Take a Time Out…

Ok, I’ll admit it. I’m a workaholic. Always have been. Not really proud of it. When I’m not at work in my marketing job, I’m at work on my author/speaker/book coaching career…writing, reading and editing other people’s writing, marketing my own work and that of others, speaking, looking for speaking opportunities, following up with the people to whom I speak…the list goes on. I’m tired just thinking about it.

I worked most of the day yesterday (although I secretly knew I shouldn’t be working on the Sabbath…which is what I had just heard in the Old Testament reading at Mass!) And then we had dinner with a friend who asked if I took one day off a week (which she recommended that everyone should)? I nearly laughed. One day off a week? I rarely take one day off a month! This particular friend is a counselor so I actually didn’t laugh. I knew she was right, God even tells us this in the Bible: “Remember to keep holy the sabbath day. Six days you may labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD, your God. No work may be done then either by you, or your son or daughter,  or your male or female slave, or your beast, or by the alien who lives with you. In six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth,  the sea and all that is in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the LORD has blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.” 

I know sometimes I work because it is a distraction from personal or spiritual stuff I should be focusing on….relationships that need mending, prayer and meditation, reading the Bible…stuff that sometimes seems harder than my regular work. But most of the time I work to get “caught up.” In yesterday’s Gospel reading Jesus turned over the tables of the merchants and money-changers in the temple. These “salespeople” justified they were merely selling livestock and produce to those who traveled to the temple and had forgotten or ran out of time to buy sacrificial items to offer up to God.  It seems I may be a little like them…justifying the work I am doing on the Sabbath…even though there is really no justification for breaking God’s commandment.

Going forward, I pray that I am able to focus, especially during this Lenten season, on taking time out to spend with the Lord…whether that means spending it with family and friends, my husband or even just with myself…to experience more peace and joy on the day God designated to be kept holy.

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Suffering is optional…

Some things are truly out of our control…like when someone you love is mad at you and gives you the silent treatment and refuses to speak with you and you have no idea how or why you made that person hurt or angry and/or know there’s nothing you can do to fix the situation…and yet you are hurt by the break in the relationship too. Life…and relationships…can often be painful. Sometimes you have a choice to just “let it go” which may mean letting that person go. Or perhaps you don’t want to do that…and you can choose to wait things out, pray, hope for discussion, forgiveness, healing. Either way, often it’s hard to just put the pain aside. But I believe the alternative – suffering – is also a choice, one in which I choose not to engage.

Sure that’s not easy either. But I think the enemy, Satan, wants us to suffer when we are in pain…to dwell on things, to wallow in our guilt, fears, hurt, and heartache. That way, we stay in a dark place and once we are there, we stay stuck and can’t see the light of hope or feel the warmth of love. Instead, I believe God wants us to choose faith, even when it’s hard and we’re in pain with doubts and worries.  I’ve heard it said in a program of recovery that “pain is inevitable, suffering is optional” (I looked up the quote and it is attributed to author Haruki Murakami).

So how do we go through pain and not suffer? One is to choose to continue to find happiness, joy, fulfillment, peace and love in other people, places and things…not to avoid the source of pain but to at least temporarily compartmentalize it so we can still focus on being of service or being useful to others and seeking to do God’s Will.  Call a friend, read a book, get some exercise, pour yourself into the work that you are called to do (or at least the work that pays the bills), cook a meal for others…the list could go on.  And perhaps when you are not dwelling on the problem (and the pain), a solution may present itself. Or you will at least be distracted enough to not suffer…because I believe God wants us NOT to suffer.

I learned a lot about reading the Book of Job and writing the novel, The Faithful One, which is a modern-day re-imagining of it. I l learned that we ALL go through loss and pain…but that we need to hold onto the faith that God will bring us through it, and that He does have a plan for us that is good. In the New Testament, James tell us to “count it all joy, my brothers,  when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.” (James I, 1:2-6)

I believe the very best thing I can do when I am in pain and I don’t wish to suffer is to pray for acceptance…and pray the “Serenity Prayer” – “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” 

 

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The journey starts now…

Every year at this time I get a twinge of angst that I know I need to prepare for Easter during the next 40 days of Lent, coupled with a feeling or fear that I probably won’t end up feeling spiritually prepared when Easter Sunday arrives. I know this is projecting and if anything I’ve learned in recovery, it’s to take life one day at a time. It’s close to the same feeling I get during Advent preparing for Christmas…and then never feeling spiritually prepared for that day either. But at least Christmas distracts us with all of its social frivolity and the physical preparations of decorating, gift giving, dinners and parties, etc.  Since Easter isn’t quite as commercialized, it’s a little easier to focus on the spiritual aspect…and likewise, to experience a greater feeling of falling short. I think this goes hand in hand with my tendency to complicate things in life.

