thoughts on the opinions of others

Be cautious when you follow others. Perhaps this warning hits a little deeper for me than it would for others, as I’ve been a follower my whole life, always carefully shrinking my own personality and my own thoughts and opinions to emulate instead those of my friends, my mentors, my peers. 

I almost changed the trajectory of my entire life based on the opinions of others. 

You can’t marry him, she said. You need to marry someone who can lead you spiritually. Abby, he’s divorced!

If you marry him, my pastor at the time told me, you will come to despise him. I reeled back, stunned. His words felt like a curse. A portent. 

Verbally, of course, I agreed, nodding as though I was in full alignment with what they told me. My pastor was my spiritual leader, and a man. Boundaries had deliberately never been allowed to exist in my childhood, and as I grew up, finding myself surrounded by a community of wonderful friends who I desired nothing more than to emulate, I had never even thought of considering them. I had no need for them. 

Yet deep in my soul, I disagreed. For the first time in my life, I thought differently. Their words stirred a deep unease within me that felt, to a girl unused to disagreement, something like rumblings of discontent. How could I call myself a true Christian but hold someone else — a man, a human — responsible for my spiritual life and growth? That seemed horribly un-Christian to me! I was not meant to be a follower of my husband or my pastor. Wasn’t I meant to be a follower of Jesus? 

Without words to express myself, or without knowing ways of setting up safe boundaries, the kind that would have led me to express I love you and I respect you more than words can say, and I am grateful to you for speaking what you believe to be true in my life, but I respectfully disagree and will do what I believe is right, the only option left for me was to withdraw. Separation was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, and I know I didn’t do it in the healthiest of ways. But I did the only thing I knew how to do. I followed Jesus instead of people. I followed what I knew to be right, over others who were convinced they were right. 

It nearly tore me apart. I do not say that lightly. My mind felt like it was ripping itself apart, pitting the authority of people I loved so deeply, against the words of Jesus. I struggled with involuntary panic attacks, which came upon me when I least expected – usually in the middle of a workday, of course. I lost forty pounds, and for a girl five-foot-ten who has always been on the slimmer side, this put me into the double-digits, which absolutely terrified me. I was wasting away. 

But God. Aren’t those the most beautiful words in the human language? But God

The Lord stood with me, and strengthened me. 

And I’m still here. I’m still here!

It still hits me at times, the unexpected tidal wave of grief. Knowing that I am anathema to people I loved more than life itself, still destroys me daily. 

A couple years into my marriage (I still don’t despise my husband, incidentally) I came across an article expounding on the view that a woman – a wife – can be, should be, a spiritual leader for herself. That her faith doesn’t rest in the hands of her husband. It was written by a respected woman and theologian in conservative culture, and I figured if I shared her words, which carried much more authority than mine, perhaps I would have a chance at not being torn apart for my heretical views. 

The same woman who told me I couldn’t marry DJ commented on my post. I completely agree with this! she said. Great article!

I was stunned. I sat there at my computer, frozen, mouth agape, for several minutes. And my hands shook as it dawned on me that I had once nearly changed the trajectory of my life on the words of a woman who changed her mind

If there is a point to this essay, it is simply this. Following Jesus is always better than following people. God is the same yesterday, today, tomorrow, and forevermore. People are fickle. Even husbands. Even pastors. Even spiritual leaders. I do not say to ignore their advice. We need people to help us through life, and oftentimes our friends can see what to us is a blindspot. But if you place other people’s opinions above God’s, you will live and die on the whim of others. 

On Community

Community looks a lot different for many of us these days. These days, the vast majority of US states have Stay-in-Place orders, not to mention even before those orders began, there were limitations on how many people could gather together. Churches went digital. Restaurants closed. The world seemed to shut down, and people were sent to their corners for universal timeout.

Yet, even before all this began, community meant something different, something unique, to each person. They say loneliness is on the rise, and that connection is at an all-time low. They blame the digital age for much of this, saying we give our time to scrolling social media rather than getting together with friends. Many of us share only the highlights, which in itself is isolating, because who can connect with someone who never struggles the same way you do? And we pull back, and we isolate further, and we post our own highlight reels, and we build our little bubbles that look so perfect to the outside world, but inside we’re aching with loneliness and knowledge of our own messy imperfection that we daren’t share.

