Faith is important to me., Gratitude, Virginia Pillars

Update to What’s Next?


One comment to yesterday’s post reminded me of a truth I needed to hear, “as GOD writes the next chapter of your life. HE has a plan for you….” It didn’t take long for that message to sink in.

Only minutes after I clicked Publish, my phone rang with my mom’s number on caller ID. This sends up a red flag each time she calls. She turns 93 next month and lives in an assisted living home near me. I see her several times each week. As I conclude each visit, I remind her, “Call me if you need or want anything.” She rarely calls. So when she does, I go.

Yesterday, she had a concern and I assured her I’d be there in 20 minutes or so. Because my hubby knows I’m a baby on wintery roads, he offered to take me. And because I appreciated his offer, I accepted.

It wasn’t an emergency, but it caused my mom to feel apprehensive. I’m grateful she reached out to me. Together, we came up with a solution that I think will ease that worry for her. Four hours later, hubby and I went home.

My lesson in all of this? I don’t need to know what’s next. I need to stay open every day to where I can serve God. When I write, sew, clean the house, wash laundry, or spend time with my mom, if I do it with love and to the best of my ability, this is how I can serve God.


As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied gracee 1 Peter

I know God will turn the pages to reveal the next chapter in my life as I continue to serve him.

Bye for now.

Virginia

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Faith is important to me., Gratitude, Virginia Pillars

What’s next?


I don’t know. This journey called life has lots of curves and I’m on one now. I think I’m experiencing the proverbial empty-nest syndrome. Granted, my youngest child graduated from high school twenty years ago so maybe I’m a late bloomer. Back then, I charged ahead with my embroidery business that I had started five years earlier. It doubled in size over the next year. I had no time to think about what to do. For the next twelve years, I expanded, hired part-time employees, and filled my days from early morning until late at night. I didn’t have time to lament about the change from ballgames, after-school chats, and endless laundry to a quiet house day after day. My in-home business supplied me with a steady stream of conversation partners.

In late 2004 through 2009, my business shifted to focus on my daughter to help her through mental illness to achieve recovery. Business limped along until it could return to full speed ahead as she moved on with her life. By 2010, it was back to busy, busy, busy.

In 2008, I had an inkling to explore writing after two strangers suggested I write our story. It shocked me. I hadn’t considered this as an option for my life. Me, a writer? I jumped in and spent time with other writers. I learned so much from them. I gradually shifted my focus from a full-time businesswoman to part-time business owner and part-time writer. I took fewer orders and returned to my original business plan of a one-woman show. During 2015-2018, I spent more time writing, speaking, and social media interaction than I did with embroidery. I intended for my business to fade away a little each year.

It worked. After twenty-five years, my embroidery orders are sporadic instead of multiple ones each day. The doorbell stays silent and the machines beg for my attention. This resulted in a feeling I haven’t experienced before – empty-nest syndrome. If I’m honest, I miss the excitement that came from another order, a box of clothing to embroider or the companionship from customers. I’ve learned a huge lesson about me. I liked the uber-busy pace I kept for the last forty-four years. I always had a to-do list each day, a revolving door of people (I’m an EXTROVERT) and the satisfaction of feeling needed.

So what’s next? I don’t know. Last fall, I sent a book proposal for a daily devotional to a publisher. A few weeks ago, I received a “This doesn’t work for us at this time” email. I fell into a slump for a few days. I moped around the house and noticed the empty rooms, the lack of people, and wondered what to do.

I don’t want to stay in this frame of mind. Since I don’t know what’s next, I set some goals. As I place my trust in God to show me the next step, I’ll pray and:

  • Sew each day. This relaxes me when I create something from a piece of fabric.
  • Join a group that sews for charity. This helps me be around people plus I can give back using one of the gifts God gave me.
  • Write a reflection each day and pray for discernment: should approach a different publisher, self-publish, or post it on this site for anyone to read?
  • Organize things that got neglected for the past twenty-five years as I managed my business.
  • Eat nutritious food and walk more. I want to send those endorphins to my brain to help me have a more positive attitude.

I appreciate your prayers as I write the next chapter of my life.

Bye for now.

Virginia

Faith is important to me., Gratitude, Virginia Pillars

Bucket list or answer a call?


