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Stuffing is Fine for Turkeys, Not Humans

I haven’t posted anything for some time because, well, to be honest, life has been crazy. I’ve made some changes in my life and God has given me amazing peace as He has led me on this path. I’m blessed beyond what I could adequately express.

But here’s the rub. I have Major Depressive Disorder. Most people wouldn’t guess that because I can be bubbly, energetic in communication and smile often. (An INFJ conundrum or chameleon?)

It was a lesson I learned as a child. I cried a lot in school and was made fun of for that. “Crybaby,” they would call me in my parochial school. I cried at home. No one really cared. I was just hyper-sensitive. Around fifth grade, I finally learned how to bury my hurt anger and not cry. When I was older  I told my parents I wanted to see someone, that I thought I was depressed and needed help. I was told I was just seeking attention.

Wow. I buried those feelings deeper. Eventually, I learned to pour those emotions into fiction.

 

I’ve been on a good path recently: eating better, taking around four long walks outdoors every week (sunshine and exercise), and sleeping well. But then last week it popped up again. I opened myself up to people I thought I could trust and told them how something scared me and made me anxious to the point of even having a nightmare about it. My feelings were discounted and minimized. I went home and cried. I won’t go into the issues, but it was as if confessing my fears, they had to bury their own with platitudes. I didn’t feel cared for, loved, or a valued part of the community on that team.

It’s been bothering me for days. I’ve taken walks. Taken naps. Worked. Emailed a friend. Today I had to serve at church with this team and you know what? I shed my tears over Scripture and my journal in the morning before stuffing it all down as I left the house. It was a task-oriented job so not the time for emotional discussions anyway. I tried to encourage and thank others but my heart and my hurt stayed locked away. Why would I share it again when no one cared enough about it the first time? It all bubbled back to the surface the minute I was alone in my car. The sky poured rain that mirrored the tears flowing down my face.

Stuffing is great for turkeys…not so good for humans.

I came home, ate lunch and took a nap. I try not to let my depression leak on to my kids. I take medication so I can be functional and dependable. My middle son wrote on a paper at school a few years ago stating that his mom is always happy. I had to sit him down and say, “No, I’m not. I cry. I just don’t do it in front of you because they are my adult problems and struggles, not burdens for you to carry.” When they were much younger, I used to let it spill out in frustration and when my young son drew a picture of an angry mom, I knew I had to once again get help and back on medication. At the time I also had a serious auto-immune disease complicating things and making the depression an even bigger struggle.

Let me brag on my kids for a minute. Now that they are older, when I have those days where I’m feeling on the edge…like I could snap…I warn them. “Kids, I’m really cranky today. Not sure why, but please, just be nice to me okay?” And they do. They don’t step on my last nerve to watch me explode. My youngest will give me a hug and tell me she loves me.

Yes. I have God. He is always faithful and provides for my needs and sometimes my wants. He has shown Himself to me in so many unexpected ways. I can be as grateful as possible for all of that and for the support of people around me–but gratitude doesn’t cure depression. It isn’t fixable with platitudes, a good meal, or even sometimes a hug and a shoulder to cry on (although that can be helpful and appreciated).

So if you see me in person or call me on the phone and ask how I am, I’ll likely tell you I’m fine. No offense, I’ve just learned that not everyone cares about how I’m REALLY doing. Depression and chronic illness, whether physical or emotional, is something that society as a whole, and even the Christian community, do not excel at ministering to. We get all concerned about suicides and suicide prevention – but the reality is – the problems are there long before the individual ever contemplates such drastic action.

I’m not writing this to get attention… but to ask you to open your eyes to people around you… we can get so self-absorbed (I’m an expert navel-gazer too), that we don’t often take the time to look beneath the surface to see what’s really going on in someone’s life. I want to raise awareness. I’m sure in time I’ll be doing better. Depression ebbs and flows for me and after a few more journal entries,  tears, walks and maybe even a visit to my therapist, I might wake up some morning feeling better. It will take time but it is a lonely journey. So for those of you who struggle as well, my heart and prayers go out to you. You are loved and valuable and your feelings DO matter. Hang in there. I pray someone will come along and be Jesus with skin on for you in your darkest hours so that you can make it through. That’s my prayer for myself too.

