The Glorious Muddle
glimpses of grace in the messiness of life

September 14, 2021

Doing What You Do for Joy

Photo credit Maria Shanina on Unsplash

I’ve been struggling for several months now with my late-in-life career change. Writing has stopped bringing me joy. Mostly that’s because I stopped writing when my parents’ dementias demanded a whole new level of caregiving. It’s hard to find joy in something you’re not doing.

But this has led me to some introspection. Do I even enjoy writing? The answer took a while to find, buried beneath layers of gunk and expectations. To quote a popular idea, does writing “spark joy” for me? Does what you do spark joy for you?

Does that even matter?

Considering joy in a career choice is something only people in first-world countries wrestle with. The majority of people around the globe do whatever work they can to provide for their basic needs. As a Westerner, I think I’m entitled to enjoy fulfilling work.

I believe that if I find something to do that fulfills me and that I’m good at, it will never feel like work. Writing guru Stephen King writes, “If you can do it for joy, you can do it forever.” I agree with that statement. Writing, along with any creative endeavor, springs up from an internal reservoir. If the reservoir is empty, so is your creativity. It’s hard to fake it.

But there’s another aspect of joy. Jesus endured the cross for the joy set before him (Hebrews 12:2). That’s a different picture of joy than an organizing whiz who throws out everything in her home or wardrobe that doesn’t make her happy. From Jesus’ example, I learn the process doesn’t need to be fun; in fact, it may be agonizing. The end result can provide joy enough to keep going.

So, back to my question: Do I enjoy writing?

I remember my first ever writers’ conference. I hated the emphasis on finding out what the market wants and building social media platforms and search engine optimization, all for promotion and publicity that should lead to increased sales. (Picture me sticking my finger down my throat.) I’d paid for the conference so I was determined to stay, but I seriously was ready to hang up this crazy idea.

Then came my last seminar. It was led by someone who loved writing. She loved the beauty of words, loved telling a story, and it showed. I sat, I listened, and I knew that was what I wanted to do.

Years later, in my master’s degree class, I started writing One Degree of Freedom. I kept going with the story because I loved it. The words flew off the page. Chapters piled up. I enjoyed creating the characters; they became my friends. I felt invigorated when I wrote that novel. I thought, Writing fiction is fun!

Then came the release of the book last November, the worst possible time to launch a new book. In the middle of a global pandemic. On the heels of a contentious election. During the time both my parents were both diagnosed with dementia.

How was I to drum up the energy to try to get the word out and market and sell my book with all that going on? The short answer: I didn’t. I haven’t done one thing since my last book signing in April. The marketing hustle stole my joy and killed my creativity. I stink at it.

My question morphed from do I enjoy writing to should I give it up. Should I say enough is enough and retire from writing?

My edits came back for the sequel novel at the same time we were pursuing a long-term care home for my dad. I didn’t know how or if I should continue. I voiced this question to my awesome editor, Rylie Fine. She talked me off the proverbial ledge with these wise words:

“Put this book aside for a while. Give yourself some time to breathe. Focus on taking care of your parents and yourself. Pray through these concerns and ask God to guide you. We all go through tough seasons. Let yourself go through this one without putting unnecessary pressure on yourself.”

I followed her advice. I stopped writing. Stopped hustling. I breathed.

A few weeks after we put Dad safely in his new home, I started s l o w l y coming back to life again. I don’t have my questions fully answered yet, but this much I know: My main calling right now is Caregiver, not Writer. I do the rest of what I do around the edges of that.

For me, following God in my current season of life is mostly drudgery. I’ve been blessed with years of exciting seasons and at times, a large life. This is not one of those seasons. Now I have a small life.

But in this small life, around the edges of caregiving, I find moments of light. Moments where I see God clearly and feel His presence and know He’s at work. As I’ve started, bit by bit, to revise the sequel novel, I’ve remembered.

I do love writing for writing’s sake. Whether anyone reads it or not. I’m not quitting. Not yet. But I’m taking it slow.

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July 29, 2021

What if the Means ARE the End?

Image by Macb3t from Pixabay

I’ve been thrust into rough waters lately. I am a caregiver for two parents, both with cognitive issues. This storm has been raging for many years but it’s recently reached tsunami level. What if this IS my purpose? Can I live with that?

