Anxiety and Doing the Thing That Scares

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A few days ago, I was supposed to be prepping for a big event in my life as an artist and writer. I was participating in our city’s art festival with my art as well as doing a book signing. I was so looking forward to this event, feeling honored to have been asked by a local shop owner. It was everything I’ve always wanted to do.

Half an hour before I was supposed to be leaving for the event, I found myself curled up on my bed, in my husband’s sweatshirt, feeling so anxious and unable to move. Anxiety has been a part of my adult life – it’s one of those things I thought would get better with time, but instead it’s gotten worse, no matter how many things I do to try to prove it wrong.

And that’s the thing about anxiety, it doesn’t listen to reason.

There’s this odd paradox that happens with events. I know that once I get there, I can be cheerful and artistic and answer everyone’s questions and accept their compliments about how far my work has come and how important it is. But before hand, I often struggle so much. And sometimes it’s hard to connect the two states of “me” – the curled up sweatshirt one and the one I can somehow muster up when I go out and do things.

I reached out to one of my best friends, just to have someone know how I was feeling, so I didn’t feel so alone.

I told my friend that I often feel so dangerously close to not following through on anything in my life. They are just hours in the day – what if I just stayed in my bed, let the festival pass me by, and go onto the next day? I would have avoided a lot of work and nervousness. But what she said in reply has stuck with me in the days following,

“Yes, but wondering what would have happened if you just went and did it will haunt you – you’ll always wonder what could have been if you went.”

I’ve come to believe that you really should do the things that scare you. Missing opportunities is so easy to do. But that’s letting anxiety have the driver’s seat. I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts this week and he was talking about how we can let anxiety in the car but only let it ride in the back seat (because, let’s face it, for some of us it’s riding along whether we like it or not). We don’t need to let anxiety in the driver’s seat. That imagery has been such a great help to me.

When I start feeling anxious, it’s easy to feel anxious about feeling anxious. The anticipation of an anxiety attack is sometimes just as or more damaging as the attack itself. Like one of my counselors once said, “When you realize anxiety has walked into the room, recognize it and welcome it, but don’t give it lots of attention.”

I’ve done so many things over the last few years that have scared me. I was looking back at photos from our move two years ago, halfway across the country. It was one of the best things we’ve ever done – and it was terrying. And every event that I got off my bed for, put on real clothes for, and showed up for, those are some of my best memories and where I’ve met some of the best people.

Let’s do more of the things that scare us. Let’s accept it if anxiety is in the car with us, but not give it the steering wheel or even let it ride shotgun. And let’s not be afraid to talk about it. I find a lot of comfort in knowing now that someone knows I get scared before I do things in public. I have my own “backstage” meltdowns and hours where I feel crippled by fear and like I might not actually get up and do it this time… but that’s what makes it so great when we actually do get up and do those things – because we fought so hard to get there.

For those of you who get what I’m saying, keep fighting. Keep getting up and doing those things. We need your work and your influence on our world, however great or small. We need what you’re offering. We need you to get off your bed eventually and come on out and show us what you’ve got. We’re waiting.

Yours,

Sheri

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Dear Ellie: Behind the book

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Let’s talk about Dear Ellie.
This week I spontaneously launched my first book. I say spontaneous, but really I’ve been working on it for 18 months. For 6 of those months I didn’t even know I was working on it, I was simply creating. I first self-published it through a company called Blurb and then realized that, despite their beautiful user-friendly software, their wholesale costs were just too high. It took me many months to find a new publisher and to learn that software. I landed on Createspace. Which was cheaper, but not at all user friendly. I poured hours into the program and editing process. My friend Karen helped me proofread. There were so many details my head spun so badly. There’s the nitty gritty details. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

 

Back to the beauty. Where did it even come from?

Well in the spring of 2016, right after our family relocated to the East, I did the sensible thing anyone does after moving across the country and I enrolled in a writer’s workshop. One of the sessions required me to write an article or blog of some sort with at specific reader in mind. Mine came out in the style of a letter. I still don’t know where the idea came from, it was just there inside of me.

Over the next couple months I kept writing letters. I wrote letters whenever I felt sad or confused or overwhelmed. They helped me process all the change, pain, and heartbreak from situations I’d walked through in the recent months and years. I sent them to people who were struggling with the same things. I read them back to myself when I needed reminded of the truth in them. At the same time, I bought my camera and found a lot of healing in capturing nature and exploring that realm of creativity.

And so the project was born.

