Saturday, October 18, 2014

Three steps to regaining control of your inbox

My email inbox used to be pretty simple. These days? Not so much.

I spent most of a Saturday digging out from under a couple hundred emails that needed my attention. Feeling overwhelmed and exhausted, I determined I need a better strategy. The following steps will (hopefully) help us all gain control over that time-sucking void that is our email inbox.

1. Unsubscribe
It happens to us all. While seeking the best deals, we inadvertently sign up for a slew of emails. Most of the time it's easy to just delete them and go on, but every now and then (like spring/fall cleaning for your inbox) it's best to take the time to click "unsubscribe" on those robot mailings. It's kind of like your closet... fashion mavens say we should clear out anything we haven't worn in a year. Perhaps the same is true of our inboxes: those things we consistently delete without opening should be permanently unsubscribed to.

2. Stars, Folders, and Highlights
When you're rushing through your email, you need a way to sort things in order of importance. Depending on which email software you use, sorting might involve "starring" important messages, "highlighting" particular subjects or recipients, or simply moving emails into a folder for later review. Yes, you WANT to read so-and-so's blog post, but you don't have time right now... move that email into a "TBR" (To Be Read) folder. OR, save the link to Evernote or another reader. Sorting is a step toward organization!

3. You Only Click Once
Years ago, before the Internet and before email, I worked with a former CPA. She was the accounts receivable manager for the newspaper I was working for at the time. Her desk was always—ALWAYS—tidy. Mine (I was the production manager) was always a disaster. So I asked her how she kept her desk so clean. Her response: Whatever you pick up you don't put it down again unless you're putting it away in its proper location. It's a rule that works.

Electronic communications have changed the way we interact with each other. On the plus side, I don't have to wait a week or ten days to send a letter and get an answer. On the downside, I'm inundated with emails that demand a response, RIGHT NOW. And replying is not always convenient. So how can we apply the "only click once" rule to our electronic communication?
A, If you know you can't respond right away, don't open it. Conversely, if you've opened it already and realized you can't respond now, mark it unread. The next time you open your email you'll be prompted to respond.
B. Use your email program to ID important messages and set aside a specific amount of time each day or each week, to respond to those messages.
How do you manage your inbox?

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

My love/hate relationship with sleep

It started when I was four or five years old... that's when the nightmares started. I don't recall suffering from nightmares or night terrors before then (although I do recall the two rollover accidents), but I clearly recall the dreams that occurred from age 5 and up. They were full color, surround-sound nightmares.

Dracula (we surmise he showed up because my mother was a Dark Shadows fan during her pregnancy) was a main character, snakes (the venomous kind) appeared en masse with startling regularity. Later (and to this day) mountain lions, the occasional bear (one ate my husband, head first, in a nightmare just last week), and random diagnoses of terminal (usually contagious) illness or serial killer behavior visited my sleeping self. And those are the dreams I can share...

For the most part, I've chalked it all up to an "overactive imagination" (thanks, Mom)... It's probably the reason I can write, but it's enough to make you want to swear off sleeping.

Unfortunately, no sleep creates other issues.... you're required to NAP, and go to bed EARLY. UGH. (My husband runs a delivery route, similar to what my parents did... he gets up around 3AM during the week and needs—and deserves—a nap in the afternoon.) My parents worked nights (2AM-7AM), seven days a week. They napped during the day (that's how I got hooked on General Hospital) and went to bed long before dark (hence my evening TV addiction). I think some of my sleep angst is related to childhood rebellion.

I hate naps. N, I LOATHE naps. Naps, and going to bed early, are conceding defeat. I hate them both.
I hate going to bed "early." (Which then causes an issue with my early-to-bed spouse.)
My creativity is at its peak between 8-11PM.
I loathe waking up before 7:30-8AM.

To increase the confusion, lately I can only sleep about 4 hours at a time... And then I spend a few hours trying to go back to sleep, only to catch a few sketchy nightmares before I'm required to join the world of the living again. If I go to bed at 10PM, that means I'm awake from 2-5AM, and then running the nightmare train from 5 or so until 7 or 8AM. Not rest-conducive.

