Friday Five: 5 Things That Are Saving My Life Right Now

I’ve been listening to Jen Hatmaker’s podcast for a few months now and one of my favorite things about it is the question she asks all of her guests at the end of each episode. What is saving your life right now? It’s a quote from Barbara Taylor Brown, an author I also love. So, I thought I’d start a new tradition around here and share 5 things that are saving my life every Friday.

1) The first thing on this list is podcasts! You definitely didn’t see that one coming, right? I’ve been listening to all of my favorites when I’m driving or doing chores around the house. Anytime I can sneak those headphones on! My three favorites right now are by Jen Hatmaker, Annie F. Downs, and Jamie Ivey. I highly recommend them if you’re looking for something new! Also, a friend of mine just released the first episode of her new podcast, Unveiling Your Creative Superpowers. Her resource Bright Ideas Collective has been so encouraging and helpful as I get serious about writing and blogging.

2) The second thing saving my life this week is my new Anchored Press Daily Planner. I’ve always been a planner girl. I am also notorious for buying new planners all the time. But, I think I’ve found my best options! I use the Simplified Planner Weekly Edition for my day job and I’ve just added the Anchored Press daily for everything else. I needed more space than the SP weekly offered me and their daily editions sold out months ago. I’m so happy I stumbled on the AP planner. It’s got hourly slots from 6 am-8 pm, a to-do list area, a slot for meal plans, and also a daily devotional with a section for prayer/response. I’m a busy girl, but I need Jesus time every day. If I don’t get quiet time in before I leave the house, the AP planner is a lifesaver for getting a few minutes of Jesus in my busy day.

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This tote isn’t part of my Friday Five, but it’s the BEST and it’s from Trades of Hope, a company that empowers women right where they are through handcraft production.

3) Worship Music – for real. Specifically Hillsong United/Live, Cory Ashbury, and Passion. I have always connected with music, and I very specifically need it when I get too much inside of my head. Today was filled with a lot of moments that could have killed my joy. Instead of falling into that, I put on worship music and turned it up loud. My go-to song when I feel like praising Jesus but need something a little untraditional is Chance the Rapper’s song Blessings. I’m gonna praise him, praise him ’til I’m gone.

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4) Another thing that’s rocking my week? Fresh food. Whole food. The store I buy all this food from…Trader Joe’s is saving my life right now, for sure. I can grab all the things I need to make fresh, home-cooked meals at home for a more affordable price and it’s not as overwhelming to shop at. I know most of the options in that store are going to work for me and I don’t have to spend as much time looking at ingredients and narrowing down products. Some current favorites are the coconut aminos (since I’m avoiding soy on an elimination diet, and I love Asian inspired dishes), applesauce pouches (I know these are probably geared towards kids, but they’re great to throw in my bag for after yoga snacks with no mess and no spoons needed), and almond milk (I can usually get this in a lot of places, but its a huge staple in my diet).

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5) The last thing saving my life right now is writing. My thoughts have been overflowing this week and I finally got a chance to sit down and journal out my thoughts and write a few blog posts.

 

Bonus! Number 6!

I can’t believe I almost forgot about yoga. Y’all, yoga has been such a lifesaver lately. I found a great local-ish studio that has a great schedule and range of classes. I’ve been trying to get to a class every day, or at least every other, and it has done so much good for my physical and mental ailments.

 

 

Okay, I promise I’m done now! I’d love to hear from you! What’s saving your life right now? Also, I won’t turn down podcast recommendations or gluten/dairy/corn/soy free recipes that are easy and inexpensive (those are unsurprisingly hard to find).

 

How God Reminded Me to Take Care of My Body

I’ve had chronic pain, fatigue, and depression for years now. I’ve been tested for everything doctors could think of and the closest they could come up with is Fibromyalgia. I’ve spent the last year or two building my wellness toolbox – putting together a list of things I can do to take care of my body, mind, and spirit. I find a combination of traditional medical and non-traditional holistic practices works best for me. At the beginning of the year, my toolbox included medications (both for my depression and my physical pain and fatigue), yoga, talk therapy, writing, massage therapy, regular chiropractic visits and a few dietary adjustments like less caffeine, no gluten, more whole foods.

Last month I decided I wanted to add acupuncture and nutritional counseling into my toolbox, to take steps closer to more optimal health. I know that unless Jesus chooses to heal me completely, I will likely have to continue making lifestyle adjustments that work for me each season of my life. Right now I need more rest, less stress, more Jesus, less coffee (even though I want ALL OF THE COFFEE), and a whole lot of self-care. In this season, I wanted to add acupuncture and nutritional counseling so that I could have more control of my days, more information to work with, rather than another prescription to add into my daily handful. I have had more fatigue and I was hoping these new tools would help me manage it better.

Y’all I have struggled with this for at least 10 years. I’ve know gluten makes me feel so much worse for at least 3 years now, but I am only human and I am so constantly tempted. This may sound insane to some of you, but I truly think that the devil knows that when I am feeling good, when I have energy, that my soul is even more on fire for Jesus and the assignments he has given me. I think that the way satan tries to take me down is to get me to a place where I give in and I eat the honeybun or the home-made brownies. To make me skip yoga class or sleep through Wednesday night church services (true story).

I have been slowly building my resources to fill my wellness toolbox, finding thing after thing I can control and use to stay in my best condition physically + mentally. But here’s the thing I have to remember: through the storm, he is Lord. That the weak are made strong in the Savior’s love.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, just get comfortable with Hillsong music because that’s one of the major ways Jesus is speaking to me these days. He’s speaking to me through worship music (specifically Hillsong), podcasts, church sermons, and the most surprising – children’s books.

