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The Zero-Expense Writing Year, Part 5: Hard Times, and New Beginnings

In Part 4, I had reached a roadblock where I thought I would be finding a fresh, new beginning … my old blog on the free WordPress platform was covered in ads. It was something I didn’t realize would happen when I made the switch to my shiny, expensive self-hosted website site back to the free blog. I needed $51 to remove the ads for a year. But my zero-expense commitment had me at a roadblock. $51 was a lot of money to just magically appear, especially when I didn’t have a job to fund it.

I decided to try to make that $51 bit by bit, in whatever way I could. I knew it would take a while to raise it, but I had to start somewhere. So I went around the house and took photos of a few things I’d planned to donate. I put modest price tags on the items, and submitted them online to sell.

I was shocked when the items began to sell, left and right. Everything was wanted, and they were wanted right then. I was shocked when nearly every single item sold within 48 hours.

The moment my funds reached $51, I went straight to my laptop and opened up WordPress.

I was surprised to find a notification … I had a message from WordPress, so I opened it up. It said, “Happy Anniversary!”

Nine years ago to the day, I had started my blog.

by Gaelle Marcel

Chills swept over me, and I had to look through a blur of tears to make the subscription purchase.

I published a blog post right away, feeling inspired and quite at home. I was once again both rejoicing and humbled. By the next morning, the stats showed triple the number of views than I’d regularly received on my well-established, expensive, self-hosted website.

God’s clarity of direction was astounding.

Blog – CHECK.

Podcast – UNKNOWN.

The next area God had been leading was the podcast, which was now blank, because the episodes had been auto-deleted. They had reached their ripe old age of 90 days, which meant auto-deletion on the current free subscription plan.

God still had plans there. I knew it. I didn’t delete the whole site … I just left it sitting out there, empty.

It made my heart ache.

I began to make focused prayers about the podcast then.

This provision was different than the blog, however. This provision would need to be continual. I needed at least $12 per month to keep the episodes live and available … which meant it wasn’t just a one-time purchase.

I had posted a few more things to sell, thinking God’s provision would follow the same pattern.

Nothing sold.

I prayerfully presented some brilliant (or so I thought) ideas for how to obtain that monthly amount. Every one of them was met with a definitive no in my heart.

You know the no I’m talking about … it’s not a “Thou shalt not steal” kind of message that comes straight from the scripture. It’s the guidance of the Holy Spirit within your heart. It’s that Voice you learn to become acquainted with when God is leading you.

“But God!” I reasoned. “I could approach a business or Christian establishment with a proposal, essentially making a business deal to gain support! That looks so professional, doesn’t it? With the backing of a business, it looks so much more important, doesn’t it? Don’t you think that’s a great idea??”

NO.

“But God, I could take on a freelance writing job. It would just take ONE job, a simple one, to provide the FULL means for the podcast subscription. Doesn’t that sound perfect? If you would just thump aside that roadblock, it would work out perfectly. So … how about it??”

NO.

“But God, the businesses … it would look so important … can we please go for that? I mean … you know?”

I said NO.

Fine.

I knew He would provide. He always does. (2 Corinthians 9:8, Hebrews 13:5, Luke 12:24, Matthew 6:33, Matthew 7:11, Philippians 4:6, Philippians 4:19, Psalm 34:10, and many more).

by Philipp Cordts

I decided not to worry about the subscription for now … Let’s focus on just reproducing the episodes. If I upload some now, there will be a whole 90 days before God provides the paid subscription. Let’s keep moving forward, I told myself. Don’t focus on what you don’t have.

That was the whole point of the zero-expense commitment, after all … to stop focusing on what I don’t have, and looking to God 100% for provision, getting out of His way, and doing things His way.

I already had a good mic … I’d bought it using the money my parents had given me for my birthday last July. The previous episodes had been recorded using the best sound booth I’ve ever tried … my car! Although it was essentially soundproof, the small space was uncomfortable, and it was cumbersome to carry my laptop and equipment into the garage. It was time-consuming to set up a makeshift platform with stacked books inside the cab to set my mic and laptop on. Everything slid off the books. It was difficult to balance things in my lap while also trying not to bump or drop the mic. So I tried something else.