Was a radio interview on my bucket list as a youngster? a teenager? a young adult? how about during my “middle ages? “

No. I never had the desire or inclination to talk about my life for strangers to hear. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love to tell stories – to friends and family, especially funny things that happened to me. So, no, I didn’t see a radio interview in my future. But, writing and publishing the book, Broken Brain, Fortified Faith, was not on my bucket list either.

Even though radio interviews were not on my bucket list, I welcome the chance. The latest one happened last week after I met the host, Tony Agnesi, last summer at the Catholic Writers Guild LIVE conference in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. (The conference was a blast!) When he asked me for an interview for his new radio program, I felt honored and excited.

Fast forward a few months. Tony and I chatted over the phone as he recorded our interview. On January 8, his new program, The StoryTellers debuted. When I learned our conversation was the first program, I sat in disbelief as the news sunk in. Last week, I listened to it through my computer as it broadcasted on the radio. (Isn’t online listening the greatest?) Now you can listen to it because Bread Box Media made it available for you to listen to it when it works into your schedules. Thank you, Bread Box Media and Tony Agnesi. I’m grateful! I hope you enjoy it.

What’s next for me? I’m not sure right now and to tell you the truth, I am praying for discernment. I continue to write, but I’m not sure where it will lead me. I guess, when I think about it, I didn’t know where writing my first book would lead me, either. For now, I will pray, study, write and listen for his call.

Bye for now.

Virginia

Faith is important to me., Gratitude, Virginia Pillars

A look back, a look ahead.


January 4, 2019past present future

My house still looks like Christmas. Decorations adorn the mantel, the lighted trees still bring a smile to my face, and the nativity sets remind me why I celebrate Christmas. I bask in the joy of the season until January 6, the feast of the Epiphany when my faith remembers the three wise who came bearing gifts for the infant, Jesus.

I remember a past Christmas as I look to the new year ahead.  Now, I see it with clarity. I understand why things happened the way it did. I can see how my actions affected the situation. Let me explain.

Fourteen years ago, the joy of the Christmas season eluded me. Our daughter lived in the clutches of schizophrenia as her brain betrayed her. She lived in a world of paranoia, fear, and confusion. We’d moved her back home with us, but we didn’t understand what she faced. Our Christmas celebrations teetered between explosive and devastating as her brain disorder caused her to fling unfounded accusations at family members. Fears of a disjointed family unit swirled in my thoughts. Would our family unit survive? How do we survive?

We sought help from others who’d walked a similar path before us. We didn’t turn against each other. Instead, we worked together to find her the treatment and support she needed. Friends and family lifted our spirits as they assured us of their prayers as they visited us and Amber when she spent weeks in a hospital, brought her small gifts, and someone even brought a casserole to lighten our load.

As I look back, I know God worked through them and we weren’t alone, even though I felt like it.  Over the next few years, Amber learned about her illness, accepted it, and the treatment she needed for long-term recovery.  Fourteen years later, and I continue to thank God for the miracle of her recovery. She works full-time, has a social life, and makes me proud with her determination to give back to the world around her.

Because of my experience, I developed a new purpose. I want to reach out to other families caught in the snares of mental illness. I want to walk beside them and give them hope. This month, support groups resume in our area and I plan to attend the sessions. Together, we can learn more about the brain and how to help our loved ones – and ourselves in the process.

In a quest to grow as a person, I set some goals for 2019:

  1. I continue to write a daily devotional book where I deal with mental illness. In it, I think about Bible verses and the lessons I’ve learned about faith as I struggle with the messiness of life.  I strive to steady my gaze on the Lord and invite readers to join me. I don’t know if a publisher will pick it up. I hope it happens. Plan B and Plan C bounce around in my head if it doesn’t.
  2. Last year, I started my first novel. I vowed to finish it this year. I’m excited to see how the story ends.
  3. My TBR (To Be Read) pile looms above me on my bookshelf by my chair. My list to read this year includes biographies, fiction, and spiritual enrichment.  Nonfiction/Biographies: Crazy by Pete Early; Fiction: a couple of  novels by Lisa Wingate that I picked up at a yard sale, Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Relly, Orphan Train, and Last Girl Seen by Nina Laurin; Spiritual Enrichment: Thomas Merton, Miracles in Our Midst,  Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World, Having a Mary Spirit in a Martha World, and several books of prayer reflections. When I read a variety of authors, I learn more about the craft.
  4. Last month, I started on an organization spree for my house. It’s something that no one else notices, but it sure makes me feel wonderful to have nooks and crannies in a neat order. I plan to continue until I make it through each closet. It may take more than this year, but I’ll stay calm and carry on.
  5. I want to improve my stamina. My children gave me a wrist device to check my steps, etc. I get up and walk when it tells me I’ve sat too long. My last goal for 2019 is to meet the daily challenge it gives me in steps and stairs. So far, so good. Only 361 days to go.

