I wrote a novel. In June of 2017, my novel Chasing Hope was published. As I approach the four-year anniversary, I thought I would share a bit about the book. You can find it here in Kindle and print format. There is a preview available on Amazon. You can also sign up for my newsletter to read the first chapter for free! You can do that, by clicking here or here. You can also view what some of my readers have written about the book, here.
Here is the book blurb, from the back of the book:
Dr. Ava Cooper has it all. Scratch that – she had it all. The day she buried her daughter was the beginning of the end. With one fell swoop her ex-husband took what was left of the life they created together. All that is left is a demanding boxer, her worldly possessions, and the SUV she bought as a first year resident. With nothing left of the old life, Ava heads south to help out and old friend. In the small and quirky coastal town of Beaufort, North Carolina – a tiny hamlet situated on the Southern Outer Banks – Ava quickly learns that her plan to quietly fade into the background to find some semblance of normalcy is not on her new neighbor’s and staff’s agenda for her. As she settles into southern small-town living, she meets a family and a baby in the foster care system that threaten to break through her grief-stricken and heart. Will Ava be able to let hope in long enough to get back the life she desperately longs for?
This book holds a special place in my heart for a few reasons – mainly because it’s the first complete novel I’ve written. It’s also one that took me way too long to write. The process was daunting, to be honest. I let so many things distract me and get in the way (like my day job). Rather than be single-minded in my focus on accomplishing my dreams and using the gifts God has given me, I focused far too much on the job that paid the bills. There’s nothing wrong with that in and of itself. However, I didn’t put enough emphasis on my dreams or writing what I believe I’m meant to write. I let work take over my life. I mean, take over.
I worried too much about what people would think. I shied away from writing content on my blog (I had a different blog that had a larger audience and community at one time). Overall, I just let my writing wither away under the weight of what other people would think. That’s just dumb. In years past, I was part of multiple writer communities online. Many of the people I have known in these circles over the years have gotten literary agents, publishing deals, and are cranking out books with traditional publishing houses.
It’s not arrogant to say I think that I could be in their shoes too. The only difference is, I didn’t work for it. Phew, what a sucky realization that was when I first woke up to it. It was all my fault and all of my own choosing. But one day I came to terms with this and decided I wouldn’t let my life go unlived. I wouldn’t let the books go unwritten. And I certainly wouldn’t ignore the dreams I’ve long held in my heart.
Today isn’t Monday Motivation – but we’ll call it Tuesday Truths. The only thing standing in the way of you accomplishing your dreams and goals? It’s you. It’s me. We can make all the excuses we want. But at the end of the day, we are own worst enemy when it comes to going after what we want. I just refuse to live that way anymore. So whatever it is . . . go get it, friends.
Loneliness is not something we enjoy. Nor do we attempt to live with it and make use of it – most likely because in the loneliness, we feel pain. If we feel pain, but can’t cure the loneliness – we often then reach for those things that numb us. But making use of your loneliness is, or can be, a gift. I started reading Andrew McCarthy’s autobiography, Brat, this weekend. There’s a line in it that stuck with me. He writes, “The travel writer and novelist Paul Theroux has written about the ‘lucidity of loneliness’ and how it is indispensable in order to experience certain things deeply.”‘
The “lucidity of loneliness,” is a beautiful phrase. Lucidity is clearness of thought or style. But the Oxford Languages definition (Dear Biola Professors, I do hereby humbly ask for forgiveness for quoting from a dictionary) appeals to me even more. It uses the words brightness & luminosity to describe lucidity. I love that. The brightness and luminosity of loneliness. Hmm, how can the lonely places lead to brightness and luminosity in our lives? For most of us – we don’t like loneliness. Or the quiet. We tend to fill our lives with busy, constant running and activity. For those of us who live alone, there can be a tendency to fight against this loneliness. I know, because at so many times in my life, I’ve tried to do this myself.