Oh, you read that right – Jesus is speaking to me in the ways that most fit my life, and as a children’s librarian, those books are where I spend most of my workdays. This week, it was specifically the Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. In this story, I am the caterpillar and God is trying to make me a butterfly, but I’m too busy eating chocolate cake, apples, pears, salami, cupcakes, Swiss cheese, pickles, and so much more food that was not created with my caterpillar body in mind.

If you’ve already lost me or (unimaginably) you’ve never read this beloved children’s book, here’s the premise. The tiny caterpillar hatches out of his egg in the sunlight and is starving. He eats a bunch of fruit, but he’s still hungry. Each page of the book is a new thing he’s eaten, but none of it fills him up. On the last food-centric page, he eats through a ton of different foods that caterpillars do not traditionally eat. He eats through one piece of chocolate cake, one ice cream cone, one pickle, one slice of Swiss cheese, one slice of salami, one lollipop, one piece of cherry pie, one hot dog, one cupcake, and one slice of watermelon. Do you think the caterpillar is still hungry? No, but he does have a nice stomachache as a reward. The next page shows the caterpillar eating the food that caterpillars are actually supposed to eat: nice green leaves. He feels great. He’s a fat caterpillar now and he builds his cocoon and turns into a beautiful butterfly.

Still hanging with me? I’m that caterpillar. I’ve been eating things that I know aren’t good for me. It’s not everyday, it’s not all the time, and it’s not always on purpose. Sometimes it’s because I’m limited on what’s available, sometimes it’s because I just want a regular date night with my boyfriend at one of our favorite spots. Often when I make a conscious decision to cheat on my eating plan, its still gluten free options and only every now and then for special occasions.

Sometimes though, it’s because I just lose it. I let the stress of knowing I’ve got a cocoon to build and wings to grow. Sometimes the cravings of the addictive processed foods I grew up on are so strong that I give in. On those days, I look like the caterpillar on the last page. I eat a whole box of pop tarts, a snickers bar, a bag of white cheddar popcorn, a slice of pizza, and who knows what else.

Anyways. When I read the Very Hungry Caterpillar to my story time kids on Wednesday, I heard the Lord very gently whisper (not audibly, okay? I’m not Joan of Arcadia…did anyone get that reference?) to me “You are the caterpillar and you are filling that beautiful-soon-to-be-butterfly body I created with food that was not created to nourish and grow you.” Y’all, it was all I could do to keep on reading that story and not just fall down on the floor in surrender.

As I went through my workday and this reminder kept popping up, and I was like, “Okay, Lord. I got it, no more pop tarts.” And I really thought I did have it, but Jesus wanted to give me another little reminder that night in church – which I actually went to because I did not take a 10-hour nap after work this time. The message was about prayer, another in a long series we’ve been doing. The message was not about taking care of our bodies or anything that really screamed this same message I’d been receiving all day, at least I thought. Then the pastor referenced Proverbs 26:11.

If you aren’t familiar with that verse, it’s about fools returning to folly and a dog returning to his own vomit. Yeah, I know, gross. But, Jesus was making another point to me. Stop eating the food that you know makes you sick, stop eating your own vomit (metaphorically).

I’d like to say I walked out of that service and truly had a handle on it, but the truth is that I bought a honey bun last night and scarfed it down after work, and then hated myself for it. But, today I woke up and soaked in his grace and his love and remembered that I’m not perfect, and Jesus still loves me even if I sometimes eat my metaphorical vomit.

This ended up being way longer than I intended, but I hope it has helped encouraged you or aided you in seeing what your own folly might be. What do you keep returning to that you know isn’t good for you? What do you keep avoiding that you know God created to nourish you?

Trust Without Borders

If you’re not familiar with the Hillsong United song, Oceans (Where Feet May Fall), you should take a few moments and do that now. Here’s a link to a performance of the song, live in Israel.

Here’s some lyrics (if you don’t want to spare about 10 minutes to listen, though I think you should):

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior

I first heard this song as it was being performed in a service at Passion City Church. It was a very holy moment for me. If I recall correctly, I was in tears by the end. I remember singing it with every inch of my being and meaning it as a prayer, not just a song. I’ve listened to it that way ever since. Those lyrics have been a prayer I’ve said, probably weekly, for at least a year, maybe longer. Sometimes I just listen to it on repeat (I also do this with the song Blessings by Chance the Rapper when I really need to get out of my head).

Here’s the thing about prayers and God: He will answer them if it’s in line with his will. I’ve been praying “Spirit, lead me where my trust is without borders…take me deeper than my feet could ever wander.” And, y’all – God has been listening. I didn’t put it together until this morning when the song came on my playlist. I’ve been crying out to God on a regular basis to bring me to a place in my life where my TRUST IS WITHOUT BORDERS. And then I wonder why he’s starting to prune things out of my life and leading me into new adventures that would be insane to attempt on my own.

I have been a Christian for a long time now, but I’m only months away from my 26th year of life and I’m just now really starting to grasp the unbelievable and astounding amount of love God has for us. This is partially due to the constant mixed messages sent out by the “religious” crowd and how strongly I didn’t want to be associated with those messages. Maybe this is a quarter-life crisis, but I am currently so head over heels for Jesus that it feels like I might burst. The weight of grace, holiness, and his perfect love for us is so beautifully overwhelming, and a concept I couldn’t grab hold of in my younger years.