Maybe this video will show just how hard it is to always see on the surface when someone is depressed.

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Dream Musings and Music

Not all dreams become reality. Sad isn’t it? People come along and kill our dreams. Sometimes real life interferes.

When I grew up I wanted to be a disc jockey. You know. A DJ. I love music. Always have. I enjoy singing. I love to talk, so radio seemed like a great place for me. But my father told me that radio people don’t get paid much and work odd hours. I had a friend in radio at one point and he had to use a different name on the air to protect himself from his fans. Oh, to have such trouble!

I played saxophone through high school but gave it up for choir. I did well there. Won some solo ensembles. I always wanted to play guitar. Twice I’ve taken guitar lessons. When I was in a band they let me play on one song.  Yup. I was that good! *snicker*.  Actually, I’d have been great if I could have been disciplined enough to practice more.

Jonah's VacationI also wanted to be a singer but had a pastor years ago who gave me a reality check. He told me “Susan, you’re good but you don’t work at it. You’re a B-grade singer but could be an A.” Ouch! I did work at it and got good enough to be in a band for a short time.

Jonah’s Vacation was a great experience. Hard work. Amazing musicians. My next book, Feta & Freeways is dedicated to Jim, Rob, Jeff, Erick, Mark and Irene (she joined us months after this photo was taken.). I learned so much from these people (including how to belch although Jim was definitely the master of that and he didn’t have a microphone to help!)

13620018_1411151115567715_4418536725403216346_nI don’t sing for others much anymore. I did for a while. I worked at it. But now I only get an opportunity maybe once a year to do that and play my guitar. I miss the synergy of being in a band. I admire groups that have that “magic” when they play together.

I based my next book on a lead singer of a band (and his friends). Yeah, it’s a romance, but it’s so much more than that. I based it off Burlap to Cashmere. I wish I could play guitar with even a 10% of the skill they have. Can you see the joy they have as they play together? Makes me smile every time I see this photo I took from the last time I saw them live.

Maybe someday I’ll get there. Not everything has to be for the purpose of performing. Maybe playing guitar and growing in that skill will only be for me and God this time around. I can remember the past fondly and rejoice that God gave me those opportunities. And I can write and encourage others who can pursue them.

Maybe words on the page are meant to be my song in this season of my life. Why that makes me cry I don’t know, but dreams are like that. Sometimes it is okay to grieve what you can’t have. Life isn’t fair and God doesn’t always give us what we want for His own reasons. Hard to believe but that’s often a good thing. Sometimes to make room for one dream we have to sacrifice something else we value. We don’t always recognize what those choices will be…time, family, finances…there’s a cost for pursuing dreams. And there will always be those who will try to stop us, defeat us, criticize us for following God’s direction. Dreams God calls us to follow become “callings”. And they are only worth pursuing because He is the one who leads the way.

This is a live video I took from Burlap to Cashmere’s performance in Green Bay in July of this year. Gifted and a called. The “closing jam” as it were… featuring Johnny Philippidis and his amazing guitar skills. Part of the song is the Dialing God Instrumental from their Freedom Souls album. Enjoy. Maybe someday I’ll have that 10% to enjoy for myself.

Talking Love

Photo frame or gift card with valentines heart shaped ribbonYou would think the author of countless romance stories would find it easy to write one out of her own life. But it’s not.

Growing up, I would walk home and look up to heaven, spin around, and wonder if God was taking my picture. Did He care for my overly-sensitive, hurting and lonely heart? All a teacher had to do was look at me wrong and I’d burst into tears until sixth grade when I learned to hide my pain.

The sweetest love story is when, after years of sensing God’s call to me, I finally understood that I could respond. That he was waiting for me to do so! James 4:8 says “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. (NASB)” Really? He wasn’t some distant King high on a thrown beyond my reach. I first came to understand this at a Campus Life/Youth for Christ meeting.

