly to Christian homeschoolers, but I was still writing!

After I broke my hand in a car accident, I had to retrain myself to type because my middle finger now crosses over my ring finger as I make a fist. Unfortunately, writing requires muscle memory and I had to retrain myself to put my middle finger a bit further right when I type. It took me about a year, but I’m still writing!

As I got older my fingers began aching as I typed. I learned I had arthritis and neuropathy compounded by fibro, but I powered through and took breaks when I needed to. And I was still writing!

The last several years has seen an increase in censorship of Christian conservatives as social media began shutting us down. I had a whole year when my Facebook fan pages were all effectively shut down, but I kept on writing on my personal wall and on my blogs. After I regained control of my pages, I am now sharing those posts on my respective fan pages again anyway!

Four years ago, I was granted a miracle in that I was a cancer survivor before even my surgeons knew I could have cancer. It was a rare and aggressive kind, but God allowed me to survive and I’m still writing!

A couple years ago, my hands began shaking more than just when I was hungry. I was diagnosed with Essential Tremors which makes typing, writing, and reading what I typed or wrote even harder. And I’m still writing!

When God gives you a passion for something, a talent for something, and then life throws you a curve ball, sometimes you pivot and find another way to satisfy your desire for that type of expression. And sometimes He gives you the perseverance and determination to find new ways to keep going.

That’s what the Lord did for me…And I’m still writing!

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Praising God in the Storm: Part 6

Well, we’ve finally come to the end of this series.  I have just one more part of this process, and that’s to help someone else find their joy and praise God in THEIR storm.  While you may think this is something you do for others, it has a surprisingly positive effect on the person doing the encouraging as well.

You’ll find that in trying to lift someone else up, you are lifted higher yourself.  Part of that comes from the smile effect.  Smiling is contagious, so they smile, you smile. When you provide joy or happiness for others, you also feel joy yourself for having lifted someone else up…for having had some small part in bringing joy to another individual in trial of their own.

6. Help someone else

I know it sounds a bit backwards, but it can often feel good to be the solution for someone else’s problem.  Sometimes we are almost paralyzed by our fear or stuck in our sadness that we feel a complete lack of control over our lives.  It can feel empowering or at least uplifting to be the solution to something, no matter how small the issue is.  As they used to say back when I was a little girl, “try it; you’ll like it.

The other amazing thing about helping someone else is that it tends to be habit-forming.  The more you feel good helping others, the more you want to do it.  That not only increases your joy, but the joy around you.

You may not be able to become happy about your circumstances, but you can do things that bring you some joy.  This joy will help us see the blessings God has put in our lives and this will, eventually, allow us to thank God and even praise him in the storm.

It’s been an incredibly difficult year for my family.  As I said, I wrote this as much for me as I did for my readers.  I have read it over about three times this week as I have needed these words as much as any of you.  Please share your story. How can I pray for you?

 

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Praising God in the Storm: Part 5

The storms and trials of life should always lead us back to the Lord.  We may need to take some time to cry and some time to find a way to put a smile back on our face in order to get past these feelings that accompany the desert of life, but it should always lead us back to the Lord.  I find that sometimes I need a little help with that and that’s where some fabulously uplifting devotionals come in.

5.Read encouraging devotionals

Some devotionals are designed to educate, some are designed to make you think, yet others are created to have you work through situations.  I’m not discussing those. They have their purpose, and I don’t deny they are important, but they aren’t what will get you through.

Another set of devotionals that are similar to the ones I’m talking about are the ones on being thankful.  I also don’t recommend those at the times of your life when trials, struggles, and burdens get you down.

The ones I’m talking about here are the ones that encourage you.  Bible Gateway has devotionals you can subscribe to that I have found helpful: Encouragement for Today, Devotions for Women and Devotions for Moms.  Look for things that have titles that are uplifting and encouraging.

