God’s Hourglass

“But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?” Luke 12:20

“But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.” Matthew 24:36

“Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.” James 4:14

Photo by Adrien King on Unsplash  

The other day I was perusing the news and came across a tragic story of a young man who was coming out of an elevator in a luxury building in NYC and was suddenly crushed to death.

I’m sure that young man didn’t think he would die that day. It was an unexpected freak accident.

Sometimes we forget we’re not immortal or promised tomorrow. We are all subject to God’s eternal hourglass. When the sand runs out, that’s it. Our time is up.

This is why each day is a gift.

Unfortunately, sometimes we take our life for granted or we complain about our lives. But we never know what the next minute, hour or day will bring.

Even with all the problems and issues we contend with on a daily basis, there’s still much to give God thanks for.

I came across a verse that I’ve read several times, but for some reason this time, it stood out. It’s Romans 1:21.

 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.”

The “neither were thankful” part jumped out at me.

Even in the midst of our suffering, there’s still something we can give God thanks for.

Life is precious and short. We are here today and gone tomorrow. God is who gives us breath and life. He blesses us with each day.

Yes, we can find a multitude of things to complain about. However, God is still worthy of our thanksgiving, praise and worship despite the suffering, hardship and difficulties we face in this life.

When we don’t give the Lord thanks, we are basically not acknowledging Him.

Are you giving thanks to God? If not, it’s never too late today.

 

His Eternal Well

“And he must needs go through Samaria.” John 4:4

This verse jumped off the page recently. I thought about how Jesus went out of his way to meet the Samaritan woman.

Samaritans were mixed; half Jewish and half Gentile. The Jews had no dealings with the Samaritans, they were rejected. So, not only was Jesus going out of his way to meet a Samaritan, but he was also going to meet a woman. And not just any ole woman either.

 

Image: “Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Martha at Bethany” by J.J. Tissot – Courtesy of Brooklyn Museum: https://www.brooklynmuseum.org/opencollection/objects/13433    

In verse six, we see Jesus is weary from his journey and sits on Jacob’s well. When the Samaritan woman appears to get water.

In verse seven, Jesus asks her for a drink.

She responds in verse nine, “How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans.”

He responds to her in verse ten, “If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.”

He goes on to say in verses thirteen and fourteen, “Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again:

But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.”

She asks him for some of this water. And then the zinger comes in verse sixteen when he says, “Go, call thy husband, and come hither.”

She stops dead in her tracks and tells him she has no husband.

He responds by saying she’s correct, that she has had five husbands and the one she is with now isn’t her husband either.

I chuckled at verse nineteen, when she tells Jesus, “Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet.”

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I absolutely love the fact that Jesus didn’t allow the customs or prejudices of that time stop him from changing His course to go speak to her. It was a divine appointment. He didn’t judge or shame her. He basically let her know that these men she keeps sleeping with aren’t going to satisfy her. They aren’t going to be able to nullify the emptiness or fill the void she feels with sex. Jesus knew her pain and made it a point to go out of His way to help her; a Samaritan, woman and prostitute.

The religious folk couldn’t understand Him. They judged him for talking to sinners like her. But it didn’t matter what they said to Him or accused Him of, He knew her heart and He wanted her to know that He is what she’s searching for.

Today many are thirsting and trying to fill their void without Jesus. They are rejecting God which is why things are getting worse in our country and around the world. The more society shakes their first at God and rejects His Son Jesus Christ, the worst things will get.

Like the Samaritan woman, He comes to all of us offering living water, the question is will we drink from His eternal well?

The Mentally Ill Christian

It’s hard to have mental illness, but it’s even harder for a Christian.

Most days, it feels like you’re drowning. Drowning in isolation, fears, and worries that shoot at you like a barrage of stray bullets.

If only it would stop. If only there was peace.

 

Photo by Davide Pietralunga on Unsplash

 

Unfortunately, most don’t understand what it’s like, not even the Church. Where acceptance, understanding, and tolerance should exist, but doesn’t.

They treat you like they are flicking a piece of lint off of their lapel. There’s no understanding, support and even compassion for those suffering and their families. They’re only willing to offer you cheap platitudes as a way to assuage their conscience.

Many sufferers are forced into silence due to the stigma, lack of acceptance and intolerance.

The pain of being misunderstood and rejected gets tucked away like tidy towels in a linen closet.

But, nothing can erase the guilt and shame of a broken brain.

Christian’s suffering from mental illness have mastered the art of pretending. They’ve had to become world class actors to survive because most people–inside and out of the Church–simply can’t handle the truth.