Wanna know a secret?

My life doesn’t look all that different these days.

My community has been “a little different” for a while. My best friends in the whole world don’t even live in the same state as I do anymore. One of them never did.

And this virus has only served to reinforce our bond. We’ve started using a video messenger app to record messages to each other, and it’s been wonderful to see their faces. It’s also been new and different to see their faces. We usually communicate in writing, on various messaging platforms, and by tagging each other in Instagram memes.

I used to feel a little ashamed, a little bit less-than. Doesn’t everyone have a huge friendship circle they can spend time with in-person? It’s certainly been stressed to me that I should. That I was less-than if I didn’t. That there was something wrong with me. That I wasn’t living up to what God wanted of me.

The human heart craves connection more than almost anything. One thing this quarantine has stressed to me is this: I already have connection. And it is not less-than.

In fact, you might even say it is immeasurably more.

Do you suffer from decision paralyzation, too?

I was having some Deep Shower Thoughts this morning and was realizing that a good part of what holds me in place is the fact that, despite my desire to be all things to all people, I am crushed beneath the knowledge that I never can be. Hence I never start, and never try because of the certain knowledge of failure. Good intentions are all very well, but until we’re able to hop down from the pedestal that we imagine we are on to other people, we won’t ever be able to truly relate to anyone.

When it comes down to it, I would rather relate than instruct. Yet my brain tells me if I can’t instruct, I’m worthless as a writer. My heart tells me to connect, because my worth is intrinsic.

I’m following my heart in this.

(boy, does that feel weird to say! 😆)

Monday

I’m trying to implement a regular writing practice. It’s a very small step, I know, but I have a date with myself every Monday, and so far I haven’t skipped a day since I’ve implemented it. (only a few months, but small consistencies are still consistencies!)

Gosh, it’s been so long since I’ve written here! I feel like I probably owe you all an introduction, but I’m not going to do it. If you’re here, chances are you know me. If you don’t know me…well, sticking around is probably not the best way to go about it, since I update this blog with shocking infrequency! I have decided, however, to at least attempt to use this blog as a way of keeping me accountable.

Anyone remember LiveJournal? This is my new LiveJournal. An online, very uninteresting diary of sorts.

So. Hi. 🙂

Anxiety Diaries 001

Last night we went out for dinner.

It was one of those perfect evenings, the kind every romance novel talks about and you see so rarely in real life – unless you live in Colorado, and then you see them every summer evening. (We live in Colorado, by the way.)

The neighborhood we live in is beautiful. “Resort-style living,” they call it, surrounded by rolling green golf courses, shimmering lakes, and friendly neighbors. Tiny sandpipers run along the beaches, and the sunsets are breathtaking. Nearly everyone owns a golf cart, and the clubhouse is just a half-mile away from our house. We took our cart there last night, on a Wednesday evening, nothing special. There was a soft breeze gently brushing our skin, and an exquisite view of the Colorado mountain range from our upstairs patio seats.

We both ordered the salmon, and our hands touched throughout the meal. We smiled into each other’s eyes like the idiots in love we are, and talked about how far we’ve come, and how truly, truly incredibly blessed we are. My heart was full and I was blissfully happy. I don’t think there was a single thing that could have improved the evening.

We ran into several people we knew and enjoy, and chatted briefly with them all. Then we drove home, and my husband left to check emails on his computer. I sat on the couch.

I was smiling to myself. It had been such a good evening, and I was truly happy.

Then I started running over the evening in my mind. And it slowly starting going faster, and faster, on endless loop. I thought about everything I’d said. I thought about everything I hadn’t said. I thought about everything I should have said, or definitely shouldn’t have said. My heart picked up its pace. My breath quickened. My hands started shaking. I shouldn’t have said that. I should have done that instead. Why did I do that? What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I be normal? What is happening to me?

By the time my husband came back from the office, I was curled on the couch crying. My mind was so off-track at this point that I couldn’t even tell him what was wrong. I told him I thought he got a broken wife and he held me and said he got a perfect wife. Bless the man and his patience. He stayed up with me, late into the night, and talked to me until the fears were put to rest and I could finally sleep.