I’ve been binging Jess Connolly writing/preaching/podcasts lately and the message that comes up frequently in her work is the reminder that we are all imperfect sinners, all of are busted and broken and Jesus is still champions us. In fact, the people God uses most frequently are busted and broken so that his glory can shine through, so that others can see the perfect love of Christ through our story. Jess often uses the story of the Samaritan woman from John to illustrate several of her points. The aspect of the story that sticks with me the most is the fact that Jesus knew everything that woman had ever done and he still chose her. It didn’t matter that she was a woman, that she was of a different race (one hated by Jews – until Jesus came along and busted up that racial discrimination), or that she had tons of husbands and was now living with a man who wasn’t her husband. Jesus did not give one thought to the fact that she was not perfect, that she didn’t have her life together, or that she was shunned by most of her community. Jesus knew everything she had ever done and he still loved her, still chose her. Even better? He knows everything we have ever done and he still chooses us day after day, mistake after mistake. We don’t have to earn that love or to try and maintain it, we just have to accept it.

It wasn’t easy to accept and believe that Jesus knows everything I’ve done, everything done to me, every broken part of my soul and still loves me – it’s so countercultural to us. But God doesn’t get spooked if we don’t believe right away, he’s still there day after day. There is nothing to messy or broken that we can do – including not believing him – that will make God leave us. He is forever going to champion us, choose us, and use our busted stories to show his power in redemption.

I believe that is what God is asking me to step into: allowing him to use my story to point back to his glory, and to help others step out of the darkness that I know so well. I’m not going to tell you that I’m not scared, that I don’t think it is a crazy thing for me to do, but I will tell you that I believe God’s got it. He’s got me, and he isn’t going to let go. He will show me each step forward, I only have to tune into him.

God is answering my prayer, a prayer I didn’t quite realize how desperately I was praying.

He is calling me deeper than my feet have ever wandered, and it will make my faith so much stronger.

Living Like You Believe It

Hi friends,

How’re we doing this week? This week has been a whirlwind for me, filled with so many good things. I came home from a soul-filling trip to visit family and friends we don’t get to see often. I got to take my siblings to see our favorite musician, Noah Gundersen. I got to see one of my dearest friends at the show.

This week was also when the world celebrates Valentine’s Day and the Church celebrates the first day of Lent. Though we don’t typically celebrate Valentine’s Day, my boyfriend surprised me at work with beautiful roses and delicious chocolates. Fresh flowers are one of my favorite things in the whole world and those roses have brightened my week tremendously.

I have never traditionally celebrated Lent, at least not the intentional way I am this year. I ordered the All Good Things Collective Lenten Experience Cards, and though we are only a few days in, I am already seeing the fruit. I chose this method for Lent because I’m already doing an in-depth Bible study with my mama and little sister.  Each day has a different card and each card has a verse to study and a conversation starter.

The first conversation starter was to share your biggest prayer request with friends. Currently, mine is to find a spiritual mentor and accountability partner.

Today’s focus was on repentance. As I read through the day’s scripture and though back over my week, I realized that I don’t always go through my days as though I believe that God is who he says he is. I don’t trust him to do the things he says he will do, the things he has already done. One of the scripture passages I studied this week was Matthew 11:28-30.

“Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light”

That’s the New King James version. Some versions say all you who are weary and burdened.  I have had a busy, busy month. I have struggled with fatigue recently in ways that I haven’t struggled in years. I am so weary. I feel so burdened. I have tried every solution I could think of – except to go to God first. Often, in this situation, Jesus is my last resort. I don’t think “Hey! I’m weary, let me go to God with this and rest in him.” I am human, and I have fallen short of the glory of God. I do it every day, we all do. That’s why grace exists, but we can’t let that grace keep us complacent. I can’t use grace as an excuse to not take things to Jesus when I am aware that I’m not seeking him first.

Do I believe that God is who he says he is? Then why am I not living like it?

Managing Mental Health with Professional Help

If you’ve known me for more than 3 minutes, you’ve probably heard me talk about how I think every single person on the planet should go to therapy. Therapy has saved my life, a dozen times over.  I am about 8 or so years into regular therapy. I’ve taken a few breaks here and there when I was moving or just in a particular season that made it harder to regularly attend therapy.

Early in my undergraduate days, it was suggested that I experience what’s called Dysthymia – sort of double depression.  It’s also known as Persistent Depressive Disorder.  Dysthymia is characterized by a consistent and underlying low mood occurring for 2 or more years that is experienced in addition to regular episodes of regular depressive disorder.  That’s a lot of mumbo-jumbo that boils down to this: I’m naturally a more pessimistic person whose regular mood leans toward sadness or discontentment.  When something triggers a depressive episode, I experience that a little more strongly than people who just deal with regular depression because my mood and outlook are already darker.

For me, this means that my mental health is something I have to stay on top of every day. If I let my therapy, medication, or self-care routines slide, my mental health slowly deteriorates and affects every other area of my life. It sounds dramatic than it probably is, but I just wanted to give you a picture of what my experience is so that you understand where I come from when I talk about treatment options. This is something I have experienced and want to help you take the first steps to finding help.

We’ve already discussed self-care routines and how that plays into managing mental health. The two other major game changers for me are regular talk therapy and regular medication. I have tried to manage my mental health both on medication and off it. I ultimately decided that the best option for me is to use medication as one of many tools to help me maintain good mental health.

While I don’t believe medication is the right answer for everyone, I do believe everyone can benefit from talk therapy.  Regardless of your budget, there are many options available. I’m going to highlight some options for those of us who have a bit of a tighter budget.

If you are an on-campus student of an undergraduate or graduate program, even part-time, go talk to your student services office. Most programs offer free counseling for students, as the fee is often built into your student fees. This is how I did my first four years of therapy, and where I made my initial progress – including the discussion of dysthymia and trying medication for the first time.  If you aren’t a student but live near a university, inquire about graduate psychology program. Often they will offer some sort of community counseling for zero or low-cost, provided by grad students who are learning the art of professional counseling. I know the major public university near me offers something similar with counseling offered by grad students but supervised by trained and certified counselors.