What is the solution? Optimally, it would be for Churches to get on board and educate the congregation on mental illness to eradicate the stigma.

The more education and awareness, the less stigma will exist in and outside the Church.

People shouldn’t have to feel alone, misunderstood, isolated, rejected and marginalized in the Church.  The Church should be a place of refuge and a catalyst for change to bring hope and healing for families.

 

Glorious Weakness by Alia Joy

Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Baker Books
Price: $15.99
Purchase: Amazon | BN

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Description

As a girl, Alia Joy came face to face with weakness, poverty, and loss in ways that made her doubt God was good. There were times when it felt as if God had abandoned her. What she didn’t realize then was that God was always there, calling her to abandon herself.

In this deeply personal exploration of what it means to be “poor in spirit,” Joy challenges our cultural proclivity to “pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps.” She calls on readers to embrace true vulnerability and authenticity with God and with one another, showing how weakness does not disqualify us from inclusion in the kingdom of God–instead, it is our very invitation to enter in.

Anyone who has struggled with feeling inadequate, disillusioned, or just too broken will find hope. This message is an antidote to despair, helping readers reclaim the ways God is good, even when life is anything but.

Review

It’s been a long time since I’ve come across a memoir which closely parallels my life and experiences. I feel like Alia Joy is my long lost soul sister.

She writes in the beginning of her book that Glorious Weakness is not for everyone. However, her book certainly was for me. And if others kept it real, they would see parts of themselves in her memoir, too.

Whether you’re a Christian or not, no one escapes pain and suffering in life. Pain and suffering is universal to the human experience that we all can identify to some level or degree. Alia had a fair share of it and then some. All of which I can relate to and identify with. It was as if she was writing my story.

Alia Joy’s writing style is descriptive and her use of metaphors is breathtaking. Her writing is poetic and lyrical. I enjoyed and relished reading her profound and touching memoir.

What I most appreciate about her memoir is that it’s not your typical Christian book. She doesn’t sugar coat anything.

I can’t relate to the popsicle Christian books being marketed and sold today. Glorious Weakness is real. Whereas, today’s Christian books lack depth, aren’t relatable and are impractical. Alia Joy’s book is the complete opposite. I have trouble sinking my teeth into those fluffy Christian books which make me sneeze with all their fuzzy platitudes.

Glorious Weakness is my kind of Christian memoir and I highly recommend it.

 

 Alia Joy is an author who believes the darkness is illuminated when we grasp each other’s hand and walk into the night together. She writes poignantly about her life with bipolar disorder as well as grief, faith, marriage, poverty, race, embodiment, and keeping fluent in the language of hope. Sushi is her love language and she balances her cynical idealism with humor and awkward pauses. She lives in Central Oregon with her husband, her tiny Asian mother, her three kids, a dog, a bunny, and a bunch of chickens.

Visit www.aliajoy.com.
Twitter: @aliajoy

 

 

A Loss For Time

I never thought about time the way I do now. Before becoming disabled, my days lead into the next without much thought of what awaited me.

I was once healthy, active and strong. I took pride in my ceaseless energy and workaholic ways. I felt like I was on top of the world. Never did I imagine my life would take the turn that it did and I would be faced with limitations.

On dealing with relentless health issues and that of my children, I was smacked head on with my own mortality and a loss for time.

Photo by Fredrik Öhlander on Unsplash

We all want time to stand still, especially when life is good. We live in the moment and relish it for what it’s worth, believing it will last forever.

I can assure you, I never imagined being in the situation I am today. If someone would have told me this when things were going well, I would’ve scoffed and laughed in their face.

But here I am, facing what is, as time ticks by and I can’t get one second of it back.

When I was forced to slow down due to my illnesses, I was faced with time. Time I once had and squandered. Time that’s left which I bargain with God daily and beg Him not to take me too soon. More so, for my kid’s sake, not so much for mine.

Well, perhaps a little… as I think about all the time I’ve wasted when I thought I had plenty of time.

The Bible says it best in James 4:13-14:

“Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain:

Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.”

Yet, there is this part of us that thinks we aren’t going to die, that we will live on earth forever. Until we are reminded, through sickness or an untimely death of a loved one.

I’ve contemplated all the time I’ve literally wasted, never once thinking I’d be in the position I’m in today. I took my health, energy and vitality for granted.

I also had plans.

For one, I was going to retire at my previous job of 23 years. Never thinking I’d ever become disabled and unable to work anymore. That wasn’t something I thought was possible and was the furthest thing from my mind, too.

