A Mother’s Love

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He came broken.

I thought I could heal him.

 

He had walls.

I thought I could climb them.

 

He had no hope.

I thought I could fill him.

 

I broke from trying.

 

Then I loved him.

 

He was still broken.

He still had walls.

He was still hopeless.

 

Then I knew.

 

Only God could heal him.

Only God could climb those walls.

Only God could give him hope.

 

Then I gave him to God.

 

And I love him.

 

Tina D. Stephens

Author of “The Common Hours”

http://www.tinastephens.com

 

 

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Joy, and living life beautifully.

At some point on my life journey I forgot about joy. A couple of years ago I battled severe depression and thoughts of suicide. When I finally came out of that dark time I was changed. I’m seeing the world with new eyes. I realize how much angst I had been holding onto in life. There is always trouble, always an excuse to stifle joy. Or so it seemed. My perspective has changed. I would like to encourage you too.

What if no matter how our children are behaving, how our marriage is surviving, who is running for president, or the general state of mankind in the world—if we realized we can be grateful, thankful, joyful? No matter what?

Should I wring my hands, shake my head, and give up on the state of life? What if the barren desert and cacti that I see in my life are the very places where flowers can blossom? There will always be trouble but what if there is always cause for joy too?

“There will always be trouble but what if there is always cause for joy too?”

I recently spoke to a room full of women about the concept of joy. My title was “Finding joy in the middle of horrible, no good, very bad times.” I stole the funny title idea from the name of a popular adolescent book. Even though I was speaking about some very serious things to the women I wanted to keep it “edible” and sometimes humorous. Life at times is a wild ride, but there is humor, love, and beauty in life too.

At one point in my talk I showed a picture of a barrel cactus with a pink flower in full bloom on top. I said, “I look at this cactus and think, ‘I would not have thought to put a flower there.’ ” Some of the women laughed. I added, “But God saw it as the perfect place to put a flower.” Sometimes all we can see is a desert. We need God’s eyes to see all the possibilities of spring in the desert, to see joy.

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I used to go through life like this:

Survive difficult time

Take a deep breath

Ready myself for the next difficulty

(I would also let God know I had learned valuable lessons already and maybe, please could I have some rest time in my life?)

I was in survival mode.

Yes, trials are still inevitable, but I’m living life different now. I’m trying to soak in every bit of joy, little or big, in order to train myself to see the good no matter what is going on. I’m not bracing for the next bad thing. I’m enjoying today, praising God for today.

In order to live joyful it helps to believe or to be reminded of some things first:

Know you are loved.

And I pray that you…grasp how WIDE & LONG and HIGH and DEEP is the love of Christ. Ephesians 3:17b-18.

God is bigger than your problems.

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart. I have overcome the world. John 16:33

Trouble is temporary.

So you have sorrow now. But I will see you again. Then you will rejoice and no one can rob you of that joy. John 16:22

Ask for joy.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13 (This is actually a blessing. You can pray it for yourself, but try praying it for someone else too).

I pray today you are encouraged to let the joy of God fill your heart. I pray for a glimpse of hope to bring the seeds of joy that will surely sprout.

Today we can be brave, and we can be joyful. Live this life beautifully. THRIVE!

thriveTina D. Stephens

www.tinastephens.com

Author of “The Common Hours” available now on Amazon.com

Thoughts on Courage

heights.

I grew up afraid of heights, any heights; I couldn’t even climb a ladder without feeling dizzy. In the late 1990’s my husbands family met at Disney World for a family reunion. When we visited the Swiss Family Robinson treehouse, I siezed up with fear by the time we reached the second story. It was a busy day with people patiently waiting behind me to move forward. Too overcome, I ashamedly tracked back down the treehouse past the endless line of people who had to let me sneak past them. I was beyond embarrassed.

Years later in 2001, after my husband and I moved to Phoenix, I hiked a small mountain, called Lookout Mountain. My fear of heights made it impossible for me to reach the top. Tired of this fear, I returned to Lookout Mountain almost daily, climbing further up the mountain each time, getting more comfortable with my surroundings. Eventually I reached the top and tagged the metal post on the peak. That was the beginning of conquering my fear of heights. It was earned one step at a time.

