On Faith and Feathered Friends

Saturday morning, my husband Rick and I were on the front porch drinking coffee and talking–porch partying, as we call it. His roosters crowed and all sorts of questions bubbled to the surface.

Rick raises chickens in the backyard.

“Do you really enjoy your chickens?”

He gave me a slightly perturbed look like, How could I not?

“I mean, isn’t it a lot of work? Why do you do it?”‘

“It’s fun. Chickens have different personalities, when you get to know them.”

Sounds like they’re real people–with names and feelings.

“When did you start raising chickens? I don’t remember.”

“Oh, golly. I guess when Thomas was nine.” (Our son Thomas is 24.)

“How many do we have now?”

“Thirteen. I have had 65 at one time.”

I had no idea.

Mostly I’ve ignored them. 

“How many eggs do we get every week?” I never counted. Just sorta took them for granted.

“About a dozen.”

“So, you do it for the eggs?”

“Nope.”

I wasn’t satisfied with his half-answers. There had to a reason.

Did he have an emotional connection with his feathered friends? 

Later that morning, I asked about one of his hens. A few months ago, a fox or a possum attacked her. She survived with a broken wing. I remembered how much he cared about her.

“Come take a look,” he said. “She’s doing fine.”

“Is her wing okay?”

“Good as new. She’s an Araucana and lays colored eggs.”

“She’s beautiful and so are her eggs. What helped her heal?”

“Lots of rest. I separated her from the others. I spent time with her at night after work.”

My heart grew incredibly tender–toward my husband who loves chickens. Click to Tweet. 

“Your hen actually wanted to be with you?”

“Sure she did. It calmed her down. Helped her rest.”

“Do your feathered friends ever teach you anything about life?”

“Of course. We all experience hard times. Cold winters. Rainy seasons. Long hot summers.”

“And broken wings.” I stroked her colored feathers.

“But we don’t give up.”

“You’re a sweet girl. I’m so glad you survived.”

The next morning when the roosters crowed, I smiled. “I know why you do it. You love them.”

He took a long sip of coffee. “Something like that.”

…I have called you friends…John 15:15 (ESV)

What about you? Was there a time when you experienced God’s TLC through a friend–either a person or an animal?

Or a time when you felt compelled to show love? 

Do you understand Rick’s unfailing love for his birds?

Love,

Julie

 

 

 

No More Secrets–Defeating Depression

Last week, my post was light and airy and funny. Today’s different. It’s about clinical depression. If you’re struggling with it now, or if you know someone who is, I’m writing to you straight from my heart.

Because I care.

Because I’ve been there. 

Because there’s hope. And help. And healing. 

Clinical depression feels like the emotional flu.

You wonder if you’ve been dropped off in a strange, unfamiliar world–a place without color, or taste, or seasons. Without joy or anticipation. And you only experience one emotion. FEAR. 

The worst part–you think maybe God’s forgotten you.

Sort of like a certain tree in our yard. This morning, I noticed her dangling leaves, her thin, fragile arms.

I could relate. I used to be like this tree.

The first time depression hit, I was 34. I wrote about it here. After stumbling my way out, I thought, Whew. Glad that’s over. Maybe it’ll never happen again. 

But it did. In 2012. Almost twenty years later.

Both times, I prayed to get better quickly and quietly. On my own. Without help. So no one would find out. I was afraid I’d lost myself-the real me–and that I’d never find my way back home.

Remember the little tree in our yard?

With her on my mind, I drove through our neighborhood and noticed all sorts of trees. This one is small, but to me, her leaves are sparkling rubies. 

It’s how you feel when you begin to recover from depression. You’re small but hallelujah! You have leaves again. 🙂

You begin sleeping and eating and sometimes even laughing. You’re still afraid to glance over your shoulder at the minefield where you’ve been, but that’s okay. Baby steps. You’re learning to be gentle with yourself. To love yourself.

Then one day, the miracle tiptoes in–

In all its Glory!

You look in the mirror and there you are! Strong and tall. A tree full of leaves!

With God’s help, and medication, and prayer, and caring friends and family, I’ve been restored twice. 

I’m so grateful. How could I keep this secret to myself? 

