December 26, 2014

My Struggle With Anxiety (Episode 2)

My anxiety was debilitating.

And from all appearances, it looked like it was here to stay.

I had trouble sleeping. I was so tense even while I slept that I woke up every morning to cramped and hurting leg muscles. The smallest decisions suddenly felt monumental--like picking out a pair of earrings to wear. Driving anywhere became almost unbearably stressful. I lost interest in things I used to enjoy, like baking and reading. I couldn't escape into novels or even relax and enjoy a movie. Anxiety followed me everywhere--to work, out with friends, and at home.

Without consciously thinking about it, I regularly hyper-focused on my heartbeat and breathing. I was petrified that I would have another panic attack … which ironically probably only facilitated me having more of them. (You can read about my first panic attack here.)

I knew that I wasn't thinking rationally, but I felt trapped. I tried to battle my anxious thoughts with what I knew to be true: God's tremendous love for me, His care, etc. I felt like I was desperately clinging to a life raft in the middle of a raging sea during a storm, but my wet grip on the raft kept slipping ... and over and over again, I was carried away by the waves of anxiety, losing sight of the raft. My efforts to rest in God's love felt constantly capsized by my strong anxious feelings.

Fear is a terribly powerful emotion, and I felt its vice grip around my throat day after day.

I was in a vicious cycle that I couldn’t break out of. Everything looked hopeless, and--worst of all--I blamed myself. When I opened up to friends and family about my initial anxiety attack, most reminded me that the Bible tells us not to be anxious. “Trust God,” they urged. “He has everything under control." They meant well--I know they did--but hearing those comments only increased the guilt I was feeling. Maybe this was all my fault. I felt terrible about myself, and I saw no way out.

I tried to pinpoint the cause of my anxiety. Was my relationship with God so distant that I felt such terror instead of trust? Was it my genetics? Was I somehow to blame? I desperately wanted anxiety to go away. I wanted to return to the girl I was before all of these anxious thoughts and panic attacks began invading my life.

I cried out to God, but he seemed silent. I begged him to take away my anxious thoughts and feelings, but they remained. I read Scripture daily and prayed just to get through each day. I wondered what I was doing wrong. Deep in my heart, I wondered if God was even listening to me. 

I continued living in the darkness of depression and anxiety for weeks upon weeks.

I am so thankful that I had a few friends and family who were supportive and understanding during this time. Most of all, my husband, Dave. He let me wake him up in the middle of the night when I felt panic attacks coming on and held me. He pulled over to the side of the road and prayed for me when a panic attack showed up as we were driving to a play. He met my tears with compassion and love. My anxiety was inconvenient for both of us, and I hated putting him through what I was experiencing, but he always reminded me that he loved me no matter what and that God had not abandoned me. Dave's love and acceptance helped keep me sane when I felt like my world was falling apart.

Dave encouraged me to seek help by consulting with my doctor, pursuing therapy, and even looking at medication. With his steady encouragement, I swallowed what little pride I had left ... and sought help.

The doctor asked me a lot of questions, which I answered through many, many tears. She assured me that I wasn’t crazy. It’s funny now to think about it, but I was so relieved by her words. In many ways, I had felt like I was going crazy … I felt as if my life had spiraled out of control.

I was VERY against taking medicine at first. I think it was a matter of pride--I somehow thought I should be able to handle this on my own. I felt ashamed at the thought that I might need a drug to help me cope with everyday life. But at the doctor's recommendation and with Dave’s gentle support, I finally started taking pills. It was a rocky start, but finally I settled on a medication that helps me manage my anxiety. Some people mistakenly believe that medication takes anxiety away. It doesn’t. But, for me, it does make my anxiety more manageable. I find that I can take a step back and look at my fears and anxious thoughts more rationally.

I spent some time with a therapist, too, and I learned how to take steps to protect myself from anxiety and minimize it. I learned breathing techniques. I increased my exercise, paid more attention to what I ate, and did my best to stick to a nightly routine to help me sleep.

The medication, in combination with therapy, helped me feel like I could get my feet under me again. There were minutes and then hours that I didn’t have anxious thoughts. I wasn’t crying almost every night. I started doing activities that I used to enjoy again--like baking and watching TV--without being bombarded by huge anxieties. I still had anxiety attacks, but they were becoming far less frequent. When I felt a panic attack coming on, I did my best to slow my breathing and calmly ride it out. I kept reminding myself that the attack wouldn't last.

As I shared my story about my struggle with anxiety with others, I was surprised to find that many of my friends have either suffered from anxiety themselves (to varying degrees) or know someone who has. I was so encouraged to know that not only was I not alone ... I was in good company! One of my friends, Lisa, bravely shared her personal journey through depression and anxiety recently on her blog.

You might wonder how my faith factors into all of this. Well, God didn't abandon me in the darkness of my anxiety. Sometimes, I felt as if he was very far away, but he came near to me in some of my blackest moments, too.

One of the most memorable times was when I was reading the Psalms (as I had been doing nearly every day since the anxiety attacks started). I closed my eyes and once again begged God to take my anxiety away. All at once, I felt a strong impulse (I'm not sure how else to explain it) to turn to the book of John in the New Testament. After a few moments, I did. And then, I felt strongly pulled to turn to chapter 17. Inside, I felt just a tad silly as I flipped to chapter 17 ... I wondered if perhaps the pull I was feeling was just my imagination. I had no idea what John 17 was until I turned there. Then, my gaze landed on verse 6, where Jesus prays for his disciples. As I read through the end of the chapter, tears filled my eyes.

"I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.

I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

“Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

“Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

(John 17:6-26)

I bolded the phrases that especially stuck out to me as I read. I knew that Jesus was reminding me of these truths. Imagine that--the Savior of the world praying for ME. God has allowed the anxiety to continue, but he has walked alongside me every day through this difficult journey. And I have felt his presence in amazing ways.

My battle isn't over. Anxiety is still present in my life to varying degrees, but … most days … it’s a small voice in my head that I can ignore.

I praise God for holding me and carrying me through the storm.

December 20, 2014

My Struggle With Anxiety (Episode 1)

I am a Christian, and I struggle with anxiety. 

This isn't the path I would have chosen for myself, but it's the one I've been walking in a very intense way over the past year. It's taken me a while to get up the nerve to share my story publicly.

A big part of my hesitation to share it openly is that there's a stigma attached to mental illnesses like anxiety and depression. For some reason, we encourage people to take Tylenol when they have a headache ... or receive chemotherapy when they've been diagnosed with cancer ... but when it comes to anxiety, people say, "If you just pray harder or trusted God more or had enough faith, you'd be cured." This kind of advice is well-meaning, but it can be very damaging and hurtful. The truth is, many different factors can contribute to anxiety. I think it's a mistake to assume that anxiety is always 100% related to a spiritual deficiency. 

But I understand the wholly spiritual perspective because in all honesty, it used to be mine. Someone I know confessed to struggling with anxiety several years ago. Alongside my genuine concern that anxiety was such a consuming problem in that person's life, I scoffed just a tiny bit inside. I couldn't understand how someone could be a Christian AND struggle with anxiety. I had no idea that just a few years later, God would shatter my prideful thoughts by pretty much knocking me over the head with a spiritual 2x4. I would experience firsthand exactly what anxiety can do to a person. 