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Tina Stephens on Lookout Mountain in Phoenix AZ

I’ve been thinking a lot about Courage this year and the mountains we face. I used to think that courage was a lack of fear, but without fear we would not need courage. Being stubbornly independent by nature, I like to think I can push my way through any problem or season in life. I feel strong when I’m healthy and multi-tasking and “successful” at what I’m doing. But as a human I am often reminded how weak I really am. I can touch a door handle with a virus germ on it and be sick in bed for a few days. Seemingly healthy friends have been diagnosed with cancer. Sickness and disease remind me how fragile the human body is. What about emotions? I tear up when people tell me their stories, and at baptisms and weddings, and movies. I can’t watch animal rescue advertisements, and I can’t watch videos of children who need homes, without crying. I can feel crushed when I’m called unkind names. I feel weak when I’m afraid.

I read a facebook post recently from a friend Kristina, whose 15 year old son is battling stage 3 cancer. I was struck with how she spoke of courage:

kristina's quote

Life sometimes is more than we can handle. There are times when we “can’t do this”. But it is in those “can’t do this” moments when we find the very source of our courage. I want to share two more examples of people who have shown great courage in the middle of impossible circumstances to encourage you.

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Nick Vujicic

Nick was born with a rare disorder characterized by the absence of all four limbs. As a child, he struggled with his disability mentally and emotionally as well as the physical limitations it presented. At seventeen he started a non-profit organization, Life Without Limbs. Nick is now a worldwide motivational speaker bringing focus on life with a disability, and finding hope and meaning in life.

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You can learn more about his story here:  http://www.lifewithoutlimbs.org/about-nick/bio/

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Elizabeth Ann “Lizzie” Velásquez

Elizabeth Velasquez suffers from a congenital disease which prevents her from accumulating body fat. At 17 she stumbled across a YouTube video titled “Worlds Ugliest Woman” featuring herself. It was the lowest point in her life. She ultimately took up motivational speaking to help others with self-image.

Elizabeth started her own YouTube channel to teach others to be confident in their own skin. She currently has 240,000 subscribers and was asked in 2013 to give a TED talk “How do you define yourself?” in Austin, Tx which has over ten million views on YouTube.

Courage is not about physical strength. Courage is not about intelligence. Courage is not the lack of emotion or feeling. Courage is definitely not the lack of fear.

Courage can be found on a bullet riddled battlefield, it can be found in hospital corridors where tears and prayers are shed, it can be found in a home where a prodigal is received with love, and it can be found in the breath you breathe when you are too overcome.

When you wake up facing a mountain you can’t climb and you are paralyzed by fear, as my friend Kristina so eloquently said—

“I will do this for my son with the Lord’s grace and mercy surrounding me. It doesn’t make it any easier or less scary, but it gives me the confidence that the Lord has gone before me and is capable of doing great things!”

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Tina Stephens

Author of The Common Hours

Available on Amazon.com

I recently returned from a book tour in northeastern Pennsylvania where my novel, The Common Hours, takes place. My arrival in Pennsylvania was timed with peak fall foliage, something which I had not seen since leaving the state in 2001. It was not only a visit to my past, it was a revisiting of the sights, sounds, and smells of a place far removed from my home in Phoenix Arizona.

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Pennsylvania fall foliage-photographed by Tina D. Stephens
Pennsylvania fall foliage-photographed by Tina D. Stephens

The day after my arrival I headed to 4th street in Williamsport where Otto’s Bookstore was hosting me for a book signing during Williamsport’s monthly first friday event. A misting rain and temperatures in the 40’s gave a classic feeling of fall. Throughout the evening people ducked inside the bookstore to take respite from the temperatures and to treat themselves to the hot cocoa, apple cider, and donuts provided by the bookstore owners. Sometimes customers would make their way over to my table to look at my books or to tell me local folklore and other tales of history. Otto’s Bookstore itself has a long history which began in 1841 as a store selling wallpaper and books. Phoenix is populated by newcomers, whereas the residents of rural Pennsylvania have generally lived in the same place one generation after another. Life and stories are passed down through the years and storytelling is a rich tradition in the Pennsylvania culture. Although my book is fiction, it dates to 1888-1889 in the Williamsport and the Pine Creek areas. During the event, I felt a strong connection to the history of Millionaire’s Row just up the street from the bookstore, and all the places and events around me which dated back to that time.

Tina Stephens with Betsy Rider at the Otto Bookstore in Williamsport, PA.
Tina Stephens with Betsy Rider at the Otto Bookstore in Williamsport, PA.

The next morning was a rainy Saturday. I had forgotten how the damp air formed a foggy ring on the windows and how eventually the rain would drip down the surface of the glass pane creating an abstract view of the world outside. It was a day to snuggle on the couch with one of my mothers home-made quilts and to sip coffee and read.

Rainy day.
Rainy day.