One day, I had the idea of combining the letters with photographs that had a similar feel and putting them in a small, bedside-type book. I wanted it to be a book that I could read when I was feeling sad or confused or trying to remember what I told myself the last time I’d felt that way. I passed the idea on to a few friends, and they wanted the book, too. I printed a handful and passed them out. And that’s where the project stopped for a good six months.

And then, suddenly, it grew wings again.

I was in a meeting with a local shop about partnering with them with some of my art. I wasn’t planning on saying anything about my book but somehow I blurted it out part way through the meeting. The owner pulled up the preview online, fell in love with it, and asked me to be a featured author and sign books at their upcoming writer’s night. My jaw nearly hit the floor. I scrambled and got ready for the event.

The response overwhelmed me.

I watched strangers pick up my book and leaf through it, tears spilling down their faces in the middle of the shop. I listened as they read aloud their favorite parts, and I heard it like they heard it – hearing it for the first time. For logistical reasons, I knew I needed to republish it under a cheaper wholesale price, but for that night, I simply soaked it all in.

Since then, I’ve had others asked to do events featuring the book and still others asking for it to be more readily available. I launched it onto Amazon and suddenly it was out in the world… not without a little fear and trembling.

It is just. so. raw.

This book saved me on some of my darkest days. These letters were written from my soul to my soul on days when I had more questions than answers and I was searching for comfort from the pain I was feeling so deeply. Writing the letters was a way to get passed the pretense of trying to write for an audience and say things just the right way. I wrote them to myself, to a younger me, to a friend, to anyone who would hear them. I wrote them because I needed to hear the words. And now it’s out there, for others to hear…

Dear Ellie hasn’t been without it’s critiques.

As with any work of art, not everyone will understand it. This book was written from a very specific, fragile, inspired season of my life and it reflects just that. It isn’t where I am now but the words are still so beautiful to me. I hope they find the people who need to hear them, whatever season they are in.

I know it isn’t everyone’s flavor. And that’s okay.

I felt really apologetic about it for a long time and that kept me from publishing it fully over the last several months. It seemed too dramatic. Too undefined. Too something… To some, it isn’t spiritual at all. To others, it is completely spiritual. Not being about to tell the difference is probably the thing that frustrates some readers the most. And that is okay, too. I struggled with my faith so much over that time, and you’ll see that in the book. I didn’t stop believing in God. I still believed he was there with me, that he was the only thing keeping me alive. When I speak of the strength inside myself, much of that strength is Him, or placed there by Him, I just wasn’t always sure what to call it right then. Everything about religion was on the rocks for me. I’m still working out what I believe about humanity and being made in God’s image and all of that, but I think you’ll find that this book is full of hope and light and strength in the midst of the struggle – the greater things placed inside us that we cannot create on our own.

I’ve gained a lot of patience for my journey and grace for my seasons. Creators create from the place where they are at. I could never write this book again if I tried. It certainly reflects this time in my life. I hope you read it with grace and patience as well. I hope you find understanding and comfort in knowing that others have walked these trails and are walking them with you. I hope you feel the warm embrace of the words that are meant to bring healing.

I hope you see Ellie for who she is. I hope you welcome her well.

Permission to be Silent

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It has been a while since I’ve written. Again. I could say a lot about life right now… but the truth is, I’ve fallen silent intentionally. Because, in some seasons, I think our souls need that.

A lot of my talents tend to be public ones. I lead things, I write things, I start things, I coach things… And while I get so much life from that, I often need to remind myself that pulling away for a bit is okay, too.

Not long ago, I was approached to take on a position that I normally would have jumped at – something that I really would have loved to do. “Love” doesn’t even seem like a strong enough word. This was a chance to once again do my thing in life – the thing I wish I could do forever and hadn’t done for quite a long time. I was craving it.

And I still said, “no”.

I had some reasons like the schedule, like I wasn’t ready, like I had too much on my plate already. But the best and most honest reason I could give myself and others is simply this: some seasons just aren’t meant for the stage. And some seasons aren’t meant for the page, either.

Not for the stage, not for the page – the phrase echoes in my head like a Dr. Seuss rhyme. There are times when the thing that brings us the greatest life is just that simple, “no”.

I’ve been in a season of searching and continued healing. Sometimes the pain of things I’ve gone through still overwhelms me. I want to say something to all of you to bring encouragement, light, humor… but words have been failing me. I keep trying to find clarity, but I guess most things are clearer in retrospect and not so much when you’re in the thick of them.

So right now all I have is this: You have permission to be silent.

You don’t have to always figure it out. You don’t have to explain where you are at all the time and why you are feeling what you are feeling. Some things don’t have words or explanations. Some pain just comes out in groans. Some questions echo across the void and no answer comes back – yet…. or ever. And some things we just need to search out on our own.

