I’m not sure why the people who work with my mom thought this would be an interesting topic to write about. But, the rules of the Journal Jar stipulate the topic drawn at random must be written, so here goes.
Grocery shopping. It can be awful. When you go to the store and it’s payday, and it’s so crowded you have to wait for someone to walk by so you can continue on the aisle, I never want to go again. Sadly, it is a necessity and one that we all must do.
Though I do not find grocery shopping fun, I do find it entertaining if I am not stressed myself. It’s an excellent way to study human nature and how people react to mildly stressful situations.
Grocery shopping for most of us is a mindless activity that doesn’t require much brainpower. We use our lists and put the items on it in our cart, and then we go to the front of the story and check out, chatting with the cashier about the weather, how our day is, etc. See? I’ve completed hundreds of grocery shopping trips like the one I just mentioned.
However, I’ve also completed the other kind. Where money is so tight you have a calculator out and as many coupons as a store will let you use, the bare minimum of items on your list. When that shopping trip happens, a simple requirement of living can turn into a delicate balancing act.
Those of us who live on strict and tight budgets do not generally look forward to shopping. Prices can vary widely and we always worry we will not have enough money to afford what we need to buy. There is no room for “fun” groceries on strict budgets, and so we go without. We eat peanut butter and jelly, grilled cheese, and tons of macaroni and cheese. Cheap meals without any frills, and without any nutritional value.
But we often have no choice. Hopefully, for most of us, it is only temporary. But millions of people across the world struggle to find food every day and don’t always know where their next meal is coming from. I’ve never had that struggle in my life, and I am grateful for it. But we must do what we can to help those in need, and make sure they have affordable food options, though I cannot claim to know how to begin. For now, I donate food to local food banks and other food drives.
And I hope and pray for the day that we won’t need these options at all.
What comes after “The End” of the book?
I finished my first draft in December, determined to have it completed by the end of last year. I started writing it in July and was about 10,000 words from my goal for two months. I didn’t want to finish it, too scared to learn what happens next.
See, this is my first ever completed novel length manuscript first draft. I can admit as much as I want to write books, it is very nerve-wracking to be at the end. Is the writing any good? Did I tell enough story? Are my characters believable? Is the plot outrageous? I had a million questions.
Now, as most writers know, of course it’s terrible.
It’s a first draft!
As I started reading through it in the middle of January, as I started marking errors and phrases and plot points that needed to be changed (my MC’s parents died at four different ages in the first 50 pages—not a spoiler, by the way), I realized it wasn’t as bad as I had expected. It needs a lot of work, and I definitely have a few more plot points to work out, but there are some nice quality scenes in there, too.
I finished reading through the draft this week, and am letting it percolate for another week or two. I have some more research and finetuning of my story’s timeline to do and will tackle that first, then I’ll move into reworking it to get my second draft. I can’t believe I can even say the words “my second draft” now.
When I quit working last May to write, I never expected to be here. I thought I would give up at the first hurdle, or the last 10,000 words. So actually writing “The End” was amazing. This story has been itching to get out since I was in high school (but I’m not telling you how long ago that is). And now that it’s out, I feel incredible. I can’t wait until the written story matches the vision I have for it in my head. Right now, it’s the bare bones of what I’m imagining. But I think they’re good bones.
I think I know what happens now. I’ll rewrite and edit, and rewrite, research, and edit, and rewrite until I have a book that I feel is the best book it can be. And at some point I’ll let another person read it. It may never be published. It may sit in a drawer for years. It may get picked up immediately (though that’s highly unlikely). Maybe no one will ever read it (except my first reader, who was thrilled to be chosen).
But for now, I’ll celebrate the first milestone in my professional writing life: completing a first draft. Come celebrate with me? I have coffee.
A little over sixteen years ago, I signed up to join the United States Army. I had barely turned seventeen and I was excited. Three years later, in 2003, I deployed to Iraq. This post isn’t about that, however.
Prior to my deployment, my mother had asked her co-workers to come up with ideas for a “Journal Jar” that I could use to keep up with my writing while deployed. And, if you check out the picture below, you will see that I still have it!
Every other week, I will randomly pick a topic and write a short blog post about it. I have written some of these topics before, though I did not get to all of them, and the journal I used thirteen years ago is packed away in storage. And these journal entries will be different from ones I may have written before I’ve had a lot of changes in my life since then!
Today’s topic is: “Treasure Hunts on the Beach.”
The thing is, when I say treasure hunts, I do not mean leisurely strolls along the beach looking for shells, or driftwood, or sea glass.