On Monday I hiked into the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon with my parents, who were providing my housing during the tour. It was a dark foggy morning when we left the house. I couldn’t tell if were under a heavy fog or under the potential threat of another rainy day. When I tried checking my phone for a weather update I couldn’t receive enough reception to load the information. By the time we reached the edge of the canyon the sun was burning through the fog. Dense strips of puffy white clouds were rising from the Pine Creek far below.

Pennsylvania Grand Canyon photographed by Tina D. Stephens
Pennsylvania Grand Canyon photographed by Tina D. Stephens

After a few pictures we hiked downhill into the dark forest. We were the first visitors of the day. The only sound was the occasional scurry of a squirrel in the leaves. Our footsteps were quieted on the blanket of pine needles, and damp leaves which coated the ground. Then we neared a stream where the water plunged off rock ledges on its way to the Pine Creek at the bottom of the canyon (or gorge, as the locals call it). The sound of the falls dominated our senses. When we reached the Pine Creek my father saw a bald eagle fly over. I put my camera down to follow my fathers direction to see the eagle, but it was already gone. Fortunately I would see a bald eagle later in the week. After a rest we hiked back out of the canyon. We drove home on dirt roads, passing a sugar shack where maple lines tapped into a tree ran to a large tank near a small wooden shack. We saw cornfields, barns, wild turkey and deer, under a clear blue sky.

Fall scenery near Wellsboro PA-photographed by Tina D. Stephens
Fall scenery near Wellsboro PA-photographed by Tina D. Stephens
On the green in Wellsboro, PA-photographed by Tina D. Stephens
On the green in Wellsboro, PA-photographed by Tina D. Stephens

My mother and me left early Tuesday to head toward Clarks Summit for an event I had at Summit University on Wednesday. We routed our trip to take us by Rickett’s Glen State Park where we planned to spend the majority of the day. The fog remained thick all morning as we hiked the trails in the glen. It was perfect conditions for photographing the many waterfalls in the park. At one point I mentioned maybe one of my characters would honeymoon here. My mother wanted to know if it would be Mat and Sarah. I smiled. I wouldn’t reveal any secrets about the novel today.

Ricketts Glen State Park
Ricketts Glen State Park

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After four and 1/2 hours of hiking and photographing, we had seen 11 of the 20+ waterfalls in the park. I showed my exhaustion more than my mother; she was quiet, but I groaned out load every time we climbed a hill. Following our hike we stopped at a general store where we treated ourselves to ice cream which we ate while sitting on a wooden swing on the store’s front patio. Our scenery was farmland in the glow of late afternoon light.

Farmland near Ricketts Glen State Park
Farmland near Ricketts Glen State Park

Wednesday was my event at Summit University. This was the place I met friends I still keep in touch with; this was the place I met my husband (of 24 years now). I sat in the coffee shop at the university, with my books on a table, greeting many new faces and seeing a couple of old ones too. My favorite, and unexpected, part of this event were the literature students who came in asking if they could talk to me about writing. In depth questions and conversations continued throughout the event. I was exhausted but it had been a rich experience.

Jackson Hall at Summit University
Jackson Hall at Summit University

Early Thursday I left pre-dawn to drive through dense fog to my former high school, Walnut Street Christian School. I drove over hills and around many curves, stopping once for wild turkey crossing the road. The sun rose over the mountains, slowly lighting the west hills and creeping down into the valleys. I arrived at my school. It had been 27 years since being here. Mr. Longnecker, my high school English teacher, now the principal, recognized me as soon as I walked in. A table had been put in the lobby, decorated with pumpkins and a lace doily. The school had sold 49 books ahead of my visit. Someone brought me coffee. I got comfortable and started signing books.school signing copy Then I taught the high school English class. I shared some of the humorous things I learned while writing a historical fiction and the students asked questions they had prepared ahead of time. In 1988 I graduated from here in a class of 4. One of the three boys I graduated with came from his work to visit me, and we reminisced. It was the closest thing to a class reunion I would ever experience and I suspect more meaningful. I spent the afternoon with my high school best friend who remained my best friend in college. Twenty some years had passed and we found our journeys in life had taken eerily similar paths in life. A renewed friendship had just begun.

wolfe's gen storeOn the last day of my trip I visited the Pine Creek gorge area where I grew up, and the area where John Richardson and his daughter Sarah (in my novel) moved. My parents came with me. The colors had been changing throughout my visit and the leaves were now at peak. A narrow single lane road hugged a cliff wall on one side and dove down to the Pine Creek far below us on the other side. We drove down into the town of Slate Run where we stopped at Wolfe’s General Store. They were excited to hear I had written a book which took place in their small town. Three books sold before the manager had time to write a check for the books. The manager wanted to know if I could come back the next day, but my flight was leaving early the next morning. They put extra copies on their bookshelves to sell.