Before you dive into my personal story, I ask that you watch this quick video, which explains anxiety really well:



I don't like to dwell on my first anxiety attack much. It was a VERY scary experience, but to give you a full picture of my journey through anxiety, I really need to start there. So, *deep breath*, here goes ...

It happened near the beginning of autumn in 2013. I was feeling sick to my stomach at work, so I left a couple of hours early. I wondered if I might be coming down with the flu. As I drove home, I began to feel lightheaded, so I pulled off the main road and into a parking lot. My plan was to wait until the dizzy feeling passed before driving the rest of the way home. And that's when the scary symptoms began appearing. The dizziness got much worse. My heart was beating very erratically and was painful on and off. I had also experience a longer stretch of heart pain earlier in the day. I prayed to God for help. I didn't realize I was doing it, but my breathing had grown very shallow and fast. I opened my car window to let in some fresh air. When my hands and feet started to go numb, I knew something was seriously wrong. I wondered if I was having a heart attack.

I decided to call 911. The only problem was, my hands were so numb that I couldn't feel them anymore. There were cramped into a curled position, and I couldn't move them to dial 911. I couldn't even pick up my cell phone. Knowing I needed help, I looked around--and after 30 seconds or so, I spotted an older couple walking towards their car. I called out, "Help me, please!" My speech was muddled, and my breath came out in short gasps. The couple stopped and asked me what was wrong. After hearing me briefly explain my symptoms, they dialed 911.

A police car and then an ambulance arrived. The medic explained that I was experiencing a panic attack. He asked me to try to slow my breathing. The rate at which he was breathing (and trying to get me to breathe) seemed impossibly slow. Eventually, my breathing slowed a little in the ambulance. After hearing about my heart pains, they hooked me up to a heart monitoring device. Several minutes later, the medic calmly told me that he'd run a test a couple of times now to be sure, and it looked like there was a blockage in my heart. He asked if I'd be okay with them taking me to the hospital, and I said, "Yes." On the way to the hospital, I again cried out to God for help. I asked him for healing for my heart. 

At the hospital, they hooked me up to more monitors and took several blood samples. Eventually, I heard that the heart test results came back clear. Praise God! Dave came then and held my hand as I was diagnosed with a severe panic attack. I felt kind of silly that I had gone to the hospital because the medical professionals there had discovered nothing wrong with my heart, but I was overwhelmingly relieved. Maybe the medics in the ambulance had faulty equipment ... but perhaps there was a blockage in my heart then, but God healed my heart before the tests at the hospital were run. Whatever the truth of the matter, I know that God was present, and he answered my prayers.

As Dave drove me home, I remember telling him that I was sure that this was a one-time event. I'd never been prone to anxiety/panic attacks before, so I was sure that this experience would be the end of it. But I was wrong. The very next night, I struggled to get my breathing regulated again. It seemed like my body was pre-programmed to go into panic mode, and there wasn't much I could do to stop it. 

This was the beginning of my journey through anxiety. (Read part 2 here.) Meanwhile, I'd love to hear if you or anyone you know has struggled with anxiety. It's a wonderful comfort to know we're not alone.  :)

December 17, 2014

A Scrabble craft, singing, and Christmas!

I have to say, I’m pretty excited about the next couple of weeks.

Obviously, Christmas is next week—so I’m looking forward to lots of time with family (including a bunch of extended family!). White elephant gifts. Laughter. Memories. Oh, and cookies. Lots of Christmas cookies.  :)

I have some extra choir rehearsals this week gearing up for our Christmas program this Sunday. Our choir is leading the church service with a whole bunch of wonderful Christmas music! It’s going to be such a great time!

If you know me in real life, you know that I like to teach myself new things. I mastered the basics of knitting not too long ago, but I ran into a snag. My eyes are so tired after a full day of work writing while staring at a computer screen, it hurts them to gaze intently at the yarn threads in the evenings. So, knitting is out. But I still love to work on crafts. Want to know what my new project is? Scrabble coasters! (Yep, they’re a thing! You can Google them.) I’m so excited to pick up the rest of the supplies I need and get started on those sometime this week or next. I’ll try to get some pictures up here afterwards so you can see how I did!

I also have plans to watch one of my all-time favorite movies, The Young Victoria, with friends this weekend.

Do you have any fun plans over the next couple of weeks? I’d love to hear from you!

December 8, 2014

When God Seems Far Away


If you don't have the presence of God in your life--or if he just seems impossibly far away from you right now, let me first say this: God loves you. And he has a plan for your life.

Sin separates us from God--and everyone sins. (See Romans 3:23)

But broken, messed-up sinners are something of a specialty with God. (A fact I am VERY thankful for.)

Mark 2:17 says, "On hearing this, Jesus said to them, 'It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.'" 

His grace covers prostitutes, liars, blasphemers, murderers, etc. Just read the Bible and you'll see TONS of case histories of these types of folks ... and how God calls them to do extraordinary things with their lives.

Anything admirable or praiseworthy in me comes from the foundational security I have as a child of God. He's transformed my life and continues to help me grow. He walks with me. He never abandons me--even when my path seems dark. He alone brings meaning and purpose into my life. And he LOVES you. He longs to give you the peace and meaning you are searching for.

If you'd like to hear more about my faith, I'd love to chat with you. You can leave a comment below if you like!

December 3, 2014

The Trap of Apathy

I want to have a fulfilled, meaningful life. (Don't we all?)

Sometimes that can show up as (for lack of a better word) "restlessness" with the way things are. I think God can use that restlessness to push us to do great things with our lives--things that glorify him.

Now, don't get me wrong, contentment is a great thing. What terrifies me is falling into the trap of being too content with the way things are ... to settle for less for my life when God has better plans for me.

I know Satan would love nothing more than for me to just talk about serving God with my life, but do absolutely nothing about it. He hopes I’ll “entertain myself to death” and focus on no one but myself to the end of my days. But that's a recipe for an empty life--always chasing after the next high--because on my own, I can't reach a place where I'm completely fulfilled.

No matter how many new haircuts I get, Pinterest projects I make, or new movies I watch, it's never enough. There's always that "one more thing."

What's the problem? I get too focused on me sometimes and lose sight of God.

The fact is, the entire point of reality is not about me … it’s about God. Giving up my selfish ways is hard (I’m naturally inclined to “take” instead of “give”). I'm not always perfect at giving things over to God, but I keep striving to do that because I'd rather have God in the driver’s seat of my life. He's much better at directing my life than I am.  :)

That’s how a fulfilling life is lived … by giving it up.

November 20, 2014

The Duggar "Anti-Gay" Controversy

Dave and me. Our fist kiss as husband and wife!
As I've ranted about before, clean TV shows are hard to come by.

It’s frustrating that clean, family-oriented shows with Christian values are the ones getting attacked in our culture.

In case you haven't heard the story, the Duggars challenged all married couples to take a happily married picture and post it on Facebook.