I had used leftover birthday money to buy some foam soundproofing panels. I had mounted them on the walls inside a closet upstairs in the office, and couldn’t WAIT to use it for a recording booth! A few test runs had proven that it was the most perfect space. But then we started homeschooling, using the office for the classroom. I needed that closet for school storage.

Out came the foam panels, and in went a shelf stacked with school supplies.

At one point I attached the foam panels to cardboard, making soundproofing walls that I could set up and take down as needed. I ran a few test recordings … it was terrible. Plus the huge panels of cardboard were hard to store, and always in the way.

I was back to square one with the podcast.

by Kelly Sikkema

The first issue that needed to be resolved is the treacherous climb up and down stairs, and the trip across a concrete garage floor balancing my mic, laptop, and books to stack for a makeshift “desk” in the car. There was no bag, backpack, or case that allowed this transport to be any safer than just carrying it, piece by piece, and setting up my temporary “sound booth” inside the cab of of the car.

With that many trips up and down, an accident was bound to happen. Visions of shattered electronic equipment, with zero funds to replace it, filled my head.

I felt outright fear.

I simply HAD to come up with a safe, efficient solution for transporting the equipment and using my car for an office.

On a break during school lessons one day, I began researching a way to make a car desk. There were standing desks. There were lap desks. I mean, could there be such a thing as a car desk?

There is.

And they’re expensive.

Some cheaper alternatives proved to be platform the size of a lap desk that hooked onto the steering wheel … but still, I needed funds to purchase one. And they looked a little flimsy.

I put aside that, and began researching a protective case for my mic. I nearly swallowed my tongue when I realized they were around $100 for the cheap ones.

So, what now, God?

In that exact moment, the solution arrived as a sudden idea.

I sat back in my chair and began giggling.

Could it really be that simple? There’s no way.

The Zero-Expense Writing Year, Part 4: Deleting the Website, and Closing the Podcast

Not only was substitute teaching at my son’s preschool fun, I was enjoying the extra income, thanking God for the provision to fund the monthly costs of the podcast.

My chosen podcast platform was Buzzsprout. I loved the ease and functionality. A free account allowed each episode to stay live for 90 days, then would auto-delete without a paid subscription. The paycheck from subbing provided for a paid subscription, which allowed the episodes to stay live indefinitely. I had three episodes live, three additional episodes ready to upload, and several more future episodes outlined.

It was a perfect scenario.

Until it wasn’t.

When summer began, the opportunity to sub at the preschool ended. Although working through the summer would have been ideal, the income wouldn’t justify the additional childcare costs required for my own two boys. When the paychecks ran out, so did the podcast subscription.

The days of the live episodes were numbered, and the clock was ticking.

by Aron Visuals

God, I prayed. I really thought this was something You led me into. If you want it to continue, please provide the means.

I still refused to go back on the zero-expense writing commitment. The whole point of the commitment was to STOP taking things into my own hands, and rely 100% on Him. If I could just manipulate the episodes by re-uploading them after each expiration, I could stretch it all out until the new school year began. Then new paycheck of subbing at the elementary school would be more than enough to cover a new subscription.

In anticipation of my new upcoming job (pending the paperwork processing), I started researching how to create lesson plans, how to plan out a school year, teaching methods and approaches. I filled up a notebook with what I learned. I drilled Caleb’s preschool teacher, Mrs. Holt, with questions, because she was a former kindergarten teacher. I found her methods to be flawless, peaceful and effective. It never occurred to me that all of these things would be unnecessary for a sub, because the lesson plans would be outlined for me by the actual teacher for whom I was filling in. Out of the pure enjoyment of it, I studied relentlessly about the best setup for a classroom, ideal learning environments, and the varied learning styles of children.

I had it all planned out.

Shortly after I received word that I was officially hired as a substitute teacher for the elementary schools, my husband came home and informed me of something that would change everything.

by Guilherme Stecanella

There was a job site ready for pipe installation in Little Rock that would be perfect for field work. As a pipe estimator at a large general contractor, Kris was excited for a chance to do some time studies hands-on. He lit up when he talked about it. I saw it as an adventure for our family, knowing it would be both difficult and fun. It would only be for about three months. He would move there July 5th, just two weeks away.

This is great, I thought. My sister lives right outside Little Rock. We could visit her while we’re there visiting Kris. This is just a temporary change. We can handle this!

Then my husband had a suggestion. “What do you think about homeschooling?”