One of the first things I always suggest is to check with your insurance provider.  Some providers will cover therapy, some will offer discounts, some won’t cover it. The worst they can say is no, but they might provide a list of counselors they will cover completely or partially. Also, if you have any of that HRA spending money that applies to medications/appointments, etc – this also applies to therapy.

If you’ve checked with your insurance provider and don’t have any options there, my next suggestion is to shop around your area for a therapist who will work with you on a sliding scale payment plan. Don’t be afraid to ask about the fee, and about what wiggle room there is within that fee. The worst they can say is that they have a firm price, and you can move on to the next on your list. I’ve seen several therapists in the last 8 to 10 years and all but two were willing to work on a sliding scale plan. The two who weren’t were employed by private  Christian offices, which typically have higher fees and fewer insurance options.

Two easy ways to find practicing therapist in your area are the 211 phone number and the Psychology Today online therapist finder. The 211 phone line is an assistance line that helps you locate aid organizations in your area and covers everything from housing assistance to physical and mental health resources. Find out more about that resource here.

The therapist finder on the Psychology Today website is a great resource to start your search off. You can enter your zip code and find a list of certified practicing counselors in your area. You can find all the helpful information you need in each listing, including where they practice, a description of their education and services, what insurance they accept, and if they are willing to operate on a sliding scale payment plan. Here’s a link to my counselor’s Psychology Today profile!

If traditional therapy isn’t something your ready for, but you need to talk to someone immediately, check out IMAlive. The online, chat-based network allows you to reach out to a trained and certified crisis counselor for free, 24 hours a day. You don’t have to dial a number or talk to anyone in person.  IMAlive originally formed out of a need seen by To Write Love On Her Arms, a non-profit that helps bring hope and help to those of us who struggle with depression, anxiety, self-harm, suicide, or addiction.  TWLOHA has been responsible for renewing my hope countless times and for encouraging me to reach and get help for my depression all those many years ago.

 

Please know that you are not alone in your struggle. Please know that it doesn’t make you a bad person or a bad Christian if you seek help, in any form, but especially medication. I know there are some stigmas surrounding mental health in the Christian community, but I need you to know that God did not intend for you to suffer alone. He specifically called many of his children to become counselors or study medication that would help his people continue to live fulfilling lives.  Personally, I know that I can not fulfill the calling God has placed on my life to further glorify him if I am not taking care of my mental health by using the resources he has given me access to.

Managing Your Mental Health In The New Year (Part Two)

 

So yesterday’s post might not be what you expected when you saw the title, but I want to assure you that setting and maintaining realistic goals for myself is incredibly important when it comes to managing my mental + physical health. I am a goal-oriented person, I need to have something to strive for and build on each day. In the past, I’ve let this sort of take over my life and I frequently set unrealistic goals for myself and then got frustrated when I couldn’t achieve them. For me, this frequently led to a depressive episode, especially in college. When I was an undergraduate student, I was also at the most difficult time with my health, both physical and mental. Setting unrealistic goals, like not being late to class or completing all of my assignments both on time and to the perfect grade, set me up for failure. The Powersheets prep work helped me make sure I was focusing on realistic goals that will help me focus on maintaining my mental + physical health, my faith, my finances, and my relationships with the people I love. I would encourage you to think about setting some realistic goals for the New Year, and remember that good things grow slow! Your goal doesn’t need to look like anyone else’s and it can be a simple as making your bed or drinking a full glass of water as soon as you get up each morning.

One of the goals I set for myself for the New Year was to cultivate my self-care. For me, that means to maintain the practices I put in place last year and to continue to figure out what self-care means to me. Self-care plays a huge role in maintaining my mental health, and other than the new medications I started last year and regular therapy over the years, I would say that maintaining a regular self-care practice has been the most helpful in my journey with depression. My self-care routine may not look anything at all like yours, and that is okay. In fact, that’s the point. While I encourage you to try one of the things on my list if it interests you, your routine should be full of things that refresh you and not everyone functions the same in this area.

For me, the things I’ve found to add to my routine are a mix of boring, free, exciting, and an investment. There are a few things that I decided to work into my monthly budget and while I could be using that money elsewhere, I have decided that it is more than worth it to invest in these practices. One of these investments is a weekly 30-minute massage, and if it is within your means, I highly suggest giving it a try. Before I committed to weekly massages, I would get them every few months and while they were nice, they didn’t do a lot for me long term. Massage works best when practiced regularly. It took about a year for me to find a masseuse who was the perfect fit for me financially, geographically, and comfort level wise. Committing to giving myself 30 minutes each week has done wonders for my mental health and my physical pain levels. In addition to massages, I get regular chiropractic adjustments and this was a game changer for me. It does more for my physical pain than my depression, but when I physically feel better my depression is easier to manage.

I include my regular therapy sessions as a part of my self-care as well. The frequency in which I meet with my therapist changes, depending on where I’m at and what I’m dealing with at the time. Also, budget occasionally influences how often I see her, but I’ve made a commitment in the last few months to decide how many times I want to see her that month and budget that money out so that unless I have a significant emergency, my therapy isn’t affected.  I also include super boring things in the self-care category like taking your meds on time, drinking enough water, working out (for me, this is mostly yoga),  and eating healthy (ish).

For me, self-care also includes regular quiet time with my bible and prayer journal, and regular time set aside for alone time. I am an introvert through and through and I go absolutely insane if I don’t get time to myself on a regular basis. It makes me short tempered and cranky and I hate how I begin to treat my people and myself. When I don’t schedule regular alone time, I get overwhelmed and overbooked which creates cracks in my defenses that depression easily slips into. Three tools I’m using this year to maintain my quiet time and create margin for myself are the Holy Bible YouVersion app, with a plan to read the bible in one year, the Write the Word Journal (created by Lara Casey who also does Powersheets), and the Simplified Planner by Emily Ley.