We left to explore the rest of the town. I wanted to see the hotel across the creek which had been the inspiration behind Aunt Virginia and Uncle Harold’s hotel and restaurant in the novel.

Hotel Manor in Slate Run which was the inspiration behind the hotel/restaurant in The Common Hours
Hotel Manor in Slate Run which was the inspiration behind the hotel/restaurant in The Common Hours

We drove to the graveyard behind the hotel, walked along a stream which Uncle Harold and John had hunted. My mother looked at the mountains at one point and asked me where Matthew Stephens home was (except she referred to him as Mat). We talked and speculated for awhile about my fictional characters.

Fall in Slate Run, PA-photographed by Tina D. Stephens
Fall in Slate Run, PA-photographed by Tina D. Stephens

We left town heading further south on the Pine Creek. We stopped at the church in Jersey Mills where my father had pastored in my teen years, visited the parsonage, and walked the path along the creek where The Common Hours had begun to form in my teen mind many years ago. I found it overgrown and darker than my memories. Some acquaintances sent us to the Waterville Fire House where we would find friends I hadn’t seen in over 20 years. Preparations were underway for the Apple Butter Festival taking place the following day. Apples were piled on tables, and everyone was peeling and cutting apples, and telling stories to each other.

Preparing for The Apple Butter Festival
Preparing for The Apple Butter Festival

Word got around quickly that I had written a novel which took place along the Pine Creek. Everyone purchased a book and wanted to know if I could come back with books for the festival. I couldn’t, but my parents agreed to return with books. I was intrigued with the process of preparing apple butter and the experience of the atmosphere in that fire hall.

The rest of the day was spent enjoying the scenery in the valley. I was saying goodbye once again.

Waterville, PA along the Pine Creek River. Photographed by Tina D. Stephens
Waterville, PA along the Pine Creek River. Photographed by Tina D. Stephens
The Pine Creek-photographed by Tina D. Stephens
The Pine Creek-photographed by Tina D. Stephens
A stream near Wellsboro, PA-photographed by Tina D. Stephens
A stream near Wellsboro, PA-photographed by Tina D. Stephens

It was time to return to my family in Arizona and to write book two, The Waking Hours.

Tina Stephens

Author of The Common Hours

available on Amazon.com

 

The story behind the novel, “The Common Hours”

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I am often asked who “The Common Hours” is about and how much of it is my life. The story which unfolds in this novel is a story which has been forming in my mind for many years. It was shaped by observations and experiences in my life but was not written to represent anyone specifically. There are parts of me in many of the characters along with family and friends who have influenced my life.

The story began to take shape when I experienced an event that changed our family. I was twelve, when the pastor of the church which my family attended and where my father was youth pastor, resigned one evening. His resignation happened very much in the manner that Reverend Claythorn in “The Common Hours” resigned (page 9,10). I didn’t understand at first what was happening when my pastor read his speech to the parishioners. The scene in the book of Reverend Claythorn’s exit from the church, is taken from memory of the chaotic scene that happened after our pastor left the building following his speech. I remember making my way to the restroom in the back of the church where I overheard choir members crying and talking about what had happened. It was from those conversations and talking with my family later, I realized our pastor had been caught in an extramarital affair.

At twelve I learned pastors sin too. My family experienced the ripple effect that such an event has when it happens. Eventually the aftermath resulted in my father losing his job as youth pastor. Our family left Texas and we moved to a small town in Pennsylvania where life was very different from anything I had experienced before. The valley in which my family lived, until I left for college, is the valley where “The Common Hours” takes place. The Pine Creek gorge is a beautiful place full of wilderness and wildlife. At the time, the only other children in town were my brother and sister and the total population was 35. My sister and I would occasionally ride our bikes (during the summer) seven miles to a town south of us where a girl our age lived. Her family had a floating dock in the creek and a really cool two-story tree house. It was a carefree life, but at times a lonely life for this very social (at the time teenage) girl.

The impression of those events and the experiences I lived in the Pine Creek gorge became a story about Mary, John, and Sarah Richardson. A story about the mess of life and God’s grace through it all.

The Pine Creek Gorge in the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon
The Pine Creek Gorge in the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon

Below are some behind the scenes of “The Common Hours” (I won’t give any of the story away):

I used the name Sarah for the daughter. When my husband and I were first married we chose the name Sarah if we had a daughter. We never did have children of our own, so I gave the name to my first character.

Aunt Katherine and cousin Kassie’s names are the names of my two oldest children’s birth grandmother and their mother’s nickname. Their birth family is part of our unique and special relationship with my children’s birth family.