Yet, here I am… dealing with one health issue after another for the past three years and things only seem to be getting worse instead of better.

However, I’m not writing this to depress you. The purpose of this post is a reminder that life can change in a second, minute, hour, or day. You can be fine one minute and get hit with something the next. Life–as you know it–can radically shift in a blink.

We never plan for stuff to happen. It’s not in our control. The only thing in our control is today. If you have God, your health and mental faculties, then as Benjamin Franklin quoted, “Don’t put off for tomorrow what you can do today.”

Wise words which I would encourage you to heed.

Please don’t wait until you retire to pursue something you’ve always wanted to do. A dream you want to pursue. A place you want to visit. Make a plan and do it, don’t wait.

There is a loss for time and once it’s gone, you can’t get it back. Take advantage while you still can.

I Discovered Donna Tartt

I have to be honest, it’s been a long time since I have come across an author whose writing literally captivated me. Donna Tartt is that author.

 

I discovered her by borrowing The Goldfinch from the library on audio. The narrator, David Pittu is absolutely fabulous. He is by far the best narrator I have ever heard in my life. He is fantastic and gifted beyond belief. He made listening to this story magical.

I’m currently listening to her debut novel The Secret History which is also beautifully written and suspenseful. I am completely blown away by Donna Tartt’s talent. She reminds me of the classical authors. Her range is amazing and awe inspiring.

She is my kind of writer. Her writing is descriptive and detail oriented. Her use of metaphors is beautiful. Her writing is thoughtful and philosophical. Her character development and pacing is incredible. I can’t help but gush over her writing.

If I would aspire to write like anyone, it would be her. Her writing encompasses everything I would love to achieve. She is a genius. There are not many writers like her. She is unique in every sense of the word.

Donna Tartt writes a book every decade. She is a true artist. She is not falling for the hype. She writes at her own pace and for the love of writing. She has written only three novels and all three novels were hits. The Goldfinch winning the Pulitzer Prize in 2014.

I had to make mention of her because if you haven’t read her books you are missing out on great writing. Her books are long, but I would encourage you to listen to her books on audio, especially The Goldfinch which is a real treat.

When I finished The Goldfinch I was sad. I didn’t want the story to end. It kept me company. I would listen to it at night before going to sleep and became deeply engrossed and invested in Theo, the main protagonist.

The way Donna Tartt weaves a story is brilliant. I highly recommend her books.

What Mental Illness Should Not Be

I hear terms like, “the weather is so bi-polar,” or “I’m just a little OCD,” and I cringe. When people say things like this, they have no idea what they are saying.

Photo by Callie Gibson on Unsplash

Terms like these are used loosely all the time. For the record, there is no such thing as being a little OCD.

Just because you are clean and meticulous doesn’t mean you suffer from OCD. OCD is a serious mental illness and those who have it suffer a lot and it’s no laughing matter.

Being clean and organized has nothing to do with the fastidiousness of washing your hands countless times a day to the point of bleeding. Those who suffer from OCD will tell you unabashedly, it’s like living a reoccurring nightmare.

OCD is a debilitating disease that never goes away. And, as with most mental illnesses, there is no cure.

Sometimes people associate all mental illnesses with psychosis which is a separate diagnosis. Here is a short clip of what psychosis is like: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0783qvh.

Society dumps everything in one batch. When they think bi-polar or schizophrenia, they automatically associate it with being “crazy or like I mentioned in my previous post, “Psycho.” But, nothing could be further from the truth.

Mental illness is the result of a brain disorder that affects your mood, thinking and behavior.

For example, with OCD, there’s a barrage of uncontrollable, reoccurring thoughts (obsessions) and behaviors (compulsions) that he or she feels the urge to repeat over and over. They can’t stop it or snap out of it either.

According to the National Institute for Mental Health, bi-polar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.

Bottomline, mental illness (i.e., OCD, bi-polar, schizophrenia) should not be the butt of jokes, the brunt of mockery, or made light of nor misinterpreted, misrepresented or stigmatized. Because mental illness is not fun or funny. Those suffering from it live in constant torment and daily torture and they  hide in shame and suffer in silence due to all the ignorance floating around.

Which is why I’m speaking up to help end the stigma on #MentalHealthAwarenessMonth.

I’m Coming Out. My Confession.

As a child, I remember thinking differently than my peers. I felt like an outsider. Like I was on the peripheral looking in at life happening around me. Sort of like watching a movie.

Photo by Ian Espinosa on Unsplash

By the time I reached junior high school, it worsened. I had confided in a school friend who would listen to me for hours while I lamented as tears ran down my face like a faucet.