Father Jim Yeakle, the pastor of my church, St. Jude’s in North East, MD, did a great job of setting me on a better track for Lent this year when he delivered his Ash Wednesday homily. One statement he made seemed to simplify the whole Lent preparation thing for me. He said, “consider Lent as a journey to get closer to Christ; and each year, each Lent, gives us a chance to walk another mile with Him.” I pondered that in making my Lenten promises…how could I go the extra mile this Lent? First I decided not to beat myself up so much if I fall short…I don’t have to run the whole marathon this Lent…and I’m already on the right path. (After all, I’ve been a fairly devout Christian my whole life, which is a good number of years…so I guess I can at least say I’ve already traveled several miles on this journey already). I just have to go a little further. Of course, I don’t want to get stuck but want to move forward so I can cast aside that angst this Easter and feel completely joyful in the resurrection.

So what to do for the next 40 days? First, I am reading the “Little Black Book,” the daily reader our church handed out for this year’s Lenten study. I plan to finish reading the Bible (which I started a few years back…I’m finally in the New Testament/Gospels, which is right where I need to be to observe Lent!) I am giving up all sugary foods and cutting back carbs and eating after dinner in addition to the traditional fasting/eating fish on Fridays. (this will be good for my health and help me to shed those few extra pounds put on during the holidays – and since my body is a temple, that is physical and spiritual maintenance!) I decided to do some spring cleaning (also much needed) to give away what I don’t need to the less fortunate. And when I feel tempted by sweets, or feel weary and don’t want to read/pray, or want to spend money on new stuff (that I really don’t need), I will try to turn to Jesus and try to walk a few steps with Him. Hopefully with the warmer weather of spring headed our way, this can be a literal walk, not just a figurative one…I love going on walks and really will walk that extra mile!

I want to try to picture myself actually being with Jesus…on these walks, at church, and in my world. Yesterday at Mass I even pictured being at the Last Supper during the celebration of the Eucharist and it really made me pay attention, and get more out of it. I felt closer to Him. And I realized once again that’s what Lent is all about. Getting to know God more. It might be getting to know Him more not only in church, but in my own house (like listening to my husband better) and in every day places (like being kinder to strangers in the grocery store or at work).

Even though it is two thousand some years after the time Jesus walked the earth, I can still have the benefit of being a disciple who can walk with the risen Christ, like they did on the road to Emmaus following the Resurrection: “They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them…they asked each other, ‘were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24: 13-35)

I pray we can all really walk with Jesus…to see, hear, feel and know Him…in our Lenten journey this year.

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If you want a happy ending…

I’m sure all of you have had bad endings happen to what should have been happy occasions…like when you have a celebration or gathering of friends or family and toward the end of the event, someone says or does something that makes you mad or hurts your feelings. I think it’s our human nature to initially feel like the whole event, or maybe even the whole day (or week or month) is ruined. You can’t help how you feel, especially if the person who made you mad or hurt you doesn’t apologize or try to make things right, or if someone jumps on the bandwagon and makes things worse.

But I believe you can turn everything around and still end up with a happy ending. First, try not to dwell on the negative but shift your focus, either to what good lies ahead, or to other people who did contribute to the happy moments, or to the happy moments themselves; also try to feel your negative feelings and then let them go, accept them and move on, especially if there isn’t anything you can do to change the other person or situation. Finally, ask yourself, what did I learn from this conflict/challenge/problem? Did I play a part and if so, can it help me grow somehow?

My favorite episode of one of my favorite sitcoms from the late 90’s, “Everybody Loves Raymond” (now airing in reruns which my husband and I watch many evenings – they say it’s good to watch something funny before you go to bed to help you fall asleep happy – works for me!) addresses, in a very real way, how to have a happy ending, despite a bad beginning, middle or apparent end: in this episode, Ray’s brother Robert is getting married to his girlfriend Amy. The wedding is dampened by their mother, Marie, who stands up during the vows to voice her objections (or feelings); the wedding eventually goes on, then at the reception, there is an argument between the bride’s and groom’s dads over a cash bar and some other squabbles over the food and such. But in his toast, Ray talks about the one thing that can save the day: EDITING. He jokes about how he and Robert often used the editing tool growing up to survive their childhood, and how we should “remember the good” and edit out the rest in looking back on our memories. Being an author and book coach, I love the analogy of editing and happy endings…the best books out there usually have both!

Even in trials and tribulations we can remain joyful according to St. James, who says this in the Bible:  “Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters,
when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. And let perseverance be perfect, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. But if any of you lacks wisdom,
he should ask God who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly,
and he will be given it. But he should ask in faith, not doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed about by the wind.” (James 1:1-7)

Today I pray I will look back…and move forward…with faith and joy.

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If Life Feels Like Drudgery…

No one knew more loss and suffering than Job in the Bible. I don’t know why God called me to write a modern-day novel based on the Book of Job other than that I felt like I was in the depths of despair at that point in my life – and, like Job says, life was like drudgery and I felt like I would not see happiness again. All I know is that the idea wouldn’t let go, and looking back, I know writing my first published novel, “The Faithful One,” helped me through that time of misery and despair…I was losing my marriage and my business, I didn’t feel close to my kids, and I was suffering with the disease of alcoholism. Eventually, like Job, I held onto a shred of faith and life got better – I remarried, I became closer with my kids, I found recovery through the grace of God and I discovered my purpose in life – that of being an author who writes modern-day Bible stories, fiction that re-imagines Old Testament stories in the Bible.