The character Mason is named after my oldest son. The first time you meet Mason in the book (page 50) is exactly the way I met my son for the first time. We knocked on the door of the foster home; He came running to the door, swung it open and hollered out “She’s pretty!” then ran the other way.

The hotel/restaurant in Slate Run was inspired by the modern day Hotel Manor in Slate Run, PA.

There is a kitten in the book (page 126) named Nevi. I has to put a black and white cat down, named Nevi, while I was writing this book. She crawled right into the pages of the story as if she belonged there.

Sometimes I am asked about panthers in that area. Historically, mountain lions or any other large cats were referred to as panthers, so I kept with the term of that time. Some of the people in the valley still use the term panther.

My post’s will be limited now to once a month as I look to my Pennsylvania book tour in October. I am also beginning work on book two in “The Common Hours” series, called “The Waking Hours”.

For full tour events visit my website at www.tinastephens.com

Tina Stephens

author of “The Common Hours” available on Amazon.com

www.tinastephens.com

“Broken Shoes”-a lesson in gratefulness

In 1980 I thought my blue Traxx shoes from Kmart were the coolest shoes I had ever worn. They looked somewhat similar to the popular Nike shoe with the big check mark on the side.

traxx

Every year my parents bought me two pair of shoes for school; one pair of dress shoes for the classroom and one pair of sneakers for gym class. My parents always hoped my shoes would last at least 6 months. The blue Traxx didn’t last a month. A small crack quickly began to form across the tread under the ball of my foot. It wasn’t long before the crack was a chasm reaching across the entire sole. Without the budget to purchase new shoes my parents tried gluing them, but that didn’t even hold them together through a single gym class.

I remember the night my dad brought the silver duct tape in from the garage and wrapped my beautiful blue traxx in a very noticeable swath of silver tape. The next day I changed slowly for gym class and walked the dirt road to the baseball field behind our school. It was a hot spring day, the air was dry and still. I was looking down at my shoes as I walked on the road, kicking up a cloud of dust, that settled onto my shoes. The dust covered tape was still clearly visible. My classmates had run up ahead of me to the field. I wondered if they had noticed my shoes. Did they feel sorry for me? Would they make fun of me?

My beautiful shoes were broken.

I looked through the harsh sunlight at the field ahead of me. I had to go to class. I looked down at those ridiculous duct taped shoes and thought, “If I can be happy and proud to wear these shoes, I will be happy no matter what happens in my life.” It was an oath I would never forget.

At 10, I didn’t realize how many “broken shoes” in life I would wear or that I would need more than sheer determination. I thought the lesson on that hot spring day had been about holding my head high and bolstering through. But that isn’t what I had learned.

We all have “broken shoes”—things in life that have scared us or broken our hearts. Finding contentment or gratefulness with what we have gives us the power to thrive on the path of life. I had a choice that day to be defeated and bitter or to appreciate the things I had and to enjoy gym class. Every time I wear “broken shoes” and I choose to thank God for what I have, I gain empathy for others with “broken shoes”, and JOY on the path of life.

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Let us choose to walk or run the path of life today with gratefulness to God. Reach out a hand to someone who has fainted along the way; encourage the ones who have slowed down, and run alongside others with a smile. Because really, we all have “broken shoes” in this one wild beautiful road of life.

1 Timothy 6:6-10New International Version (NIV)

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.

Tina Stephens

Author of The Common Hours, available on Amazon.com

Finding Serenity in a Chaotic World

McWay Waterfall along CA HWY 1
McWay Waterfall along CA HWY 1

Recently I was able to visit McWay Falls in California, a rare “tidefall” which is only visible from a footpath at the edge of California Highway 1. This waterfall tumbles from steep cliffs onto a small beach washed by aqua-blue water. I couldn’t help thinking as I looked at it, how wonderful it would be to rest on that beach or to walk under the waterfall. I looked for a path down but it became quickly evident it was only accessible by water.

I have been reflecting on the importance of serenity, for some time, especially in our chaotic world. I started thinking about McWay Falls: a private beach and waterfall paradise. What I did not mention about McWay Falls was the crowd of people who clamored at the edge of the cliffs to take pictures of this beautiful sight. Similar to the crowd on those cliffs, I think there are a lot of people wanting to experience serenity in life only to find it seemingly inaccessable.