For weeks I had begged some friends to let me come to a meeting. They seemed happy. They had something I didn’t. And they would go to concerts for groups like . . . Petra, who I had never heard of. Finally, I was invited and we had a conversation about misconceptions people had about Christianity. I was raised knowing about God and taught to fear Him, so I was fully engaged in the conversation. Then the biggest misconception hit me—that people didn’t understand that they could have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Whoa. Really?

I prayed right then and there and my entire world shifted.

I went out and bought a Bible and started devouring it. Opposition came but I clung to Christ. To a hurting, lonely fifteen-year-old, the fact that the God of the universe wanted me—Me?—was a huge revelation. When depression plagued me, I was told I was trying to manipulate people. The only reason I never attempted to take my life was because of the love of God.

Thirty-five years have brought me through many trials and triumphs, deep pains and sweet moments. God has been there by my side through all of it. I wish I could say that I’ve been as faithful to Him as He has been to me. It’s hard when people have wounded me deeply to trust the God who allowed it to happen. Yet I wouldn’t be here without Him. He’s led me, grown me, matured me . . . and I’ve learned that in Him I have more strength than I could ever have on my own. Some trials I look back on in wonder at how I was able to respond the way I did. That couldn’t have been me, could it?

Only God.

Through abuses, betrayals, heartache, He has been my constant. My one true love. When I write my romances my hope and prayer is that at some level the reader will understand the love of God that underlies the journey’s my characters take.

God is faithful. He has never abandoned me. The fact that He gives me the opportunity to put some of those experiences into my stories to bless others is just another example of His love for me.

Check out my contribution to Prism Book Group’s new Love Is series…

THE Baron's Blunder

The Baron’s Blunder
“Love does not delight in evil …” 1 Corinthians: 13:6

Fighting evil has been a hobby, but fending off marriage-minded debutantes—a chore.

Lord Charles Percy fends off a land pirate robbing a carriage in broad daylight. Noting he has rescued a beautiful debutante, he lies about his title claiming to be a mere mister.

The Honorable Henrietta Allendale isn’t convinced Mr. Percy is who he claims to be. But after he admits to one blunder can she ever truly trust what he says? Especially about the evil threatening her? Who is the Black Diamond anyway and why would he be after either of them?

One intrepid debutante and one bumbling Baron soon join forces to defeat evil. But to do so might mean they have to sacrifice the one thing they’ve each held as most important—their single status.

Can the truth set them free to love?

The “God Answered my Prayer” Conundrum

Lots of things stew in my crazy brain. Much of it I’m sure you’d not want to read about. Complexities and backstory would bog down the fact that emotionally turmoil is festering underneath what many perceive to be a cheerful exterior.

One recent thing though has been cooking. I have a friend who has a book doing extremely well. She’s breaking all the “rules” for promotion and marketing. I love her to bits and I’m thrilled at her success.

No. Really. I am. She’s a dear sweet friend.

I asked her what she thinks is the secret to her success. Her response: “We’ve been praying.” She does. She prays. She has people who have prayed as she’s worked on her novel for over 10 years. Yes. You heard me. Ten years.

Here’s where the conundrum comes in. I pray too. I’ve had people pray for me as I write and struggle with life. My books haven’t sold as well although they get great reviews and I’ve done so many things to promote them. I’ve had people who I respect as authors, promise to read and promote my books who have failed to do so. I’ve done so for their great novels. Grrr. Frustrating to say the least. But God can take care of them.

God is doing 10000 thingsWhich leads to a variety of thoughts.

  • Does God not love me or my book as much as He loves my friend’s?
  • Success isn’t really about how many books I sell.
  • But I could really use the money sales could net for me due to challenging life circumstances (duh, like we all don’t face those?)

And then I scold myself.

  • It should be enough that I worked hard and my books are well-received and people have found their faith encouraged or challenged by reading them.
  • It should be enough that God has brought people into my life to minister to and encourage because I have written and published my novels.
  • It should be enough that God knows my heart and my needs. All of them. He’s got my future in the palm of His hands.

So why isn’t it enough? Why do I struggle?

The issue isn’t God.

It’s me.

I’m a fallible human who struggles with insecurities on so many levels.

I struggle with depression and anxiety.

