Prov 17:22

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine... - Proverbs 17:22

Friday, April 24, 2020

Three Great Questions for Your Mental Health During Isolation

Does saying or thinking “this is hard” make you feel guilty? If you’re like me, it does. After all, I could have it so much worse. I’m not risking my life every day to care for the sick or elderly. I’m not bagging groceries or pumping gas. I’m not out delivering essential goods. I’m not corralling toddlers or trying to teach algebra to my own offspring.

I’m cozy at home, writing, baking, sewing, watching movies, napping, reading. Going for a daily walk. Finally finding time for unrushed housework and meal preparation. Logging in to Zoom meetings with various groups.

It’s no great hardship.

So when honest depression begins to rear its gloomy head, whether from the deluge of bad news or from isolation or monotony or a cloudy sky, I ask myself unhelpful and guilt-inducing questions:

What’s the matter with you?
How dare you mope while others suffer?

I deliver ineffective self-lectures:

Give your head a shake.
You’re so fortunate.
Smarten up!
Get off your duff and do something.

Can you relate?

I connect with a lot of writers online who say they can’t motivate themselves to write even though this should be an ideal time to be productive. Our brains are distracted, foggy, uninspired. The advice often given is to stop being so hard on yourself, grant yourself grace. Maybe now is the time to rest and quit “shoulding” on yourself.


That guidance may be exactly what some need, but it doesn’t work well for me. For this to-do list addict, nonproductivity is the surest path to the doldrums and crankiness. If I haven’t checked off my day’s goals, no matter how puny, I’m sure to go to bed miserably doubting my self worth. I know that’s not healthy, but neither is inactivity.

To combat this, I’ve come up with three better questions to ask myself daily. These let me off the hook called “productivity” while still adding value to every day.

#1. Who did I serve today?
Many days, the only answer to that question might be that you cooked supper. And maybe that’s enough. But you might find you served someone in more ways than you’d thought. One day I took a loaf of fresh-baked bread to a bereaved friend. I also spent a few days sewing face masks until materials ran out. Even picking up litter is a service to your community.

#2. Who did I bless today?
This differs from the first question and usually takes the shape of words. Did you call a friend when they came to mind, just to see how they’re doing? Did you leave an encouraging comment on social media? Did you pray for those on the front lines of this pandemic and for the leaders who must make tough decisions?

#3. Who might be blessed in the future because of what I did today?
I’m slowly writing a novel that I hope will bless others in years to come. I’m working on gifts for my kids for upcoming anniversaries. It’s too soon for these to be of use to anyone today, but the day is coming. Use your skills to invest in the future! Plant a garden. Build a bookcase. Mail a meaningful card. Take an online class.

At the end of the day, if you can find an answer to these three questions, I’ll bet your outlook will have improved. If not, try again tomorrow morning by rewording them: Who will I serve today? Who will I bless today? Who will be blessed in the future because of what I do today?

Three great questions for any time, really.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Novel Problems

I announced to my husband that I needed to fix my novel problem.

“Novel problem?” he asked. “Is that anything like a novel corona virus?”

Without hesitation, I answered, “Yes, actually. It is.” Then I disappeared into my home office and started writing this blog post, procrastinating yet again on my novel problem.

Writing is weird. While nonfiction must be incredible in order to sell, fiction must be believable. While the author invents a story with make-believe characters, it’s usually set in actual real locations during a real time period. If you mess up, readers will catch every blunder. My genre, historical fiction, presents its own challenges.

For example, in my current work-in-progress, which takes place in Manitoba during the 1940s, I’d been charging ahead with my story in the interest of accumulating words instead of stopping to research. My main character enrolled in the St. Boniface nursing school. So far so good, right?
When I stopped writing long enough to do some digging, I discovered some serious flaws. My character was married, for one. Married women couldn’t enroll in that or most other nursing schools until the 1960s. I also had her going home on weekends. In fact, student nurses worked seven days a week and were fortunate if they got a few hours off at Christmas!