"God designed marriage to be a loving, dynamic relationship between a husband and wife for a lifetime," they said.

Then, they were criticized for removing photos on their Facebook page of men kissing men and women kissing women ... and now they're the recipients of a lot of hateful comments. People are saying they're "anti-gay."

The Duggars aren't changing their stance on marriage, but they are responding with love and grace.

"We will always stand for truth and the values we hold dear without compromise but we will do so in love and kindness--treating others well even if we don't agree with them and we will do so without hateful words," the Duggars posted later.

And that same day, they posted on Facebook: “We love these wise words from Rick Warren:
‘Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone's lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. Second is that to love someone means that you must agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don't have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.’”

(Well said, Rick Warren.)

But thousands have signed a petition to cancel the Duggars' show, "19 Kids and Counting."

“‘The Duggars have been using their fame to promote discrimination, hate, and fear-mongering against gays and transgendered people,’ Wissick wrote in a letter to TLC which was posted on the Change.org petition page. ‘You need to take a stand on the side of justice and cancel their show.’” (Huffington Post)

Here's what gets me: I choose not to watch some TV shows for personal reasons. Everyone has that freedom. The thousands signing the petition are free to simply choose not to watch "19 Kids and Counting." But instead, they're trying to cancel the show.

It seems to me as if the LGBT community posted the photos on the Duggars’ page just to stir the pot and cause problems. After all, the Duggars did clearly say, “husband and wife” in their picture challenge post and they’ve always been known as a conservative Christian family.

I think there is an element of spiritual warfare in this. There are many shows right now with immoral crap in them ... and I don't see anyone batting an eye, let alone signing a petition to get them off the air. (Maybe we should?!) But a family who stands strong in their biblical values? Why is that getting attacked? It just isn't right.

Personally, I'm thankful for the Duggars' courageous stand on biblical marriage, even if it's not popular right now.

Agree? Disagree? What are your thoughts about this? Post below!

November 13, 2014

Molly in the Snow!

We woke up this morning to the first snow of the season!

And do you know what I found out? Molly LOVES snow!!!!! She kept wanting to bound through it ... so, as you can see, the bottoms of my pants got a little soaked during our walk tonight. But it was worth it to see her having so much fun!


video

November 6, 2014

The Many Faces of Molly

Molly's expressions tonight were particularly ... expressive.  :)  See for yourself!

"I will catch it. And then it shall be mine."


"Okay, Mom. I think that's enough hugs for one night!"


"What is that?!"


"Even when I'm making a sad face, I'm still adorable!"


"Fetch me some water, minion."


"Goodnight, world!" (I love her little Shih Tzu under-bite. So cute!)

October 30, 2014

Winter is coming. Here's "Sand"!

From what I hear about the forecast, winter is coming quickly!

So, before snowflakes start hitting the ground, how about a little taste of summer? I wrote this poem a few years ago. By the way, I hope you're enjoying reading my poetry and other writings. This blog has sort of morphed into a space for me to share some of my reflections on life, personal writings like poetry and short stories, life updates, and a generous smattering of other things.  :)  Anyway, thanks for reading!


Sand

Silent tears
drip from the sky
Dropping

wet holes in the sand

The young girl runs
with her towel
flapping from both upheld fists

A thousand shimmering diamonds
splash the shore before her in steady rhythm

Bare toes lightly touch the
cool,
damp carpet
with each step

And the music of the beach dances in her ear.

October 27, 2014

Good Things this Weekend

This past weekend was filled with good things! Here are a few highlights:

Corn mazing (I may have just made up that phrase!). I had a blast wandering around a gigantic corn maze at the same place Dave and I went when we were dating two years ago. Fun to relive those memories and make new ones!

Molly. She’s getting more comfortable! There’s a lot less hiding under couches from Dave (she was a little scared of him at first). In fact, now he’s one of her favorite playmates! They played a good game of tug-of-war last night. And he introduced her to a pig’s ear treat, which she LOVES to chew on. Our little doggie really enjoys going for walks, as you saw in the video I posted last week … but what she loves even better is running! Dave has become her running buddy. Oh, and Molly really likes playing fetch. It’s fun for us to see Molly having fun!

Singing. In choir on Sunday, we sang a great song called, “Be Ye Glad.” The lyrics are very powerful, so I thought I'd share them with you today.

In these days of confused situations.
In these nights of a restless remorse,
When the heart and the soul of the nation,
lay wounded and cold as a corpse.
From the grave of the innocent Adam,
comes a song bringing joy to the sad.
Oh your cry has been heard and the ransom,
has been paid up in full, Be Ye Glad.

Oh, Be Ye Glad, Be Ye Glad,
Every debt that you ever had
Has been paid up in full by the grace of the Lord,
Be Ye Glad, Be Ye Glad, Be Ye Glad.

From the dungeon a rumor is stirring.
You have heard it again and again.
But this time the cell keys are turning,
and outside there are faces of friends.
And though your body lay weary from wasting,
and your eyes show the sorrow they've had.
Oh the love that your heart is now tasting
has opened the gate, Be Ye Glad.

Oh, Be Ye Glad, Be Ye Glad,
Every debt that you ever had
Has been paid up in full by the grace of the Lord,
Be Ye Glad, Be Ye Glad, Be Ye Glad.

So be like lights on the rim of the water,
giving hope in a storm sea of night.
Be a refuge amidst the slaughter,
for these fugitives in their flight.
For you are timeless and part of a puzzle.
You are winsome and young as a lad.
And there is no disease or no struggle,
that can pull you from God, Be Ye Glad.

Oh, Be Ye Glad, Be Ye Glad,
Every debt that you ever had
Has been paid up in full by the grace of the Lord,
Be Ye Glad, Be Ye Glad, Be Ye Glad.


Words and Music by M. K. Blanchard

October 19, 2014

Meet Molly!

The newest member of our family came home yesterday!

Meet Molly.  :)



One of the first things we learned about Molly is that she LOVES to go outdoors to run and walk! Here's a little video from this morning:

video


October 14, 2014

Happy "birthweek" to me!

My birthday is this week, and the celebration is already going strong!

I kicked things off this past weekend with delicious food shared with my parents, siblings, and in-laws. I have an awesome family. Love creating new memories with them!  :)

The BIG excitement that I've been looking forward to all week is that (if all goes as planned) I'll have a fuzzy new friend on Saturday! Dave and I are driving out to pick up our first dog. It's an adorable black/gray Shih Tzu.

We're still trying to decide on a name for her, and we've narrowed it down to two: Missy or Molly. Which one do you like?

The name reveal and photos will hopefully be posted this weekend!

October 10, 2014

A Favorite Choir Song

My choir has started up their season again, and I've transitioned to singing alto! (With 14 sopranos and only 5 altos, they really needed me over there!)

And I LOVE the music we are singing this fall.

There is something about music that has always touched my soul in a special way. Sometimes, I forget just how MUCH God loves me ... and through song, I am often powerfully reminded of his great love.

If you're like me, sometimes you can get caught up in your own little world. Your day. Your to-do list. Your worries. And I forget that I need to turn my worries over to God ... which is silly, because they're all in his hands anyway. I was never meant to shoulder that burden alone.

