Stress

It seems I have seriously underestimated the power of my enemy.

They told me he was smart, that he could slip in undetected in the most unexpected places and wreak havoc on my life. But I wasn’t worried; he couldn’t pull anything over on me. I wouldn’t give him the opening he needed.

I didn’t even see him coming.

School started almost seven weeks ago. I started teaching in a new position, my oldest stated kindergarten, and my youngest went to a babysitter for essentially the first time in his life. The first week or so took some adjustment, but I was pleased with the way we all seemed to adapt to our new schedules. It was hectic, but in a good way. The exhausted feeling I had at the end of each day was weirdly satisfying.

The falling apart was gradual.

I’m about to get real, at the risk of a couple things – one, that I sound like a big whiner , and two, that I sound like a spoiled brat who doesn’t appreciate what I have – and I don’t like the idea of either of those things. So let me first clarify and defend myself and say that I absolutely love the life that God has given me – especially the people in it. That includes my family and the kids I teach every day, kids who quickly became “my kids” as well. And I recognize that compared to many, my problems are minuscule and for that I know I am blessed.

But I am tired. And I don’t like the person I sometimes become when I’m stressed out by a never-ending to-do list and jam-packed days with no sign of any sort of rest in sight. The days when I’m longing to stay home for just one evening, if only to catch up on the piles of laundry I can’t ever seem to get on top of or to clean more than just one room of my house at a time. Or when I’m feeling especially selfish, the longing to just read for fun or write a chapter in the new book I’m trying to write – something I haven’t even touched in over six weeks.

I hear older mothers always saying to enjoy this time while it’s here, that it will be over all too soon and that I will miss it someday and believe me, I GET THAT. But when I’m cooking supper with one hand because the other one is holding a baby on my hip and I’m tripping over my five-year-old, who is clinging to my waist and playing the copycat game, that thought tends to slip my mind.  And I become impatient. I find myself yelling at my oldest over something unnecessary – and I HATE yelling. Or feeling irritated when he asks me to listen to him read a story he’s already read to me three times that evening. I mean seriously, what kind of mom gets tired of listening to her child READ? I think that was the point that I realized that something had begun to unravel, and it was only when I examined the subtle changes that had taken place over the last few weeks that I realized the source of it.

It began when my over-packed schedule became too “crowded” for my quiet time with God. The early morning time I used to spend with Him, studying His word and praying before I began getting ready for my day, began getting shorter and shorter. Though I would force myself to get up with my alarm, I found myself grading papers. And before I knew it, the time was often up and it was time to get ready and I hadn’t even cracked my Bible open. Or sometimes I’d read for fifteen minutes and then realize my mind had been on my lesson plans the entire time and I hadn’t processed a word I’d just read.

He started with a whisper: “It’s okay. God understands. What’s that Bible verse about ‘doing everything with diligence for Him’? He knows you’re putting your whole heart into your job. It’s okay if you didn’t make time for Him this morning. You’ll do it later.”

Later never came. Between school and homework and soccer practice and just making sure my family was fed and bathed and all the other stuff that demanded my time, I found myself falling into bed at night with the final thought that I hadn’t spoken to God that day. Then I began prayers that I didn’t finish because I fell asleep in the middle of them.

And soon I found my upbeat attitude fading. The world slowly became more of my focus. I heard myself participating in gossip that was none of my business to begin with. Though I still continued trying to walk with God daily, it became more of a stand-still. I wasn’t growing in my relationship with Him, and it affected all my other relationships as well.

I’m not saying I need to ignore my other obligations. I firmly believe that I was put on this earth to be a wife, mommy, and teacher, and the Bible does teach that in “whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord” (Colossians 3:23). And I know that God understands the demands that come with each of those “jobs” that I love so much.