A caution: I don’t recommend the one called Standing Strong in the Storm because it’s mostly about people who have endured religious persecution.  While that might be important to read or be inspiring at other times, I find that they are not something we can relate to when we are in the middle of stress.  Unless your struggle is religious persecution on a grand scale, I find I can’t relate to them, and they make me feel bad for even being upset about financial or health or relationship issues which doesn’t help me feel any better about my situation.

Many of the ones on Bible Gateway are video based so you can sit back and watch them.  These are great for when you’re so tired from burdens you can’t even concentrate on reading.

In addition to Bible Gateway, I find that Charles Stanley of www.intouch.org has a bunch of videos on various topics that are uplifting and have helped me in the past.  If I’m not mistaken, that one has (or had) a way to organize them and keep notes.  I, myself, keep a notebook with verses and ideas I like to be reminded of.  That’s actually, how I am able to write my articles…from the notes I took after having read or viewed something I thought was particularly helpful (or not).

I hope I’ve given you some practical information the past few weeks to get you started on your path to being able to praise God in the storm.  I will be praying for my readers that you not only come to a point where you can do that but that God will bless you and your family as well.

 

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Praising God in the Storm: Part 4

Praising God in the storms of the trials of life is not easy, especially at first.  First, it’s often necessary to find things that can bring a smile to your face even in the midst of whatever it is you’re in the midst of.  That is going to be different for each person.  So, what things bring you joy?

4.Do things that bring you joy

Look at pretty pictures of God’s world and remember how everything is delicately balanced for us and given for us to use.  It’s hard to look at the beauty of God’s world and not feel some amount of joy.

Listen to uplifting music and sing along or sing harmony.  I am a “wannabe” musician. I used to write songs and I was a voice major in college before I switched to Speech Communication.  I can’t help but feel better when I hear beautiful music and sing along.  It usually makes me feel better to sing along to praise and worship music sometimes the same song over and over again.

Call a friend.  Sometimes you need a real, living person you can talk things over with.  Just talking through our feelings can help us feel a bit better because we have expressed them and someone cared enough to listen.  Many times we aren’t looking for a solution because we already know what our options are, but sometimes we may be surprised at our friend’s ability to help us find one!  Even if nothing gets resolved, you will probably find yourself feeling better just because you were able to share your feelings with a good and trusted friend.

One caution.  There is a strong possibility that there will be a time in your trails when things get to feel too much where you can’t even envision yourself having fun or laughing.  That’s ok.  There will be those times.  Take some time to be mad, sad, or cry.  I wrote an article once called Sometimes You Need a Pity Party for just that reason.  But for those times when you don’t need a pity party, you can find things that will help you get out of the hole trials have tried to bury you inside.  You can crawl out with the help of these techniques, a good friend, or a good cry, and some serious prayer and comfort from the Lord.

 

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Praise God in the Storm: Part 3

So far I’ve talked about praising God in the storm by taking it a bit at a time and by looking for the blessings in bad things that didn’t happen because God protected us.  This week, I’d like to talk more about the difference between what is defined as joy and happiness.

Joy and happiness are often used interchangeably, but they really are two different things.

3. Remember that joy and happiness are two different things

Keep things in proper perspective.  Happiness, as defined by Merriam Webster as good fortune or prosperity, a state of well-being and contentment, joy or a pleasurable or satisfying experience.

Joy is listed as the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desiresdelight, the expression or exhibition of such emotion, gaiety, a state of happiness or felicity, bliss, a source or cause of delight.

So happiness is dependent upon external circumstances, whereas joy exists in spite of whatever is going on around us and is a result of what’s happening on the inside. You can still have joy even though you are not happy because you can have a hope because you are in God’s will and will be rewarded in heaven even if you aren’t here on earth.  You can be joyous in your strength or your endurance or your obedience even if you are unhappy about your health or your finances or your relationships.

I can’t tell you how often I’ve been unhappy about the situations I’ve found myself in. As I write this, I’m unhappy about the fact that my dh will be losing his job…again, the fact that it’s taken much more time, energy and money to get our Amazon mug business off the ground which we feel will help us during the job transition, and the fact that I still have several health issues that keep me in pain and devoid of energy.  And those are just the highlights!  But…though I may take time to be frustrated and sad, I know in my heart that there is a loving God who is with me and who has made a way for me beyond the temporary that is this fallen world.  That is my joy despite the fact that I’m deeply unhappy with my circumstances at times.