Singing worship songs (like the one I've posted below) helps reorient me to what is important. What is true. What is eternal.

Now, I don't have my choir's music recorded, but I've posted a demo of one of my favorite songs of this season to give you a taste of it. So, listen away and join me in praise to God!  :)




October 6, 2014

Legless Ants and Recess

Have you had enough of my short stories/novel snippets yet? Well, I've got one more to share with you today. It's a cute story I made up about a couple of elementary school kids.  - Laurel

Legless Ants and Recess

The best thing about Chad was that he ate my raisins.

I hated raisins. They looked like ants. I used to watch black ants crawl in and out of their little anthills—formed in the sidewalk cracks outside school. Every time I chewed a raisin, I felt like I was eating a dead little ant without legs.

Chad’s small wooden desk—which he could barely squeeze into—was nestled behind mine in our tiny second grade classroom.

Our teacher had long red hair. Her last name was too long for us to say, so we just called her Mrs. Z. I always wondered why she had a chair behind her desk; she never sat in it. She constantly strode along the aisles, straightening the extra-large pencils on our desks. Mrs. Z was strict about us kids finishing our lunches before we could go outside for recess.

And it was lunchtime now.

I unwrapped my crumpled brown lunch bag and poured out the contents my mom had packed. Peanut butter sandwich. Juice box. Raisins. I grimaced, then felt the eyes of Mrs. Z piercing my skull. I froze. Finally, one of the other kids sneezed. Mrs. Z’s eyes whipped in that direction and snapped up a Kleenex from the large box on her desk, walking in the direction of the sneeze offender.

I gripped the edge of the plastic bag and raised the lid of my desk slowly to minimize the unearthly screech it usually let forth. As I sneaked the bag towards the edge, intending to slip it inside my desk, the plastic made a crinkling sound. I froze, glancing up in time to see Mrs. Z stiffen and turn around to look in my direction.

She glared at me and slowly shook her head. I set down my desk lid and stared at the bag of legless ants. How had she heard me over the noise of the other kids in the room munching and laughing?

I briefly considered concealing the taste of the ants in my thick peanut butter sandwich, but quivered with disgust at the thought. I ate my plain peanut butter sandwich and drained my juice box dry. I watched as the kids, one by one, finished their lunches and headed out to recess.

Finally, Chad and I were the only ones left in the room with Mrs. Z. I could hear the other kids shouting and laughing outside.

Pretending to stretch, I glanced behind me. Chad had a fistful of sandwich in his mouth, and his large cheeks were smeared with some sort of purple—maybe grape jelly. Ew. I caught his eye, then motioned to my raisins. “Want some?” I said in a barely audible whisper. He nodded cheerfully, saying, “Um-hum!” loudly through his half-chewed sandwich.

I turned quickly—and Mrs. Z was glaring at me again from her desk. Suddenly, she stood, commanding us, “Finish your lunches. Now!” With Mrs. Z staring, there was no way I could slip my baggie to Chad.

The formidable mound of dead ants stared blankly at me from inside the plastic baggie. I shuddered. I unzipped a corner of the bag. Slowly, I sneaked my forefinger and thumb inside, picking up a the smallest shriveled raisin. I tucked it into the side of my mouth and exaggerated a pretended chew, offering a half-smile to my teacher.

Her mouth turned down in disgust, then the screech of kids playing tag close to the window snagged her attention. Mrs. Z  stalked across the room to my right, stopping to stare out the window.

Seizing the moment, I slapped my hand around the plastic baggie and flung it to the trashcan by the front door. I watched its flying arch, willing it to go into the mouth of the can. But it ricocheted off the side and landed next to it. My heart thudded to a stop. Then, it started again, fast and loud in my ears. Thankfully, a bag of dead ants doesn’t make much of a sound. At least, I hoped not. Mrs. Z was looking at me again. No … she was looking over the top of my head.

Chad was up, having dutifully finished every crumb of his lunch. He proudly held up his empty Lion King lunch box, which sported a grinning Simba on the front.

No matter how many sandwiches and Twinkies his mother packed, Chad always polished off each one. I might, too, if I had Twinkies instead of shriveled, legless ants. With a grim smile, the teacher nodded, dismissing Chad to recess. Squaaaaalch! Chad lifted up his desk cover and scooped up his little stuffed animal—a wide-winged bat—which he’d affectionately named, “Walter.”

As Chad ambled towards the door, Mrs. Z’s attention was back on me. I suddenly remembered the legless ant pressing against the side of my mouth. It was getting pretty soggy. Swallowing hard, I forced it down in one gulp.

In the corner to my left, I watched Chad walk up to the door, then pause. He scooped up my raisin bag with his free hand and walked out, a fistful of the nasty dead creatures already on its way to his mouth. My breath came out in a whoosh. Chad had saved me from the legless creatures today.

Now, it was time to escape … to recess! I held up my empty little brown bag aloft, just as Chad had done with his lunchbox. But the teacher shook her head and, with one spindly finger, motioned me to come to her.

Panic gripped my stomach. Had she seen? I hurriedly walked up to the front of the classroom, clutching my little brown bag. She peered inside it, and, appearing disappointed to find it empty, she motioned me away.

I sped out the door, down the wide hallway, and out the door into the bright sunlight. I sighed. Freedom.

October 4, 2014

My "Penny" Poem

Those of you who know me in real life know that I am passionate about helping free women who are victims of sex trafficking. It’s an issue that has been close to my heart for years.

I was thinking about how these ladies are treated sometimes very much like how we might treat a penny—as nearly worthless. And the tragedy is that many girls believe the lie that they are worthless. These special girls don’t know how loved, valuable, and cherished they are in the eyes of God.

"Penny" is a poem I wrote back in 2009 as I reflected on these thoughts ...

Penny

Called “ugly”
Thrown down, scraped up,
rubbed raw
from too many hands.

Called “dirty”
Stepped on, spit on.
left in the streets.

Called “cheap”
Passed from owner to owner,
they tell me
I am of little worth.

And I believe them.

September 29, 2014

Photo Booth Fun! :)

Dave and I had a blast at his coworker's wedding this weekend.

Has anyone else noticed how photo booths and candy bars have now become REALLY popular at weddings? These are two trends that I am definitely enjoying.  ;)

Here are a couple of photo booth moments at a friend's wedding (back in 2012 when Dave and I first started dating!):


It didn't take long for Dave and I to become each other's best friends. *sigh* I love him so much. And I love that I can be completely myself with him. And that we can be goofy together.  :)  Here are our photo booth pictures from the wedding this past weekend:


September 27, 2014

"Rosie" (Novel Snippet #2)

Depending on how you look at it, this could be a complete short story or part of a longer novel. Either way, I am excited -- and a little nervous -- to share this with you. "Rosie" may not end in the way you expect ...  - Laurel

Rosie stepped outside. The cold velvet air caressed her cheeks, turning them red. Blissfully, she was wrapped in an oversized furry coat, which sheltered most of her skin from the chill. A glimpse of a smile escaped Rosie as she saw the snow-laden trees. “It looks like God came and frosted them overnight,” she thought. Rosie wondered if she might yet hear the chitter-chatter of the few squirrels that had resisted the urge to dig into the warm underground and still braved the icy fingers of winter.