I somehow had the wherewithal at fourteen to find a therapist which I paid for with my allowance I had earned by ironing my father’s shirts. She had diagnosed me with dysthymia (persistent mild depression). I saw her weekly until she fell asleep in one of our sessions.

In my late teens, I remember things becoming more pronounced. One day I would wake up full of energy and be ready to take on the world, and the next, I would feel utterly hopeless and depressed. There was no explanation for these extreme shifts in mood.

The fluctuating moods were accompanied by my loyal companions; fear, dread, worry and guilt. I didn’t know at the time I was struggling with anxiety until I had experienced my first panic attack in my late twenties.

By that time, I had become impulsive and spontaneous. I would feel a surge of energy pulsate through my body like electricity which made me feel invincible. There was so much I wanted to do and accomplish that I wouldn’t sleep.

I took unnecessary risks and made bad decisions that if it wasn’t for the grace of God, I’m sure things would have ended badly.

I was enthusiastic, adventurous and lived for the thrill of excitement. Everything I did was over the top, exaggerated and extreme. I flirted with danger because I was addicted to the adrenaline rush and loved the exhilarating feeling it gave me.

In this state, everything seemed alive and vibrant. Life was good.

Until it wasn’t…

It was only a matter of time until the dreaded crash came. I went from being high to drowning in a sea of hopelessness and sinking into a quicksand of despair. Everything around me became devoid of color; a still life black and white photo; grey, lifeless and dull.

The rollercoaster high’s and low’s kept happening, combined with an ever present restlessness and gnawing irritation, like stew simmering in a crockpot or a rumbling car motor that never seems to shut off or a dormant volcano brewing beneath the earth’s surface.

I lived like this for years not knowing why.

Fifteen years ago, things came to a head after giving birth to my eldest son. I had suffered from postpartum depression. My son was colic and would cry all night. I wasn’t getting any sleep and worked a stressful job. Between the lack of sleep and stress, I began to spiral. It was then that a therapist suggested I get evaluated by a psychiatrist.

After an hour and a half hour of what felt like an interrogation, I received the verdict. Her words shot out like fists punching my face.

I didn’t believe her, so I went for a second opinion and was given the same diagnosis.

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After years of hiding behind the shame and living in silence, I decided to come out.

I’m a Christian who suffers with chronic pain and physical and mental illness. And I am not alone. There’s plenty of people out there struggling like me, who lurk in the shadows because of shame and fear of being found out.

They vacillate between denying their illness, pretending away their illness or praying away their illness, thus refusing treatment they so desperately need.

Instead, they self-medicate by either drinking, drugging, eating, spending or sexing.

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I’m speaking specifically to Christians right now, if you are struggling with mental illness, don’t allow the church or anyone from church tell you mental illness is a spiritual problem because it isn’t. Please don’t listen to anyone who tells you, you lack faith or you must have unconfessed sin or that you aren’t praying or fasting enough.

Mental illness is not a spiritual condition, but a medical one that needs to be treated like diabetes or cancer.

Please contact your local National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) and get support. You don’t need to suffer in silence or struggle alone.

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Silence is the result of stigma and judgment by family members, friends, co-workers, church members, and society in general who aren’t educated and misunderstand, misinterpret, and marginalize those who suffer from mental illness or any invisible illness.

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Truthfully, these past two years have been the most difficult for me. My life has completely changed and it’s been hard for me to reconcile and adjust to. Believe it or not, it’s taken me over 15 years to finally accept my diagnoses.

I didn’t want to come out because most people walking around react to words like bi-polar, OCD or schizophrenia as a joke or they associate it with characters from “Psycho,” “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” or “A Clockwork Orange.”

This is why I’ve kept it hidden for so long, but now I no longer want to because there’s too many people suffering in silence. For this reason, I chose to come out and join the tribe of other voices advocating and fighting against the stigma.

Critique versus Criticism

One of the things that happens as a writer is you are subject to other people’s comments and opinions. Those opinions can either be positive or negative, constructive or destructive.

If you want to be a writer, there is no way around the critique process if you want to grow and improve.

However, I’ve discovered there is a significant difference between critique and criticism.