Some of you get up every day at 3:30 or 4AM and function quite well throughout the day. How do you do it? What's your secret? How does one successfully fiddle with one's internal clock???

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Scared into church or doing what He would do?

Something crossed my FB wall a few days ago that disturbed me...

Honestly, I should thank the person who posted this for forcing me to examine my views about church, why we go there, and what we should be expecting from our attendance.

#1. This post implies that "the local church" is the the only place where we can count on God's protection.

  • Anyone who has attended any church for any length of time is well aware that church attendance is no guarantee of safety and protection against evil. Simply put, bad stuff happens to good church members (and to everybody else on the planet). To suggest that church attendance/membership is some kind of insurance policy against unpleasant things occurring in your life is faulty reasoning at best. At worst, it's a kind of twisted manipulation of human emotions to get them to join your group.
  • If your church attendance is inspired by fear of what happens if you don't show up on Sunday (or abstain from all labor on Saturday, or to pray certain prayers every day, or to give a specific amount in the offering, or whatever), then your faith is fear-based, not love-based, and needs to be examined. God isn't trying to SCARE you into being part of the church, and the church leaders shouldn't be, either. Just a thought.

#2. This post implies that anyone who is 'outside' the local church is somehow removed from God's grace and mercy.

  • Really? What about "the goodness of God leads people to repentance?" Is that just talking about people who are already in the church? I don't think so. Are we talking a SPECIFIC local church, or ANY local church? Are we addressing any denomination, or just the ones that agree with the author? You see, this is a problem. I was part of a denomination that eschewed the majority of other denominations as somehow faulty in their theology. When something crappy happened to someone who was part of a different (albeit Christ-honoring) denomination, I chalked it up to their failure to ascribe to our particular theology. When lousy things happened within our own body, we publicly prayed and confessed the Word, and privately wondered what secret sin or lapse of faith the victim was guilty of. The point? It's not ours to judge or decide why things happen to believers OR to unbelievers. Stuff happens. God helps us deal with it, and as the body of Christ, we're supposed to come together to help one another through the tough times... in the church and "out" of the church. Period.

  • Is church attendance an important part of the life of every believer in Christ? Absolutely. We are not to forsake the gathering together with other believers. But when we start pointing fingers at other gatherings, we have a problem... Is the Messianic Jewish house church as "under cover" as the flamboyant mega-church with the big building and the marketing campaign? Is the church repeating its weekly liturgies out of a book as "under cover" as the non-denominational church doing everything "as the Spirit leads"? Is random attendance as effective as weekly, or daily attendance? Do you have to sign your name on the membership line at a particular building to assure your protection? Where does one draw the line? Is there a line? 

I have a hard time believing in a God of love who would flick his beloved children out from under His protection based on their particular style and method of worship. That said, the question arises... if we don't go to church out of fear for our safety and protection (which is a twisted reason for going, IMO), why should we go? What purpose does church serve?

I believe that the original purpose of the church (ecclesia = gathering) was to provide a community of support for like-minded people to come together to worship, and to provide a social support network of tangible, physical care. Unfortunately, that's the part of "church" modern-day organized, corporate, 501c3 religion frequently fails at. Let's face it, it's a lot easier to spout platitudes and quote scriptures (and tell other people what they need to be saying and doing and thinking) than it is to wash their dishes, take them to a doctor's appointment, watch their kids, or pay their past-due bills. It's easier to promote building projects and evangelical campaigns than it is to sit down and deal with the schizophrenic chick who needs medical intervention more than she needs the laying on of hands. That stuff is messy, and we don't like messy faith.

For myself, I'm going to make an effort to get my hands messy more often. Not because someone is scaring me into it, but because I believe that's what the Lord would have me to do as a member of His body, His Church. I believe it's what He would do if he were here in my place.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Rest, Rest, Rest, Rest... RUN!!!