Behind her, Rosie’s own shelter from the cold—a nondescript white hut that had just begun to gray with age—beckoned her to return. Glancing back, Rosie’s saw the familiar lone narrow window that graced the front of the house. Rosie felt like that window. Alone. Out of place. And chilled by the frost. But, unlike that window, she could leave that creaking house. She shivered and pressed on to the trees. Rosie longed to hear the voices of the forest creatures…even just one. She would not stay away any longer from the woods—no matter what warning her old hut moaned.

20 minutes later, the house welcomed Rosie back. No, the squirrels were tucked safely underground. She tried to coax one out with a song, but they must be fast asleep. As usual that night, Rosie wrote in her tan, leather-bound journal. With large brown eyes, she peered through her lonely window, gazing at her favorite stars.

Rosie was startled when a robin-sized bird landed on her windowsill. It was as white as the ground outside! And this was no ordinary bird! It spoke to her – “I have come from a distant land. There is a prince there who bid me…” Here the bird stopped, awkwardly shifting to one spindly, sharp-clawed foot.

Rosie’s heart thumped in her chest. What strange words the feathery creature spoke! “So…” she spluttered, “Why have you come here?”

The small black eyes of the bird softened. “As I was flying through this country, I heard you singing in the woods nearby. You have a beautiful voice! So, I stopped a while to rest on a branch and your music gave me great peace. I would like to give you something.”

At this moment, the bird turned his neck almost completely around, pecking at his feathers with his pointed beak. In a moment, he withdrew a single folded sheet of paper. Bowing gracefully, he dropped it in Rosie’s opened journal.

Rosie blinked, and in that second, the bird was gone! With quivering hands, she unfolded the sheet, flattening it on the desk’s hard surface. Rosie drew her candle’s flame close, and bent over the little note. It read, “Dearest lady…”

The contents of the letter are private to Rosie. I would not break her confidence, dear reader, so I cannot disclose what the prince said to woo fair Rosie.

But I will tell you that the letter contained instructions.

The first—and most important—was that Rosie was to keep the paper. On her person.

Rosie happily kept the letter in the pocket of her robe that night. When she awoke, though, the paper had moved. It seemed to have crawled up on her skin. “Ridiculous, of course,” Rosie muttered. “I must have tossed and turned in my sleep.”

But, strangely, she was happy to leave the paper there on her arm. It felt good. The single leaf of paper was face-up on her arm. She read the prince’s words over and over.

Later that day, it had moved up her forearm. By evening, it had wrapped itself around her neck. “I feel so good,” Rosie thought, looking in the mirror at it. “But it feels just a tad tight.” She tried to slip her finger under an edge, but she couldn’t.

Rosie screamed as the paper began to choke her.

Lunging for her candle, which was flaming, she held it up to her own neck. The paper shrieked.

In the mirror, Rosie watched the paper succumb to the flames. Bit by bit, the black ashes fled to the ground. Her neck had a slight burn, and her hair was singed. She hated that smell.

But what Rosie did not see was a silent white bird, who retrieved with its beak one tiny unburned corner of the paper that had fallen to the ground.

10 years later, a note was dropped on Rosie’s desk. There was a flutter of wings. Trembling, Rosie opened the letter. “Dearest lady…” she whispered aloud. She held the paper to the single flame of her candle, willing herself to read no more of the letter.

Screaming, the last of the original letter died.

September 26, 2014

"Araleen on the Dark Side of the Planet" (Novel Snippet #1)

This is one of those "novel snippets" I mentioned in my last blog post. I really enjoy writing these. Today marks this piece's public debut ... so be nice!  ;)  And enjoy! - Laurel

Araleen began singing again, now more loudly than before. Suddenly, two stars quivered to life above her, giving minimal vision as she neared the patch of light. Soon, more stars joined the first two in that corner, as if the edge of a dark blanket was being lifted. But Araleen hardly noticed, intent on reaching the light shaft she was gradually nearing.

Finally, she reached the patch of light, stopping what she guessed to be about six feet away from the strange-looking illuminated structure. The light emanating from it cast its fuzzy warm fingers all the way to the ground beneath her feet, forming a light-filled shadow. Here, the ground was not quite as soggy. 

Araleen was puzzled by the patch of light. It was rectangular in shape, standing about three feet above her head and continuing all the way down to the ground. Seeming to function as a sort of television, it transmitted images that were a little hazy. She could, however, make out a beautiful field of purple flowers and high grass that lay under a brilliant blue sky. She could see shadowed darkness just beyond the field, where a forest of trees swayed in gentle rhythm. Drawn to the scene, Araleen pressed her hand against the warm image. Though it was soft, it would not give way. Sitting down, she contented herself with being near the shaft of light. 

She gazed at the five stars that now poking at the black sky directly above, providing soft starlight and a sort of comfort. It is strange that the stars did not appear until now. They really are quite lovely. A sharp intake of breath. My song…it was only after I sang that they appeared. Perhaps it works some sort of magic. 

Araleen instantly stood on her feet and sang, leaning into the rectangle of light, but it would not budge. She tightened her mouth in frustration, once more mesmerized by the scene before her. A girl was now sitting in the field, and she looked as if she had just awoken from a wonderful dream. She stretched and looked around her, seemingly confused about something. Throwing any caution she may have felt to the – well, there was no wind, but – into the thick air, Araleen attacked the dirt right in front of the image with her hands. If only she could somehow get past this grime into that beautiful place! She dug swiftly, pulling out chunk after chunk of mucky dirt. Not even pausing to check again on the girl in the light picture, Araleen worked obsessively on her new task. She wore no watch, and it was impossible to tell how long she dug because no sun or moon rose in the blackness. Finally, she collapsed and fell into an exhausted sleep.
 
Araleen woke in black silence. Mind racing, she slowly opened her eyes; she was on her stomach. With her hands, she instantly pushed herself up. A hard substance was beneath her…cement, she guessed. She saw a faint light coming from a wall to her left. Walking over to it, she noticed the hard metal bars that formed dark cold lines in the shaft of dim light. The light itself emanated from a torch some distance away, but she could just make out the dancing shape of fire on the wall just in front of her. Oh, spectacular. I’m in prison. She threw up her hands and coughed out a bit of strained laughter. Someone apparently heard her.

September 24, 2014

A Writer’s Confession

CONFESSION: After writing all day long at work, I don’t usually have the creative stamina to dive right into a “long-term” writing project -- like a novel.

After all, to write a novel, you have to be willing to set aside large chunks of time … and go down into the trenches with your characters day after day. Sometimes, I wonder if novel-writing authors ever get sick of their characters before they finish writing a book. But maybe for some, it’s more like saying goodbye to a beloved friend? Hmmmm.

I digress. Anyway, I do enjoy writing here on my blog, creating poetry and short stories, and dabbling in other forms of written art. And over the years, I’ve jotted down what I would call “snippets” of full novels, too.