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Like every human I’ve had many days where I have experienced stress. I had an experience a few years ago that made me realize I needed some serenity in order to be a healthy mom and human. I was busy with a big project at work when I received a phone call from the school principal. One of my kids had gotten in enough trouble that it required a meeting with me and the school principle. After the meeting with the principal, I dropped my teen off at the house, ran to the store to figure out dinner, then rushed back home to cook dinner. After eating, my husband and I started cleaning up and helping with homework. Homework involved two hours of Math, class projects, and tears. Eventually I escaped to the backyard, where I often retreat, to watch the sunset in peace. About the time I settled into my adirondack chair with my ice tea in hand, a police helicopter starting circling. I remember looking up and thinking “really?” That was the moment I began my quest to find the elusive serenity in my chaotic world.

During my quest I realized I was stuffing every down moment with answering emails, texts, and browsing social media on my all efficient smart phone. Not only was I busy with work and children, I wasn’t taking any time to relax and recharge. I started to take small steps in changing my habits. At first I was uncomfortable because I felt unproductive if I wasn’t filling every moment with action. I started with small steps which you will see below. I’m hoping to provide a boat today for you to find your way to the inaccessable beach.

  1. Enjoy morning coffee without my phone or tv. This is often done on the back porch where I enjoy watching the clouds or small wildlife that venture into the yard.
  2. Stand in check-out lines with my phone in my purse. This was very uncomfortable at first. I ended up seeing a few friends I would have missed if I had been on my phone, or I would simply enjoy a moment free from texts. Standing in line without the phone was an easy way to grab a peaceful moment in a busy day, and (as the mother of 4 teens) I stand in grocery lines often.
  3. Watch the sunset every night the weather permits. It’s easy to let a day go by where you never get outside except to walk from a building to a car. Going outside to watch the sunset reminds me how big the world is and how big God is. My problems or stress become small. Not only did God make this world, he made it beautiful like maybe he wanted us to enjoy it.
  4. Take a nap on my day off from work. Again it’s easy to think this is unproductive but resting will recharge your brain and your energy. On days I cannot fall asleep I lay down and read a book.
  5. Zen doodle or grown up coloring. I have always enjoyed doodling, I find it helps with my memory retention and creativity. I took to Pinterest this year to learn zen doodling. Here’s a link to my board. Tina’s doodle art board on Pinterest. You can also find coloring books online for grown up coloring. Don’t laugh, this has become such a big trend that these coloring books are often out of stock. Here are some zen doodle I drew which you can download and color. Please feel free to share your colored results to my email at tinadstephens@gmail.com.gypsywindDownload gypsywind pdf.underwaterDownload underwater .pdf
  6. Play the piano for fun. This applies to any hobby. Participate in something you enjoy not to learn something new, but to purely enjoy it. For me, playing the piano is very relaxing and enjoyable.
  7. Lie in a hammock outside and watch the clouds. 
  8. Sit in the grass on a blanket and read a book. 
  9. Take a walk or hike for fun, not fitness. I like to occassionally walk or hike when I can feel free to stop as often and as long as I want, to enjoy the scenery or a flower or some wildlife.
  10. Savor more memories to myself than the number of them I share on social media. I’m learning to take life in and savor it just for me or just for my family. As soon as I share it on social media I’m waiting for ‘likes’ or opinions. It’s good to keep some things in my heart where it can continue to warm my soul. I know that was really cheesy but I think you know what I mean.

10. Yoga or Holy Yoga. Stress can make your muscles knot up which can cause back and neck pain. Yoga is a great way to stretch and relax and it increases balance. Holy yoga accomplishs this while listening to relaxing christian music and to scripture being read. Here is the facebook page of a local holy yoga instructor whom I recommend. Holy Yoga instructor in Scottsdale.

That’s it for this Friday. Enjoy your weekend and find time for serenity in your life.  Go ahead, get on that boat and float to your deserted beach; you will be better for it (and so will your family).

Tina Stephens

author of The Common Hours, available on Amazon.com

-the photo I took above of McWay Falls can be downloaded as a computer desktop background to remind you about serentiy-

10 Ways I chose Joy when I was really depressed.

joy is serious

(unprofessional advice from a human who doesn’t have it all together)

Depression is something I have battled off and on my whole life. The years of 2013 and 2014 were unlike any other depression I have experienced so far, and now I refer to it as my Great Depression. I went to bed many evenings with a heavy heart and woke up feeling like life had been sucked out of me. There were a few days when I lost sight of the value of living. For me, 2015 has been a year of new thinking, a time of embracing joy.

Last month I went to an Imagine Dragons concert where the lead singer, Dan Reynolds, shared about his lifelong battle with depression. I have contemplated sharing my battle too for some time. After listening to Dan Reynolds and how encouraging his message was to me, I realized how important it was to let others know they are not alone in their struggle with depression.