For the past two years (plus a couple of months), since we moved back "home" to my parents' property, I've been in a rest cycle. Resting, recovering, recuperating from wounds, both literal and figurative. It's been a season of transformation, which is always a bit uncomfortable, because you never know exactly how you're going to come out on the other side. It has been a season of examination: internal and external, physical and spiritual.

And now, like someone thrust suddenly out of a long, dark tunnel, I'm blinking and squinting in the light like a newly-emerged mole.
No, really, that's how I feel. 

At the end of April I received my first book contract. Squee!!! Since then, I've been working with my editor to polish the story and prepare it for publication. No release date yet, but I'm OK with that. The more editing we do, the better the story gets!

In June/July I celebrated my 44th birthday. And I received an invitation to participate in a novella series with seven other authors that completely WOWED me. I flung myself into research, and wrote a historical novella set in 1921 Colorado Springs. That novella, Sadie's Gift, releases Monday, Sept. 1st on Amazon, and a few days later on Nook.

Also in July, I thought I'd lost the job I'd been waiting for since last November. Two days later, I had the job back. A full-time job that I can do from my house. It doesn't get much better than that! I've never had a full-time paying job before... I homeschooled four children, and served as a pastor's wife, but I didn't get paid for those roles. This is altogether different, and a blessing! It's also a big transition... I'm accountable to a number of other people now in a new way, and my schedule, which has been that of a lady-of-leisure, has to evolve.

Then I received a call (that received word keeps coming up) from my friend and leader at ACFW Colorado, asking me to consider taking over the role of Colorado Area Coordinator for American Christian Fiction Writers. WOW. I prayed, and prayed... feeling neither equipped nor prepared, but God didn't say "no," and it seemed good to the Holy Spirit on the inside. As of Monday, I will take up the coordinator mantle for Colorado's amazing group of writers. What an honor, and a responsibility!

These are things I've been believing for and expecting for years. Decades, even. Why couldn't I have had them happen ten or twenty years ago? Because I wasn't ready. I lacked the confidence, the maturity, the empathy, and the experience to handle them. Even now I feel like a hatchling just emerging from her egg. All of this is new to me, every day is filled with opportunities to seek higher counsel, and it's good!

My point? If you're in that "shelf season," don't fret, be patient, and enjoy the rest. God hasn't forgotten about you!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

12 Hysterectomy Lessons, One Year Later

Today is the first anniversary of my total abdominal hysterectomy with bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy. Why do I continue to share my personal medical history with the world, the checkout ladies at the grocery store, and a random older woman I swam into (literally) at the pool? Shouldn't I just shut up about it?

No, I shouldn't "just shut up." Twenty MILLION American women will have a hysterectomy this year. They will have questions, and they will need encouragement and validation, and if I can be a voice that helps them through the ugly days (and there are ugly days), I am honored to do so.

So... 12 lessons learned:

1. Being gutted like a fish is a BFD (big frickin' deal), no matter how "prepared" you thought you were for the event. Let yourself heal, especially in the first few weeks following surgery. Follow doctor's orders, get help, and don't even attempt to put on your Wonder Woman garb.

2. There's a whole new version of normal. Nothing in your body from ribs to knees will ever be quite the same. But that's OK, because most everything from ribs to knees was probably affected in some negative way by whatever prompted your need for a hysterectomy. Seriously, wardrobe was one of the hardest adjustments to make... Granny panties to support your abused belly, loose skirts and dresses for months... I still have soreness around my incision if I wear jeans for more than a few days in a row.

3. You find out how compelled you are to bargain shop for tampons and pads when you don't need them anymore. It's a bit disturbing to realize how much of your brain was dedicated to the purchase and use of feminine hygiene supplies.

4. Hormones are the elixir of life. Up until your surgery, hormones may have been the bane of your existence, prompting PMS and PMDD and feeding all sorts of other troubles. After surgery, hormones become your friend. (Obviously, many women opt out of hormone replacement therapy, for good reasons. If that's you, your story will be different, and I wish you well!)