Happy is fleeting and relies on outside forces.  Joy is eternal and comes from within.  Joy won’t always make you happy, but it certainly helps in times of trial.

Take some time to think about what makes you joyful as opposed to just happy.

 

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Praising God in the Storm: Part 2

Now that we understand that finding our joy means praising God in the storm and that requires baby steps at first (and periodically by the way when things get difficult as they tend to do), we need to also begin to think about blessings we may not have ever even noticed.  We can get so caught up in what has happened, should have happened, shouldn’t have happened, and might happen in the future, that we often forget to notice all the times in our lives we should be grateful for all the things great and small that God has done behind the scenes that we never even realized or thought much about.  Doing so can help us to see even more blessings and feel God near when struggles take over our thoughts and feelings bringing a cloud of despair over us.

2. Blessings for worst not happening

In the midst of terrible pain, it’s often hard to see what could be worse and, to be honest, we don’t often care.  We just know where we are now is bad.  However, looking at the bright side can truly make a person thankful because, believe it or not, there are so many situations where we could be worse off.

Food prices up? Praise God that you have the money to buy them.  Health bad? Praise God that you have the time to rest.  Sick? As you pray for healing be thankful it isn’t fatal.  Serious illness?  Be thankful that there is still hope.  And if a loved one has passed away, praise God he is no longer suffering and is with Jesus in heaven.

Now, these things may sound easy to some, but they are not at all easy to do when you are in the middle of a struggle especially when that struggle has already taken a toll on you for many years.  However, if you start small, are consistent and build, your faith will increase, your sorrow will lift and your joy will return even if you aren’t happy about your circumstances.

In the midst of despair, sadness and being overwhelmed with struggle, we may find it difficult to just pick ourselves up by our Christian bootstraps and just “be happy.”  However, these little things have helped me get just one step closer to being thankful and have reminded me that God is there with me and He’s working on my behalf even if I can’t feel Him through all that life throws at me.  I pray they are blessings to you and you can begin to see how you can be thankful and praise God during your struggles as well.

So, do you remember a time when you had a near miss car accident?  A “lucky event” when things could have been so much worse?  Was there a time in your life when things went very well and you didn’t think about how incredible they were and remember to thank God for these “coincidences” that brought them to you?  I sure do!

When we lived in Southern California, we used to drive six hours to visit my folks in ARIDzona.  On one such trip out, we noticed that our brakes started squeaking.  By the time we arrived, they were squeaking kind of loudly, but all the men in the family (with a collective 100 yrs of automotive experience) thought we were safe to drive home and have it taken care of after that weekend.  Well, they were all wrong!

We were driving back on a holiday weekend when traffic was horrendous! It was stop and go (mostly stop) all the way and took us several hours longer than it usually did.  Halfway or so in, the brakes were soooo loud, but they felt fine and so we just kept going.  At night, what much else was there to do? With each time my husband hit the brakes, the sound got louder, the brakes got touchier, and we got more frightened with our young kids in the back of the car.  As we pulled into the driveway of our home, the brakes finally gave out as we coasted into our garage in total safety.

There are many such stories I could recount to you of horrifying things that never happened because God had His hand upon us.  But there are countless other times I may never even noticed when God sent us on a small journey so as to avoid a major traffic wreck or some other such horrific event we never even heard about much less reflected upon.

My point is, not only should we be grateful to the Lord for glaringly obvious mishaps we were spared, but also for all the little coincidences orchestrated by Him in order to so completely avoid tragedy that we never even knew it.

What can you think of that could have been worse, but for the grace of God was not?