In the past, I’ve been able to do enough writing and tutoring on the edges of caregiving–I even had a book published in November–that I’ve made it work, or at least I’ve fooled myself into thinking it does. But no more.

That’s why Oswald Chambers’ devotional on July 28, in My Utmost for His Highest, resonated with me.

“What is my vision of God’s purpose for me? Whatever it may be, His purpose is for me to depend on Him and on His power now. If I can stay calm, faithful, and unconfused while in the middle of the turmoil of life, the goal of the purpose of God is being accomplished in me. God is not working toward a particular finish—His purpose is the process itself. What He desires for me is that I see ‘Him walking on the sea’ with no shore, no success, nor goal in sight, but simply having the absolute certainty that everything is all right because I see ‘Him walking on the sea’ (Mark 6).”

The past few months, things have deteriorated. I see no end in sight. No shoreline. Will my role as caregiver continue for years? Will I be completely spent when all is over? Will there be anything of me left?

Caregiving is my calling for this season of my life. I learned a long time ago not to buck up against what God places in front of me to do. Yes, caregiving is emotionally exhausting; the amount of phone calls and paperwork are frustrating; and the level of decisions are the most difficult I’ve ever had to make (thankfully, my brother helps me make those). That said, there have been enough special, tender moments between me and each of my parents, moments for which I will always be grateful, that I can honestly say I’m thankful not to miss this precious season.

Sometimes, I feel afraid when I look to the future. Success? Goals? Let’s face it. I started my writing career rather late in life. The effort to revise and market and promote my writing is exhausting. I simply don’t have the energy for it right now.  I’ve decided to put that out of my mind and take it off my to-do list for the immediate present.

I have more important things to do right now.

Yes, I hope to finish my sequel novel—someday. I hope to get it out into the world before I die, or before people forget what the first novel was about. But I believe that God has called me to be present with my parents in these holy moments in their lives.

God’s purpose for me is to enable me to see Him, calm and in control, in the middle of the storms of my life. My part is simple. All I have to do is look. To watch for Him and see where He shows up. To listen to what He whispers in my heart. To depend on Him.

My goal is to follow what I know for each moment of today. I add one moment on top of another and another and soon I have built something worthwhile. Something that may count more than 100 books.

Image by jplenio from Pixabay

Dementia patients often (usually) don’t understand what’s happening. This week, we had to make the difficult decision and put my Dad in assisted living for memory care. He’s afraid. He doesn’t know where he is. Either he’s in his childhood home in Philadelphia, or he has to hurry to get to work, or he has to find his father.

But there are some things he does know. He knows when his basic needs are met. He likes all his meals. He likes going for drives. He likes ice cream. He likes the pets that visit for therapy.

He knows love.

When I leave him, I hold his hand and we look into each other’s eyes. I can see that he loves me. He may have forgotten my name or even our relationship, but I know he can read love in my eyes.

I tell him not to worry. That Jesus is watching out for him and He’ll never leave him alone. That Jesus loves him and so do we. He smiles and nods. “Jesus,” he says. I see in his eyes that he believes what I’ve said.

If I can be present to help my father see Jesus in this final tsunami in his life, then I’ll die happy. Even if my sequel never sees the light of day.

Maybe Oswald Chambers is right. The means, or the process, matters more, and can glorify God better, than the end result. Perhaps the daily, moment-by-moment looking for God is the goal. It’s my purpose, for now. And that’s enough for me.

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July 5, 2021

Fabulous Fiction

Photo thanks to Sarah Richter from Pixabay

I’m so honored that an excerpt from One Degree of Freedom, my YA historical novel, was featured in July’s Fabulous Fiction edition of The Redbud Post. Click here to read it at The Post.

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June 1, 2021

The Longest Day

Summer solstice, this year on June 20, is not just the longest day of the year. It is also the day to fight Alzheimer’s. “The day with the most light is the day we fight.”

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May 24, 2021

The First Six Months

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Last week, I achieved two milestones. My book, One Degree of Freedom, turned six months old and its number of reviews on Amazon passed 70! These first six months have both crawled by under the weight of the pandemic and restrictions to in-person events and sped by. I look back on the joy of holding my newborn book in my hands for the first time as the single brightest light for me in all of 2020.

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