I lack support from people who should be there for me but who had sought to sabotage me every step on my journey.

They failed.

Because: God.

God has gotten me to where I am. He has brought me through so many struggles and pain beyond what I could ever dare to share here.

And my writing isn’t a job. It’s a calling. I need to own that and realize that a calling doesn’t come with a windfall. It comes with a cost.

And a blessing.

But sometimes I fail to see that amidst the pain and struggle that sometimes visits my life.

So I’m grateful for my friend, her faith and our beautiful relationship. She is also called and God’s blessing on her work has no bearing on the way He is at work in my life.

Because we are all unique and God’s work in and through us is also unique.

How often I forget that when the “should’s” come knocking on my door.

How about you? Where have you struggled with the “should’s” in your own life?

A Tribute to Her Father

steve and bindiLast week on Dancing with the Stars, Bindi Irwin did an emotional dance tribute to her father. If you’ve watched it you know, it was moving. Especially if you see the reasons behind the dance and the emotions she experienced as Derek Hough and her prepared.

You might shed tears.

But it also made me think. I was a fan of Steve Irwin and was sad when he died. It’s sweet to see his daughter growing into such a woman of conviction, authenticity and grace.

“I wanted to be just like my dad when I grew up.” 

The reality is, if we are followers of Christ shouldn’t our lives be lived that same way? Shouldn’t our work, whatever it is, be filled with dedication to the One who gave us life, physical and spiritual? As I write I hope my words will give testimony to the One who gifts me to do so.

But the same should be true of my parenting. All my relationships. Even the way I drive my car! (ouch, right?)

Every day, every action I can take should be out of dedication and devotion to the One who loved me first. The One who numbers my days. He is the One who sustains me after all.

It might not make people cry, but as much as Bindi’s dance reminded us of the vitality and impact of her father on the world to those who knew him (and possibly now to those who didn’t as well), how much more should ours invite others to see Christ in a new light.

Now we’re not perfect and all my efforts will be a dim reflection of His glory, but still, if my intention and worship is evidence in my actions, wouldn’t He be more glorified in this dark world longing for beauty and hope? The kind of beauty and hope only Jesus Christ can bring?

Dance on . . .

When Joy Takes Over

I’ve meBird in cagentioned on this blog before that I struggle with depression. I learned early on to put a good face on my inner darkness because I was told that to tell anyone I was depressed was manipulative and a lie.

Way to validate my reality, huh?

And I fought the first therapist who insisted this was my struggle. So I charted my emotions, and I was shocked at what I saw. I really was depressed.  Since then I’ve taken medications on and off over the years and have one that works well for me now. I tried the natural methods to no avail. I defeated Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis (an autoimmune disease of the thyroid for which depression is a side effect). Having been educated and worked in the mental health field I’m very aware of my symptomatology and the kinds of things I need to do to stop myself from sinking further into the pit of despair.

That’s why sometimes when joy breaks through it is a remarkable thing for me to take note of, to savor and to hold on to-because it’s rare.

Some of my circumstances do limit my expression of the good in my life because not everyone in my world appreciates all the aspects of who God created me to be. Not everyone supports or cheers me on in my writing and publishing pursuits. Because of this I’ve had to develop a more extended circle of support. So my cheerleaders are not physically close but they are there when I need them.

Flying Dog

But joy. It breaks through like a dog let off his leash, gate open and free to run in wide open spaces, ears flapping and tail wagging. Unhindered by expectations. Free to be fully who he is.

The filters come off, the darkness slips away and bright light shines from inside as I let loose to live more fully who God created me to be. That’s a high energy thing though and can’t be sustained for long. It happens in places were my gifts and calling are validated and my wacky weird personality is appreciated and not condemned.

A place where I can set aside any thoughts of how overweight I am or be self-conscious about my appearance.

It’s a place where people around me appreciate and love me for being – me. Imperfections and all.

That sometimes happens at church and I’m blessed to have people there who love me like that. But there are still some barriers because there have been those who have condemned me for my high spirits and effusive personality when it’s been expressed. Not everyone likes the bubbly, silly, sassy, “high-spirited” side of Susan.  Or maybe it threatens them. Joy at fully living one’s purpose can make others jealous.