Courtesy of Creative Commons ~ NiKol

The Difference between Critique and Criticism*

  • Criticism finds fault/Critique looks at structure
  • Criticism looks for what’s lacking/Critique finds what’s working
  • Criticism condemns what it doesn’t understand/Critique asks for clarification
  • Criticism is spoken with a cruel wit and sarcastic tongue/Critique’s voice is kind, honest, and objective
  • Criticism is negative/Critique is positive (even about what isn’t working)
  • Criticism is vague and general/Critique is concrete and specific
  • Criticism has no sense of humor/Critique insists on laughter, too
  • Criticism looks for flaws in the writer as well as the writing/Critique addresses only what is on the page

I have experienced both. Thankfully, the critiques I have received thus far have been helpful whereas criticism has had the opposite effect.

Critiquing is positive and constructive while criticizing is negative and counterproductive. We must be thoughtful in our approach in critiquing others. We must be mindful of the spirit behind what we say as well as how we say it.

We all have opinions. We all have our likes and dislikes. However, we must be responsible as writers when we are critiquing people’s work. We must be able to step back and read the work from an objective standpoint.

We also have to keep in mind there are ways to communicate and get our points across without being curt, mean or snarky.

I cringe when I think of novice writers who possess talent and have potential but give up because of receiving a nasty critique. It shouldn’t happen.

The whole purpose of critiquing is to help the writer along in developing their story, not to tear it down or criticize it.

Critiquing is a skill that every writer should be required to learn how to do properly and effectively.

*Taken from Writing Alone, Writing Together; A Guide for Writers and Writing Groups by Judy Reeves

A Slow Death

As I gazed at the landscape that was once plush green, thoughts ricocheted like bullets in my mind.

I wondered how leaves changed from being green to brown, orange, red and yellow.

They change and transform by a slow death.

Courtesy of Creative Commons

The result is from the breakdown of chlorophyll, due to the changes in the length of daylight and temperature. The leaves stop their food-making process. The chlorophyll breaks down, the green color disappears, and the yellow to orange colors become visible and give the leaves part of their splendor.

God is the master artist weaving a beautiful tapestry in nature with the ebb and flow of leaves, seasons, tides, births and deaths.

Watching the leaves turn reminds me of God’s power and my fragility, His strength and my weakness, His immortality and my mortality.

In reality, we are all fallen leaves, dying a slow death.

For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.” James 4:17

Interview with Jim Woods

In 2012, I had the pleasure of connecting with Jim Woods on Twitter and then meeting him in person at Jon Acuff‘s Quitter Conference held in Nashville. Jim was so kind, encouraging and gracious toward me. I’ve witnessed his growth as a writer and I am honored to be interviewing him.

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1) When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I think it was when I wrote a report in the fourth grade. I was really into nature and I wrote about snakes. I realized how much fun it could be to do research and then telling a story about my findings.

2) How did you develop the confidence to find your voice as a writer?

I think it was more through practice and trial and error. That being said, writing how you talk is always a great place to start.

3) Were there any books you read that helped shape and mold you as a writer?

Absolutely! I love Steven Pressfield‘s Do The Work and War of Art. Also, I have a lot of fiction influences: Edgar Allen Poe, Elmore Leonard and J.D. Salinger.

3) What did you do before you transitioned into being a full-time writer?

I was an accountant for over 15 years. That’s hard to believe now!

4) How long did the process take? What steps did you take in making your dream a reality?

About three years. It was a long long three years. Writing as much as possible, networking, going to conferences, meeting as many people for coffee as possible.

5) Now that you have succeeded, what is it like being on the other side of the rainbow? Has it been anything like you had imagined?

It’s like a good struggle, like when you’re tired after working really hard. You’re exhausted, but at the same time very satisfied.

To answer your other question, it’s harder than I thought it would be. It can be hard to unplug from the work.

6) What does your writing process look like?

I like to watch my work as much as possible. I am a momentum-based emotional writer so I like to find some easy wins and then go from there.

7) What is the hardest thing about being a full-time writer?

It’s pretty lonely and rejection comes with the territory.

8) How do you encourage yourself to keep going?

I talk to other writers and learn from them. Whatever the circumstance, it is very likely that someone else can relate.

9) Where do you see yourself in the next five years?

I just want to work with good people and keep telling good stories.

10) Are you working on any new projects?

About a month ago I created an event called the Finish Your Book Summit where I interviewed 16 authors who have written over 100 books. It’s still live, so you can access the interviews by going to finishyourbooksummit.com.

11) What advice would you give to someone starting out?

Don’t be afraid to start out slowly. Build a good writing habit—even if it is just for 5 minutes a day. Over time you’ll build momentum and see serious results!

Thank you for a wonderful interview, Jim.

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Jim Woods is a freelance writer, author, author assistant, and writing coach that loves to help others tell better stories. You can connect with him at jimwoodswrites.com.