My second depression story will appear in December Guideposts, “A Sliver of Light.” If you read it, here’s a P.S. I didn’t stop writing in 2012. I took a break, finished the novel, and signed with a literary agent. 🙂 I share a little more of what happened in this video below. If you can’t see it, click here.

If this post hits home, don’t keep it a secret. Get help. Today. If you know someone who’s struggling with depression, please forward my blog link. 

Thoughts? Questions? 

Love,

Julie

Shy Girl Makes Friends and Learns Five Lessons

I’m an introvert who can fake being an extrovert. When I make a new friend and we click, I always learn something–you know the kind of friendship I’m talking about–

You both love coffee. You laugh at the same bizarre things. You can be together and not talk and it’s perfectly fine. 

Before the Ridgecrest Novelists Retreat last week, I wondered if the magic would happen.

Would I make new friends and reconnect with old ones? Would one of them teach me a life lesson? 

As soon as I arrived, I spotted my friend Vonda SkeltonShe’s an amazing writer, speaker, and teacher. It’s impossible to be with her and not laugh because Vonda laughs at herself. 🙂

Lesson Number 1 came quickly from Vonda:

1. Life’s more fun when you can finally learn to laugh at yourself. 

Later that day, I sat down in a class about social media and novel-writing.

Can I do this? Can I actually learn to speak new languages in social media?

Edie Melson and DiAnn Mills co-taught the class, The Author RoadmapEdie covered the social media aspect and DiAnn covered novel-writing.

Right away Edie smiled. 🙂 I smiled back.

And relaxed.

Maybe I can do this. Edie smiled at me. She thinks I can. 

Lesson number 2 from Edie:

2. For me, smiling and having a positive attitude became the first step to learning. 

Next I met Torry Martin.

Oh. Wow. Torry’s a speaker, writer, comedian, and actor. He’s also free-spirited and hilarious. Give the man a sentence and he can write an entire screenplay–in just a few hours!

Lesson number 3 from Torry.

3. Don’t doubt yourself. Be fearlessly creative. 

I met Bea Fishback, another writer, speaker, teacher. We introduced ourselves and discovered we both love coffee. 🙂 On the way to Starbucks, we laughed because we couldn’t find my car in the parking lot.

Kindred spirits.

I told her how much I loved her scarf. A few minutes later, in the conference room, she handed me a neatly folded, bright orange square.

Her scarf.

Spontaneous giving always undoes me. It’s how Jesus gives.

Lesson number 4 from Bea:

4. Give joyfully and unexpectedly.

And DiAnn.

DiAnn and I’ve been friends since the day she approached me at a writers’ conference in 2006 and said, “You look shy. Do you need a friend?”

Lesson number 5 from DiAnn.

5. Keep an open heart for new friends. They’re everywhere! 

Driving home, surrounded by the changing leaves, the scarf around my neck felt almost like an encouraging hand on my shoulder.

Thank You, Lord. The magic happened all over again. A shy girl made friends.

Does this stir your thoughts? Have you made a new friend lately? What about when Bea gave me her scarf? Whew…

Has God ever surprised you with an unexpected friend?

Love,

Julie

When You Have a Dream and You’re Afraid You’ll Fail

When you have a dream, all sorts of doubts, fears, and negative thoughts hound you.

You can’t do this.

You’re wasting your time. 

Stick with something you know.

When you fail, you’re going to look like a fool.

Forget this silly idea and get on with your life.

A few years ago, I had a dream.

I wanted to become a novelist–which is peculiar because as a child, I never planned to write. My mother was a writer. When I was ten, she made me her Junior Editor–a job I didn’t want.  (Marion Bond West, my mom, is below.)

Writers–people like my mother–were strange.

By the time I reached 40, life had blindsided me.

I’d survived clinical depression, lost a full-term baby boy, and attended Al-Anon. Writing helped me focus and listen to God’s healing voice.

In 2004, I entered the Guideposts writers contest and won!

I became what I never planned to be.

One of those weird writers.

For instance–

A writer can be talking to you and suddenly float away to another world. We don’t mean to be rude–it’s just that our minds get crowded. Right now, my brain looks something like this.

This is where I interview my characters. My people. They’re so real to me that I catch myself asking them what’s for supper. 🙂

Another bizarre thing about writers–

At night we dream answers to our plotting problems and hop out of bed to jot them down. We’ll even do this for a good sentence or just the right word.