Frankly, I was a little shocked. Two years earlier, Wesley began asking me to homeschool him. I didn’t even realize he knew what homeschooling was. I didn’t think I would make an adequate homeschool mom, and in all honesty, neither did my husband. He knew my plan was to put the pedal to the metal on my “writing career” once both kids were in school full-time, and he supported it. So at that time, homeschooling just didn’t pan out. The subject came up again when Wesley was in second grade. Again, he was begging me to homeschool him. We arrived at the same conclusion as before: It just wasn’t for us.

Now, things were different. Kris would be living in Arkansas through August at least, possibly September. With the kids in school, we wouldn’t be able to see him very often at all.

We talked about it. And prayed about it. And talked about it some more.

A fire was lit in my heart. I was actually craving to create lesson plans for school. I began studying school calendars, homeschool methods, curriculums, and state requirements.

I could do this.

I wanted to do this.

I couldn’t WAIT to start teaching our boys.

But that meant … I wouldn’t be subbing at the elementary school.

Okay, God. Now what? I thought you were leading me to teach at the school! The desire to teach was so sudden and constant. Why would You lead me to this, then suddenly move it away again?

Oooooooh. I see it all clearly now. The newly planted enthusiasm for teaching … the urgency of it … it all made sense now! God must have been pulling me toward this all along. I easily applied everything I’d researched about teaching to home-education. I suddenly had new ideas for blog posts and podcast episodes about homeschooling. I couldn’t wait to get started!

Everything was clicking into place.

Except for one thing.

I logged into my website for the first time in months to begin outlining the new homeschooling blog post series, only to find that he subscription to the self-hosted site would soon.

I needed about $120 to renew it.

I was so busy planning out my boys’ education and getting ready for this new, temporary “normal” of a traveling husband, I almost forgot about the zero-expense writing commitment.

I had no choice but to cancel my self-hosted website subscription.

That didn’t necessarily mean I had to quit blogging, though, right? I could simply take my blog back to the original, free WordPress platform. It was just a matter of transferring the content over. Right? Simple. Easy. Quick.

Perfect. Right?

Nope.

My heart dropped when I realized that the blog had ads all over the pages and posts. Not just any ads, but weird, spammy, junky ones that were suspicious, annoying, and distracting.

My heart sunk even more when I realized the podcast episodes were only three days away from deletion.

I needed $51 to remove the ads off the blog for a year. I needed about $18 per month for the podcast subscription.

I began to pray, and God began to move.

The Zero-Expense Writing Year, Part 3: How an Accidental Love for Teaching Snowballed into the Unexpected

It was Sunday morning. I had been going over the Sunday School lesson since early that morning, and nearly had the whole thing memorized. I ran through it with my husband just to make sure I didn’t sound too monotone and boring.

My husband gently reminded me that they’re only second graders, that they’re not a ravenous pack of wolves, and that I would be fine.

I felt happy that I was helping my friend Allison, the associate children’s minister at my church. I was simultaneously fearful that she would secretly vow to never ask me to teach again.

I stood at the front of the Sunday School room, paper in hand, greeting the kids as they came in. It was immediately awkward. The Shepherd (the patient heart who takes prayer requests and keeps the kids on track) kept trying to do her usual routine, but I kept thinking she was finished, and so I inadvertently interrupted her, then apologized, no less than 14 times.

Then I began the lesson.

About thirty seconds into the thing, I was surprised … I mean, really surprised. I was enjoying myself. I was enjoying the kids, and the lesson, and … shocker … the kids were attentive the ENTIRE TIME.

I think they actually enjoyed it.

by Ben White

They laughed at my jokes. They asked questions. And at the end, when I playfully quizzed them, they remembered what they’d learned! When it was all over and the last kid had been picked up, I ran up to Allison and said, “Oh my goodness! That was so much fun! Can I do it again?”

Allison’s eyes went wide and she scrambled for a pencil and pointed at the calendar. “Um, yes, actually. How about here? And here?”

For the next month, I taught Sunday School for kids, made a loving new friend named Barb, and enjoyed it so much, I forgot about writing completely. I was certain this must be my new calling. Yet somehow it still wasn’t enough.