The Write the Word Journal comes in several versions that all focus on a different topic. The choices are Cultivate Joy (which is the one I’m starting with), Cultivate Faith, Cultivate Gratitude, Cultivate Hope, and Cultivate Renewal. Each new entry gives you a verse to copy out in your own handwriting and then a page to record notes or prayers.

The Simplified Planner was created by Emily Ley, a designer and mama who couldn’t find a planner that suited her needs so she created her own. It’s my dream planner, honestly. If you’ve known me for longer than 6 months, you know that I’m a big fan of planners but can never ever find one I like enough to use more than a few months. I used one of the daily editions last year for a few months and this year I’ve got a weekly that I am so thrilled with, I think I might actually use this one all year!

What I love so much about Emily and the Simplified Planner is that, like Lara Casey and the Powersheets, the focus is on simplifying your days down to what is absolutely most important. Emily is a big proponent of giving yourself margin, or what she calls white space – the spaces in your planner pages that aren’t filled, so that you have time to spend with your family and friends and time to schedule in your self-care.

Both of these women have taught me a lot about living a slow-paced life that allows for focus on the most important, rather than creating a life filled with tasks, events, and meetings.  Towards the end of last year, I sat down and figured out what my non-negotiables were and what I could let go of in my life to give myself more white space. This has allowed me to have more time to myself, more time for my self-care routine, and more time to spend with my people.

 

What about you? Do you know what your self-care toolbox contains? What tools are you using to manage your mental health in 2018? Do you know what your non-negotiables are?

Managing Your Mental Health In The New Year (Part One)

Hi friends!

Please forgive my absence lately, the holidays were a busy time and I tried to soak in all the time with my people. I also spent this time thinking about how I wanted to spend my days in 2018, what I wanted to dedicate my time, money, and energy to.  It’s taken me a long time and a lot of work to get to a healthy normal with my mental and physical health and in this new year, I want to continue to maintain that level, and possibly grow it!

The first thing I did was take this entire week off, for a staycation of sorts. I traditionally spend the days surrounding New Year’s Eve with a group of friends – we rent a cabin together and catch up since we all live in different areas now. It’s always so much fun, but also a little overwhelming for an introvert such as myself. I didn’t want to come home from that trip and be immediately thrown back into work, so I took some time off to refresh and start the new year off in a way I want to continue: slow, intentional, and focused. I know this isn’t an option for everyone, but since I had extra vacation time that I wasn’t likely to use, I thought I’d give it a go!

There are a few tools I used to sort out what I wanted my year to look like and what habits I wanted to build in order to manage my mental and physical health this year. This is a brief overview, but I’d be happy to answer any questions that I didn’t cover here! (Also, I’m not getting paid to talk about any of these things, I just am really excited about them!)

For Christmas I asked for a set of 2018 Powersheets from Lara Casey. You can find them at cultivatewhatmatters.com, though the yearly sets are sold out. She does have 6 month sets still available, and has a very in-depth and easy to follow blog series on how to go through this goal setting process with just a regular notebook! Check out that series at laracasey.com/blog. Here are a few quick snap shots of my Powersheets prep work:

The prep work takes you through so many fantastic activities to help you figure out what you want to focus on for the coming year. The pictures above are of my favorite pages, a review of what worked for you last year and what didn’t. As you can see, some of my good things were regular therapy, yoga practice, new medication, more sleep, talking about the hard things, girls nights, reading more, and QUITTING GRAD SCHOOL. You may be surprised about seeing that on my list of good things for last year, but it was honestly the most healthy decision I could have made for myself. I was overloading myself, stressed out, falling prey to my depression more regularly, and not focusing on my mental or physical health enough because I was trying to do graduate school online while working full time.

Once you get through the Powersheets Prep, you get to set up to 10 goals and flesh out an action plan to help you actually achieve these goals. I chose to set 7 goals, thought the first one is the most important, and the one I feel like will feed each goal as the year goes on, otherwise they are in no particular order.

Here are my goals for 2018:

  • Cultivate my Faith: focus on my spiritual growth
  • Cultivate my Finances: changing my money mindset/working towards financial freedom
  • Cultivate my Writing: flesh out this calling to use my talent for words to help others struggling with similar issues
  • Cultivate my Work: Specifically, my job as a Children’s Librarian
  • Cultivate Self-Care: Re-Creation // Take care of myself so that I can take care of my people
  • Cultivate my Relationships: Specifically with my boyfriend, friends, and siblings
  • Cultivate my Health: Focus on fitness and nutrition

If these seem intimidating or broad, never fear! The action plan pages help you break them down into manageable steps. For example, on my action pages for cultivating my faith I determined the following things to help me achieve the goal: start my mornings with Jesus (I do this with the YouVersion Holy Bible app and a plan to read the Bible in one year), be intentional about church/bible study attendance (I’ll be helping in the nursery this Sunday, but my Women’s Bible Study group starts next Wednesday), and to pray first (I’ve got a prayer journal set up and in addition to focusing more on prayer in general, I’m hoping to create a habit of praying first when I face any challenges, rather than going to social media, friends, etc). Once you finish your goal setting and action pages, each month has a section that includes a tending list. This page can be torn out and taped up somewhere you will see it, or kept in your planner (which is what I’m doing). The tending list lets you pick monthly/weekly/daily goals and has a place to check off when you’ve done them.