I am listing below 10 ways I chose joy when I was really depressed. I made the list during those difficult years from reading newspaper articles and listening to people I respected. As I look over it, the list feels orderly and tame and does not reflect the chaos going on in my life at the time, or how difficult it was to put one foot in front of the other when I wanted out of life. These were choices I made to become a healthier person and to change my thought patterns.

Joy is not accidental, it’s the result of healthy choices.

I had allowed my emotions to be controlled by the circumstances around me and this was my effort to change. I do not regret making these choices. I now embrace life for the gift it is and hope to remember the lessons that will help me the next time I battle depression.

First I list them, then I explain them:

  1. Pay attention to my spiritual life.
  2. Be physically disciplined.
  3. Develop healthy friendships.
  4. Do acts of kindness or mission work.
  5. Be grateful.
  6. Develop strategies for bad emotions.
  7. Leave room for peaceful moments.
  8. Recognize the battle inside my head.
  9. Put the choice of joy in front of me.
  10. Recognize the contributing factors that put me in depression
  1. Pay attention to my spiritual life.

This was the first choice I had to make because no matter how much effort I put into life I knew God had to be the core and he was the source of my stregnth. It seemed God was silent but I knew the chaos was blocking my hearing. I had to keep listening.

It seemed God was silent but I knew the chaos was blocking my hearing.

My relationship with God has always been important but I was in a place where I did not even have the emotional energy to plan what I would read from the Bible every morning. I was given a daily devotional called “Jesus Calling” by Sarah Young. Every day I would read the thought for the day and the verses attached. Eventually I moved into reading the Psalms. I would flip the pages until I found a sorrowful Psalm and read/pray it. It was very comforting to think that David, a man after God’s own heart, had some really bad days too. If a Bible verse stuck out to me, I would spend days reading it. I had a running dialogue with God. Sometimes I sounded like a child telling God how awful things were. I remember lamenting, “God, I think I have learned enough lessons for now.” I knew he could handle my real feelings. Over time, the prayers changed as I learned to trust God more than I ever had before.

  1. Be physically disciplined.

I fought this step. Everything else in life hurt. Why should my muscles and my stomach hurt? Hot apple cobbler and lots of rest were all I felt up to. I had to force myself to make healthy choices knowing someday I would be glad I did it. I started with a goal of 3 days a week at a gym. As I gained strength, I pushed myself to more calories and time. If I messed up I didn’t tear myself down, I tried again the next day. I spent most of the 2 years failing to meet my goals, but I started every day trying again. Failing wasn’t the problem, giving up was the problem.

take-care-of-your-body

  1. Develop healthy friendships.

I wanted to isolate. I was sick of being asked “How are you doing?” , because I never had a good answer. I pinpointed some people in my life I could trust. Meeting for coffee or hiking gave us time to talk. At first, I admit I vomited my emotions on them, monopolizing the time. Then I began listening to their stories. When I began listening I learned I was not the only human to experience depression or difficult times. Sometimes I was shocked and encouraged when I heard other women voicing the exact feeling I was having. I was not alone in my battle.

  1. Do acts of kindness or mission work.

An act of kindness reminds me that I am not the only human on the planet, and we all need help at times. I was fortunate enough to have the unique opportunity to go on a mission trip to Guatemala during this bad time. I walked in villages where poverty was evident and I participated with a team that drilled a well for clean water and taught hygiene lessons with Living Waters International. These people were experiencing great hardships in life and yet they smiled and greeted us. There is nothing like helping those in need to put your life in perspective.

It’s not always possible to visit a foreign country. Locally I participated in activities with the organization Feed My Starving Children. Even more practical, I tried to open my eyes to the world around me; handing a bag of McDonalds food to a homeless person; helping an elderly person reach for something in the store; paying forward for someone’s coffee.

5. Be grateful.

No matter my circumstance there is always something to be grateful for. Sometimes I would make a list so I could remind myself of all I had. Depression is very in-focused so I also tried to make a habit of telling other people what I was grateful for in them. Gratefulness changed my daily perspective.

WhenYou'reLookingforJoy

  1. Develop strategies for bad emotions.

During my Great Depression my emotions were strong. I could be extremely happy, sad, or angry. My best strategy for anger was going to the gym. Many times I would hit the gym fuming and by the time I was finished my emotions would be regulated. Sometimes all I needed was a walk around the block. If my depression was hitting the red level I would reach out to a trusted friend. Sometimes a phone call, sometimes coffee, and sometimes hanging out at their home. Isolating in a red zone of emotions could allow room for me to make really bad choices. Survival meant staying in contact, staying accountable.