But that all took time, many years in fact, and still today I can have moments or even days or weeks where I experience feeling down, even depressed, where life seems like drudgery or I’m just not happy. I think we all probably do. We experience financial difficulty like Job did. Or we get sick or have health issues like Job did. Or we experience loss, like Job did. Or people hurt us or betray us or let us down like Job’s wife and friends did. Or sometimes our days just seem like drudgery, our dreams are deferred or delayed, and we just can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. Hopefully we don’t experience all of that at once like Job did! But even experiencing pain in any one area of our lives makes it hard to be happy sometimes.

So what do we do in those instances? What is the solution? Did Job have the answers? Well, I would say yes and no. I did research on the Book of Job through the Anchor Bible series version, by having my book edited and authenticated by various members of the clergy, and of course by reading, re-reading and meditating on the original Book itself. Job does get to a place where he just wants to give up and die, which isn’t a good solution. But he also does hold onto a shred of faith by staying in communication with God. And he rebukes his friends (as does the prophet Elihu who God sends to counsel Job through his despair) – when those friends tell Job that the reason he is suffering so much loss and pain is because he is being “punished” by God for his sins, which simply isn’t true.

The answer lies in the fact that we can’t see God’s plan, but that God does have a plan for our lives…and He does reward us in the end if we can just have hope and faith. If you can look at your troubles as temporary and hang onto the hope that “this too shall pass” and nothing lasts forever….and you can hold onto your faith that God never gives us more than we can handle, and He will always see us through our pain and suffering and reward us in the end…that’s a good start to turning things around if you’re feeling unhappy or life feels like drudgery. Also, it’s good to have friends who can empathize or can relate, listen without judging, cheer you on in pursuing your dreams, and brighten your spirits by being supportive. But if you have friends who just bring you down further, than maybe it’s time to find new friends! They say in the 12-Step Program to “stick with the winners” – those who find a way to be happy despite their setbacks, those who have hope and faith.

I think we can all benefit by reading the Book of Job and realizing that life does get better if we hang in there and hold onto our faith that God has a plan.

 

 

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Perfect in Our Imperfections

Finally far enough away from the Christmas frenzy where I second guessed myself several times on what gifts I had gotten, removed from the failed attempts to fulfill New Year’s resolutions of losing weight and working out more (hard to do when you’re sick on the couch) and on my way out of the winter doldrums (it’s almost February!), I feel like I can assess my goals, appreciate how far I’ve come and renew my faith that God has indeed chosen me to write contemporary novels based on His stories in the Old Testament.

You see, I question that calling occasionally – when I’m in the “valley” and my dream of being a full-time author and speaker isn’t being realized fast enough (to pay the bills at least). And with my doubts comes the voice of the enemy in my ear, whispering “who do you think you are that God would choose you to write these books?” and “maybe you should re-focus on something else since this isn’t working too well,” and “you’re just being selfish in pursuing your desires.”  When I’m on the mountaintop of confidence and faith (alright, it’s still January so perhaps the hilltop!) instead of down in the valley of self-pity, I see the true source -what I’d call ego in reverse or false humility – and I can say “get behind me Satan” and keep on doing the next right thing.

After all, God chose Moses, speech impediment and all, to be His prophet to the Israelites, leading them through the desert for forty years no less! He chose Paul, not a very well-liked guy by any means, to preach to the Gentiles. And He led Mary and Joseph to a manger where animals lived for the birth of His Son. We learn from those stories that God chooses us too with all of our imperfections (for me it’s usually impatience, competitiveness and sometimes even arrogance) to use us to complete His perfect plans, turning our defects into assets (like drive, determination and boldness respectively in my case).

While singing in church yesterday, I remembered something I had heard recently about how we should be joyful and enthusiastic in our praise and worship, and sang with all of my heart, soul and voice (and fortunately we sang songs I knew and loved!) I probably didn’t sound as great to others as I sounded in my own ears, but I think God appreciated the effort!

I believe God put my dreams on my heart and as long as my motives are pure, He will work through me, imperfections and all, to achieve His perfect will. After all, that is His promise! “Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.” (Prov. 16:3)

 

 

 

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Author Interview: Michele Chynoweth — Toni Shiloh

Hi to all of my blog readers…this week I’d like to share another blog post from a fellow author friend of mine, Toni Shiloh, who is the President of the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) of VA and a book reviewer…Toni was gracious enough to review my book, The Runaway Prophet, and interview me today! Thanks to all of my loyal followers…here’s a little more about me and the book (things you may not know but wanted to ask!) – Michele

(from Toni): Happy Monday! I’m kicking off the week with an interview with Michele Chynoweth, author of The Runaway Prophet. I think you’ll like this modern-day tale of Jonah. Let’s find out more! About the Book The Blurb: “From the author of the best-selling novels The Faithful Oneand The Peace Maker comes another captivating modern-day Bible story that will grip you and […]

via Author Interview: Michele Chynoweth — Toni Shiloh

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