The last thing we think, particularly when we long for community, relationships, family, etc., is to view loneliness as leading to clearness of thought or brightness and luminosity. Buddhists, though I am far from one or an expert in any sense of the word, teach about different types of loneliness and the way that it can be useful to us. I get this more and more all of the time. As a writer, I think it’s particularly important. It’s nearly impossible for me to write well, without some familiarity with loneliness.
But, that doesn’t always feel so good. There’s a temptation, particularly when we are going through hard things to numb it, quiet it, hide it, or fill the void and loneliness with activity, noise, etc. In the loneliness, when we don’t numb it or try to fill the space with something/anything – we feel. And feeling is often the exact opposite of what we want when life just . . . hurts.
The wound is the place where the Light enters you. – Rumi
For many, many months in 2019, it seemed as though my home was under siege. It got worse as the year dragged on. By summer, I was no longer safe in my own home. I’d packed away and hidden my most precious belongings so they wouldn’t be destroyed. And for hours on end on more nights than I care to remember, my home – walls and doors in particular – were ruined and I lived in constant fear.
When it all ended in August of 2019, I didn’t want to feel. In that space, in the pain – I tried to numb it. I was in some of the worst pain I’d ever experienced. I was heartbroken, alone, and in a house that was a constant reminder of some of the worst days of my life. I wanted it to stop – all of it. So, I kept searching for anything to fill it. I drank more than I ever had before. I gained weight. My health suffered. I searched for anything – anything at all – to change my circumstances. I couldn’t face the loneliness and pain.
I came upon a job opening at an event venue and went for it. I got the job as the Venue Manager/Event Manager. The place is a dream. It’s incredibly beautiful. I was very happy, on the surface – because I knew it was what I wanted. The only problem was, the timing was all wrong. The job filled my days and months until January of 2020, with frenetic activity. It was the right job, at the wrong time. I’d give anything to go back to that world (but under different circumstances). Instead of living in the pain and loneliness, I shut it down completely. I mean, shut.it.down. I’d had no time to face it. I went from the most pain I’ve ever been in, to working 7 days a week. I was excelling – but dying inside.
The stress reached an explosion point as I climbed the stairs to my apartment one evening. I’d worked 7 days a week for weeks and weeks. And as I climbed my stairs, my whole body felt like it was shutting down. I couldn’t breathe and the chest pain I was experiencing was the worst I’d ever felt. I thought I was having a heart attack – at 43. I got inside and dumped all of my bags and coat just inside the door of my apartment. I contemplated calling 911. I laid down on the couch trying to decide what to do. I’ve known anxiety and panic attacks. Especially in the long months of 2019. But this seemed different. I decided then and there that if I didn’t do something drastic, I was going to die. That’s literally what I felt – that I was days or weeks from dying. Isn’t that nuts? I quit that job. But I still didn’t get into and dig deep enough into the pain.
So what does this have to do with loneliness? See the thing is, if I’d stayed in that loneliness for a while, letting myself feel the pain of my loss and the stress of having my physical home and well-being threatened, I think I would have reached a modicum of healing a lot sooner. And then maybe I would be ready now for the job that was the right job, at the wrong time or a healthy, beautiful relationship. The funny thing is, now I can’t move no matter how hard I try. And I’ve got even more to work through now.
When I woke up this morning, after several days of living in the hard and painful places of life, the tears always close to the surface, it became quite clear why I’m still here. I also know that I can’t and won’t push the loneliness away, anymore. It’s in this space that I take steps closer to healing and learning to take care of myself once again. For the first time in ages, I walked with the dog (like exercise walk), read, and sat in the weird & confusing feelings I have going on these days. There’s nothing earth shattering about today – except this – I’ve let myself be lonely and I’ve let myself feel the hurt, this week. And in that, I have much clearer vision now. In the lucidity of loneliness, I see what I couldn’t see in the last two years. I didn’t try to escape it, numb it, ignore it, or run from it. I sat with it and let it do its thing. And now I feel certain I am here in this place I don’t want to be, for a reason – and that is my healing and growth – in spite of the harsh conditions.