But when I stop truly seeking Him, it impacts those things that He put me here to do. And as far as all the stress that sometimes goes along with those things, He promises rest and peace that “transcends all understanding” (Philippians 4:6-7). He promises that if I seek Him with all of my heart and soul, I will find Him (Deuteronomy 4:29-31; Proverbs 8:17).

So as far as my walk with Him, I’m starting to move forward once again. And this time, I’m going to be more diligent in fending off that enemy who lurks nearby, looking for places to worm his way in so he can slowly consume me.

Because this busy mommy doesn’t have time for him and his lies…my son has a book to read to me for the fifteenth time and I can’t wait to hear it.

Advertisements

In the Midst of Wolves

This coming week will bring about some big changes in our house and to say that I am a bundle of emotions is an understatement.

Tomorrow, I go back to work after taking a year off for maternity leave. But what I’m struggling with even more so is the fact that my oldest son starts kindergarten on Wednesday.

For the past year, I’ve been blessed to stay home with my two boys every day. Home, where we are safe. Where I at least feel somewhat in control of what they will see and hear even though…let’s be honest…nothing is totally in a parent’s control.

On one hand, I am so excited for the experiences that he will gain with this huge step. New friends, new activities, new skills learned. He will no longer have to pretend to read his books or “read” them by memory – he will actually learn how to read the words on the page. He will learn that when he measures his toy dinosaur, it’s four INCHES, not four POUNDS (and yes, I realize that I could teach him this myself…but it’s just too cute to correct.) He will begin to learn that the world really isn’t centered around him as he figures out what it means to work with others and be part of something bigger than himself.

On the other hand, Matthew 10:16 keeps creeping into my mind: “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” These were Jesus’ words as he spoke to His disciples, warning them of persecutions that would come in His name. But I can’t help but feel they apply to this situation as well. Call me dramatic, but a part of me feels as though I’m sending my sweet, innocent boy into a pack of wolves. Even though I have every confidence that his teacher and the school administrators will provide a safe learning environment and will do everything in their power to take care of my baby while he’s away, this big step toward independence has my stomach in knots because I know that not all of his experiences will be good and there’s nothing I can do to shelter him from those bad things. He may get teased. He may get left out. Or, an even greater fear of mine: he may be the one doing the teasing or leaving others out. Either way, I won’t be there to protect him or correct him. He’s going to hear other kids say things I don’t allow him to say. And, like I did in elementary school, I’m sure he’ll experiment a little with those “bad words” himself. Along with all those exciting things he will learn from his teacher, he will also learn things from other kids that will make me cringe.

And when I think about his innocent mind being filled with inappropriate things, his beautiful little eyes being opened to what the world has to offer, it makes me want to lock him in the house with me and never leave again.

So today, I have to lean on God’s promises – things that I know are true.

First of all, He promised this: “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). I have to trust that the foundation that we and our church family have provided for him at home will go with him even as he grows…even as he experiments with things he knows better than to say or do…and that at the end of the day, he will remember his faith in a God that is bigger than this world.

I am also reminded of Jesus’ words and promise in Matthew 6:25-34: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” I know that this verse seems to address worrying in regards to money, but it applies to all worry. And it reminds me that our God provides, and He is in control. Worrying about what Aven will see or hear or do won’t change anything – it’s all part of His perfect, bigger-than-I-can-comprehend plan for Aven’s life. None of it has ever been up to me in the first place – I’m just the one who is lucky enough to watch him grow up so that he can fulfill the purpose that God has for him here on this earth.

I ask you to pray for all of our kids, teachers, and staff all over our nation as we begin a new school year in an uncertain and unsafe world. There are so many kids who can’t wait to come back to school, just to know for certain they will have their next meal or that they can have seven full hours without being beaten or abused by a family member. Please pray for the safety and success of all of our kids – our future – and for their teachers, that they will not only teach them what they need to know, but that they will be a light in this world of darkness and a symbol of peace and safety.

