If You’ve Been Having Trouble Praying, Too

It turns out I haven’t been taking very good care of myself. In what I’ve been eating, in how little I’ve been sleeping, in pent up stress, in how much I’ve been traveling, etc. My body rebelled, necessitating a sick day, and earning me a bit of a tongue lashing from my doctor at my annual physical. My numbers are all fine, but my headaches, migraines, poor sleep, and illness are most likely manifestations of not dealing with this month’s stress well. Plus, I kept writing. And though I’m relieved and proud that I can call myself a NaNoWriMo 2016 winner, it was its own brand of exhausting.

Lots of people in my feeds have been sharing lists of things to do to take better care of yourself, and I am reading them. But I don’t really want to make one. They’re already out there, and I haven’t been doing those things anyway. For me, I know my life is way out of balance (1) when I’m not praying, and (2) when I’m not writing. I need both, and I can do one without the other but I’m still not really healthy that way. And, for me, prayer is the most important of the two. My writing often comes out of prayer and Bible reading. So I’m going to recommend something that has helped me in the past.

If you are struggling and unable to put words to your prayers, remember that prayer, at its most basic, is a conversation. You don’t need to make up your own words to have a conversation. And God doesn’t need words to understand you (Romans 8:26).

Recently, I was sitting in a concert feeling incredibly wounded about a situation in my life. I also felt guilty because I was at something fun with great people but I felt so preoccupied and hurt. And so many other people have such worse hurts. I thought of praying to God but I didn’t know what to say. And I didn’t know what God might be trying to say to me, if anything.

So I tried not to stress about it. I wrapped a scarf around my shoulders (which helps me feel protected when I don’t need it to help me feel warm) and just listened to the music. When a melody touched me, I imagined God feeling it, too, through me. Like electricity. I opened feelings to God without words, letting those feelings ride the melodies I was already sending heavenward. And I kept sitting there, and I kept wanting, and I kept hurting. Performers were singing and dancing to “Upton Funk” and “Soul Man” and I was following along, even clapping, but my brain kept returning me to the hard place and the pain. I couldn’t stop thinking about this certain situation in my life. I couldn’t stop hurting.

And then there was a song that seemed to heal me. Not completely, let’s not be ridiculous, but it was the turning point. It wasn’t the lyrics. It wasn’t the tune. I’d heard the song before, even that day. But this time I had this open line to God, and I’d been sending things to God, and in this song I felt like God sent something back to me. Of course, I didn’t really notice until it was over. But when I did notice, I realized I hadn’t thought of the situation the entire time. I’d had three uninterrupted minutes of enjoying something beautiful.

What a great distraction! I thought. But when my mind touched the painful situation again, this time it didn’t stick me with its claws and drag me back into its darkness and pain. My thoughts brushed by it and just moved away. The tide had shifted. The current no longer pulled me to that pain. Now, the current led me away from the pain, even when I intentionally thought about the situation. And, I could choose not to think about the situation. That hadn’t been possible four minutes earlier.

I felt like God had reached through that song, which was always on the set list, and used it to touch my heart and mind with peace. This wasn’t just distraction, like dinner had been earlier that evening. This was dealing, and a gift.

Prayer doesn’t change the situation but it does change me. And look! I’m writing.

Maybe you have been struggling to write but you aren’t quite as bad off as I’ve been. If so, trying praying a psalm. Psalms 103, 27, and 23 are good starting points. Say the lines aloud that resonate with you. Write them down. Or just underline or highlight them. If there’s something that isn’t true of you right now but that you wish were true, say it out loud. Mark it. Maybe write down the date next to the psalm number and, in six months or eight years, you’ll find that date again. You may not remember by then what you were going through, or you might remember exactly. Regardless, you’ll know and be grateful that you aren’t in the same place anymore.

If you don’t feel able to pray a psalm either, try praying a song. A year and a half ago, I had a playlist of three: Audrey Assad’s “Run Forward,” Gungor’s “Beautiful Things,” and Hillsong’s “Oceans” (I know, I know, but it helped me). Audrey Assad has a new album of hymns out. Or pick Hamilton songs and disco hits. A bouncy new acapella Christmas song. It doesn’t really matter. The concert I attended opened with “Uptown Funk,” remember? My goal was to gather songs with lyrics or melodies or something that spoke to all the turmoil inside me, or just that I wanted to be true. Open yourself up the song’s messages and, as you listen or sing along, release those inner feelings, frustrations, fears, and hopes heavenward.