It’s hot now in the south – hot and humid. But not all that long ago, we had freezing temps at night – long past what is normal. When we have a deep frost, I cover my outdoor plants with towels or old sheets. But last winter, in the midst of more job stress, I ignored the plants on my patio. I stopped covering them in the frost. My indoor houseplants are doing awesome. But what was happening outside wasn’t pretty.
The plants started slowly dying in the harsh conditions. They weren’t cared for. At all. Every so often I’d pull a dead plant from a pot and toss it over the fence. But for the most part, I just left them there in their pots. On my patio right this very minute, are a couple of dead ferns (I kid you not) and a few other random dead plants. In several of my planters however, there are geraniums. They’re still alive. They look a little beat up. But they’re not only blooming – new, green growth is popping up on their knobby little selves, too.
The thing that really gets me about this (and yes, I’ll get back to my point) is that I bought these geraniums in the sale sections at Wal Mart and Lowe’s. I rarely buy full price plants for my patio. I usually buy what’s on sale or deeply discounted. They’re usually discounted because they’ve been scorched in the sun, overwatered, etc. I am always confident in my ability to bring them back to life. These little stinkers just do not have any desire to give up. I’ve not watered them once. They’ve lived off of the rain – which hasn’t been all that frequent to be honest. I’ve not covered them in the frost. And now that it has turned hot and humid, I’ve yet to water them.
They may not be the prettiest plants I’ve ever seen. And they surely do need help. But their determination in harsh conditions – conditions that are inhospitable and probably a little pain-inducing, are a beautiful representation of what we as humans are capable of, in the midst of our own pain and destructive circumstances.
I veered off the path a little, but it’s all tied together. We want to stop the suffering – stop the pain – stop the loneliness. We want to move on to the good stuff. We want to feel better or feel nothing. We want to prevent harsh conditions. Yet, in doing so, more often than not, we prolong our suffering. I’m not exactly saying that letting your plants suck it up is the right way to go, but clearly, my tiny geraniums lived on – blooming unexpectedly – in spite of the harshest conditions. I think there’s a beautiful lesson in this. We don’t want to face the harsh, painful things. But it’s there in that loneliness and pain, that we can be set free.
In the quiet loneliness and in this place I don’t want to be, I see now that it’s where I gain healing. And it’s now the hope I have – for the foundation of great and beautiful things ahead. Don’t shut it down, friends. Ask from it and the pain, what it has for you. Hope and healing wait for us in these harsh places.
By the way, I spent a few minutes this afternoon, cleaning these ladies up. I trimmed off the dead parts, cleared out the leaves, and watered them. They look a little better with a little care and feeding. As do all of us.
At one time in my life, I thought I defined self-care fairly well. I thought I knew what I needed to ensure I was taking care of myself – first. Recently, my therapist (yes, I go to therapy and yes I’m proud to say this) asked me what I did for self-care. I couldn’t answer her question. I found this annoying. Her question wasn’t annoying – the fact that I couldn’t answer the question is what annoyed me. It has been a few weeks since the last time she asked me that. It took me several weeks and a few major realizations to figure out some of those things on my self-care list.
I think we can tend to have rote answers when it comes to defining self-care. But we’re all freaking different as individuals. What works for me, may not work for you. Self-care is not defined for you. You define what that means and what that looks like. You may learn through the experiences of others, but at the end of the day, you have to take the time to sift through the craziness of life, to figure out what it is that works for you.
Before I moved to the town I live in now, my self-care routine was much easier to define. I hiked at least once a week on a nearby trail. I went to the beach about once a week. I cooked awesome meals for myself on the weekend because I adore cooking. I sat on my patio or back deck and enjoyed hours of being outside soaking in the warm or cool air, breezes, and the beauty of my tree-filled yard. I grilled. I walked along the river. I took bubble baths with lights low and candles burning. When I lived in the super quaint downtown – that was the colonial capital of North Carolina, I didn’t have a yard and my condo complex didn’t have grass. So twice a day, I walked the dog along the Neuse River, enjoying the fresh air, spring flowers or the white-capped river during nor-easters. I slowed down enough, that I found delight and joy in the dumbest things. But that was self-care too.