What I’m Worth

Just inside the entrance to my church is a beautiful stained-glass window depicting Jesus. He stands tall with his arms outstretched – just the way I hope that He will greet me one day. That window is visible from the road, and every time I drive by my little white church, I can’t help but turn and look at Him and marvel at His glory.

But even though I have seen that window more times than I can count throughout my life, my son brought something to my attention that I had somehow neglected. As we were leaving church one Sunday morning when he was just three years old, he walked over to that big window and “hugged” Jesus goodbye. When he pulled away and looked up at him, he said, “Mommy, why are his hands bleeding?”

I was speechless for a moment. How do you explain that to a three-year-old? Finally, I settled on, “Well, buddy, some bad guys did some mean things to him.”

I know. Pretty great answer, right? (Insert sarcastic eye-roll here.) I didn’t want to lie to him, but how do you explain the truth to such a young, innocent little boy?

Luckily, my answer satisfied him without further questioning, and to this day (he’s five now), he still sometimes looks at that window, points at His hands and says, “Bad guys did that to Jesus, Mommy.”

“I know, buddy,” is my standard reply. I can’t tell him that my own sins helped drive those nails in Him.

I have the privilege of working with an incredible youth group in my church each Sunday, doing lessons and activities to teach them about God and His love. With Easter approaching, I want to do something that will help them realize that the holiday is about so much more than Easter bunnies and egg hunts. After all, the Reason behind our Easter holiday is the very Reason that we are Christians. If Jesus hadn’t suffered that violent death on the cross and rose again, we wouldn’t have a Savior. We’d still be trapped in our sin, destined to an eternity in hell. And while I want the kids to grasp just what He did for us, those bloody details aren’t appropriate for such little ears.

So I asked God to give me a lesson that I could share with them, something that would help them realize the importance of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. I asked God for wisdom before I opened my Bible, and as I began reading His word, He decided to teach me something, not only about who He is, but about who I am as well. It still amazes me how I can read the same stories over and over but He can make them like new and help me to gain different things from them.

It’s no secret that death by crucifixion was intended to be the most painful, horrifying death possible, typically reserved for criminals. Jesus was beaten to the verge of death. Mocked. Tormented. And though He was blameless, though He had the power to strike down his attackers with just one word, He took it all in silence.

For me. For them, the very people who murdered him.

I couldn’t endure what Jesus did for very many people. But to go through it for sinners? For my own murderers? To save them from a fate that they deserved, even when I knew that I was innocent? Forget it.

And while Jesus deserves our praise and undying devotion for what He did, I can’t help but be even more in awe of God. Because the thought of sending one of my sons to that fate in order to save someone who had sinned against me? It makes me physically sick to my stomach. I couldn’t send one of them to take that fate for anyone, not even the most righteous person in the whole world, much less an undeserving sinner. When I think about Him watching it all transpire from Heaven, my heart aches for Him.

While I’ve thought about all of this before, one thing I’d never truly considered is just what I’m worth in God’s eyes. Paul tells us in Ephesians 1:4 that “He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight.” That means that even before He created the world, He already had a plan for me.  For me! It’s hard to comprehend that the God who created our intricate universe by merely speaking into the void even knows my name, much less loves me that much.

He knew that I would mess up, over and over again. He knew that I would be prideful. Hateful. Profane. A liar. Disrespectful. Disobedient. Neglectful.

AND HE LOVES ME ANYWAY. I am worth so much in His eyes that He allowed His Son to be tortured and put to death in my place, knowing He would rise again and redeem me from my life of sin. He CHOSE me to be one of His children. He bestowed His gifts upon me so that I can serve His kingdom.

And I did ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to deserve it. It’s not because He looked down on this Earth, saw me, and thought to Himself, “She’s a pretty good person.” I’m sure if He looked at me before I gave my life to Jesus, He would have thought quite the opposite, in fact. Because before the Holy Spirit came to live in me, I was nothing. I was consumed by worldly, evil thoughts, on a path to destruction without even realizing it. And yet, for whatever reason, He loved me enough to open my heart to His Truth so that I could choose to die to my old self and accept His love and forgiveness. How much I must be worth in His eyes!