Thanks for stopping.

Bye for now.

Virginia

 

Faith is important to me., Gratitude, My thoughts about Mental Health, Virginia Pillars

July 11


Two Friends, Two DaughtersGail and I shared high school teachers, high school friends, and over thirty years of experiences. We both started our married lives in 1975. Babies arrived in each of our families in 1976, 1978, 1980, and 1982. As our similar troops of four little ones grew, our families met often. While the children played, the four parents enjoyed some much-needed adult time. We discussed our busy lives and the challenges that came with parenting four young children. We shared laughter, exchanged stories, parenting tips, and partied with mutual friends. But, in 2011, a calendar date became the most important thing that we shared.

July 11, 2011. Sleep had eluded me in the early morning hours, despite my efforts to turn off my brain and rest. I tried my usual trick – I turned on the television, the DVD player, and popped in a movie I’d watched so many times I knew it by heart. Most nights this routine lulled me back to sleep. But that night, my method of insomnia management didn’t work. So, I went to my desk, turned on my computer, and decided to reminisce about another sleepless July 11, thirty-one years earlier.

As the memories tumbled from my brain to my computer screen, I smiled. That morning, I couldn’t sleep during in the early hours, either. Overdue with my third child, I counted the minutes between contractions. I remembered the painless labor, and the quick delivery less than thirty minutes after our arrival at the hospital that gave us our only daughter, Amber.

But, I also thought about the many challenges we (Amber, her dad and I) faced together. In 2004, Amber, stricken with the brain disorder, schizophrenia, moved home with us at the age of twenty-four. Together, Roy, Amber, and I battled against the nasty symptoms schizophrenia imposed on her. After four years, with the help of doctors, therapists, medication, plus Amber’s desire to recover, she resumed an independent lifestyle. I felt so proud of her and her determination to regain her health despite those difficult years when the symptoms had tried to beat her down.

Usually, I did my best to dwell on the positive changes and not the heartache that came with her illness, but sometimes it crept in just the same.

On July 11, 2011, I concentrated on the good memories. As I wrote that morning, I recalled the joy of her birth, and how bright her future looked now that she lived in recovery. Once I felt satisfied with my piece, I settled on the couch in the living room for a quick nap. Success. When I woke, I felt refreshed and ready to take on my day.

After my coffee, devotions, breakfast, and a shower, I walked to the addition of my house where I operated my home embroidery business. I planned to call Amber during her lunch break and sing Happy Birthday to her. My employee arrived around nine o’clock and together we worked on a stack of embroidery orders. We chatted as we worked. Around ten o’clock, the phone rang. I snatched the phone from the wall cradle.

“Good morning. This is Virginia. How may I help you today?”

“Virginia. This is Gloria, Gail’s sister.”

“Oh, hey, Gloria! How’ya doin?” I said excitedly to hear from her and ready to take an order.

“Not good. I’ve got bad news this morning.” She paused. I heard her heavy breaths. “Amanda took her life last night. Gail called me a few minutes ago. Andy found her this morning when he got up to leave for work.”

I felt like someone had kicked me in the stomach. I don’t know if I gasped out loud, but the joy I had earlier evaporated as I inhaled the horrible news,

Amanda, the daughter of my good friend, Gail. Amanda, the same age as Amber. Amanda, my daughter’s playmate from years ago when our two families met for picnics and parties. Amanda, beautiful Amanda, with her ringlets of walnut brown hair, her crystal blue eyes, and a wide smile with perfect teeth was gone. Beneath her striking exterior lurked an unseen invader. A demon that we couldn’t see; one that doctors couldn’t find with a simple blood test, but it picked away at her ability to cope. Hidden from the visible eye lurked the gnarled fingers of mental illness. It had snaked its way through her personality until most of the Amanda we knew had disappeared. Amanda wanted to fit in, to be a good mom and a trusted employee, but her brain disorder gnawed at her strength. Now, a husband, a daughter, a son, a mother, a father, a sister, two brothers, and more broken hearts than I could count mourned her exit from this world.