My absolute favorite thing about this entire process is the constant encouragement and reminder to get messy, to prioritize progress over perfection, and that it’s okay to grow slow!

That’s a good reminder for all us this year, but especially those who struggle with mental illness: It is okay to grow slow!

I had originally planned to put all of my tools in one post, but I just gushed too much about the first one! Check back tomorrow for part two!

 

What are some of your goals for the new year, mental health related or not? If your not sure, take some time to think about the good things that happened last year and what things were more challenging. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

 

Tuesday Tales: The Princess Saves Herself In This One

For this Tuesday Tales, I’m bringing over a post from my previous blog. In an earlier post last week I mentioned my favorite non-fiction reads from this year and one of those was a poetry collection from Amanda Lovelace. I’ve read this collection several times this year, and purchased a copy to donate to my library. Below you’ll find both a review of the book and an interview with Amanda!

         

 

I first stumbled upon Amanda’s poetry a few years ago, when she was still self-published. I had purchased a copy for my Kindle, and immediately regretted it. I began to read it Princess on a family road trip and I didn’t look up once until I finished, and then I started over and re-read it.

The Princess Saves Herself In This One is an autobiograpical collection of poetry by Amanda Lovelace that is divided into four parts. The first three parts depict her life: The Princess, The Damsel, The Queen, while the last part is for You, her reader. Amanda’s collection of poetry was recently published by Andrews McMeel Publishing, and it was during the re-edit that she added around 40 new poems. Princess  is an emotional collection, and one so needed. The work explores topics such as love, loss, grief, and is filled with inspiration on conquering your demons. Amanda’s fierce and unwavering feminism shines through – as you can see in the image of my favorite poem from the collection above, women are some kind of magic.

After finally getting my hands on the print version of Princess, and devouring the poems in the collection, old and new, I immediately knew it would forever remain one of my favorite collections of modern poetry. That’s another thing I love about Amanda and her work – she does not let others depict her style or content. She fully embraces the style of modern poetry that embraces free verse and focuses on content rather than style. The poems in this collection will not reflect the poetry you were made to read in school, but they will evoke so much emotion in you.

The Princess Saves Herself in This One was the winner of the 2016 Good Reads Choice award and is available in both print and digital book. Currently, Amazon is running a sale on it, so be sure to pick up your copy!

You can follow Amanda on twitter and instagram –  @ladybookmad 

Q & A with Amanda Lovelace

 

TfB: When you first started writing/sharing you work, did you ever think you’d see your book in stores?

AL: Never. Until very recently the poetry scene was pretty dead in terms of the publishing side of things. The open mic/spoken word scene has been flourishing for years, especially since it’s so accessible online, but expecting to sell books of said poetry? Too grand of an idea. I’m forever grateful that poetry publishing has been revitalized by talented modern poets, most of whom gave it a jumpstart on social media. It’s because of them I get to be a professional poet and live the seemingly farfetched dreams I had as a creative teen.

 

TfB: I love seeing all your re-tweets of readers photos/bookstore sightings – did you expect this response when you first published?

AL: God, no. I didn’t expect this response whatsoever. Going in, I had hope, of course, but no expectations. It’s been almost four months since princess hit shelves as a traditionally published book (it was self-published for about eight months before that) and I still fangirl every time I’m tagged in a bookstore sighting!

 

TfB: You’ve been inspiring a lot of poets with your prompts on social media lately – what gave you that idea?

AL: One of my goals with princess was to inspire other young people to write their stories, but that can only get them so far. I wanted a way to actively inspire my readers to write in their daily lives. I wasn’t so sure a month of poetry prompts would work since that’s a long and dedicated commitment, but every day I’m incredibly impressed with the number of responses. It turns out my readers are talented writers, even if they were hesitant at first.

 

TfB: You’re working on your second installment of poetry, a follow up to Princess, correct? What’s that like?  Has it been easier or more difficult? From what I’ve gathered, this work will be more bold (if possible) than Princess, was that a hard decision to make?

AL: Yes, I just recently finished writing the witch doesn’t burn in this one, the second installment in the “women are some kind of magic” series, which is due out sometime early next year. It’s not so much a direct sequel to the princess saves herself in this one as a companion collection with similar themes woven throughout. I wish I could say writing it wasn’t a difficult experience, but that wasn’t the case. Expectations for a book and the reality of a book when you actually sit down to write it are two very different things. I went into witch expecting the words to flow out of me as easily as they did when I was writing princess, but it was a struggle most days. I think that was partially due to my fear of second book syndrome (which refers to the pattern where the second book an author puts out never quite matches up to the quality of the first), but it was also partially due to the risks I took with witch.

I might be a little biased here, but I’d say witch is much more bold a collection than princess. princess is my life story and, admittedly, my safe and fluffy—and perhaps even trendy—feminist book, while witch is all anger and bite and justice. I’ve taken a liking to calling it my “angry girl power book.” Without giving too much away, it’s essentially about the oppression of women under this unequal patriarchal structure, much of it revolving around rape culture.

While I was writing witch, I was hyperaware of how much a departure it was from princess. It’s still a story with a clear narrative arc told in four parts, but it tells a much darker, grittier story. I thought about dialing down the tone of the book from time to time, but I think that would make me a dishonest writer. The stories within witch are stories that society has a reputation for ignoring, and they’re stories that need to be told even if they make some people uncomfortable. In my opinion, art should make people uncomfortable if it’s telling any kind of truth about our society. Prior to our current political atmosphere, women were already in tremendous pain and the progress we were making towards equality was slow, sometimes even standstill. But now? That tiny bit of progress is reversing with each morning’s headlines, and I refuse to insert my head into the clouds and ignore the anguished cries—not just as a woman, which already makes me marginalized, but also a woman with several other marginalizations. We have every right to be unapologetically angry right now, and we had every right to be angry before, too. But how do we use this widespread anger? witch, I hope, answers that question, even if the overarching story is ultimately a fantasy one.