I’m still working toward my dream.

As I’m writing this post, I’m packing for a novelists retreat in Ridgecrest, North Carolina. I can’t wait! Next week, I’ll learn new things and have fun, but the best part is–

I’ll get to hang out with people who don’t think my dream is strange. 

When you have a dream, surround yourself with friends who believe in you. Sometimes it only takes one! 

 “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up…” 1 Thessalonians 5:11

Thank you. 

You encourage me every week.

I’m so very, very grateful. 

Do you have a dream? Has someone encouraged you along the way?

P.S. I’m taking Lolly my laptop and will be checking comments. 🙂 I haven’t even left home and I already miss you!

Love,

Julie

 

A Message from Callie the Caladium

Sometimes I’m drawn to the most insignificant things. I’ll see something and feel a quickening in my spirit. It happened a few weeks ago–all because of a Caladium–a pink and green plant I bought this spring.

First time I’d ever had a Caladium. I named her Callie.

In August, Callie’s leaves started drooping.

That’s when the PAY ATTENTION feeling came. 

Maybe  because Callie reminded me of things I’d been praying about for a long time and nothing had changed.

A situation with one of my children.

Something about writing.

A few family members. 

Based on how long I’ve been praying, I should probably give up.

But I didn’t want to give up on Callie. 

I googled how to grow Caladiums. I watered and fertilized her. Brought her inside during the heat of the day.

Nothing helped. 

In September, I noticed a gorgeous Caladium outside a store in a giant clay pot so I gave Callie a bigger home.

Which didn’t help.

I called my brother Jeremy, who knows about plants.

“Caladiums are like Elephant ears,” he said.

I walked out to the porch. “Our Elephant Ears are doing fine.”

“They’re hardier than Caladiums.”

“What if I plant it?”

“It’s too late. You should’ve done it earlier in the season.”

“Is it hopeless?”

“You can try cutting off the dead leaves. Probably won’t help.”

Performing surgery on Callie, I spotted one tender sprout near the black soil.

Only one.

She was small, but she was alive and well. 

I did what Jeremy said–I cut off everything that was dead.

And focused on all that was living. 

Guess what?

Yesterday, after a heavy rain, Callie stood a little taller and raised her face toward the sun.

That’s when the message came.

 “… if there is anything worthy of praise, think continually on these things [center your mind on them, and implant them in your heart]. Phil 4:8 AMP 

If you’ve been praying about something for a long, long time, I understand. And I care. Don’t give up. 

Thoughts?

Love,

Julie

 

Three Hallmarks of Divine Friendship

I think sometimes God arranges friendships in heaven. That’s what happened with my friend DiAnn Mills and me. Our paths would never have crossed if it weren’t for His Divine Intervention.

Years ago, I taught writing at a conference in Texas. It was the first time I’d flown out-of-town to teach.

I felt like a poser. A wannabe. Full of insecurity. 

The night I arrived, the entire faculty circled to pray.

Do I really belong here? 

Me? Faculty? 

After the prayer, a gorgeous redhead approached me. “Hi, I’m DiAnn. You look a little shy. Do you need a friend?”

Ohhhhh, if she only knew…

That was the beginning of our Divine Friendship.

Last week, I flew to Houston to visit her.

We went antiquing. Entering this enchanted shop, I felt like a little girl again,

In a land where all things are possible.  

Check out the name of this store.  🙂

Since DiAnn and I are writers, we chose outfits for our characters.

Such fun–to dream!

And the signs–oh, the signs!

Surrounded by creativity, each message seemed to come from God.

 

 

Then on to clothes.

“DiAnn, what about this? I love the material, but the color…”

She answered truthfully. “We can do better.”

And we did.

She found this beautiful  shirt.

And I got this one.

It’s So …. Me!

She surprised me with a homemade gluten-free peach and blueberry cobbler. (I have Celiac.)

Friday afternoon, we noticed the primrose blooming near her pool.

Wide open.

Bright yellow. 

Thriving. 

“Just wait ’til tomorrow morning,” she said. “You won’t believe the difference.”

Sure enough, the next morning they’d all but shriveled up and died. “Watch. They’ll open when the sun shines.”

