Three Lessons From The Abyss

We hear people say that true faith stands regardless of circumstances. It’s easy to love God when life is going well, but what about sustained faith when life is hard? Really hard. What does faith look like when our child is out of control, a parent is dying, we receive a difficult medical diagnosis, or experience betrayal by someone we trust? How do we move forward?

When my daughter fell into active drug addiction, and lived on the streets of our community as a meth addict, I was furious with God. Everything I held dear, and had come to believe in, came into question. The daily uncertainty, not to mention gigantic hole in my heart, were almost more than I could bear.

It was a painful time, and this journey of suffering taught me more than I ever wanted to learn. I’d like to share three key discoveries that helped me cope: Image, woman on beach

1. Seeking God

Even though I was angry with God, I knew I was hopeless without him. James tells us to “draw nigh to God and he will draw nigh to you.” (James 4:8) My drawing nigh became angry, desperate wails in the garage. I all but dared God to account for himself! But I soon discovered he could take it… so I kept wailing.

In desperate times we often think, when is God gonna show up and handle this? We wait for this to happen. But maybe he’s already here and just waiting for us? I discovered that drawing nigh was about me showing up… wails and all.

It was in my garage, at the end of myself and at the point of true surrender, when it became clear to me that God was already there. He spoke into my spirit and said, “Give her to me.” I frankly had to think about that for a while. I found surrender to God’s will a terrifying prospect. Yet it was freeing at the same time. Turning my daughter over to the will of God meant the outcome would not be up to me. But the truth of the matter is, it never was up to me.

2. Choosing joy

Joy is something we often think of as happening to us. You know, a passive event, some blissful occurrence or special blessing. We also sometimes think of joy, or happiness, as something we can attain when “x” happens. I’ll be happy when my child gets her act together, when my spouse shows me more attention, when the front door gets painted or that leaky faucet is fixed… when my book sales soar. I’ll be happy when.

In the darkest time of my life, I discovered I could actually choose joy. Joy came when I took my focus off of problems, off trying to change my daughter, and I set my sights on blessings. It came when I realized my life was so much bigger than any one problem in it. There is a Power, and a purpose, at work in the world that is greater than I am. It’s bigger than my pain, and bigger than my own wants and needs.

I may experience loss, grief, I may even experience suffering. But I always have God, which means I always have hope. For that I can choose joy.

3. Taking care of myself

My pastor’s wife shared not long ago in our women’s Bible study, that she has a wooden plaque in her kitchen which says, “I am here to serve with joy.” I jokingly screeched, “Get rid of that thing!”

Like I said earlier, I’m all for joy. And we are indeed called to serve. But what is often left out of the equation is self-care.

Women, especially Christian women, are notorious for poor self-care. And that was certainly true for me. We are the chief “fixer,” organizer and problem solver, prayer warrior, food preparer, and angel-to-others. Yet we often lose ourselves in the process. Therapist’s offices are filled with well-intentioned women like us who are simply overwhelmed trying to hold up the world.

Most mothers are codependent to at least some extent, and I was no exception. I was motivated by the belief that if I could just try hard enough, I could control everything and everyone, force outcomes, and then life would be ship-shape. I sometimes became so enmeshed in other people’s problems, and in “doing,” that I nearly lost myself.

I learned that self-care begins with solid boundaries, asking for help when needed, and allowing others to be responsible for their own stuff. It means saying “yes” when I want to, and probably saying “no” more often. It means my life is as important as the ones I serve.

Please share how you seek God, choose joy, and care for yourself during tough times.

Besides Using Google, How Can I Do Research for My Book?

Research Tools for Fiction and Non-fiction Writers

The majority of writers know how to use the Internet when they need to investigate a topic. Most of us pop onto a search engine like Google, bing, or Yahoo! Search and type our subject of interest into the search box.

But let’s say you are researching a term like “cancer.” Thousands of sites are going to show up. Some may offer helpful material, but many of the links are going to be useless. You may get scams and offers of miracle cures all mixed in with legitimate websites.

So how do you sort through all the extraneous material to get to the good stuff?

Here’s a simple trick I always use: Type the words “site: edu” after the term you are searching. (Don’t use quotation marks.) Inside your browser it’s going to look like this:

cancer site: edu

Now, the first websites that are going to be listed have been sifted through an educational institution. You are much more likely to find helpful material for your writing.

I write about self-care, so let’s say I have a question in my mind like, “I wonder how listening to music benefits cancer patients?”

Once again I could Google my question, but how will I know if the answers are valid? Maybe someone wrote them on a blog post without verifying the facts. Wouldn’t it be nice to know that the answers have been studied scientifically? Vetted by other scholars? Wouldn’t it be nice to know how the study was done, and whether the research was current?

Even as recent as ten years ago, you had to search tomes or giant stacks of professional journals in an actual library in order to get valid research. But with today’s computer technology it is simple to access serious research for your fiction or non-fiction book.

Hang with me here. It’s not as difficult as it might sound.

My library here in Littleton, Colorado (Jefferson County Library) lets me access professional journals from my home computer. I’m going to show you how Jefferson County’s library system does this. Your library system may vary, so If you need help, ask your librarian for assistance. Also, you need to make sure you have a library card so you can access the system. Here’s what I do:

  1. I go to Jefferson County Library’s web site
  2. I click on the maroon icon labeled, “Research Tools”
  3. I click on “Magazines and Newspapers” (on the left-hand side)

*My library subscribes to something called EBSCOhost, which provides online databases to libraries worldwide. All libraries are different, but most will give you access to two “workhorse, all-purpose” databases: Academic Search Premier and/or ProQuest. These allow you to search specific topics under a broad umbrella rather than having to narrow your research to certain journals (e.g. nursing journals or psychology journals).

Now you’re going to guess at some key words to put into the search box. I start by entering the words:

 affects music cancer patients

This next part is important:

Before I click the search button, I narrow my search by using limiters:

I want to limit my search to scholarly material because I don’t want information to come from non-scholarly magazines such as People or Newsweek, so I check “Scholarly (Peer Reviewed) Journals.”

I only want to look at the articles where I can read the entire article, not just the summary or abstract, so I check “Full Text.”

And lastly, I want the research to be current, so I’ll limit the date to the last ten years.

As I find articles, I look to see which key words are noted so I can try searching those if I’m not finding what I need. When I find my article, I can read it online, print it out in PDF format, or even email it to others or myself. If you are a visual learner, maybe a video showing how I do research will be a helpful addition.

 Do you have some research tips to offer other writers?