 

TfB: What’s your writing process like? Do you have a system/routine?

AL: My writing process can be very disjointed and unpredictable. I usually take a few days to gather bits of inspiration in the Notes app on my phone and then sit down at the computer to try to pull it all together into something readable. It’s almost impossible for me to write a poem unless I’m already feeling inspired in some way, so I don’t write every day. There are times I’ll go weeks—sometimes even months—without writing something. Then it seems like all my inspiration comes to me at once and suddenly I can’t stop writing.

 

TfB: Do you have any tips for struggling writers?

AL:Whenever I struggle with my writing, it’s usually due to one of two things: 1) it’s not the right project for me, or 2) it’s the right project for me, but it’s not the right time. It’s okay to walk away from projects, whether it’s permanent or temporary. Step away, regroup, and come back with those two things in mind. Don’t come to a decision until you’ve tried everything you can.

 

TfB: You recently wrote a piece for TWLOHA’s blog. I’ve followed them for years and was thrilled to see your name as the author of that post. What was that experience like? Was the organization new to you?

AL: Yes, I did! Sometimes it’s nice to walk away from your art so you can just simply talk to the world about your experiences, and collaborating with a group like TWLOHA, whose self-love message aligns so closely with mine, is nothing short of an honor. The hopeful message of their organization contributed to my recovery from self-injury as a teen.

 

TfB: Your writing is so inspiring and honest, focusing on a lot of difficult experiences. It’s clear readers relate to it so much. Was it hard for you to share so much of your personal self when publishing?

AL: Writing princess was rough at times. My mind hid a lot of my traumatic experiences from me over the years, so I found myself having to wade through murky waters to find exactly what I was looking for, the experience of which was messy, devastating, but also liberating. I’m an extremely private person, which I realize now can be amounted to a result of trauma, at least in part, but it was worth it in order to free myself and other victims and survivors of abuse. I also felt the need to hide the book from my family for as long as I could in fear of how they would react to certain truths, but, for the most part, they ended up being very open-minded and understanding. Not everyone’s reaction was ideal—which can be expected with the publication of any book, non-fiction or otherwise—but I feel like I can be myself now, which I hadn’t been able to do my whole life, and there’s tremendous beauty in that. Every sacrifice I made was worth being able to be where I am now.

 

TfB: You seem like a big supporter of self-care – what’s that look like for you? Any tips you’d share for readers stuck on implementing that in their own life?

AL: In my own life, self-care means so many things. Sometimes self-care is picking mental health over other priorities, but sometimes it’s picking priorities over mental health, knowing it will better my mental health in the long run. But it’s also listening to music, reading a book, watching a favorite TV show, taking a hike, drinking water, staying in bed for a few hours more than usual, taking a long shower, playing the Sims, writing a new poem, or putting on a facemask before bedtime. Self-care is extremely individual, but at the very least it should help you feel more grounded and human.

 

TfB: Your dedication in Princessis “For the boy who lived,” a clear Harry Potter What did/does Rowling’s story and writing mean to you?

AL: Harry Potter is an exceptionally important character to me. As someone who grew up in an abusive home just as Harry did, the series was sometimes the only escape I had from my daily trauma. Unlike me, Harry had the chance to live a second, much more magical life, but he always left me with the hope that I was destined for something better. It felt wrong to dedicate the story of my own abuse to anyone else. It was always going to be Harry.

witch, like princess, is dedicated to another fictional hero of mine, albeit for very different reasons… *zips lips*.

 

TfB: What inspires your writing and creative process?

AL: I’m inspired by my own experiences and memories, of course, but a large chunk of my inspiration also comes from books—mostly fiction, and within that, mostly fantasy. I knew I couldn’t possibly write a book without making it fantasy related in some way—my tie to it is just too strong—even if that’s not *usually* the norm for modern poetry. princess and witch are both inspired by some of my favorite fictional badasses, and book #3 will be, too.

 

TfB: Your fiance is a poet as well – what’s it like to have a partner who is a poet too?

AL: He is! I feel extremely lucky. Whenever I’m stuck or unsure about something, we work through it together, and I try to do the same for him. Our writing is very collaborative and much better for it.

 

TfB: I seem to recall mention that your upcoming wedding (congratulations, by the way!!) is going to be Six of Crows  That is so cool – how did you two decide on that?

AL: Thank you! Before my fiancé and I become a couple, the end of our abusive relationships brought us together in friendship, and a large part of that bonding experience revolved around books and reading. He was never much of a reader, but I was always an avid one, so he tried for me. Luckily, with the right books, he learned to share my love of reading, which deepened the bonds of our relationship tenfold. I introduced him to so many of my beloved fictional worlds, including the ones created by Leigh Bardugo, and Six of Crows quickly turned into our mutual favorite. It’s a dark, fast paced story with extremely color characters that just speaks to our souls. So yes, our wedding is a testament to the masterfully written Grishaverse, but it’s also a testament to those fictional worlds that brought us closer together in the first place. We owe so much to worlds like the one Bardugo created.

 

TfB: Are you working on anything besides the next installment of Princess?

AL: Yes! I’m still editing witch and probably will be for a while, but I’m also working on book #3 of the “women are some kind of magic” series, which will likely be the last book in the series . . . but who knows? After that, I do have other projects lined up—some poetry related, some not so much.

 

TfB: What are you reading right now, or what have you read lately that you loved?