That’s how it happens. It comes out of nowhere. Anxiety doesn’t always mean pointless worry about what could happen. It doesn’t mean not trusting God with your future. It is something that comes out of the middle of a happy evening and overwhelms you and tells you not that horrible things might happen, but that you are wrong simply for being. It is your mind turning against you, un-asked for and unwanted. It isn’t because you forgot to be grateful. It isn’t because you haven’t prayed enough (do those with anxiety ever stop praying?) and it isn’t because there’s something wrong with you. It’s just something that happens, sometimes.  

And if this is you, I’m here to tell you that it gets better. There will be dark days, but there will also be days of sunlight and joy. You are in the valley now, but you won’t always be. Give yourself a little grace, and don’t let anxiety tell you that you’re alone. You are not alone. This is something you carry, and you may always carry it, but it doesn’t get to tell you who you are. You’re still here, and you are so worth loving.

Saturday…Sales? (a new feature, perhaps?)

I wanted to share with you all a few things I’ve purchased recently that I’ve been loving!

Tropical pajama set

First up – I don’t know about you, but I instantly feel like I have my life at least 75% more put together when I am wearing matching pajama sets. These tropical banana leaf print pajamas are giving me major summer vibes! They are silky, lightweight, and fit true to size – I’m wearing the size Small.

Also check out the glasses I’m wearing in the above photo. They look normal enough but they’re actually…dun dun: Blue-light blocking glasses?? Yes, please! I work in front of a computer all day and when I come home I chill in front of …. My phone?  More often than not, a computer screen is a major part of life, and that blue glare can cause some major eye strain. Since I ordered these off of Amazon, I wasn’t able to try them on first, and they’re giving me some major 70s vibes with how ginormous they are! I’ve only had them for a day, so I can’t speak to how they help out long-term, but I wore them while writing and chatting on Facebook messenger with a friend for at least a few hours, and when I took them off – well I don’t know if it’s possible for eyes to cringe? But mine did. Check the glasses out here if you’re interested.

*links to Amazon are affiliate links.

a wish

“I’d like to add some beauty to life. I’d love to make people have a pleasanter time because of me… to have some little joy or idea or happy thought that would never have existed if I hadn’t been born.”
—L.M. Montgomery

NaNoWriMo?

Happy November! I can’t believe this year is nearly over. Only a few weekends left until Christmas! I have significantly less people to shop for this year, so hopefully that will go far towards making it The Most Wonderful Time of the Year instead of The Most Stressful Time of the Year. 😉

Have you ever heard of National Novel Writing Month – NaNoWriMo, as it is affectionately known for short? It is a fun, misery-loves-company exercise in creative writing that happens each November The basic premise is that from November 1st – 30th, participants (and there are hundreds of thousands!) dedicate focused time and effort into writing a 50,000 word novel. NaNoWriMo believes that your story matters, and that the world needs your novel, and it is a wonderful way to jump-start the creative processes through fun competition.

I signed into my account at the beginning of the month and the little italics at the top of the page told me that I had been a member of NaNoWriMo for 13 years. Thirteen years! I’ve only participated for perhaps half of those, and I’ve finished with 50,000 words maybe half of that, but how in heaven’s name has it been thirteen years since I first came across it and wrote my first (terrible!) novel?

My girl Jacinta convinced me to join her in the challenge this year, and in a fit of recklessness and ambition, I actually agreed.

The truth is, I haven’t written fiction in years. Six or seven, perhaps. I’m just no good at it anymore, or perhaps it’s that it no longer holds the same appeal for me that it once did. It was always one of my childhood ambitions – to be a writer. I’m not sure if I wanted it so much because I loved writing, or because I loved books, or because so many of my friends wanted to be writers. I do have some modicum of talent in the area, at least I fondly like to believe so – but I am beginning to wonder if God has a different direction for me.

But I digress. I started off the month like a house on fire. Then I started losing momentum, realized I was stuck, and took a two-day writing break while my husband and I were road tripping together. Then I went back to the beginning and changed over my modern-day novella into a mid-Victorian historical. I was pretty excited about this, and completely caught up and maybe even surpassed my word count goals.