No, I mean teams of two or three frantically running up and down the beach looking for items on a list so the team can win. My family is ultra-competitive (my brother, mom, and I once stayed up until 2am playing UNO and took our cards with us to bed—so no one would peek at our cards—when we didn’t finish, and then finished the game the next night) and we wanted to make the treasure hunts a competition as well. It is a standard event for most of our beach trips.
One year, in Lincoln City on the Oregon Coast, my mom, aunt, sisters, and myself decided to have a treasure hunt. I don’t remember what the winning team received, but my competitive instincts kicked in. When my aunt and I had every item on the list except for glass, I was determined to find some.
Of course, my sister, who had made this list, had assumed it would be easy. Every other trip to the coast, we never have any trouble finding sea glass. The treasure hunt for this trip, however, simply said “glass.” During my wanderings, I thought about where I would be likely to find glass on a beach.
And then it hit me. The garbage can!
So I ran up toward the parking lot, where an overflowing garbage can sat in the sand just before the sidewalk that led to the parking lot. I grabbed a bottle that was on the sand next to it and ran back down to the beach. My aunt and I won because we were the only team that had found glass. All the other teams had found all but one item on the list, and my aunt and I had all of them.
Of course, an argument started over whether the glass was actually on the beach. I told you we were competitive! When I justified it by saying the garbage was in the sand, not in the parking lot, the rest of the group reluctantly agreed that my aunt and I were the winning team.
There have been other treasure hunts, of course. We love them because it gives us an excuse to run around and act silly, and I love finding things. That time in Lincoln City is one of my favorites because the treasure hunt was so contested. But my team was still victorious!
And they’ve never let me live down the fact that I got the winning glass from a garbage pile. Families are great sometimes, aren’t they?
I was going to write a Christmas post, but wasn’t sure I could get my thoughts properly in order. Christmas, after all, is a time when a lot of people are thinking about Jesus and the “spirit of the season” means they may be more interested in learning about Christianity. But this post is also about politics, life, and Christianity. And what I hope this post conveys, even beyond all of that, is what I have had on my heart the last few months. As Christians, we are called to love our neighbors and I believe that has been missing for a long time in the modern church and in our country.
One of the best songs that I’ve heard over the past few years is by one of my favorite artists, Casting Crowns. I only discovered Casting Crowns about four years ago, when I began to listen almost exclusively to Contemporary Christian Music (CCM). This song is entitled “Jesus, Friend of Sinners” and can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rJXIugwiN7Q on YouTube. I want you to listen to this song and think about how you treat someone who does not believe in the same things you do.
I am not speaking solely of my religious beliefs, but also my political stance and the ability to treat others with respect and without judgement.
This country is divided.
That is not a secret and on every Facebook page I visit there are comments blaming the other side for all the problems in our country—from both liberals and conservatives, from Christians and non-Christians—and it has almost made me want to quit social media. I will admit that I have blocked or unfriended some people because my core beliefs do not match theirs. I do not unfriend or block people who simply have different opinions, but for my own self-care it is sometimes necessary to get toxic people out of my life.
As a Christian, I am often confused on how to approach those who may not know anything about God or Jesus. I can admit that I am also sometimes reluctant to do so. Yet we must try. We are, in fact, called to do so, and to not even attempt to tell others what we know of Jesus means we are not truly doing God’s will.
But how can we approach people who are not receptive or who believe that all Christians are closed-minded, judgmental people who are trying to coerce them into a way of life they have no interest in?
That’s where the above song comes in. My favorite line in the song goes “No one knows what we’re for only what we’re against when we judge the wounded” and it is this verse I keep in mind when I am struggling with sharing my faith. We cannot judge the wounded because we are also wounded. It can be hard to show love instead of judgement to others who seem mired in sin. But when we realize that everyone, including ourselves, is standing in the muck, it makes that judgement hypocritical.
I’m a Christian. And I’m a sinner. These are both true statements, and ones that do not change regardless of how much I try to follow God’s teachings. And when we allow our “Christian” side to override the “sinner” side, we create people who think they are superior to non-Christians because we are believers and we have been saved.
We must do our best to remember that we are ALL sinners. One sin isn’t worse than another—they are all the same in God’s eyes. And we’ll be judged, one day. Not by each other, but by God. And not loving people that God loves is a sin.
We as Christians are called to love one another. It can be hard to do so when everything around you is divided and ugly and full of hatred. Like our country. Like our church. We must love each other and pull our country, and church, back together.
And what better time to begin than a new year? I am determined to make 2017 the year I began living without judging others. I hope you join me.