That’s when I started thinking about our friendship.

During our final porch party, three things occurred to me about Divine Friendships:

1. They help us bloom. (They’re like the sun shining on the primrose.) 

2. They “speak the truth in love” Ephesians 4:15. (The orange shirt.) 

3. They accept us just as we are. (The GF cobbler.)  

What qualities have you noticed about Divine Friendships?

P.S. This happened last year at DiAnn’s.

Love,

Julie

Fear…Get ‘Cha Gone!

This quote is why I blog: “A wonderfully nurturing atmosphere is created when people help other people by being themselves and sharing their own experiences.” Courage to Change–One Day at a time in Al-Anon II

It reminds me of my friendship with Peggy Frezon. Peggy lives in New York and I’m in Georgia, so we only get to see each other at Guideposts’ writers workshops, like this past weekend in Vero Beach

 

Peggy and I battle The Fear Monster. Sometimes she says, “Fear! Get ‘Cha Gone!”

If the two of us gave in to our fears, we’d stay home in our closets. The things that scare Peggy aren’t frightening to me. And vice-versa.

But Fear is Fear. And it doesn’t play nice. 

Peggy’s afraid to travel.

She rode to a Guideposts workshop in 2004 with a jacket over her head. Her husband was driving. She’s afraid of elevators. And flying (at least right now).

But we’re on our way to becoming fearless!

Her husband  rode the train with her from New York to Vero Beach, Florida. They rented a car for part of the trip. She sat in back seat holding Jesus Calling.

I brought Jesus Calling to Vero Beach, too. Not because I’m afraid to travel.

I’m afraid of rejection.

Of being judged. 

Of not measuring up. 

I’d submitted another story about my depression. I wrote about it here years ago. The group would be discussing my story (my second clinical depression!) at the workshop.

The root of my fear?

Pride. What’ll they think of me?

But guess what?

Nothing I was afraid of happened. 

No one judged me!

No condemnation!

After the trip, Peggy and I emailed each other:

“I think God’s calling us to dip our toes into the water,” I wrote. “To go deeper with Him.”

“Look at the pictures I just texted you!” she wrote. “I took them right before we left!”

Peggy at the ocean. 

One step closer.  

Then another.

Peggy’s so courageous–traveling  from New York to Florida. She captured the moment on video–the same kind of joy I experienced when I wrote the truth and no one rejected me. 

If you can’t see the video below, click here

And then Sunday we sang this song at church. A certain phrase won’t let me go.

“And You call me, deeper still…”

If you can’t see the video below, click here.

Do you fight The Mean Fear Monster too?

Maybe God’s calling us to go deeper.

I pray this post helps.

Love,

Julie (and Peggy) 🙂

 

And Then Debbie Macomber Smiled

Writing, like anything else requiring faith and perseverance, can humble you and wear you out, but sometimes, it brings the sweetest rewards. This past weekend, my mother Marion Bond West and I were selected with ten other writers to attend a Guideposts refresher workshop in Vero Beach, Florida–so many gifts at once!

Spending Mother’s Day weekend with my mom and some of my dearest friends,

And on Saturday night, Debbie Macomber would join us for dinner!

On the way to the airport, Mother insisted we take a selfie.

I gave Mom her Mother’s Day gift in the car.

When we got to the beach, I had time to walk with Stephanie Thompson, Ginger Rue Stewart, and Sue Karas.

Mother stayed in the room and caught up on her reading. 🙂

After the workshop Saturday we had dinner.

From top left:

Ginger Rue Stewart, Stephanie Thompson, Marion Bond West, Edward Grinnan, Julie Garmon, Shawnelle Eliasen, Monica Morris, Molly Brown, Peggy Frezon, Rick Hamlin, Sue Karas, Amy Wong, Julie Lavender, Janet Smith, and Roberta Messner.

Shawnelle and Peggy are among a group of incredible Guideposts bloggers.

But the best part of all–

New York Times, bestselling author Debbie Macomber shared her story.

When she spoke, she smiled—no, she laughed and brought bubbly joy, and the message to “keep on keeping on.”

Success didn’t happen quickly for Debbie. She experienced years of devastating rejections, lean times of living hand-to-mouth, and she dealt with dyslexia. 