Now I’m stuck again. I utterly hate my heroine – you know, the biggest part of the whole story? I can’t relate to her at all, and that makes me hate writing her. I keep wanting to add secret depths to her, but right now that just isn’t who she is supposed to be, so I have to resist. And that makes me not want to write about her.

Jacinta, on the other hand – now I think she might have found her niche. She is posting her story publicly, and I for one am an absolutely riveted reader. I’m absolutely loving it! Go visit her website at A Walk In The Forest and check it out. 🙂

100 Days…

…to Brave.

<100 Days to Brave>

I impulsively ordered this book off of Amazon after listening to the author’s podcast one day. She was talking about how she had just moved to a new place and knew absolutely no one, and one thing she said stuck out to me in a really big way: She said YES to every single invitation she got. To meet up for coffee, to attend a Mary Kay party, to go out with a group. The answer was always YES.

And I thought to myself, how brave! As an introvert, I value my alone time. I glory in my ability to say NO to things. But often I tend to over-indulge this grown-up privilege and withdraw, keeping far to close to home when I should be out there being brave. So when she started talking about the devotional book she had written for girls just like me, perhaps more courageous than we allow ourselves to live, those surrounding themselves by fear (aka safety!) and living smaller than we should, I hopped right online and bought it.

The challenge for Day One is simply this: tell someone that you’re starting this journey. So I’m telling you. I don’t think I have massive amounts of blog readers so far, but sometimes it’s better that way, isn’t it? Imagine we’re sitting at a coffee shop, and it’s sweater weather and the fireplace is crackling and our lattes have that gorgeous art on the top and we’re Instagramming it all and sitting in the light surface-y conversation and then I draw a deep breath and confess to you, “I want to be brave. I’ve been living my life so small, and allowing fear to hold me back. So I’m taking this challenge called 100 Days to Brave. Do you want to take it with me?”

So how about it. Be brave with me?

Transition

Winter is here, can you feel it? I love the transition season of autumn, but its beauty is the flare of a match, blazing up in glorious color and then fading quickly, blowing out in a sudden gust of wind and leaving the cold and dark in its wake.

Windsor had its first snow yesterday; the earliest I can recall since I’ve lived here (going on 9 years this January!) And just like that, it’s as if the aspens never turned yellow, as if the October sun didn’t blaze golden and warm across fields of sunflowers. A family I was once incredibly close with took their annual family vacation in Vail last week – a vacation I was once invited to, a family I was once considered part of. My life has since taken a different path, and I do not regret the change, though the loss still hurts and the emptiness still echoes within me.

I cleaned my office this evening- my beautiful, built-with-love office. Whenever I enter it I am overwhelmed with that elusive feeling of home, of belonging. DJ made it for me. He worked tirelessly to paint the walls the perfect shade of greige; his hands assembled the desk and the bookshelves; he considered my love of light and of the ocean when he chose the mural, and he thought of my smile when he picked out the bookends, and he anticipated my astonishment and delight when he put the photographs I had thought were lost into their frames.

There’s a corner in the office where two large boxes sit, and have sat since the beginning. Inside them are remnants of a life I used to live – relics of the girl I used to be. I’ve lugged these boxes with me through a minimum of three different moves, and each time they’ve sat in the corner or in the closet or on a shelf, unopened and un-thought of, at least until the next move when I come across it and feel that tangible connection to the contents, that overwhelming reluctance and inability to get rid of them. I’m a hoarder, in a very gentle sense of the word. It’s hard for me to throw away things that I feel connected to; things that remind me of special moments and memories.

Today I threw out both boxes. It hurt, a bit, but it felt good, and it also felt somewhat symbolic. Holding on to the past holds us back. We should not ever forget the lessons we’ve learned and the paths we’ve walked, but holding onto baggage (emotional, spiritual, and physical!) only ever weighs us down and makes it harder to move forward.

It’s okay to throw things out. It’s okay to leave parts of yourself in the past. It really is.

There are times when I don’t know who I am anymore. But I know who holds me (as cheesy as that sounds!) and I know the kind of person I want to be, and somehow those things are enough to keep me grounded as I move forward. The love of people may change, lessen, and leave, but God’s love never does – and it is enough.