Another way I incorporated a little self-care into my weekly routine was to buy flowers – for myself. This was a weekly ritual. It’s not as easy to do here. This might sound weird, but it’s hard to find fresh flowers here. Unless it’s roses and carnations. Even at our farmer’s markets, they’re few and far between. If I’m lucky, I can get a hold of some sunflowers or zinnias. Last year, I found one farmer that had a ton of wild flowers and I spent a ridiculous amount of money buying up as much as I could. When I lived at home in California, Trader Joe’s and Vons sold daffodil bundles in the spring for $1.50-ish. I bought them every week. At my Joshua Tree farmer’s market, which I walked to from my house, an old hippy sold beautiful bunches of wildflowers. I never left the market without flowers. In the fall, I bought “pumpkin trees” from him. I’ve longed for those every autumn since. The flowers I bought were next to my bed, in my office, and around my home. They brought pops of color and joy to my window sill while I washed dishes. In my cave-like offices in large aircraft hangars where I worked, they were a little bit of the outside (I love being outdoors) brightening my day.
But I can’t get a hold of fresh flowers like the ones I used to. And yesterday I’d decided I had enough. So I drove almost 1.5 hours south, to get what I wanted from Trader Joe’s. Is driving 1.5 hours for fresh flowers weird? Probably, but I’m a happy camper. I bought up a bunch! I will take some time today to put them in bud vases and set them out around my apartment. I’ll take one vase to work with me, tomorrow.
I can tell you what self-care is not. Self-care is not a fill-in-the-blank answer that works for everyone. Self-care may look like manicures and bubble baths. Or it could be weeding in your garden, reading your favorite book again for the millionth time, or not getting out of bed on Sunday and watching your favorite movies all day. I can also tell you that self-care is not always easy to define. But it’s worth the time exploring. We are no good to others and we can’t fully live out our calling in life, in my opinion, if we’re not taking care of ourselves first.
So while it might sound crazy to you, yesterday I drove a total of three hours for flowers. And today, their sweet sent and bright colors are giving me constant joy. That is self-care, to me.
How do you define self-care? Do you do anything random (like drive 1.5 for flowers), that might sound weird to others?
Sometimes being strong is not what it’s cracked up to be. I am a strong woman. I happen to think I’m brave. I’ve been through a lot in my 45 years and I’m proud of my strength, determination, and perseverance. I’ve lived on my own for far longer than I’d prefer. I’ve moved cross country by myself. I was raising a child by myself and faced circumstances with him, that I prayed I’d never have to. I did it by myself. I could go on and on. But the thing is, I don’t want to be strong right now. I don’t want to be the steady one. I want to be the one that’s reassured. I want to lean on someone else for a change. And slightly off topic but connected, I want to be the one to be pursued. I don’t think I have the ability to step out first right now – when it comes to opening the door to a relationship.
I’ve come to believe that being strong can be detrimental to one’s well-being (sometimes). Sure, there’s something to be said for being resilient and able to cope with what life throws at you. But there’s another side to that. The more capable you are, and the more accustomed you are to managing on your own, or being the strong one that’s holding others up – the harder it can be to reach out for help when you need it. There’s a quote you’ve probably seen that goes something along the lines of “Check on your strong friends.” There’s a reason for that. I think there are people all around us, sometimes the most capable in fact, that are hurting. Quite often, they (we) simply don’t know how to ask for help.
Check on your strong friend, friends. If you’re tempted to think that your strongest friends don’t need you, maybe ask. Maybe say “How are you doing…really? No, really.” If you already know they’re going through something at work, with their family – or maybe they’re battling an illness or new diagnosis – even if it’s just a “random” text letting them know you’re thinking about them – it can make a tremendous difference. Don’t assume the strong ones don’t need you. They do.
And if you’re the strong one, it truly is okay to tell the people that care about you, that you need help. I promise.
If you’re looking for a way to improve your mood – in spite of what is going on around you, this podcast may be helpful. You can find it here. The title is “How to Improve Your Mood, No Matter What Life Throws Your Way.” I thought it had some useful information. I wanted to share as I continue to find new ways to live & be well.