I had the grand idea of substitute teaching at our local elementary school where the boys would soon be starting third grade and kindergarten. The process of applying to be a substitute teacher was tedious and time-consuming. I had visions of lovingly guiding brilliant, thirsty little minds and hearts. We would laugh together. We would discover new, exciting things. We would bond.

This was it. I had found my new passion: teaching.

It was still spring, the school year had not ended yet, and I was anxious to start subbing right away. I applied at Caleb’s preschool, and was soon hired. I began the work of subbing with babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. It was so much fun, and I couldn’t believe how much I was enjoying it! How had I not discovered this sooner?

From the extra funds of subbing, I decided to try something fun. I started a podcast.

by Sai Kiran Anagani

I called it The Simple Word, and the intention was to dig deep into biblical concepts in less than ten minutes per episode, geared toward kids. I scripted out the episodes, recorded six, uploaded three, and was humbled by the positive response.

Wait a minute … in the middle of all the teaching enthusiasm, I had discovered yet another passion.

Writing the script was a blast, and I desperately wished I had more time to sit saturated in the Word. I had so much fun comparing versions, researching timelines and cultural references.

I learned SO MUCH.

Using NIV, ESV, ICB and NLT versions of the Bible, I dug and read and compared and cross-referenced. And that wasn’t the only fun part! I was fascinated with the editing process, and would spend hours after everyone went to bed playing with the different vocal effects. Ideas for more content flooded my head and heart. I had started something that I never wanted to end, and it filled my heart up to overflowing. Better yet, my kids loved it, and it resonated with their little souls. It somehow fueled the excitement over subbing at the elementary school, because I was anxious to spend time with more kids within the age group that the podcast would be created for.

I absolutely couldn’t wait until the fall when I could start teaching elementary kids!

Little did I know, however, that I would never get that opportunity.

Again, God had other plans.

The Zero-Expense Writing Year, Part 2: The Thing I Never Thought I Would Do. Ever

It was uncomfortable, it was painful, and it was the most enlightening thing I’d ever done in terms of God’s calling on my life.

In my last post, I gave you an introduction to my commitment of taking on a zero-expense year of writing. I had determined that not a single dollar would be spent on writing endeavors, particularly toward my “next step” (an up-and-going novel-writing career I was forever clawing for). I had written four novels, endless short stories, essays and articles all hidden away in my computer. That’s when God got real with me.

This zero-expense commitment had shifted something inside of me. It forced me to look at what I already had, instead of what I “needed”.

I felt led to simply open my computer and take an inventory of my work. I had saved everything for the last twenty years, from the time I was about fifteen years old to the present. Every scrap, every sentence, every note, every character profile had all been carefully filed away so that it was easily reached and used, should God decide to make use of my efforts.

by Glenn Carstens-Peters

I scrolled through file after file of all my work … All my hard, selfish work, and in my heart, I presented it at Christ’s feet.

I was suddenly ashamed of it. My intention had been to ask God what to do with it. How can He use it? What is it good for? I had spent years reaching back into past work, trying to make something of it all. Trying to make something of myself. Trying to make it all count. So there I was, dozens of open folders before me, whispering prayers for God to show me what to do. I breathed and waited, knowing that whatever God directed, my answer would be YES.

I got nothing.

I got nothing but word-by-word reminders of how I had failed Him. How can He use anything that was written with selfish motive? I was tired of reaching back into the recesses of my past work, and it was preventing me from moving forward. So I deleted one file. To my surprise, my heart felt an ounce lighter. I deleted another. My heart lifted just an inch.

I right-clicked an entire folder and deleted the whole thing. Then was struck with a rush of freedom.

I took a deep breath and whispered, “Here we go.”

Folder by folder, I deleted everything. Every single note, character photo, story, chapter … everything.

I didn’t shed a tear. Not a single one. In fact, when I saw the recycle bin on its second round of final dumping, I laughed as I saw 2,533 files erased into oblivion.

My cursor hovered over the last file. It was a completed novel manuscript titled “The House of Oak and Ivy”, and I’d written it for my Aunt Dianne, who had cancer at the time. I’d chosen a plot I knew she’d find delicious, complete with a haunted house laced with romance. It’s hard to put into words what/who Aunt Dianne was to me then. An encourager. A cheerleader. An occasional brainstorming partner. As a kid, my sisters and I received a box of books for Christmas from her. It was the spark that ignited a heavily-fueled passion for words. “The House of Oak and Ivy” had taken nearly a year to write. I had determined that it would be my first published novel, written for her, and dedicated to her. Then, about two weeks before it reached completion, Aunt Dianne passed away, having no idea about the project.