And I think it’s time for some of these “snippets” to see the light of day.

What say you? Are you ready to dive into some of my novel “snippets”? (Hey, if there’s enough interest, I just might make a blog series with them.)  :D

September 21, 2014

The Process of Grieving

Grieving has been on my mind a lot this month.

You've probably heard that grieving is a cycle. A process. And from what I've experienced of it, that's very true.

Sometimes, I feel like I've come out of that grief, and then a memory will suck me right back into "the pit of despair" -- to use a line from the movie, The Princess Bride (1987). But I'm glad that God brings people alongside us to grieve with us. My dear friend, Erin, came to my grandpa's funeral earlier this month. She wept with me after the service. Entering into grief with one another is a beautiful thing. A healing thing. And it's a powerful display of love.

I've been watching the show 19 Kids and Counting on Netflix, and the episode I watched last night was filled with grief. I couldn't help but weep with Michelle Duggar and her family as they mourned the loss of their precious baby girl, Jubilee.


I thought that this month in particular might be a good time to share a poem I wrote back in 2009 about grieving. I hope you take the time to enter into another's grief. To allow them to share and cry ... and not have to try to hold back the tears. We shouldn't have to hide our grief.

The Spiders


Dark spiders are
spinning,
spinning
threads

warm and wet
down my silken cheeks

Black saltwater stains crust on
my fingertips.

The dark, dripping webs
smother me

until I am small,

And everyone can see –
I am not hidden at all.

September 18, 2014

Foot Golf and Other Adventures

I have now played foot golf.

What is foot golf, you ask? Picture regular golf, but replace the golf ball with a soccer ball ... and the golf club with your leg. That's pretty much what it is! On our vacation up north this past week, Dave and I had fun kicking soccer balls across a 9-hole golf course. (Even with a golf cart, it was quite a workout! Two days later, my legs are still sore!)

Dave and I also tried cherry salsa (delicious!) and discovered a candy store with 30+ flavors of taffy. We filled a little bag with some new flavors--like caramel popcorn, chocolate chip cookie, and blueberry!

If you could invent any flavor of taffy, what would you make?

September 8, 2014

A WWII Love Story

My grandpa served in the military during World War II. While he was away, he and my grandma (who were dating at the time) kept in touch through telegrams as well as handwritten letters and postcards. Some of those notes have survived all these years! I was privileged to read them for the first time this past weekend.

Reading these notes just warms my heart. My grandpa passed away last week. He and my grandma were married for 67 years ... still very deeply in love.

Here are a few excerpts from telegrams:





September 4, 2014

Purity Isn't Popular (Episode 3)

Fall begins this month! It's my favorite season.  :)

I love apple picking, taking walks in the woods, and snuggling a warm cup of tea in my hands. Oh, and thunderstorms. I really like thunderstorms!

Maybe you remember how I wrote back in April about making changes to my purity standards. Well, I wanted to give an update on how things are going. As with any lifestyle change, it was hard to get used to this and make it a habit at first, but it is getting easier!

Here's what's been happening:


I changed all the preset radio stations in my car to Christian or classical music. This helps me avoid taking bad stuff in with the "good" or "neutral" on secular radio stations. Don't get me wrong—I like a variety of music, but it's just not worth it to me to have to listen to immoral crap alongside decent music.

I have been cutting out more TV shows and movies. Taking a critical look at what I'm watching—through the lens of Ephesians 5—I have begun to "re-sensitize" myself to what is right and wrong. My ability to discern those things took a nosedive years ago as soon as I started to rationalize and excuse certain things, thinking they "weren't that bad." Now, I am working to reverse that process ... to make myself more sensitive to prompting and correction from the Bible because I want to honor God with my life.

I confess that one day last summer, I was feeling whiney. I just wanted to sit down and watch a funny show like The Big Bang Theory to unwind and relax, as I used to. I was feeling sorry for myself that I had committed not to watch something that many other Christian believers wouldn’t bat an eye at. But the next thought I had stopped me in my tracks. I remembered Jesus’ sacrifice. His agonizing death on the cross to pay the penalty for my sins. What right did I have to complain about my “sacrifice,” which suddenly seemed so tiny? Jesus sacrificed his very life for me. Giving up a TV show I once liked shouldn’t even be in the category of “sacrifice.” That realization really propelled me forward … and has kept me motivated.

Dave has been really wonderful through all of this, by the way, and is walking this journey with me, even though it’s not always easy or fun. We’ve had to stop watching a lot of seemingly “clean” shows—sometimes several episodes in—because they suddenly used God’s name in an offensive way (swearing) or a husband cheated on his wife or something else to that effect. This stuff is EVERYWHERE, people. And it’s frustrating. And horrible. Satan has his claws in deep into the media we consume.

On the bright side, because I can’t find much by way of clean movies and TV to watch, I’m spending more time playing games with Dave, reading, making craft projects, writing (of course!), and other non-media-related stuff. And that is definitely a side effect I am okay with!  :)

What are some of the fun things you like to do outside of watching TV or movies?

August 31, 2014

Why I Returned To Facebook

I took a long hiatus from Facebook, and I've been asked some questions about why I decided to return. So, I thought, why not turn it into a blog post?  :)

In college, I learned that I can restore some "shalom" to different spheres of existence -- in my life and in the world at large. And I want to "redeem" a small corner of Facebook, so to speak. I want to use it to speak good, hope, light, laughter, honesty, and life into a world filled with darkness.

Also, I miss being able to advocate for causes I care about. Social media is turning into a MASSIVE fundraising avenue (just look at the success of the Ice Bucket Challenge!), but I felt like my hands were tied. I can't make a difference in a social networking way unless I'm on social networks -- and Facebook is the big kahuna in the online world right now.

But honestly, one of the biggest reasons for my return to Facebook was that I missed being able to connect with friends. I don't have the time to connect with every one of my college buddies in person, but I still LOVE to hear about what's going on in their lives. Births, weddings, and silly videos. Or sad/scary things, prayer requests, and financial needs. For me, even having that small connection means a lot.

Have you ever taken a hiatus from Facebook? If so, why did you return?

August 26, 2014

What's Your Vision? Here's Mine.

A coworker recently asked me, “What’s your vision?”

She wanted me to respond with an email explaining what I believe is the most important thing I can accomplish in my lifetime. (Talk about a big question!)

I thought what I ended up writing might be worth sharing here:

“Well, I’ll try to keep my answer brief (although I could go on for pages and pages about this!).

I am very passionate about making a difference in three areas, which I call 'my trifecta': evangelism, human trafficking, and orphans/kids in general.

Sharing Jesus’ love is my first priority. The most important thing I can accomplish in my lifetime is honoring God with my life and pointing people to Jesus. Ultimately, if I help meet people’s physical/emotional needs but neglect to share about Christ and the true spiritual reality of our lives, I haven’t done anything but make a person more comfortable on their way to an eternity separated from God. And I refuse to live with that. But ideally, I like to do BOTH—sharing Jesus’ love and showing it in practical ways by meeting people’s needs.”

How about you? What’s your passion or vision? Where you do most want to make a difference in the world?