Amanda died after a long battle with mental illness, not just another suicide statistic, but the daughter of a good friend. I don’t remember exactly what I said. I imagine I said a hollow remark like, “I’m so sorry,” or “Let me know what I can do.”

I hung up the phone and attempted to work. I planned to go to Gail and her husband, Nick after I finished work for the day. But, I had put an unrealistic expectation on myself to think that I could concentrate on my job. I felt numb, and shaken, and devastated, and worried about Gail. Only a few hours earlier I had written about my daughter’s birth and rejoiced in her success while at the same time, my friend dealt with the horror of her daughter’s death.

Something that I had feared for my child had slammed into their world without mercy.  I thought about the days when I lived in fear. I lived in a state of constant worry that Amber would take her life – that she would lose the battle against schizophrenia. I knew the high possibility. I knew that 50% of those stricken take their life. As she made small strides toward recovery, I worried even more. I had read this time was the most crucial. It was when the illness subsided, that people felt strongly enough to attempt suicide. I remembered the pain I had in my gut, along with the continual fretful feelings as I scrutinized her every move.

I thought about Amanda and Gail. Guilt set in. Why? Why did my child live and thrive while her child left this world because she couldn’t find the help she desperately wanted and needed? I tried to put myself in Gail’s shoes. I imagined my reaction if it had been Amber instead of Amanda. My stomach churned as the feelings assaulted me over and over. “It could’ve been you. It could’ve been Amber.”

I couldn’t handle my worry and dread for Gail any longer. I sent my employee home, shut off my machines, locked my shop door, flipped the sign to CLOSED, and rushed to the side of Gail and Nick.

The pain in my chest that had been there all day exploded when Gail fell into my arms as I walked into their home. She sobbed as if she’d never stop, and I unleashed my pent-up emotions and joined her. Our anguish mingled through our tears. I wanted my arms to absorb some of her pain. I knew they couldn’t, so I just held her as we cried.

I listened as she shared feelings that no parent should have to face. I knew I had similar thoughts at times in my life, too. They seemed to come with a diagnosis of mental illness.

“You’re not alone with those feelings,” I assured her. The tears that followed didn’t wash away her grief, or my feelings of guilt as we wept together.

Why did my child dwell in recovery, while her child lost her battle? Why did we, two ordinary women get one-way tickets into the world of mental illness? We didn’t want those passports into the heartache. Our daughters didn’t want those badges of pain, so why?

Questions with no answers pounded in my mind and threatened to overtake my resolve to support my life-long friend. I pushed them aside as I chose to concentrate on the grief before me. For the next several hours, I listened and allowed Gail’s memories of Amanda, both painful and beautiful, to flow and seep into an untouchable corner in my heart. I knew that nothing out of my mouth could ease her agony. So, I listened, held her hand, wrapped my arms around her when sorrow, remorse, anger, and the torment of Amanda’s death by suicide sliced at her. As I listened, I picked up the bitter morsels of raw desolation that scattered around Gail.

And then I returned home. I had to allow her private time to grieve in a way that worked for her. I tried to keep in touch after the services for Amanda, but she wanted time to mourn alone. So, I stepped back. It slashed at my contentment to watch from a distance as she withdrew from activities such as weddings, anniversaries, and other joyous occasions. I’m guessing the pain paralyzed her, so I just made sure she knew I cared. I left the door open and kept her in my heart and prayers. I sent her notes on the anniversary date of Amanda’s death, and Christmas cards to try and leave the doorway of comfort ajar for her. But, that doorway didn’t open wide enough for me to come in for a long time.

One summer morning, after several years of almost zero communication, I called her and invited her to meet me. “I plan to take my granddaughters to the aquatic center after lunch. Would you like to join me, bring your grandchildren, and we can catch up?”