These discoveries meant I needed to make major revisions to my plot structure. Which, sadly, meant I’d abandoned the whole project for a week. When I finally devised a solution, the conversation at the opening of this post ensued.

My novel problem feels like the novel virus because:
1.      It’s painful. As in, hard work.  
2.      It’s scary, because I don’t know whether my “patient” will survive. Will I be able to fix this story or is it time to give it a proper burial?
3.      Isolation is required. It’s my book and nobody else is going to fix it. No one is going to cheer over my shoulder as I type. In fact, no one’s going to miss this masterpiece if it’s not resuscitated because nobody else ever knew of its existence.

So yes, dear. This is a bit like the novel corona virus, if only to me.

The word “novel” has two distinct definitions. As a noun, it’s “an invented prose narrative, usually long and complex and dealing with human experience through a connected sequence of events,” as in my book.

But as an adjective, it means “new and not resembling something previously identified,” as in Covid-19.

The two seemingly unrelated definitions of “novel” may share more than previously thought—at least for the writer in the process of creating a book. Where will this story go? Who will pay the highest price? How will it be resolved, and when? Will it result in a happily-ever-after? And, perhaps most importantly, will the characters learn and grow from it?

Novelists or not, we’re all writing a story of our own through this uncertain time. It’s one you’ll tell your friends when it’s over and your grandchildren in years to come. And whether it’s a story of fear and panic or a story of love and grace, it will be your unique story. Write it well.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Waiting for the Reunion

If you ask people what they miss most during this time of isolation, you can be reasonably sure it’s not their workplace or Rotary meetings or sports practice or shopping or the theater or restaurants or even church. If you ask what the first thing they want to do when restrictions are lifted, most won’t say they’re going to run straight to the pub or go work out at the gym or purchase concert tickets.

Oh, they’ll do those things eventually. But for most of us, what we’re looking forward to the most is a reunion with loved ones. Grandparents ache to hug their grandkids again. Children and teenagers are eager to see their friends. Young couples in love will enjoy that first embrace more than any other. Every “first-time-back” meeting will be a place of joy, smiles, and connection. Church lobbies everywhere will look like mass hug-fests the first Sunday we gather again. The longer we must wait, the more precious that day will be.
It’s fun to imagine the rejoicing, the cheers, the smiles, the bursting into song, the bounce in people’s steps when that day comes. We’re social creatures, made for community. For what some call “fellowship.”

And in a way, that’s what Easter is all about.

When sin entered our world—and along with it, sickness and death—it doomed us to a future separated from God and eventually from each other. God is perfect and cannot fellowship with sinfulness. Our sinfulness broke his heart, because he wants community with us.

So he made a way.

He sent his son, Jesus Christ to pay the price for our sin. Because Jesus was perfect, when he died on the cross, it took care of the sin part. But only his resurrection could solve the separation part. Three days after his death, he rose from the dead. Because he did, we can too. This is why death holds no power over those who believe in him. It’s why Christians can feel deep joy at a funeral, even while we’re sad and grieving. We know there’s a great reunion coming, and we look forward to that day more than any other.

1 Corinthians 15:55 asks, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The man who wrote those words, Paul, told believers not to grieve “as those who have no hope.” He didn’t tell us not to grieve. Of course we grieve. But we grieve with the knowledge that our separation is temporary. 

The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ changes everything. It teaches us how to grieve. It teaches us how to die. It teaches us how to wait.

Easter 2020 will be one for the history books, won’t it? Whether you’re stuck at home with kids who can’t participate in their usual traditions, or home alone longing for a family gathering, or worried because someone you care about is ill, or grieving the loss of a loved one—may this Easter serve to remind you why it’s the most important holiday on the calendar. There’s a great reunion coming that Easter made possible.

The longer we must wait, the more precious that day will be.