The cursor hovered. I right-clicked, hesitated, and burst into tears. What if I’d made a mistake? What if I’d just deleted twenty years worth of work based on an emotional impulse? What would Aunt Dianne say right now if she knew I was about to delete something that I’d written specifically for her?

I suddenly knew … She’d say it didn’t matter. She would appreciate the effort that anyone made for her, but especially considering her Heavenly perspective at that moment, I knew exactly what she’d say. She’d tell me to obey God’s call, at all costs. She’d tell me not to doubt. She’d assure me that choosing God over self-doubt was always the right choice.

So I clicked delete.

Just like that, every word I’d written and saved since my teenage years was gone.

I was finally free.

My zero-expense year of writing was now in full-swing. My only spending allowance would strictly come from the money I’d make with freelance writing, after taxes and tithe.

Then a funny thing happened … All of my freelance writing work suddenly dried up. No more clients. There were no prospects. There was no work to be found.

Ok, God. I hear you, I prayed. I decided to take a long break from writing entirely, including blogging. I had a shiny, pretty website that wasn’t getting any traffic, anyway, and for a long time, my heart had been dry of ideas.

by Leon Biss

Focusing on Christ’s will for my life, I began to ask Him questions that made me feel sick. Had I missed my calling, then? What if, all these years, I’d had it wrong? Or what if I’d messed it all up so badly, He was now taking it from me? Nausea, wave by wave, overtook me at the very thought. God wouldn’t use a prideful heart, I knew, except to show what it looked like to fall. HARD. So I peeled back a new layer, and began asking God deeper questions … beginning with What now? What do you want me to do, God?

God answered that question definitively and immediately on a Sunday morning as I dropped my sons off for Sunday School. When I was approached by Allison, the associate children’s minister, I had no idea what chain of events God was setting into motion.

“Natalie!” Allison said in her usual, bright spirit. “I could really use a favor. Would you mind teaching Sunday School for second graders next week?”

I hated teaching. I wasn’t good at it. I found myself to be boring, which means it was a dead-certainty the kids would hate me.

But, I loved helping. So I shrugged and said, “Sure!”

I spent the entire next week worrying about how quickly the kids would fall asleep while I fumbled through a Bible lesson. I was certain Allison would, after that next week, never ask me to teach again.

But God had other plans … Plans that involved a new, accidental passion that would change our entire family dynamic.

The Zero-Expense Writing Year, Part 1: What I Lost, and What I Gained

I was sick of it.

I’d had my sights set on the “next step” for years, but yet, nothing was happening.

My next step was fiction novel-writing. I’d already had a few fiction short stories published, won a couple of awards with them. But I wanted more. I wanted to reach higher.

I wanted it so bad, I could taste it.

by Plush Design Studio

I wanted book signings where I could answer questions and help people who were struggling just like I’d been for so long. I could just see it all. I would be asked questions to which I could give wise and helpful answers.

“So, how did you manage to write novels with being a mom of young kids?”

Would my answer be like one author: “I wrote three novels with one hand on the keyboard and a ten-month-old on my knee.”

Gulp. I tried that once, and ended up with something that looked like this:

The trees towered fjjsbrjqh over her, like giants dnsnkfnnh shouting down their disapproval, dbsjkdfjhehhw but djdhshha she scrambled to her feet and trudged on. Fnabgqgehbdkakhh

Nope. Not for me.

Another author said: “I waited until my kids were in school, and spent a few hours each day working while they were gone and the house was quiet.”

Hm … While Wesley was in elementary and Caleb was in preschool, I somehow wrote far less than I did at midnight when they were babies. Now that we homeschool, our school days look verrrrry different than ever before.

Then there’s Melanie Dickerson, one of the most gentle-spirited women I’ve ever encountered. When I asked that question, she shugged and said simply, “I really don’t know. I just wrote.”

The clock is ticking. I’d always said I wanted a full-time novel-writing career by age 30. As Diana Gabaldon says regarding her start to The Outlander series, “I was 35. Mozart was dead by 36, so I knew I’d better get started!”