The goal is to open the lock on your chest that keeps everything inside, and to release those things to God. I promise God can handle them. You may not, I may not, your family may not, the church may not, but God can. God created you. God knows what and who God made.

Fear Then, Fear Now (Updated)

Note: Based on some feedback I’ve received since posting, I realize that my initial goal in writing eight months ago and my ultimate goal in writing last week both got a bit lost in the proverbial weeds. I’ve tried to tighten this post to make my points and goals more explicit.

About 8 months back, I wrote the following.


I rarely sink into a rage among this group of friends. All are people who care very deeply and who I’ve known for months, if not years.

However, last week I found myself seething, forcing myself to sit silently in my chair and listen respectfully to person after person describe their fears. Now, I realize that fears make us feel highly vulnerable, and so they can be very difficult to share with a group, especially if you aren’t very close to every person there. I realize that many people probably have deep-seated fears that they would not ever share with another person, let alone this little group of nine Baptists. Instead, person after person talked about terrorism, “people over there” and “crazies”. Next, someone brought up the presidential candidates. One person confessed trepidation at the idea of ISIS gaining access to a nuclear weapon.

At least no one started talking about spiders.

I studied terrorism extensively in college, so I know I have a different viewpoint than most. And I don’t deny that ISIS is a serious problem, and a daily concern. But I wanted to talk about fear. The most recent time I felt fear was the previous evening. I went to a friend’s house to play board games, and as I was coming home I realized I was coming home to an empty house. My roommate was away for the weekend, my neighbors were all probably asleep, the dog wasn’t alive to bark, the light was on in the carport but I couldn’t see into the darkness past the gate or in my neighbor’s backyard. Before I got out of my car, I had my house key in my hand, angled so it could slide into the lock as quickly as possible. I scanned 360 degrees before I got out and again when I stood straight. I listened carefully for footsteps, breathing, anything amiss. I unlocked the door and still knew I wasn’t safe. Not until the door was shut and locked behind me. And maybe not even then.

I am far more likely to be killed because of someone else’s road rage than I am to be killed by a terrorist of any kind (and there are so many kinds). I am at a much higher risk of being followed into my house and raped than anyone in the world is at risk of dying from radiation exposure due to a nuclear attack by ISIS.

Of the seven of us in this conversation, five were men. Up to that point, only men had been talking. While trying to tamp down my rage at all these fears that have so little bearing on how I live my life and what I worry about, the other women in the group spoke up, describing the moral ambiguity rising in our society and expressing her worries and fears for what her children will have to face, what they will fear as they grow up, how they will be safe and happy and good people in a society like the one ours is becoming.

Finally, something practical.

I built off of my friend’s fears for her children, describing how, in our society,people don’t do right for the sake of right. Here, freedoms and rights are not preserved for many, many people. I pointed out that, as a single woman, I am a more vulnerable target to random violence (not the most vulnerable, certainly) than men who share so much with me, including religion, skin color, socio-economic status, and geographic region. I described my fear of making eye contact with another driver because he might decide on that alone to follow me, to harass me, to hurt me. (It’s happened to me before, and I thank God that he never got out of his car.) I mentioned choices I make every day because of fear, like avoiding filling up with gas at night, like not walking between large vehicles in parking lots, like not going to the neighborhood park alone without texting someone else to let them know where I am and when I’ll be back.

My fellow Christians heard me. Their eyes softened. There was a pause.

One of the men started resumed talking about the “moral decay of our country” and brought up a presidential candidate. And accompanying my rage this time was disappointment. Isolation. I wanted them to be honest about their daily fears, even if they were different from mine. But no one had mentioned cancer or car accidents. No one did.

[Before I go further, I want to point out that every single one of us was white. Every one. Every one, as far as I know, is heterosexual and abled and neuro-typical. We are draped in privilege, swaddled in it from birth. I have real fears related to being a woman, but my fears as a white woman are nothing compared to the fears of people of color, and specifically of women of color. People with disabilities have entirely different and entirely valid fears. And we weren’t even addressing those depths, just the gender discrepancy in the fears.]