Happy New Year.
I’ve heard about this word a lot over the last month. And I’m sure most of you have, too. But what does it actually mean? Not the dictionary definition, but personally, what does it mean to be thankful? What things should I be thankful for? When someone asks me that question, I’m not always sure how to answer.
Should I answer truthfully and say that I’m thankful I’m alive? That seems selfish and tends to defeat the feeling of thanksgiving and gratitude that we’re supposed to show in November. Or do I say “family” or “friends” or one of the other words that people say to stop myself from telling the truth? To keep the situation comfortable and familiar?
Of course I am thankful for my family and friends. I love them and they love me. But I feel that not sharing what we are actually thankful and grateful for—what we’re humbled by because it is such a blessing for us—we are paying lip service to the idea of being thankful.
So, yes, I am thankful for the fact that I am still alive. I wasn’t always. I’ve fought hard to be in this place I am in and I appreciate the struggles that I had to make it through to get here. It’s the best place I’ve been in a long time, emotionally. And I’m thankful and grateful that I am able to focus fully on writing and editing, which for the last fifteen years has been a side enterprise to my full-time working life.
But I still hesitate to share my biggest reason to be thankful—that I am still alive—with people when I am speaking to them. I fear their judgement. I always said I don’t care what other people think of me, but that is not always true. I worry that if I do not fit into the “mold” during a holiday, other people will find me insincere in my thankfulness.
If I tell the truth, what do they say? What kind of response would you give someone who confesses they’re grateful to be alive? I’ve had people tell me that before, that they are thankful they are still alive. And it is difficult to form a response because it is a personal and private struggle that the person is sharing with you. I am humbled by these people, that they feel I am trustworthy enough to know the pain that brought them to that place of thankfulness.
As a child, we’re thankful for a lot of things, too. Sometimes new toys, or our friends, or families. And as children I feel we are completely sincere in our gratefulness, even though it may not seem so. But as life wears away at us we learn to appreciate what we are really thankful for, and for some of us, it is more complicated than we could have ever imagined.
And for me, life wearing away brought me to the place where I can say I am thankful to be alive.
I thank God every day for Vietnam Veterans.
Without them, I wouldn’t be alive.
It sounds melodramatic, as if it’s the first lines of a voiceover in a movie about the effects of war. For me, however, it’s a simple fact.
It was the fall of 2009. I had been in individual therapy intermittently since the onset of combat related Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms in May of 2007, and it was helping. I felt steadier, I was sleeping more (though still not every night), and I was beginning to learn how to live with my PTSD.
It was hard. Harder than I expected, and I stumbled continuously, unsure of where to turn.
I felt so alone.
I was in college, away from my family, and had a few close friends but they had no experience like mine. I was involved with the Veterans’ group on campus, but didn’t spend much time with the others in the group outside of school. Most of the others in the campus group were still in the “gung-ho ‘I served in the military’ phase and I didn’t have much in common with them, as I had moved into what I call the “unsure if it was the right course for my life” phase. I’m sure most Veterans have them.
I was afraid I would never learn how to live with PTSD. So when my counselor suggested that I attend one of the group sessions offered at the Vet Center, I hesitantly agreed. This specific group was called “Depression and Self-Esteem” and I knew I was likely to be the only woman. Most Veterans groups are all men, and I was uncertain how I was going to be able to connect to them. Would they have anything in common with me besides our military service?
Turns out, I shouldn’t have worried. These men, the majority of them Vietnam Veterans, let me in and I felt comfortable there. Here were people who understood what I was going through in a way others in my life could not. And even though these men were old enough to be my father, they accepted me as one of them.
Well, not right away. It took a few sessions for me to feel comfortable with them and for the men to stop apologizing for cursing in front of me. As if I’ve never heard (or said) a curse word or two! We eventually began to connect and understand each other, even though their war had been fifty years before mine.
I spent the next two years attending group therapy in addition to my individual therapy. And for me, group therapy was the turning point. In individual therapy, even though my counselor was a Veteran, it didn’t help with the isolation that my symptoms had made me feel. Attending a group made me feel connected, and that more than anything helped me learn how to live with my PTSD.
I still have occasional suicidal thoughts, and there are a few times throughout the year which are harder than others, but I do not actively wish for it any longer. For those two years, it was a near-constant option and solution to my problems. But these men in group therapy were everything I needed and nothing of who I wanted to be.