August 23, 2014

Why I Sponsor A Child With Compassion International

I mentioned my sponsorship of a little girl named Adelce here.

There are a lot of reasons why I chose sponsorship through Compassion International, but here are a few of the big ones:

1. Compassion intentionally shares about Jesus

"We believe we must do more than simply meet the physical needs of the poor. Poverty sends a defeating, painful message into the heart of a child: a message that says, 'You don't matter.' Introducing children to their loving Heavenly Father is the most powerful way of reversing this message.

Every child who participates in a Compassion program is given the opportunity to learn about Jesus and discover how to develop a lifelong relationship with God. This good news is modeled and shared in age-appropriate and culturally relevant ways -- never through coercion.

The Great Commission is at the core of our mission and discipleship is at the core of our program."
(http://www.compassion.com/about/commitment-to-christ.htm)

2. Compassion partners with local churches

"The Church is God's chosen instrument to bring hope to a hurting world and to deliver justice to the poor and oppressed. That's why Compassion works exclusively in partnership with local churches in developing nations to deliver a holistic child development program."
(http://www.compassion.com/about/commitment-to-the-church.htm)


3. Compassion helps meet the holistic needs of kids

"By working with local churches, the Child Sponsorship Program offers educational opportunities, health care and health-related instruction, nutrition, life-skills training, and opportunities to hear about and respond to the gospel."
(http://compassionmodel.org/child-sponsorship.php)

If you're considering sponsoring a child, I encourage you to check out Compassion's website.  :)

August 18, 2014

Halfway through our summer bucket list! (Finally.)

Dave took me on a delightful picnic on Saturday. We explored a beautiful park, laughing and chatting. It’s a wonderful thing being married to my best friend.  :)

We’re officially halfway through our summer bucket list now.

  • Blueberry picking. Check.
  • Mini-golfing. Check.
  • Picnic. Check.
  • Making footprints in the sand at the beach! Check.
  • Our first garage sale. Check.

But I can hardly believe it’s already nearing the end of August! We’ll see how many of the remaining 5 ideas we end up doing.

August 14, 2014

Change Is Hard!

Change is hard! This video clip of a 5-year-old girl who doesn't want her baby brother to grow up is adorable. (Love her baby brother’s grin!) It made me laugh, and it also reminded me that change can be scary—whether you’re 5 or 50!


As a young girl, change was scary for me, too. I was in a lot of new environments when I was a kid because my parents moved so much. Every time I stepped into yet another classroom full of strangers, I remember feeling very alone … and very unsure of myself. I was terrified of all the unknowns.

But when God told Abraham to pack up and go—he did.

“By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going” (Hebrews 11:8).

Sometimes inside, I still feel like a third grader standing at the back of a classroom, shaking in my white tennis shoes. Among the heroes of faith, I identify more with Moses than Abraham. If God told me to lead a whole crowd of people out of slavery in Africa, I’d say, “Uh, who? Me?! I think you’ve got the wrong girl … I’m no leader!”

But God used Moses—insecure as he was—to lead a nation out of slavery. And the amazing thing is—that same God is in charge of my life! And his power lives in me. 

In Hebrews 11, there are people mentioned “who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again” (verses 33-35a).

WOW. Faith can move mountains. Praise God for turning my weakness into strength.

August 10, 2014

People say I look like ...

I've had friends tell me I look like Molly Ringwald. Once, a lady in the drive-thru window even did a double-take and asked me, "Did anyone ever tell you you look exactly like Molly Ringwald?"

Yes ... yes, they have.

Do you see a resemblance? Which celebrity do people say you look like?

This is Molly in the movie, The Breakfast Club (1985).

And this is me.

August 7, 2014

"Apparently" Kid!

I saw this last night, and it made me (and Dave!) laugh so hard ... I just had to share it!!!  :D


August 4, 2014

Our weekend report

Dave and I had a really fun weekend!

We went mini-golfing after Dave got home from work on Friday. (As usual, he won!) Our pastor and his wife happened to be out mini-golfing that night, too! On Sunday, the pastor’s wife pulled us aside and said in hushed tones, “We saw you kissing under the waterfall. That warmed our hearts!” Awwww…  :)

On Saturday, we knocked something off of our summer bucket list: blueberry picking! The weather was warm and sunny, so Dave made sure we both got out of the sun before our skin really started burning (it doesn’t take long for us!). When we got home, we filled two freezer bags with blueberries—that should last us a while!

July 30, 2014

Blessings in the midst of pain

I've faced some hard things in my life -- things I never saw coming. And I've watched friends endure suffering, trials, and hardships in the past few years that I would never have expected them to go through. But I am so encouraged that through it all, God is faithful.

I was really touched by this blog post from my college friend, Amalia, who recently went through the heartbreak of her newborn daughter passing away just 19 minutes after she was born. Amalia shares,

"My blessings did not come through the exact answers to my prayers. But I have learned that a blessing does not have to be an exact answer to my prayers. Sometimes God chooses a different path for us to walk. 

That road is not always the happy and sunny road. Sometimes we must face the storms, and the rain. Sometimes the path God chooses for us brings countless days filled with tears. Sometimes the path God chooses for us includes night after sleepless night. Sometimes the path God chooses for us seems like it will never end, and that we are constantly trudging through the dark shadows, unsure of where our next step will lead. 

I wanted so badly to be a mom. I wanted so badly to carry her in my arms as we left the hospital. I wanted so badly to hear her laugh, and see her smile. But those are not the blessings that God chose for me.

But let me never fail to say that I am blessed. Although I never would have said this before, I have learned that God has used my tears to bring healing. He has used all of my sleepless nights to remind me that he is near. I have found above all else, that in the midst of the most heartbreaking pain, God does fill me with his blessings. In fact, his abundant blessings have become so real to me throughout this entire journey."

Read Amalia's whole post here.

July 26, 2014

3 Short Updates

1. I realized last week that I’m going to be about 40 years old when I finish sponsoring Adelce. I love that I have the chance to invest in her life over a long period of time … and I’m sure curious what my life will be like at the age of 40!

2. Dave and I completed our very first garage sale, which was on our summer to-do list! I’d call it a moderate success! We made about $60 and met a bunch of our neighbors.  :)

3. Dave got me a cactus for Valentine’s Day this year—he knows me so well! It was growing so fast, I started to measure it. The cactus started out about 2 ½ inches tall. Right now, it stands at 6 ½ inches tall! (YAY! I finally found a plant I can keep alive!!!)

July 24, 2014

What I love about my Chromebook 11

I’m a writer, so having a laptop is important to me. When I realized that my old laptop was probably in its last days, I started to poke around to find out what might be a good replacement.

I’m so glad I decided to try out a Chromebook.

Here’s why:

1. I don’t have to worry about losing my latest draft of something.
Instead of being saved to my computer, my work is saved online. I used to use a USB drive to back up all my work to ensure I would have another copy if my computer suddenly died. Now, I know I can access all my documents and drafts from any device that’s hooked up to the internet. I can see the latest drafts of everything instantly!