I wanted to ask these men, “When was the last time you felt fear? Maybe it was over a news headline but did you ever consider what you would feel if you were a refugee who no one wants to help because they think you might be part of the same terrorist group you’re trying to escape?” I wanted to scream, “Are you thinking about other people’s lives? Are you really more worried about Hillary’s emails than whether someone is going to target you just for existing? Are you really more concerned about Sanders’ socialist policies than whether your father’s cancer will come up in you?”

I might have been letting my anger carry me a little ways, but I don’t think I was being unreasonable to want these Christians to be personal, to match vulnerability with vulnerability as we talked about our lives. Why else are we here, anyway, but to share and support one another as a community? That’s the kind of living Christ encourages.

Again, I don’t mean to imply that terrorism and politics aren’t important concerns, aren’t daily threats for many, many people. They are. These issues and these hurting people should be prayed over fervently. The fears my friends shared valid. And I know they care deeply about their loved ones, friends, and the state of our country and world.

But when I think about fear in the Bible, I think about a son dying, a sinking boat, a terrible storm, a troubling message, a dead spouse, a flood, and standing in the very presence of God. Were more people afraid of Caesar or of the single armed centurion? Of a mass conspiracy or of being recognized by a servant in the firelight? All are worthy of fear, though we Christians are not called to fear but power, and yet I still feel frustrated, angry, disappointed by the way the conversation played out.


My relationship with fear has changed since I wrote this. I better understand now that people can take the words of their elected (and not-yet elected) leaders as license to do or say to you whatever they want. To threaten you. To hit you. To try to kiss you. And worse.

The people around me that day eight months ago were right to fear the election and the candidates, and I wish I had better understood the connection between these macro issues and individuals’ personal fears. I felt so frustrated then, but maybe my friends knew what they were talking about better than I did.

Yet I still find it disturbing that there was such a difference between what my female friend and I were willing to admit as daily fears and what the men were. I think this is a problem. But I’m most disturbed that, filled with so much anger, such frustration, I didn’t ask more questions. I didn’t say, “This is what I think you mean. Is that right?”

In the months since that conversation, let me tell you some of what I’ve been doing. I’ve been listening to marginalized people describe the harassment they face at rest stops and in restaurants and in the checkout line. I’ve been reporting Neo-Nazis who are photoshoping the faces of Jewish people into photos of gas chambers. I’ve been retweeting stories of brutality and terror. I’ve been sharing others’ words about how useless, worthless, hated, inhuman they’ve been made to feel. I’ve been sharing ways to support and help people being harassment in public. But I’ve been doing this almost exclusively on Twitter. Few people in my life are on Twitter, and if I see a problem in my reality, I need to address it in the places where my views might do some good. That includes Facebook. That includes a dinner out with friends.

I didn’t say what I was thinking then, but I’ve have eight months to think about it and to see the truth in my friends’ words, as well as realize some related truths.

I still fear the single centurion more than Caesar, but my fear of Caesar is greatly increased because of what people who think of themselves as centurions have done and said as a result of Caesar’s words and actions. They feel justified. And Caesar doesn’t have to deputize every such person to make him or them dangerous. That is the link between the macro and the personal.

Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and that the second greatest commandment is to love others as we love ourselves. For most people like me (white, abled, heterosexual, etc.), our civil rights weren’t under threat this election. I wish I had urged my friends to listen to people who aren’t like us, to hear their fears and find the macro connections and meet their vulnerability with our own.

I wish I’d made my opinion more plain, so I’m doing so here: I believe that loving others means be afraid of what marginalized people are afraid of, then using your vote and voice to fight for their rights as if they were your rights. I believe that is a significant way we white, abled, heterosexual Christians need to love our neighbors. I believe that I have been failing miserably at loving other people.

3-word Book Summaries (Diverse YA)

I am gutted. I am livid. And my life is going to change because of this election because I am going to change it. I’ve said and done too little. And I am so insulated by my privilege.

I had the idea several months ago to make a list of my favorite books I’ve read this year and write 3-word descriptions of them. I have that full list so, and maybe I’ll add to it and post it later. For now, and in response to yesterday’s election, here are my favorite diverse books by diverse authors that I’ve read this year. It so happens that all of them are YA books.

I encourage you to buy these and other diverse books to support these and other diverse authors.

In the order I read them…

On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis — Takeoff. Or stay?

Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older — Brooklyn art magic.

The Last Leaves Falling by Fox Benwell — It’s not fair.