(On a side note, I found that jumping on bubble wrap or smashing old electronics can snap me out of a negative mood. I keep bubble wrap on hand at all times.) 

quote-jumping-for-joy-is-good-exercise-anonymous-295498

  1. Leave room for peaceful moments.

I am very self competitive. Achieving and moving is where I feel good, but it can tire me emotionally. I learned how important it was to leave room for rest. Rest can come in many forms. Here are some of the things I did: read a book on a blanket in the shade of a tree; take a slow walk around the block; float in the pool and stare at the sky; zen doodle (something I will share in my blog next week); take a nap on my day off; enjoy a hobby; visit a prayer garden. 

  1. Recognize how serious the battle inside your head is.

I have a rule: no serious conversations after 10pm and if something is bothering me in the middle of the night I pray about it, but don’t act on it. If it is still real the next day, then I act on it. If I only listened to what my head told me, I would be in trouble. I have a lifetime supply of negative comments that rehearse themselves on bad days; It’s worth fighting the battle of recognizing and combatting these unhealthy thoughts. I learned to balance things with good reading or listening or rehearsing my thoughts out loud to a friend or counselor.

  1. Put the choice of joy in front of you.

I am forgetful and need constant reminders to do things. If you visit my cubicle at work you will see what I call my “joy wall.” During 2014 I started collecting quotes or beautiful pictures online which I printed and put on a wall in my office. It is now covered with quotes and beautiful pictures that remind me to choose joy every day. Here are some of my favorites for you to download and print.

ordianry

joy verse

key to happiness 2

god is up to

  1. Recognize the contributing factors that put me in depression.

Now that I’m looking back at those years, I know it’s important for me to recognize what put me in that long depression. I know there will be other dark times and I hope the things I learned this time will shorten the severity or duration. I had allowed myself to be too tired for too long and I was adjusting to major life changes when we adopted our third child. Life at times is messy, really messy but here is hope. Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

If you know someone who is struggling with depression, please be patient and kind.

Feel free to share this with a friend if you think it would help. Have a joyful day.

Tina Stephens

Author of The Common Hours, available on Amazon.com

How I wrote my first novel.

storybookI still have the book of fairytales my parents bought me when I was a toddler. It is a well worn treasure. Reading or listening to stories has always had a special magic for me. I am fascinated with how authors tell their tales or how they describe what is happening. In first grade I won an essay contest. I decided I would write a novel when I grew up. All through school my favorite assignments were essay writing. In 7th grade I began writing a story that would someday become my first novel.

After college, for some reason, I stopped writing. In 2003 I had the bug to write again, or at least I thought I had it. I was so sure I was ready to write my novel, I bought a laptop at Best Buy. Months passed without a single sentence being composed. I had no clear concept of what I wanted to write about.

I had no clear concept of what I wanted to write about.”

While home from work one day in 2011, the story I had begun to write in 7th grade came back to my mind. Over the next months I would drive to work without the radio on to allow room for the sentences and entire conversations that were forming in my mind. Then I designated Friday’s for writing and the story began to fill a notebook. Every Thursday night before bed I would read what I had written the week before, to refresh my memory. The next morning I would start writing after everyone left for work or school.

Writing on Friday was priority above everything: no hiking or coffee with friends, less house cleaning, and order out pizza for dinner. By January 2012 I had a complete rough draft that totaled 85 pages in my notepad. I typed it into the computer and began filling the story in. It grew every time I wrote. By fall of 2014 I had written 60,000 words. The book was ready for beta readers and feedback.

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In December the editing began. I started re-writing the edits and researching publishing options. I eliminated almost 10,000 words. In January I signed a contract with Lulu Publishing.

June 3rd, 2015, my first novel was published. In July a bookclub in Scottsdale used my book for their summer group, the first book store to carry my book, ordered copies. I planned a book tour in Pennsylvania where the story takes place. The marketing for this book continued.

I learned many lessons one of which was I couldn’t write until the story was ready to be told. When I was ready, I scheduled time to write. I had always heard it said, “you are only a writer if you write every day”. I learned to ignore what people said I should be doing and did what worked for me. As a mom with a full time job, I only had 1 day a week to write.

“I learned to ignore what people said I should be doing and did what worked for me.”

If I got stuck I would read over what I wrote and see what came to me. Even if I only wrote one wonderful paragraph in a day I was happy. After 3 ½ years of 1 day a week of writing, The Common Hours was published.

TheCommonHours_Final

Tina Stephens

Author of The Common Hours

www.tinastephens.com

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