I’ve become less and less terrified of silence. I’ve felt less need to fill it with noise and chaos. Instead of feeling empty and frightening, silence now brings me comfort and peace. I don’t feel the need to constantly explain myself or reach big conclusions or come up with answers for other people. Because their pain, too, doesn’t always have words. So sometimes I listen in silence, just to listen.

I don’t think we have to have it all together to be writers, speakers, leaders, friends, parents, etc. But I believe more and more that some seasons are meant to be private ones – off the stage, off the page – as we search out the deeper things inside of us, finding clarity and regaining peace.

We need to take seasons to just be ourselves and to learn what that looks like as we go through life and change along the way.

So I’ve taken this time, once again, to learn more about myself. I’ve done a lot of reading, poured time into my little family, worked on things that are important to me, and spent time with close friends and family. I’ve felt the need to narrow my field of vision to the things that matter most while I search out some of the questions rising from deep within me.

Thank you for your patience. And if any of this resonates with you, take some time for yourself, whatever that looks like in your life. You won’t be sorry. Here’s your permission.

Why We Need Your Story

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Something I really love about life as a human is our ability to tell stories – specifically our own stories. And one of the things that makes me saddest as a human is when our stories are left untold. And since you’ve joined me through many different seasons, I’ll let you in on the one I’m in now.

I’m in a pretty settled season at the moment. Not a slow season by any means, but it feels like life has settled into routine – what I do for work, how I spend my free time, where I live, who I’m close with, my faith, my marriage, my children, my life… the calm after the storm. I’m so thankful for this season and the breath that comes with it. I’m still very busy with all the life things, but it doesn’t feel chaotic and painful like some seasons.

I find myself feeling almost apologetic about that.

I’ve been apologetic about my story many times in my life, for various reasons. I don’t think I’m alone in this. So today, I want to talk about why we hold back and why we need to find ways to put a voice to every season.

One of the obvious reasons we retain our stories is because we think they’re just too messy. We are pretty sure we’re the only ones that could have messed up these ways or have had these things happen to us. But for every story that I’ve finally let tumble out of my mouth as I fumble for right the words, putting sound to the darkness, I’ve found dozens of others who can say, “Me too. I’ve walked that trail, too”. The more I talk about it, the more I realize that I’m not alone, and the more I realize I’m not alone, the more community forms around me to help keep me on track.

When we’re willing to share the ugly pieces of our stories, we open up the opportunity to reach out and have others reach back to us.

Another reason we hold onto our stories is because we feel like they’re just too simple – too boring, too plain. For every thing I’ve done and every mistake I’ve made, there are heaps of things I haven’t done or haven’t been done to me. And when life hits a more settled season, a season where I reap the harvest of the difficult seasons that I’ve fought through, I struggle to be honest about the good times. I don’t want to discourage other people and I don’t know how long the season will last, so I don’t often speak about it.

Can you relate?

The danger now is that we’ve become apologetic about our testimony – the times when we can speak of redemption. Maybe we feel like we teeter on the edge of a cliff, hung in a fine balance, and admitting that things are going well might push us over. Or maybe we’re afraid that we’ll make others feel discouraged and that our joy or excitement will come across in negative ways. We do need to be sensitive to the pain of others when we are sharing our redemption stories, but we still need to speak of our progress.

We still need those stories.

I have walked some really dark trails in my life. If you buy me a cup of coffee some day, I’ll tell you more about it. Some days it helped to have people in my life walking similarly dark trails. But I definitely found surpassing value in the stories of those who had made it through – the stories of triumph and victory, the stories where light finally overcame the darkness, the stories of potential peace and joy that is to be found. I needed those stories. In my darkest days, those stories landed on my soul like water on the desert sand. They gave me hope that I’d eventually find a way out of my own pit. If there was grace to pull them out, surely there would be grace for me, too.

Have you walked dark trails and came to a place of peace? We need to hear those stories. There are masses of us out here hoping that there’s hope for us – hoping that there’s something more. We should never feel apologetic for our pain or our progress. All of our stories have a place. They all deserve to be put into words. Find your words. Speak them with kindness. Be brave.

Peace: The Maintenance and Fruit

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One recent morning, in my quiet time, I came across the well known verse in Psalm 34:14: “Turn away from evil and do good. Search for peace, and work to maintain it.” (NLT) I paused there for a while. Thinking about all of that – about good and evil and peace.

In my experience, there’s plenty of emphasis in the Christian life on the concept of turning from evil and doing good. But what about that second part: “Search for peace, and work to maintain it”?