The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh — Best Shaharzad ever.

This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp — Fear. Death. Love.

Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed — This will hurt.

The Lost & Found by Katrina Leno — Nothing is lost.

Feel free to list your favorite diverse reads in the comments.

November Means NaNo

I’ve wanted to participate in NaNoWriMo since I learned about it in college, but I never felt like I had the time. Looking back on all the Novembers since then—almost a decade of them, which isn’t disheartening at all—I can point to ones where I could have tried it, at least. And there are some that I genuinely could not have managed. Not the 50K words, not the mental devotion, not the emotional drain.

Like two years ago. So many people in my life died that month that I physically could not attend all of their funerals. Emotionally, I could hardly bear to read all their obituaries. I was overwrought in every way. My birthday and Thanksgiving came and went as usual, but I don’t remember them at all. And just before the month’s end, as I staggered under the weight of it all, someone I love dearly fell, and fell ill, and died just before Christmas.

A year later (last year), I did NaNo for the first time, and I won. In NaNo-speak, that means I finished: I wrote all 50K words.

I joined NaNo because I had to do something. By October of last year, every day I struggled more and more to get out of bed. No matter how much or how little sleep I got, I couldn’t seem to motivate myself. I tricked myself upright sometimes but I knew it was bad when I couldn’t even bribe myself. Not with Chick-fil-a, not with a new book, not with a nap later. Where everything else failed, guilt would eventually get me up. I was leaving the dog whining outside my door, him knowing I was inside and awake, me knowing he didn’t understand why I wouldn’t get up and open the door to see him.

Ten minutes became fifteen, twenty, thirty. I was regularly late for work and stayed late to make up the time. Trying to scare myself out of bed, I’d watch the clock on my bedside table tick to, and past, the time I should have left for work. I’d berate myself that “They are going to fire you and you will deserve it.” Despite having a job I was good at with coworkers I love, despite my wonderful family, despite an understanding roommate, despite friends, despite professional counseling, I couldn’t seem to get out of bed in the morning.

Now, I don’t want to over-dramatize this any more than I already have: as best I can remember, I did get up every day. Out of habit, out of guilt, out of shame. I don’t think I ever called in sick because I couldn’t make it out of bed. But I also didn’t know each morning if today would be the day I didn’t get up.

I started thinking of November as my month to save myself, to set a big goal and to meet it, and I thought NaNo might be what I needed. NaNo has built-in ways to track and celebrate my progress, plus a community of people also writing their way into or out of or through things via these 50K words. I’ve been writing to escape for as long as I could write, which is almost as long as I can remember. And, when I did a test run, I discovered that, if I could write very first thing, I could get out of bed.

As November strode on, though I grew increasingly tired and did sleep through my pre-work writing sessions a couple of times, I flew out of bed. I was excited. I felt driven. My mind sharpened and I got better at other tasks, like editing and social media writing at work, like memorizing scripture and focusing on the sermon. I think it did help that I was writing about death and grief, generously heaped with humor. It also helped that the dog liked to come downstairs for a pet and to wish me well.

As I always have, I wrote to cope and to understand. And I saw people draw near to me, people who asked about my project and cared about how it was going. Near the end, probably the Saturday after Thanksgiving, my brother came into the room where I’d been holed up for hours, miserably trying to pry words from my brain. He came up behind me, kissed me on the crown of head, and told me I could do it. I grabbed his hands and hugged him, and when he had left I cried. And then I kept writing.

That’s something else about NaNo: it forces you to take care of yourself. You’re still galloping toward 50K words, which you likely wouldn’t have written otherwise, and you’re staying up later and getting up earlier and not returning friends’ texts and ordering pizza again, but you have to sleep. You have to eat. You have to laugh. You have to go for walk. You have to, or the words won’t happen. And in November, it’s all about the words.

I don’t need NaNo with the desperation of last year. Still, I am incredibly excited for my 6am writing sessions and I’ve literally been stockpiling cookies since the spring.

I don’t know if I’ll finish. I do have an idea I like. I’ve tried to prepare better than I did last year. And I know what NaNo can be.

I love to write, and I’m going to try really, really hard.

Forgive me if I’m a bit distant this month, a bit hard to find, a bit more tired and less conversational than usual. I’m doing something that’s really, really important to me. I hope you’ll still be there in December. I’d love to catch up.