 

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Praising God in the Storm Series: Part 1

This is from an article I wrote a long while back for Examiner.com and was expanded upon a few years ago. I am going to expand this topic even further in this new series in order to build upon the series I just completed about how Paul was able to find the joy amidst his trials.  Now that we know how to find the joy, it’s important to fully understand how to praise God in the midst of our trials because, I think, that can be the hardest part of finding the joy.  This will be a six part weekly series and I begin with the introduction from the previous article to set the tone and give us the first step. 

Most Christians have heard many times how we are to praise God in the storm, but what has always frustrated me is that nobody has ever told us how to do that.  It’s hard to just begin feeling thankful when you’re in the midst of a financial mess or a loved one’s death.  Merely understanding that you should do something doesn’t help you do it.

All devotionals on this topic will tell you to read the Bible and pray.  This is obvious since we are trying to get closer to God and further away from our pain or struggle.  This is also something we should do when we are not struggling.  But just reading the Bible when you are struggling may not help your attitude turn to gratitude and you may not even know how to pray for a situation, especially if it has been a long and confusing one.

There are many devotionals on thankfulness that talk about this so I’m not going to spend much time on it since you’ve probably read enough of them to quote them verbatim.  I’ll just say that it’s important to continue to pray and read the scriptures even when we are at our wit’s end and even when we are no longer able to envision that God would help us because, the moment we no longer seek God, we begin to drift away from Him.  “Trouble and anguish have taken hold on me: yet thy commandments are my delights.” -Psalm 119:143

After many years upon this earth I have found some things that have helped me to become more thankful and bring me to the point where I can praise God during the storms of my life.  By the way…I wrote this as much for me as I did for my readers.

1. Start small and build

Thank Him for whatever blessings you can think of, even if you have a hard time coming up with things you are thankful for and even if you don’t feel very thankful when you write it or say it.  There is an old saying, “act as if.”  If you begin to thank God for the blessings, no matter how small, in your life, you will begin to see more and feel it more as you go.

Somehow my attitude changes when I concentrate on the little blessings.  I remember an old saying my relatives had when I was a child, “thank God for small favors.”  It has become a popular secular saying that has come to mean something quite different so I don’t suggest you actually say this to yourself.  I think it must have started out meaning that we should thank God for the small blessings in our lives to help us see the blessings He has given us.  Unfortunately, what it has come to mean is a snarky commentary that God only grants us small favors.

See how your attitude changes when you say, “thank God for small favors” instead of “thank you, Lord, for these little blessings?”  One suggests that’s all we expect the Lord to give us and the other reminds us that these are just the beginnings of blessings God wants to shower upon us.  That one little communication change changes everything.

Think back to all the times when you had just missed a disaster.  How do you think that miracle happened?  Envision what God must have been doing to protect you and then feel the love that lead God to that act.  I remember a time when we drove from California to ARIDzona to visit my folks.  On the way there, we heard the brakes begin to screech.  All the men at the event thought it wasn’t a major issue so we didn’t drive the car during our visit and headed home where we planned to have them repaired.  There was a great deal of traffic that holiday on the way back and got progressively worse on that six hour drive home.  We were able to make it all the way home and, as we coasted into the garage, the brakes completely failed leaving usunharmed and safely in our garage.  Thank you, Jesus, for all the disasters we avoided that night alone!

Think back to all the times when NOTHING bad happened.  What disaster might have occurred?  Thank Him for those as well.  How many times were you thinking of going to XYZ when something changed your mind and you narrowly avoided a known disaster?  My husband once decided not to go to work one day because the only route there (70 miles one way) was covered in snow and notorious for closure.  Later we found that many of the people who traveled that road were stuck down the hill unable to get home for a day or two.  And what about all the other situations we have no idea we could have found ourselves in?

Praising God during a storm in your life, especially one that you’ve endured a long, long time, is not easy. It takes some work. It takes searching hard for any little shred of joy you can find and hang on to. But it’s worth the time and effort to build a habit because there will always come times in your life when things are even more difficult to handle than you ever thought they would be and that’s exactly the time you need to praise God in the storm!

I’ll be back next week with another installment…until then, I pray for your blessings in the whatever storm you find yourself.

 

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