I thought about the peace (or lack of) in my life. There were entire seasons where peace seemed like just an unattainable theory. Wracked with turmoil, addiction, performance, depression, and emotional upheaval, I’d lost almost all concept of peace.

Then I thought about my life now. I’m sitting here taking deep clear breaths in the morning air. My mind is still. My life, though, is pretty full at the moment – with parenting and working and house-maintaining and all the things that go in between those titles. Needless to say, I sleep so hard at night.

There is busyness, but there is also peace.

I think about the Psalmist and how he threw in that little tag at the end, “work to maintain it”. I’ve found peace before. I haven’t always worked to maintain it.

What does that look like?

For me, peace looks like a thousand tiny choices in a thousand tiny moments. As I’ve said before, life is rarely the giant cataclysmic moments. Instead, life is made up of the daily. What we do in those daily moments determines the whole course of our life.

We need to create space for peace to grow. Sometimes that means letting go of things in my life. Quite often, that means just creating quiet space: negative space, where there aren’t any screens or noise or deadlines – where I can just sit and read and ponder and breathe.

For so long, I let those moments slide. I toyed with the edges, I figured a little bit of murky waters wouldn’t destroy me – but they began to, over time. I’d found peace here and there, but I certainly didn’t work to maintain it. I didn’t hold onto it in the way it needed to be held onto. I didn’t cling to it with all my worth. I would let the tide roll in and roll back out, taking with it some of the best of my sand.

I’m not perfect by any means, but I’ve come so far in this. And when you come far in something, it’s okay to celebrate that.

By now, I have definite boundaries that weren’t in my life previously. Those things don’t hold me back. Instead, they keep me anchored. They keep me at peace in the midst of the roaring storm. They keep me steady even in the calm, so that I don’t drift too far.

At first it was difficult, setting those boundaries. I don’t say that lightly. I mean it was like grinding my teeth and fighting against everything inside me that had drifted. It was blood, sweat, and tears. It was crying through the nights and fighting through the days. It was headaches and swollen eyes. But eventually, it began to pay off.

I think we all need to come to a place at times where we truly believe that God’s design for our lives is what is going to bring us the most fruit – the most love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control. When I look at that list, what more could I want? I haven’t been alive very long, but long enough to tell you that what the world seems to offer out there really aren’t the things that are going to make us happy and bring peace.

Peace brings us happiness. But it needs to be maintained. Like a flower, we water it. And it brings us life. And the longer we maintain it and nurture it, the stronger it will grow.

I’ve found so much value in peace – peace of mind, peace of heart, peace of emotions – to not be tormented and conflicted daily with my choices. There is work. But there is peace to be had. And so much of it.

Search for peace, and work to maintain it.

What I Wish Someone Would Have Told Me About Parenting Littles

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Lately I’ve had a few discussions with other moms about the things people tell us in various stages of life, and how those things often don’t exactly help. In fact, many of those things just pile on the guilt that we’re already feeling.

I think back to the stage when I had a toddler and a newborn. Life felt like complete chaos. They were both challenging in different ways. My toddler had a few delays that made his toddler years extra difficult and my infant was colic and wanted to be held constantly. Time felt like it was dragging, like a little slug on a hot day… a slug that possibly fell asleep. Or maybe died. And we would just be here, forever, waiting for it to wake up. My head felt like it was under water. And my eyes like they had too many tears and not enough sleep.

Four years later… my boys are so much more independent now. They basically feed and clothe themselves and come up with their own things to do. At this point, I’m more of a facilitator or referee. We do more activities outside the home. My kiddos were built for adventure and I love that. I’m right there with them.

As I sipped my coffee this morning and watched my youngest flip his water bottle (why is this a thing??), I was flooded with guilt that I should have enjoyed those younger years better. I should have embraced them more, smiled more, taken in the “moments” more, not cleaned the house as much and just kissed my babies all day long. People told me “it’d get better”, and I suppose they were right. But that didn’t help the days when I felt like I was drowning. Some told me to make the most of those days, that the days were long and the years short, to embrace every moment…

Let’s face it, there are certain things that are just not that simple to embrace. Some of us can do it with ease and gratefulness, and some of us struggle with that. The longer I think about it, it seems like the helpful thing to hear in those stages, and in any stage, really, would have been this: Just do your best. Right here, right now.

Hey, if someone told had told me this then, or even today, I’d thank them and possibly offer them a cookie. If your best is putting in headphones for five minutes while the chaos ensues around you so you don’t yell at your kids one more time, then do that. If your best is grinding your own wheat, then do that. If your best is sending your kids to bed at 6:30 because they won’t stop fighting, do that. If your best is structure and home school and crafts, do that. If your best is keeping your house a clean space for your kids’ creativity, do that.