So this Easter, I hope that I can convey to my kids at church not only the importance of what Jesus did for us when He conquered death on the cross, but what that says about who we are to God. Because when we truly realize our worth in Christ, we can fulfill the purpose that He has for each one of us and call on His power to do incredible things for His kingdom.

Worldwide Blog Hop

This week, I am joining a worldwide blog hop called “The Writing Process World Blog Tour.” I was invited to join by author Krysten Lindsay Hager. Krysten is an author and book addict who has never met a bookstore she didn’t like. She’s worked as a journalist and also writes middle grade, YA, humor essays, and adult fiction. Her debut novel, TRUE COLORS, was released this summer. She is originally from Michigan and has lived in South Dakota, Portugal, and currently resides in Southern Ohio where you can find her reading and writing when she’s not catching up on her favorite shows. Find her at: http://www.krystenlindsay.com/.

I’m so excited to be part of this blog tour. Here is a little about me…
I wear many hats: Christian; wife; mother to my young son, Aven, and my four-legged sons, Shakespeare and Poe; teacher of middle school reading and high school English; and now – my lifelong dream realized – author. My debut novel, THE VISITORS, will be released September 16. I graduated from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale with a bachelor’s degree in English Education and a master’s degree in Reading and Language Studies. I reside and teach in a small town in southern Illinois. From a young age, I was always an avid reader and writer with a big imagination. I spent much of my childhood searching for ghosts and UFOs to no avail – but I haven’t given up the hunt just yet. Though I continue to grow older, my true literature love is and has always been young adult fiction. I loves creating both futuristic and realistic stories about teenagers, and I feel so fortunate to get to work with them every day as a teacher.

As part of the blog hop, all authors are answering the same four questions. So here are my answers!

question 1) What are you working on?

I am currently in the middle of two writing projects! I have written a novel titled Healing Rain that I am in the process of editing, and I am also in the middle of the sequel to my debut novel, The Visitors. Though they are both young adult fiction novels, they are very different. Healing Rain is a realistic contemporary piece about a teen girl starting over in a new town after a devastating event changed her family and shook her Christian faith. She is trying to keep her dark past a secret while juggling new friends (and enemies), new love interest(s), therapy, and fitting in at her new high school. The sequel to the The Visitors (which debuts in September) is a science fiction piece with romance and action mixed in, but I can’t give too many details just yet – I wouldn’t want to spoil the end of The Visitors before it even comes out! I typically focus on one project at a time, but I’m actually enjoying dabbling back and forth between the two at this time. Healing Rain will be complete in the very near future, leaving me to focus on The Visitors – I have a third novel outlined to complete this series after I finish the sequel in progress.

question 2) How does your work differ from others in your genre?

I will focus on The Visitors, as this is the novel that will be available soon. I think it will be easier to answer this question if you already know a little bit about the story, and since it hasn’t been released just yet, I will give you a little blurb about the novel:

Seventeen-year-old Noah awakes one day to find that dangerous, irrational, self-serving, and destructive visitors called “humans” are coming to visit his beautiful, perfect planet. All citizens are ordered to have limited contact and share little information with these visitors.

Sixteen-year-old Jady is thrilled to accompany her father and his crew on a trip to a recently-discovered planet, Verdant. The United States’ crew is hopeful that they can learn from this advanced yet similar species.

Despite their greatest efforts to fight it, it doesn’t take long for Jady and Noah to fall in love and begin a secret affair. But when their relationship is revealed, danger is created for everyone involved…

Some of the concepts in the novel – teen romance, forbidden love, and futuristic space travel – are universal, which people can relate to. The storyline, however, has several unique features: I have created my own planet, with a dystopian society of people who look like humans but are very, very different in the way they think and live. My main characters, Noah and Jady, are young and get swept away in love, but they’re both incredibly intelligent, brave, and strong in their own ways. I hope that my readers will fall in love with them the way I have.

question 3) Why do you write what you write?