AL: I’m currently reading When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon, a contemporary YA book about two young Indian people whose families try to set them up in attempt to arrange their future marriage. But one of the protagonists isn’t totally on board with this idea, so a string of chaotic events follow. It sounds like a serious book, but it’s actually a very cute and funny story with some important commentary, and I highly recommend it.

I’m also slowly making my way through the Wonder Woman comics—the New 52 line—and I’m in love!

Next I’m likely to pick up an adult mystery novel. Those are my favorite to read in the summer when things are moving slower and I’m finally calm enough to wrap my head around the story’s intricacies. Last summer my favorite mystery read was The Fever by Megan Abbott, which is a phenomenal story that does take some suspension of belief but has something very important to say about the way we raise our daughters.

Thursday Tunes: Zach Williams

In addition to books, I find so much hope in music. Songs tell stories that we need to hear and they have the capability to reach so many people. Jamie Tworkowski of  To Write Love On Her Arms once said “Songs are brave things, bold enough to sing when all they know is darkness.”  I think that is so beautiful and so true. We find power in music, in songs that make us feel heard and recognized and not alone.  Each Thursday, I’ll post about a song or album or artist that I love and think you might as well.

This week, I’d like to tell you about a man named Zach Williams. The other day, as I was scanning the radio for something to listen to other than ads or static, I landed on a semi-local Christian radio station. I don’t typically listen to Christian radio stations, or a lot of Christian music in general. I landed on “Old Church Choir” by Zach Williams and it was so fun and so powerful at the same time that I couldn’t help but look Williams up when I got home. “Old Church Choir” is the single off of Zach’s debut album, Chainbreaker. It is infectious and so encouraging but vulnerable at the same time, exactly like the entirety of the album. If you are a fan of David Crowder or old gospel music, I think you will love this as much as I do. It’s gospel music with a little bit of edge and a whole lot of honesty.

 

Every song on the album is powerful, with the title track reflecting William’s own story. William’s lyrics are full of lines that I want to write on post-it notes and place all over my house so I can remember them when I need a little extra Jesus. My absolute favorite track on the album is “Fear Is a Liar.” I’ve been listening to it several times a day, unintentionally.

If you’e got a few extra minutes, especially if you need a little extra encouragement today, I have a suggestion. Find a quiet place and some head phones. Plug those head phones in and close your eyes while you listen to this song and let the truth wash over you.

 

Cast your fears in the fire, my friends. He is a liar.

Tuesday Tales: Nothing To Prove

A few weeks ago I was asked to think about what I am truly passionate about. The obvious things came to mind: my people, music, coffee, books, my dog. For some reason, I stopped before I began to say any of those things and a thought hit me – the thing I am absolutely passionate about? Stories. In whatever format they come, fictional or not. I love a good story, especially a good redemption story. The more I thought about it, the more I realized I love to see people realize that they have a story and that their individual story is significant and should be treasured. I hope that every person who does not want to keep living their story will read just one more sentence, one more page, and give that story another chance.

I knew when I started this blog that the underlining theme would be about stories. Tales From A Bibliophile is an outlet for me to share how Jesus is redeeming my story, and a part of my own story is rooted deeply in books. I was practically raised in a library and am now a Children’s Librarian. Stories, and their power to remind us that we are not alone, played a huge role in shaping my life. That being said, one of the regular posts you can expect from me will be a new book update every Tuesday. Somedays it will be what I’m reading, or what I’m excited to read, and others it will be a review of a book I’ve finished and think you should read.

Today, I want to share with you a book that has made more of a difference in my life more than any other book I’ve read this year. A few months ago, I tried to put Nothing To Prove by Jennie Allen on hold through my library, but it was too new so I either had to wait or purchase it. I am trying so hard to not buy books unless they are absolutely something I want to keep, so I decided to wait. I put it on hold again recently and just finished the library copy week before last. It took every thing in me to not highlight that book and write in the margin, God spoke to me so much through this book. I restrained from highlighting the library copy, but I did immediately go purchase a copy. It came today and I’ve already marked my favorite passages. I am not exaggerating when I say that I am about to read this book, cover to cover, again this week.

Here’s a quick video of Jennie talking about her book. Honestly, I can tell you all about it, but I wanted you to hear the honesty and trembling in her voice when she talks.

 

In case you hadn’t noticed, I talk a lot about light and darkness. I have had many days where I thought I might drown in the darkness. Hearing Jennie talk about the light and darkness in this video was so refreshing, so reaffirming to the things God has been telling me about my depression, about the darkness I have experienced.

Jennie’s book is so honest. She knows what it is like to be exhausted, to constantly try to be everything we feel like we should be The constant message of her book is that we are not enough, but that’s okay because Jesus is enough and he is all we need. After the initial introduction section, each chapter starts with a story from the book of John. Several of you will be familiar with many of the stories, Jennie used the story of the woman at the well, the feeding of the 5,000, and the death and resurrection of Lazarus. The stories are short and written from the perspective of the main character in the story and it really pulls you into what is happening. The stories from John tie into the rest of the chapter, and at the end Jennie has an experience guide. This guide includes a relevant scripture passage, and four sections to reflect on how the chapter topic relates to your life. Each of these sections are a different level of complexity, and include  Step Into the Stream, Wade in Deeper, Quench Your Thirst, and The Overflow. There are also various prompts throughout the chapters to reflect on specific questions. This is a really good book to sit down and work your way through with a pen and highlighter, which is why I needed to purchase my own copy.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Nothing To Prove:

“Jesus has a plan for our suffering, but that cannot be accomplished if we keep trying to push it into a safe, tidy place in our closet. His plans in us are accomplished as we move into the pain. We can face the suffering because Jesus is there in the midst of it.”  –Jennie Allen