Almost all of them were divorced. Most had been addicted to drugs or suffered from alcoholism. Most of them were estranged from family members or children who they had not let in to help during their struggles, and those families didn't understand. And I, with the benefit of being thirty years younger than they were, had time. Time to heal, time to make sure I knew how to manage my symptoms—which I knew would flare up from time to time through the rest of my life—and time to make myself ready for healthy relationships.
I am more grateful to these men than I could ever express, though I hope I have conveyed some of that here.
Remember that when you wish a person “Happy Veterans’ Day” they may not have only happy or heroic stories to go with it. Their stories may be of pain, and suffering, and loss. But I do not think you’ll ever really find someone who regrets their military service, though they may regret what they’ve lost because of it.
I am a Veteran. And I’m proud of that fact. I served to the best of my ability in the United States Army from 2001-2005. I have PTSD.
And I wanted to kill myself nearly every day for almost two years. I can’t be sure that feeling will ever completely go away. But those men helped me through the single most difficult time of my life and I will forever be thankful.
So enjoy your day off.
And Happy Veterans’ Day.
I wasn't originally going to do a post on politics. It's all over the news and I'm not sure I can bring any new insight to it. But I would like to discuss my voting history (but not who or what I voted for), and why this election has been one of the most difficult for me.
I filled in the last circle on my ballot on Friday night, put it in the secrecy envelope, and signed it. It's now ready for me to put into the ballot box tomorrow (my sister is filling hers out today and I'm dropping them both off). We have mail-in voting in Oregon so we don't actually go to a polling place, which is convenient until you set your ballot under a stack of mail and forget where you put it. But that's only happened once and I managed to find it in time to vote!
After I signed it, I was filled with relief. This entire election cycle has been a roller coaster of emotions, and I don't even have cable to see what the media is saying about the Presidential candidates. I have, however, been studying all the platforms of all national and state candidates, their beliefs, and I considered both sides of my state's ballot measures carefully before voting.
I turned eighteen in 2001 so my actual first Presidential election was 2004, but I first cast a vote in the midterm elections in 2002. I know not everyone votes in midterms, but my parents instilled it in my head that voting is a civic duty and one we should take seriously. And I have missed only one election since, as I was struggling with my depression and did not have any inclination to do anything at the time.
See, to me, all eligible Americans should be voting in every election. My parents do, my siblings do, and this one is no different. The reason I am not saying who I voted for is because I believe it should private. It is your vote, not anyone else's. And your friends and family should not directly influence your vote. Of course, the way you were raised and what you believe now will do, and that is often a result of your family and friends' beliefs being similar to yours.
By all means, discuss the candidates and issues with them. With everyone you know, in fact. The more you know, the more likely you are to vote for candidates and measures instead of voting against them. My parents have been discussing politics with my siblings and I since we were children and answered our questions regarding candidates and ballot measures every election. Study and read and be an informed voter. But you are not obligated to share who you voted for or how you voted on state measures.
Voting is a duty, and we must do it. But for those of us who may have family members with differing views, it can be difficult to vote in line with our conscience and not feel as if we are somehow less because we do not vote the same. It can be difficult to even discuss politics during an election cycle, especially this one which has been so contentious.
So what I'm saying now shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone, but I'll say it again:
Be Informed. Vote. And Keep Living.
"Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn't mean politics won't take an interest in you." ~Pericles
In May, I quit my full-time job to focus solely on my writing and editing career, and moved back to the town where I grew up. I'd been away for a year and a half and realized I missed them.
Of course, that wasn't the only reason. The company I worked for was great, but the job was neither challenging or fulfilling. I needed a change. When my sister called and asked if I could move back and help with watching the kids and the bakery she and my mom started (in exchange for free rent), I said yes. It was time for a change, and I don't regret it.
So I'm living with my sister, brother-in-law, and niece and nephew. I've been living alone for awhile so it's quite an adjustment for me. It'd just been me and my cat before I moved back, and the noise level is certainly something I've had to adjust to!
And now that I'm focused on writing full-time, I realize that it actually is something I want. The hunger for writing hasn't abated-I started writing short stories in 2003 and never stopped, but I considered writing full-time an impossible dream.
Now, that dream has become a reality and it's harder than I ever imagined. I had been in the workforce full-time for over thirteen years when I left in May, and finding the discipline to sit down and write, to edit, to actually do the job, has been difficult. Especially when all I want is to play with my niece and nephew or spend time at my parents' house, now that I am close again.
But I am determined to do this. On days when it's hard, I simply try to remember that I have a gift for words and I want to use it. And so I try, and keep trying, and keep writing, and eventually my first book is going to be finished.
What happens after that? I guess we'll see.