I have been a writer my whole life. It’s a passion. These ideas enter my head – sometimes through dreams, sometimes in conversation with friends or at work when I’m teaching – and they just won’t leave me alone until I write and release them. Young adult literature is and has always been what I love. When I was growing up, it was the way I escaped every day. I loved authors who could make me feel like I was part of the story – like the characters I was reading about were part of my life, too. I think my love for working with young people compels me to write for them as well.

question 4) How does your writing process work?

I wouldn’t say I have one magical formula for writing a novel. Writing BC – Before Child – was much easier! I get an idea, and then create a rough outline for a story in my head. I develop my main characters, picturing them as I imagine what their personalities will become. Then, I just start writing. Some days I write more than others, but I would guess that I average about ten pages a day, on good days. Of course, with a full-time job and a family, there are many days that I don’t reach that goal! I have to do most of my writing when my little man is asleep, either during his mid-day nap or at night when he goes to bed. You will often find us in my recliner – him sprawled across my lap asleep, and me leaning over him and typing away on my computer. Once I complete a novel, I usually step away from it for a few weeks. I then go back and read it again, editing for any mistakes and changing any scenes that feel weak. Sometimes this means cutting out entire chapters and rewriting them, so the editing process can take a few weeks as well.

I’m very excited to introduce the authors who will be joining me on this blog hop and posting on August 5.

KV Flynn: Author of Middle Grade and Young Adult Literature whose first book debuts in September as well. Find him at www.OnTheMoveBooks.com,

Karen King: Author of Young Adult Literature. Find her at www.karenking.net.

Tammi Steiner Booth: Author of Young Adult Literature. Find her at www.awritersdevotion.blogspot.com.

 

 

The Human Mind: To Read, Or Not to Read

If you were offered the gift of reading the minds of others, would you take it?

Sometimes, I wish I could get into people’s minds. Like my dogs’, for example. (And yes, my dogs are people.) They can make the sweetest and funniest faces, and I just wonder, What are they thinking? Or my three-year-old son’s. He’s very outgoing and talkative and will usually tell you exactly what’s going through his head, but not always. When he stares into space or rambles about things I don’t understand, I wish I could see what he’s thinking. And I know as he gets older, there will be a million times that I wish to see inside his head.

There are also times when I am talking to someone and I just know that person is thinking something they’re not saying. I know you all have been there: You say something to a friend and they grow too quiet. Or they say one thing, but you can just tell that they are actually thinking the opposite. At those moments, I would love the ability to read their thoughts.

But would I want to hear them? I definitely wouldn’t want my thoughts to go public sometimes. Two reasons: A. I wouldn’t want everyone to know just how weird I really am, and B. As positive as I try to be, sometimes thoughts are uncontrollably terrible. Things can pop into your head that, if said out loud, could devastate another person. You can chase these thoughts out of your own head quickly, but if there was a person with the ability to read them, the damage would already be done. You just can’t help it when a friend gets a new haircut and by impulse you think, She really should have thought twice about that style. If my friend thinks to herself that the jeans I have on look terrible on me, do I want to know that? Sure, on one hand, you may want to know – if it’s something that helps you, it’s beneficial to hear it. But at the same time, wouldn’t it still hurt your feelings to know that your friend had a negative thought about you, no matter how small or insignificant it may have been?