I’m 36 now. I’ve written four novels, none of which have seen the light of day. I decided that I was missing something. Something I didn’t KNOW that I needed to know.

I went on retreats. I went to conferences. I invested in workshops. I took online courses. I bought *more* books on writing, the ones that all the “experts” say you’ll need or else you’ll never know what to do. (Word of advice: read what you want. Not what you should. Because obligatory reading is … Well, exactly as boring as it sounds.)

As you can imagine, all of this took MONEY. I felt so guilty as I dropped dollar signs into a bucket labeled “novel-writing investment”. I built an impressive website. I did all the right things to drive traffic to it. I played the social media game exactly as the experts suggested. None of it worked, and I’m sure the my-heart’s-not-in-this spirit showed through. (Some writer friends reading this will be nodding their heads now).

by Marc Schaefer

Now, in all my hot persuit of finding that key I seemed to be missing, I lost something else …

My love for writing.

by Matthew Henry

I’d become sick of it. Actually, totally sick of it. I hated to even say the word “writing” because it had become connected with frustration and negativity. It wasn’t fun. I hated it. To my heart it tasted like bits of cardboard in a bowl, eaten like cereal with a paper spoon.

When it came time to turn in our taxes for 2018, I added up all the writing expenses (minus the meager freelance writing income I’d intended to fund my “self-investment”). I wept. I wept and wept. Because for years I had convinced myself that what I needed was to educate myself … To learn how to write. I obviously didn’t know how, because I’m 36, and no published novel to my name.

I felt embarrassed. And ashamed. And in all honesty, I felt burdened.

I mean, hadn’t God called me to write? I can answer that whole-heartedly without hesitation: YES. Then why, for Heaven’s sake, had I failed to do so?

The answer, in short: I have no idea. But yet I know exactly why.

Let me explain. I thought I was doing the right thing by making moves to reach my “next step”. It wasn’t a waste, necessarily. Because God uses ALL things for good (Romans 8:28). But every single move I made was with the goal of my own career in mind. I believe that works for most people, most of the time, but it didn’t work for me.

Because that’s not what God intended when He called me.

When God calls you, it doesn’t always make sense. In fact, it rarely does. Because God’s calling is strategic to His High Plan. Tony Evans says, “If God showed us the whole journey, we’d never take the first step.”

What I had essentially done is this: I had taken God’s calling, packed up His equipment (because when God calls us, He also equips us (2 Corinthians 9:8 and Hebrews 13:21)), and went in my own direction. I ended up with a shiny website that no one visited. I had a million shiny words that no one read. And I had a shiny, prideful view of my own capability that wasn’t serving any purpose at all.

I prayed about it. I repented of my own selfishness. Then God got real with me.

I committed to a zero-expense year of writing, having no idea exactly how much I would be giving up, and what I would gain in the end.

What happened next is something I never thought I would ever do.

Ever.

8 Surprising Things I Learned During 6 Weeks Off Social Media

We were at the brink of big changes.

My husband asked to go into the field with his job, which meant he wouldn’t be sitting behind a desk in Birmingham each day, at home by 6 pm. It meant he would be 400 miles away in Little Rock working on the job site, doing the parts of the job that he really loved, with once-per-month visits home.

We made the plunge to homeschool our two boys for 3rd grade and kindergarten, a decision we’d been praying about for over a year.

It was one big, giant adventure looming just at the horizon of our lives, and I was excited that my husband was given this opportunity.

That’s when I stopped sleeping.

I would watch the clock as it blinked the minutes by, thinking things like: Kris needs to teach me how to use the edger so I can keep up the yard well. I need to get a car charger for my phone so that GPS can lead us all the way to Little Rock without dying. Should we stay with him a few days, or a whole week? I should start making a packing list. How will the boys handle their father being gone? Will video chats be enough?

My feelings were so strange about the whole thing … I was looking forward to meeting the challenge. I was determined to step up and show how tough I am. I wouldn’t drag my husband down. I was grateful for the chance to grow in our family, in our marriage, and in our parenthood. So why was I already missing my husband? He hadn’t even left yet.

A few days before leaving day, I had dinner with a few mom friends. We talked about the typical range of topics for women excited to be in each other’s company. A discussion that was particularly intriguing was the weight that social media can sometimes add to a woman’s “mental load”. I instantly related to this, and asked what they do to relieve the burden that we all seem to be obligated to, or trapped in. When one friend mentioned a social media fast, I knew I had to try it.