2. I saved money.
Instead of buying the whole Microsoft suite like I did for my last laptop, I am able to save everything to my Google Drive using “Google Docs,” which is similar to Word. I also found out that (bonus!) Google Docs auto-saves everything as I’m working on a document. Plus, Chromebooks are much cheaper than traditional laptops. (All of my Dutch genes just leaped for joy!)  :)

3. It’s hassle-free.
I detest messing with updates and security stuff on my computer, and my Chromebook came equipped to handle all of that stuff automatically by itself. *whew*

All in all, I give my Chromebook 11 a big THUMBS UP!

July 19, 2014

The Cure for Hiccups

I don't know about you, but I've tried a lot of hiccup "remedies" over the years, and some of them are pretty strange.

Now, I am no scientist, but I can tell you that I finally found a hiccup remedy that works flawlessly for me. I've shared this cure with other hiccup sufferers, too, and it's worked for every one of them so far as well!

So, next time you get stuck with a bad case of the hiccups, give this a try:

Pick long words that you know and spell them backwards out loud. 

To make things easier, I recommend starting with names of states, like California, Connecticut, Delaware, Oklahoma, Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming, etc. On the spot, think of as many names of U.S. states as you can ... and spell them backwards out loud (no cheating by reading the letters off of a page!).

Let me know if it works for you or someone you know!

July 15, 2014

My poem about "The Scarlet Letter"

I've dabbled in many parts of the writing universe—including poetry! But I haven’t shared much of my poetry publicly … until now. I've decided it's time to open up a bit of my poetry to the world by sharing some of it here on my blog. 

*deep breath*

So, here’s a poem I wrote several years ago based on the book The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. (If you haven’t read it, I encourage you to read the synopsis here before diving into my poem below.) 

The Scarlet Letter Poem
by Laurel Dykema

A fair countenance
A trustworthy face
Melodious voice and 
Great Preacher of grace

Beneath this fa├žade
a burning lie
that blisters and festers
all white-hot and dry

Hot tears splatter
upon his chest there
Reminding him of
The mark he should bear

That Hester should suffer
in public disgrace
Wore at his heart
As he preached, as he paced

The scaffold he knew
Was escape for his shame
Confessing his guilt
Would mean death to his name

As he mounted the steps
All short of breath
From his pounding heart
And his soon-coming death

His clear voice rang out
over the watching faces
His trembling lips conveyed his guilt
Just before his heart thumped its final paces

He smiled at me as his eyes closed in death
The sacrificial confession, like a lamb
Protecting him from my ultimate revenge
Yes, Chillingworth I am.

July 11, 2014

Gift Ideas for Compassion Child

I sponsor a little girl who lives in Indonesia through Compassion International.

Her name is Adelce.

I love writing her short letters to share about my life and encourage her. I've had so much fun getting creative and thinking of flat, inexpensive items I can mail to Adelce to brighten her day and bring a smile to her face, too!

Learn more about Adelce (and another girl I started sponsoring named Rhoda!) here.

So far, I've mailed some duct tape crafts -- including a bracelet and a little coin purse. (I have to say, I love all the fun colors and patterns duct tape has these days!) Here's another duct tape craft I'm planning to send soon: a bookmark!



I often send stickers, too (because really, who doesn't love stickers?!). I'm a fan of sparkly stickers, animal stickers, and puffy stickers. I also purchased a cheap set of regular stickers and use them to decorate the letters I send to Adelce. One of these days, I'm planning to write to her using some colorful stationary or a greeting card -- just to mix things up!

The craft below is one I just completed today. I printed out a world map and used star stickers to mark where Adelce and I live. Then, I "drew a line" between the two using heart stickers.



I traced the outline of my hand on card stock paper, then used a scissors to cut out the shape of my hand. Maybe someday Adelce will trace out her hand and send it to me, too!



Then, to jazz up an "ordinary" picture, I cut out a piece of the same card stock paper and put it behind a photo.



Did you know that you can make a tiny book using just one piece of printer paper? It's true! I found several versions of directions through Google. You can search and find one that works for you! I had a lot of ideas about what to put in this little book, and I eventually decided to make a "Princess" book for Adelce. Want even more ideas? Check out my Gift Ideas for Compassion Child (Part II).



July 9, 2014

Caterpillar to butterfly

When I was a very young girl, I picked out my first pair of glasses. They were pink (of course!) and had a tiny pink butterfly in one corner.

The glasses made a HUGE difference in my perceptions.

Before glasses, I saw a blurry, confusing world—but when I put my first pair of glasses on, I saw my surroundings with perfect clarity. I wonder if that’s a little what Heaven will be like … that when I leave behind this “caterpillar” body and am raised with my new perfect body, I’ll finally see God, myself, my life, and the world with perfect clarity.

“For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.” - 2 Corinthians 5:1



July 5, 2014

Weakness

2 Corinthians 12:7-10, "...there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong."

Boasting about weaknesses?

That is such a foreign thought. If you’re like me, you find your own weaknesses to be embarrassing. I don’t like to be thought of as weak by other people, and it’s difficult for me to admit my faults. Yet, I am weak—just like Paul admits he is in this passage.

In this passage, the thorn in Paul's flesh is spoken of as "a messenger of Satan." Satan meant this torment for evil, but God uses it as a way to show his power. I wonder what he meant by the “thorn in my flesh.”

Was it physical pain? Mental? Spiritual?

Whatever the source of Paul’s pain, I know that every person I have ever met has experienced some type of pain—including you and me. Maybe, like me (and Paul), you have pleaded with the Lord to take the pain away from you … but in his perfect wisdom, God hasn’t.

I find it interesting that the Lord does not intervene in Paul’s situation, or answer the "Why?" question we all want answered.

Instead, he says, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."

Do you have any thoughts to add? I'd love to hear from you -- comment below.

July 2, 2014

Piqued, peeked, or peaked?

I have many pet peeves when it comes to grammatical errors, but there's one I've been seeing a LOT lately:

People are confusing piqued, peeked, and peaked.

Here are some correct sample sentences:


Thank you. You may now return to your normally scheduled activities.

:)

June 30, 2014

My New Writing Project

The Old Testament is full of stories of God’s faithfulness to the Israelite people throughout the generations.

And you know what? I think it’s really worthwhile to take the time to remember and reflect upon how the Lord has been faithful in my life and my family’s lives.

Why? Well, sometimes when my life is “falling apart” or in crisis, I confess I don’t take the time to reflect on God’s faithfulness. And sometimes when times are smooth, I’m guilty of stepping away from the Lord in pride, thinking I am fine on my own. And let me tell you, the result is not pretty in either of those scenarios.

I want to be intentional about meditating on how God has been there for me (and the generations that came before me)—so that whether I am traversing life in a storm or on calm seas, I remember to look to Jesus as my rock … because he is the one who faithfully sees me through every day.

As a result of these thoughts, a new writing project idea was planted and sprouted in my brain. I want to create a book full of stories about God’s faithfulness to my family through the generations. And I hope to pass on this book to the next generation someday.

This weekend, I wrote letters to my parents and grandparents (and Dave’s, too!), asking them to contribute their own stories and memories.

I’m hoping to get a strong start on this project this fall!