5. You'll need to set alarms to remember your elixirs. Do not take said elixirs randomly. I accidentally doubled my testosterone dosage one day, and flew into what I can only describe as a "red rage" just a few hours later. I don't remember ever feeling that out-of-control since my teenage years. Set those alarms, people!

6. You'll probably mourn those missing parts, even if you loathed them for years, and that's OK. I didn't think I would go through the grief process others had mentioned, but three months post-op I found myself sitting on my bed with my prayer journal, weeping for my lost reproductive organs. Like bidding an estranged relative farewell at a funeral, I said good-bye, grieved their loss, and moved on. Your experience may differ, especially if your reproductive years were cut short by surgery.

7. Boobs continue to grow, whether you want them to or not. This was an unforeseen by-product, and fairly common side effect of hysterectomy. Had I known in advance, I might have changed my mind. Probably good I didn't know...

8. You'll be tempted to fall into the "old lady" pit. Don't go there. Just because you're "technically" in menopause (if you had your ovaries removed), that doesn't make you OLD! Old is a state of mind, not a state of body. But the temptation to stop doing things, to make excuses, to quit setting goals, etc., may rear its grizzled, wrinkly head... kick it in the face and move on.

9. Lots and lots of the women you meet every day have been through the same thing. If you open up, they will, too, and there's healing to be found in that communication. Sometimes it's healing born of simple sharing, sometimes it's healing that comes from wisdom and knowledge gained from other people's experiences. I spent HOURS on reviewing forums and reading articles. It was hugely helpful to know that I wasn't alone in what I was dealing with.

10. Open your mind to alternative therapies: acupuncture, visceral massage, Reiki, meditation, etc. Ask lots of questions, and don't give up. It took six months for me to be able to lie flat on my back and stretch my arms overhead without feeling like my abdomen was ripping. A few acupuncture treatments and some visceral massage made all the difference.

11. Everyone's experience is unique. Don't judge! Even though it's especially hard not to judge the woman who runs her first triathlon less than six months after her surgery, be kind... she probably has some other issue you don't want.

12. Recovery takes a LOT longer than you think (or than anyone tells you). Cut yourself some slack. Getting better is like watching kids grow... a little bit every day. One of the best things my husband told me was to realize I was getting a little bit better every day. I sang that Beatles' song "it's getting better all the time" for weeks like a mantra. Stay hopeful and positive and, to quote another old song, "accentuate the positive" in your life!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Eating Disorder? Who, Me?

I had an epiphany on the way home from church a couple weeks ago. I stopped at the grocery store to pick up a few things and left with a full cart and a peanut butter Snickers bar. After I devoured the candy bar, I felt guilty. (Doesn't everyone feel guilty after they eat a candy bar?)

Since it was Sunday, I started planning my diet for the week ahead. At which time a still, small voice spoke up on the inside...

You'll never be skinny enough to satisfy yourself.

I know that's true. Ten years ago I starved myself down to a point where my doctor told me she was concerned. (Don't worry, I'm not at that weight now!) Even at that size, I wasn't happy with my body. I wanted to be skinnier. I viewed anorexic women, chemo patients, meth addicts, and pre-pubescent teens with secret, shameful envy.

Today I run into people who haven't seen me since the super-skinny phase and their response is, invariably, "WOW! You look great! You look so healthy!" The first few times it happened I shrugged it off, but after enough people said it, I started to wonder... Did I look THAT unhealthy when I was in my super-thin mode? I recall a few comments from acquaintances who asked if I well at the time, but I was so caught up in the rush of finally being SKINNY I didn't examine their questions. I liked being a size 2-on-my-way-to-negative-numbers, even if my friends and family described me as "skeletal" and "bird-like." Darn it. If that was "skeletal," I liked it.

That's because you wanted to disappear. 