Our “best” looks differently for all of us, even depending on the day or season. Only we know what we’re really good at. But instead of getting wrapped up in what we should or shouldn’t be doing/saying/thinking, what if we asked ourselves what our true strengths were and tapped into those?

Looking back at some of those crazy years, how young I was, how much maturity I lacked, how much personal growth I had coming and didn’t even know it, I now feel a surge of pride instead of guilt. I’m proud that I held it together on those “drowning” days, doing the things that didn’t come naturally for me, getting us through those times, relatively unscathed. I’m proud that I stayed present and available. In that season, that was often the best I had to offer.

And now, dealing with the school things and the preschool things and more things that feel over my head, I tell myself to just do my best. That’s not a cop-out. I’m aware that I’m not just automatically doing my best. Sometimes my best needs to push me out of my comfort zone. I might be the best at preschool snack Pinterest fails. I accept that. But my actual best might be talking about friend problems with my kindergartener and reminding him that he is a great person no matter what. My best might be having worship jam sessions with my preschooler. My best might be bike rides and picnics and not so much the grinding wheat and home-schooling. So be it.

Focus on giving your best and don’t look back. When we look back we forget that we were knee-deep in diapers and we think, “I should have sang to them more” or something like that. You are not Mary Poppins. Or maybe you are. If you are, please sing. If you’re not, do the thing that is your best. Because your kids were given to you. And they like your bests.

 

A Light Has Come

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Every year I write a Christmas piece. I look forward to this part of the season almost as much as my kids look forward to proving to me that they did in fact guess what all their gifts were by shaking them. (In their defense, they have been under the tree since November.) Topics for my Christmas writing have ranged from various aspects such as the stable or the star to the gift of grace or the perspective of the camel (which was my first and is still arguably my favorite).

This year, as I travel through the Christmas season yet again, I am pulled back repeatedly to one single aspect, one that has never quite caught my attention in this magnitude before. I am surrounded by it but I stop and stare far more frequently.

I am captured by light.

At this moment I am surrounded by lights, many small twinkling Christmas lights that glow brightly enough so that no other light is needed. There’s something that stirs and quiets in me all that same time when I stop and take in a sight of beautiful lights. I can’t seem to get enough of them.

I love how John says it:

“This is the verdict: Light has come into the world.” (John 3:19)

I recently watched a depiction of what it must have been like for those receiving visits by angels concerning the coming of the Messiah – Joseph, Zachariah, the shepherds, and so on. While the events following and surrounding the telling of the news were so exciting, the thing that caught my attention and where my mind has stayed is this: the years of silence that preceded these announcements and what that must have been like when it broke.

For hundreds of years, God’s people were walking in silent darkness, wondering if they’d ever hear from God again. I think about the days when I feel like God is silent and the feeling of sorrow that comes over me for just mere days. The world had fallen under this silence for centuries.

Until one day.

It makes me think about the feeling of coming downstairs in the morning and pulling back the blinds to let the light in.

I think about the hungry and searching masses in the world who suddenly were birthed a new hope. I think about that thrill of hope for the weary world – the weary weary world that lost its strength and inspiration. I think about the priests who continued to carry out commands with no response, the prophets whose ears no longer received the words from their Lord, those who continued to look up day after day with no answer.

Until now.

I think back to the time of creation, how there was nothing and God breathed everything – how one of the very first things he did was created light. One of my children asked me tonight if God created darkness. I smiled a little and said, “No, darling, darkness is what exists without light. God created light.”

I like to think what creation must have been like. A light dawns and then several lights, and then billions of them – stars, planets, galaxies, filling the entire universe. I think about our planet spinning in the midst of all of this. I think about what a grand event that must have been, like the grandest fireworks displays and then so much more.

And I picture our earth again, having nearly lost its light, fallen into darkness, with just a few candles of hope flickering in the corners. And suddenly, out of this darkness angels begin to travel across the expanses to appear to weary, ordinary people. They come with lights and songs and promises. And their numbers increase from just single appearances to the great heavenly hosts appearing to the shepherds, just as the stars and galaxies dotted the sky at the dawn of creation. And then, a second dawn appears – the greatest of lights begins to shine in the lowliest of places.

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” (Isaiah 9:2)

Can you imagine the relief? The refreshment? The excitement? For those whose hope had lingered on, they would finally see the Light they had waited and hoped and prayed for. And for those living in darkness, they would see a Great Light whether they understood it or not. The darkness was being pulled back like a curtain.

Hope had finally been born. A light had dawned. Love had come.