Dee Dee and Lori laughingA few weeks ago I had several moments of uninhibited joy. I was in the beautiful Rocky Mountains at a YMCA at Estes Park for the Colorado Christian Writer’s Conference where I served as faculty. I enjoyed my entire time there. It was work. I taught classes which I enjoy and encouraged writers. I willingly poured out love and encouragement to others and was glad to be able to do so.

Dee Dee and I met last year and a friendship was born. The picture above is of Dee Dee and another new friend, Lori at dinner in town. I love the expression on their faces and only wish I could have caught Megan in there too as she sat next to me. A dinner filled with deep conversation, belly laughs and love.

A writer’s conference is about writing, but more than that, it is about relationships and that night at that restaurant is a treasured memory of joy. It was later that Dee Dee and I sat and talked in the lobby and our relationship grew deeper. Dee Dee hasn’t led a perfectly wonderful life and has suffered her own share of struggles too. But together we laughed and cried and out of that is born joy.

Why? Because Dee Dee accepts and loves me just as I am. Wild, silly, weird, authentic, wounded and seeking to follow God imperfectly in my own circumstances. And I love her that way too. There will be many wonderful reasons to return to Colorado – but Dee Dee would top the list. And I’m grateful that with computers and phones the distance doesn’t have to be a barrier to our friendship.

Today as I write this, it’s raining and gloomy. Even as I type, tears roll down my cheeks, not out of sadness, but gratitude for those brief moments when the sun shines through the cloud and God has given me the opportunity to live more fully as “me”and be loved and accepted for that.

Praying you find safe places for joy to break through too.

Who’s Your Sam?

A few weeks back, I did a talk at our local ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) chapter and challenged my fellow writers with this final question: Who is your Sam?

Let me give you some background.

Life is tough. Duh. You already knew that, didn’t you?

Being a Christian can be a challenging road to walk. Oh, you knew that too? Sorry. Just wanting to establish the facts first.

We need to be immersed in God’s truth, studying His Word and listening to the Holy Spirit as He leads and guides us. This communication however, can be disconnected because of sin. The remedy is simple. We repent, accept Christ’s forgiveness purchased for us at the cross and walk forward His power to accomplish the tasks He has given.

You with me so far?

Life is hard. We need God.

But that’s not all. We need others around us. Let me show you an example:

Now, if you are not familiar with J.R.R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, let me give you an overview. Frodo has a ring of power that needs to be destroyed in Mordor. He leaves home, the shire, with three other Hobbits. One is Sam. They end up in Rivendale and become a fellowship of nine all bent on completing this task of destroying the ring. Four hobbits, a wizard, two men, an elf and a dwarf. By the end of that first movie, the wizard is presumed killed and another man is dead and the fellowship is broken up. In spite of that, as the trilogy moves on, Sam is Frodo’s constant companion, protector and in many ways, his salvation. While there are many heroes in the story, it is Sam, a secondary character, who truly gives his all to his friend.

In the hard journey of life and the calling that God can place on our lives, we all need a few Sam’s around us. Some might be a little more distant and still helping us fight on toward our goal, with words of encouragement, a listening ear and prayer. And others will walk more closely, willing to tackle us when we are going to venture into sin and challenge us when we are lost in lies.

We also need to endeavor to be this for other people as well.

So . . . in the story God is writing in your life . . . who is your Sam? You really should have more than one. Frodo had eight who supported him on the journey and one died to protect him. The rest risked death time and again to see the goal accomplished and save Middle Earth.

On the flip side. Who are you a Sam for? Whose life are you speaking truth into, praying for, encouraging. For instance, how about our pastors? They are on the forefront of spiritual battle and need a fellowship of warriors behind them as much as we do if not more.

Let us not forget that God is writing a great story in your life and it is the gospel many people may read before they ever pick up the Bible. And we have some input into the journey by our choices, good or bad. Our mistakes, our failures as well as our successes and how we respond say a lot to others about our relationship wtih God. And much of that can depend on the strength and support of the Sam’s around us.

Tell me about a Sam in your life.