OUCH. I had to think about that. When I went on my 1200-calorie a day diet (or less... a 900-calorie day was a good day, a righteous day, a day for celebration), and started exercising like a maniac six days a week, I was in a state of what I now recognize as clinical depression. The church my husband and I planted was struggling, money stress was a daily fact of life, I was homeschooling four children, I'd cut off contact with my parents because we had doctrinal disagreements, I loathed where I lived, and my best friend had just moved halfway across the country. Starving myself (I called it a diet, but when peanut butter starts to play a major role in your fantasy life, something's wrong) was a way to take control of my life, which felt completely out of control. In truth, I didn't want to be IN my life at the time.

So you tried to shrink yourself out of existence.

Yes, I suppose I did. If it weren't for a concerned husband who noticed my disappearing boobs, I might have fallen headlong into a full-fledged case of anorexia/bulimia. Oh, I wasn't throwing up after meals like I did in high school and college, but I had discovered the trick of chewing and spitting... take a bite, chew it up, then spit it into the trash without swallowing. I was taking ephedrine daily, and sucking back enough espresso that when I exercised my sweat smelled like Starbucks. I spent hours every day perusing fitness and diet websites for validation and wrote down every single thing that crossed my lips.

At the same time, I was proud of myself. I praised God for the dropping numbers on the scale, even while I stifled the voice of my conscience. My whole life was wrapped up in what I ate and what I weighed. I counted the number of chocolate chips I could eat without going over my calorie limit, weighed my raisins in a kitchen scale, and had a running tally in my head of calories in vs. calories out. For someone who dislikes math on principle, those years were YEARS of mental calculations. You could ask me the calorie count of almost any food and I could tell you, without looking it up, its caloric value by weight.

Fast forward a few years, a major life change, a total hysterectomy due to undiagnosed endometriosis, and now, packing an extra 10-15 pounds around and feeling "fluffy," I find myself struggling. I no longer want to escape from my own life, and I'm no longer depressed (most of the time), but I'm still not "skinny enough," and, I have to admit, I never will be. It's like I have the wrong eyes in my head. Or the wrong body... Whose body IS this, anyway? I've never been at peace with it, not since I was 5 years old and my ballet teacher pointed out my "jiggly" thighs to the class during plies. Maybe not even before that.

I could put myself back on the high-intensity physical training program I was on, except that my post-surgery body won't allow it. I'm limited to yoga, Pilates, and isometrics for the foreseeable future, or endure debilitating pain. I could starve myself again... except I've discovered the joys of a glass or two (or sometimes three) of red wine in the evening, and I'm not willing to give it up, even for the sake of those extra pounds. As I told a dear friend recently, my "drinking problem" has trumped my eating disorder.
6 Give beer to those who are perishing,
wine for those who are in anguish!
7 let them drink and forget their poverty
and remember their misery no more. 
Prov 31:6-7 NIV
Eating disorder? Isn't that extreme? No, I don't think so. Eating disorder or disordered eating, however you want to define it, probably fits. It's probably been the case since I was a child, fretting over the size of my belly in my leotard.  I'm just now coming to terms with the truth of that. It's likely I'll never be able to look in the mirror and be pleased with what I see, no matter what my husband says, or what my Bible tells me. The broken record in my head that tells me I'm fat and dumpy and frumpy and flabby and floppy trumps every other voice.  

So now I'm 44, and I have an adult daughter who struggles with her own body image issues, and a granddaughter who is, as yet, thankfully too young to get the whole concept. I've wasted enough of my life hating what I see in the mirror (or only looking in the "skinny" mirrors, and fearing the scale at the doctor's office more than the outcome of any test). It's time to make a change.

Wish me well, I'm not sure what this is going to entail, but WHEN I come out on the other side I will be the first person to share the story of my journey, in hopes of encouraging and inspiring others.

Meanwhile, if you're battling with food issues, battling with body image, battling with some other unseen problem, may the mercy and grace of God be with you, and may you hear His voice in those dark places, revealing truth and showing you the way out of the darkness and into the light. Even when you don't love yourself, God loves you unconditionally.