My heart leaped when she said, “Yes,” and a few hours later we sat, sipped cool drinks, as we watched as Amanda’s son and my granddaughters splashed in the water. We talked non-stop. Time had allowed her grief to form a scab, but she told me that she kept it guarded – she kept hidden it from most of the world. People that she thought she could trust didn’t understand. They pointed the finger of blame: “You should’ve…” “Why didn’t you…?” “It happened because…” Terrible words that did nothing to alleviate her pain. It only exposed her wound and broke it open again and again. Before long, Gail refused to talk about Amanda.

That afternoon, friend to friend, we compared our scars as we talked about our faith, our trust in God and that one day we will both understand. We shared our hope that Amanda is with our Savior who saw her agony and gathered her to himself. We held hands as we basked in our love for our daughters. We remembered the date we’ll forever share – July 11 – the date when I celebrate the birth of my daughter while she mourns the death of hers. We parted with a hug of support and a promise to meet again. My spirits swelled with gratitude for our friendship and for the chance to talk about Amanda with Gail.

I still don’t understand the why, nor do I expect I will this side of heaven. I healed a little more that afternoon. I know I can’t bring back those who lose their battle with mental illness, but I can walk beside their survivors as they navigate their path of desolation. I can try to fulfill a promise I made myself years ago – to react as the Bible verse Romans 12:15 states.

“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”

Faith is important to me., Virginia Pillars

Sole business or soul business?


Today is Holy Thursday. The day I dwell on the Last Supper. The day Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. Feet. I get why it was important for that time in history but in today’s world?

I don’t like people to touch my feet. I never have. For years I didn’t wear sandals or flip-flops in public. I had ugly feet, or so I thought. The bunions on both sides of both feet had convinced me to keep them hidden. Since I shuddered if someone touched my feet,  I couldn’t stand to touch the feet of anyone else, either.

Four years ago this all changed, as well as my attitude. You might say, I defeated those troublesome feelings when I took over the personal care of my mom.  In her late eighties then, she needed assistance for her shower. I lived close and it made sense for me to offer to do that for her. After all, how many times had she bathed me when I was an infant? So, I gave it a go. We set up a schedule – Monday and Thursday mornings.

Honestly, at first, it made me ridiculously uncomfortable. It didn’t bother me to help her in and out of the walk-in-shower, to help her towel off, to rub lotion on her back, arms, legs, etc. But her feet – I cringed each time I rubbed the lotion into her calloused, dry, feet – complete with bunions. But, I reminded myself of the many times she had to do things she found unpleasant as a mother of eleven children on a farm. And so I powered through with all the pleasantness I could muster.

The first Holy Thursday I massaged the lotion into her feet, I dwelled on the significance of the day. I had planned to attend Mass that night as our parish remembered The Last Supper when Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. The scripture passage came to life for me, especially:  I have given you a model to follow so that as I have done for you, you should also do.    John 13:15

I placed myself in the role of my mom’s servant that day as I dwelt on this passage. Something so personal – a time when she is the most exposed and vulnerable. It had to humble her to admit she couldn’t do this on her own anymore. How would I feel if this happened to me?  A motto of Saint Mother Teresa’s came to mind: Do small things with great love.  I began to view it as a privilege – to take part in the most intimate part of her life.

As I rubbed lotion into her tired, worn feet, I came to the realization that this foot wash/lotion routine helped my “soul” as I softened her soles. The awkwardness disappeared as I found joy in the routine of her foot massage.

It’s Thursday – time to go see Mom. She needs a shower and a foot massage.

One final thought – How can I go into the world as a servant? How can you?

Happy Holy Thursday.

 

ABOUT, Author In Training, Faith is important to me., Gratitude, My thoughts about Mental Health, Virginia Pillars

Podcast on the Curiosity Hour


A huge thank you to Dan Sterenchuk and Tommy Estlund for the invitation to join them for a podcast on the Curiosity Hour.

Unless you come to hear me speak, you only know me through the words I type on Facebook, on this blog, on Pinterest, Goodreads, and comments on Amazon. Here’s a chance to hear my voice.

 

I love to talk about our story, mental illness, and my faith. I speak with libraries, organizations, churches, and book clubs.

Contact me to schedule an event.

virginiapillars@gmail.com