And then Debbie told us what kept her going…

(If you can’t see the video below, click here.)

So many days when she wanted to quit, Debbie read a certain prayer from The Power of Positive Thinking, by Norman Vincent Peale that begins this way–

“I believe I am divinely guided…”

Thank you, Debbie.

This means we’re divinely guided too. 

God is with us through our struggles and nothing happens by chance.

Most of all, thank you for letting us know you’re one of us. 

You’re been we are.

You understand.

And you care.

Love,

Julie

P.S. Has anyone made a difference in your life and encouraged you to hang in there? Please share!

Fudge for Breakfast

Growing up the oldest of four, hard work came before fun. Always. There were little brothers to chase, dishes to do, and I edited my mother’s writing.

Lots of rules to follow. 

Having fun sometimes seemed like a no-no. 

Last week I went to Mother’s house so we could edit each other’s devotionals for Daily Guideposts. She surprised me with homemade fudge. She and my sister Jennifer made The Best Fudge. (Here’s their recipe. It’s GF.)

I put a piece of sweetness in my mouth. Let it melt on my tongue. “Your fudge is…”

“Pretty wonderful, isn’t it?”

Our work forgotten, we just sat and talked.

“I’ve started wearing aprons again,” she said.

“Here’s my kitty-cat one.”

“Jennifer gave me this one.”

I loved what was happening.

We’d never played before work.

It felt amazing!

Like we were actresses on a movie set!

“Women wore this kind in the fifties,” she said.

Who could see this and not laugh?

“Oh, we need to run to the post office,” she said. “And let’s eat lunch out.”

“Now? Before we work?”

“Sure, why not?”

When we got to the post office, she insisted we take a selfie.

Our first mother/daughter selfie. 

“You know, people are staring,” I said.

“Who cares?”

Later, in her office, we laughed while we worked, making our task a joy. 

The next morning, I wanted to keep the memory alive, so I broke the rules (again!) and had fudge for breakfast!

Something I’d never done.

Mother called.

“Yesterday was so much fun,” I said.

“Yeah, sometimes we think fun has to be a trip to Disney World.”

“I know. We even broke the ‘work before play’ rule, didn’t we?”

“We sure did.”

“Mother, what’s your definition of fun?”

“Fun means doing simple things in life with someone you love.”

Ta-da! 

SIMPLE. 🙂

My word for 2015. 

What simple ways do you have fun? How’re you doing on your word for the year?

Love,

Julie

A Secret Place in My Heart

One day last week, an editor called. She presented me with a startling writing assignment. A big scary assignment. An idea that could take months. And if there’s one thing that messes with me, it’s fear.

After we hung up, I sat down at my desk. My cold, clammy fingers hovered above my keyboard. I had no idea how to begin.

Why does she think I can do this?  I don’t know how. 

The softest sweetest voice in my heart whispered one word. 

“Pray.”

I knelt beside by my desk.

Lord, fear is trespassing in my heart again. And I don’t have to be afraid.  

If You’re in this, help me. 

Sometimes when I write, I light a candle. I love the bright glow and the warm smell of cinnamon. I lit my favorite candle and watched the flame for a minute or two.

Then I put my fingers on the keys.

But the candle wasn’t enough.

Two unlit candles caught my attention.

What is it, Lord? 

Father.

Son.

Holy Spirit.

The Trinity. Three in one. Light all three candles. Ask Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to help you. 

I’d never considered praying this way before.

Yes! Yes!

I lit the other candles and knelt again.

“Lord, You’re my Father. The Great I Am. My Protector. Alpha and Omega. 

Jesus, You’re My Savior. My Friend.  Emmanuel. Wonderful Counselor. My Redeemer.

Holy Spirit, You’re my Comforter. My Deliverer. My Teacher. Dwell with me today.”

I crawled back into my chair and typed:

“I had no idea there was any other way to live. Fear, perfectionism, and control were like my wicked stepsisters.”

The words came from a secret place in my heart.

I had begun. 🙂

Here’s a 15-second video of my candles. Just had to show you!

If you can’t see video below, click here

Is there anything in life that keeps you on your knees? 

That’s okay.

It’s a safe place to be.

Love,

Julie