In my upcoming young adult novel, The Visitors, one of the main characters has the ability read the minds of those around her. I decided to make this a gift that she can turn off or on as needed. (Does anyone remember that Mel Gibson movie What Women Want? The one about this man who is suddenly gifted with the ability to hear women’s thoughts? It’s been years since I saw it, but I remembered one particular scene when the guy is out on the street, surrounded by women, and their thoughts are just bombarding his mind. I figured that if a person could hear everyone’s thoughts at one time, it would no longer be a gift but an inconvenience.) Considering the gift in this light, the character has to tune into a person’s mind in order to hear his or her thoughts. But this brings up another issue when the character uses her gift to hear something she shouldn’t hear. She doesn’t mean to: she notices that her friend is in a particularly strange mood and just tunes into his thoughts innocently to see if everything is okay. What she learns about him has absolutely nothing to do with her, but she still intervenes, changing the course of his actions and the entire novel. Is this acceptable?

Consider the good possibilities of possessing such a gift. If you could read the mind of someone who was about to go rob a bank and could do something to stop it, you’re a hero. You could use your gift for the greater good of mankind. But, as I learned from Spiderman, with great power comes great responsibility. How would you decide whose mind to read and whose to ignore? And some would argue that this would be playing with fate – what right do you have to go poking into people’s private thoughts? And then, of course, you would have to consider that a gift like this could fall into the wrong hands – someone who wouldn’t even attempt to use it to better the world, but to better himself.

With all things considered, would you accept this gift? I would love to hear your ideas on if and how you would use it if the opportunity presented itself to you. Thanks in advance for sharing!

A Little Peek into My Life and My First Book

                This whole “blogging” thing is new territory for me.

                I have been writing stories since I learned to write in kindergarten; I have been telling stories since long before that. As a toddler, my imaginary friends and I went on faraway adventures daily. In elementary school, as my teachers could tell you, I could really tell some whoppers about my life at home. (Thank you to Mrs. Mitchell, Mrs. Hernandez, and Mrs. Williams for listening patiently and letting me tell you these ridiculous tales. And thank you even more for pretending to believe me.) My imagination is and has always been spiraling out of control, compelling me to write. And I have always been content to write stories knowing that no one else will ever read them, save a few family members and close friends.

                Until now. One of my books, The Visitors, will be published on September 16 by Astraea Press. The very idea of this makes me pinch myself every time I think about it. I never dreamed that an opportunity like this would present itself to someone like me…a small-town, simple girl who until now has only been known locally as a wife and mother who teaches middle school reading and high school English and has a weakness for adopting stray dogs and cats.

                But I digress. As I said, blogging is a new concept for me. I hope to introduce myself as an author through this blog. I’ve been devouring books for as long as I can remember, and though I just keep getting older and further into adulthood, my one true love in literature is still young adult fiction. My favorite book of all time is Lois Lowry’s The Giver, and book series like Veronica Roth’s Divergent and Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight kept me pent up in my house, inhaling them in lieu of eating and sleeping and functioning like a normal person.  These are the books that haunt my dreams, that change my life. They are why I wanted to teach English. And I found once I started teaching that not only do I love literature, I love working with teens. They are so vibrant and smart and challenge me every day. Thus, young adult fiction is what I write.

                The Visitors is young adult fiction that is both science fiction and romance. I wouldn’t categorize myself as a science fiction junkie, per say, but I have always had a fascination with life outside of our planet, which is the basis for the novel.  Set in the future, it is the story of a crew of humans who go to a recently-discovered planet, Verdant, in hopes of learning from their highly-advanced civilization. However, the citizens of Verdant fear these new visitors, as humans are irrational, destructive, and self-serving. When sixteen-year-old Jady, a member of Earth’s crew, meets seventeen-year-old Noah, a citizen of Verdant, the sparks are immediate. But when their secret affair is revealed, danger is created for everyone involved.

                I hope to explore some of the concepts in this book through my weekly blog posts. My goal is to discuss everything – from life outside of our planet and other what if topics such as mind-reading and immortality, to more down-to-Earth topics like young love, love at “first sight”, and relationships of all kinds.

                I hope you all join the conversation with me each week. I look forward to “meeting” new people and hearing your thoughts and ideas!