“I know three weeks sounds like a long time to avoid social media, because nowadays that’s the only way many people communicate,” she said with bright, encouraging eyes. “but give yourself no less than three weeks. I promise it will change the way you look at social media, and you won’t be the same, in a good way.”

That night, I deactivated all of my social media accounts (without explanation or announcing my impending online absence), and deleted the apps.

For the first two days, I found myself habitually reaching for my phone when I had a few extra minutes of silence. “Oh, right,” I would say to myself with a generous eye roll. “No social media.” I thought I would need to use intentional restraint, like when I spot the chocolate in the back of the pantry when I’m avoiding sugar, and I have to clench my jaw and walk away (with agony).

After those first two days, I didn’t think twice about it.

This surprised me.

The other surprise was exactly how much of a relief it was to be away from it. I didn’t feel obligated to keep up with the people whose lives I only witnessed through my phone screen. I kept up via text and phone calls with my closest friends, but otherwise, I didn’t miss a thing.

Did you catch that?

I didn’t. Miss. A thing.

A few days ago, I decided I should probably check my progress, to see if I’d met the 3-week deadline as my friend had suggested.

The “fast” had actually reached the 6 week mark.

Let me drive this point home … I DIDN’T MISS A THING.

I decided to make a list of the shifts and changes that had occurred in the absence of social media.

  1. I wrote in my journal more.
    Oh, how I had missed writing in my journal. I even grabbed a new, fresh diary off my shelf and thoroughly enjoyed penning the first page. Without writing posts, I suddenly had a desire to keep my thoughts private. I’d also forgotten what a beautiful ceremony journal-writing can be… a kind of meditation that relaxes and is distinctly anti-anxiety.
  2. Holding onto my thoughts deepened them.
    While filling pages up with handwritten words, I wondered how often those words would have become splashed into a status bar instead of inked onto a piece of paper. I realized that I spoke very differently into my journals than I did into the realm of social media. The words came out seasoned with more wisdom than they would have been on Facebook or Instagram.
  3. I wrote more, in general.
    Instead of spewing words into social platforms, I invested them into other things. I wrote paragraphs of internalized thought threads that didn’t seem to serve any real purpose at all, until a few hours/days later. Suddenly those thought threads became untangled, and my mind was filled with calming conclusions rather than anxious wonderings.
  4. I searched the Bible for answers more often.
    I realized how frequently I turned to the advice of others before I sought out the Scripture. It made me feel ashamed, and I realized how much my social media use had turned into an idol in my life.
  5. I spent more time with my kids.
    Okay, this may sound ludicrous, but I legitimately spent more time with my children than I did before. Part of that was because we were bored in a hotel room, and we were also homeschooling. But when I felt boredom set in, I didn’t pick up my phone to scroll through news feeds. I pulled out board games or a deck of cards. And if board games weren’t available, we made up our own games. I think it’s a good idea to point out that my social media time before was NOT excessive to the point that I neglected my children in favor of Facebook. The absence of social media DID, however, force the formation of new habits, especially when I felt bored or restless. And those new habits led to many rounds of Uno with two enthusiastic little boys.
  6. The pettiness was gone.
    Let’s be real here … social media brings out the pettiness in us all. I was relieved to have it purged, from both myself and others.
  7. I read more books.
    I read so many books, y’all. SO MANY BOOKS. It was a delicious pastime that had me gobbling up every delectable morsel I could get my hands on. We rented so many books from the library, I almost felt the need to apologize. Almost.
  8. I watched more people.
    Okay, let me explain before this sounds really creepy … people-watching is fascinating. While in public, I didn’t take endless pictures of my kids and post them. I took a few photos to capture the moment, then immediately put my phone away because I was relieved of the pressure to show them to people via social media. Because I didn’t pull up my social apps and post the photos, I spent more time watching the people around me. I won’t spoil the fun for you by describing the entertainment of people-watching … just put your phone away and try it. You won’t regret it.

I’ve now activated my social media accounts, but I am determined to use it at arm’s length. I’ve been freed from the spell, and the freedom feels amazing.

When the Past is Full of Failure, the Present is Confusing, and the Future is Terrifying

“Bring them to me, Lord,” I prayed in a sanctuary full of church family. I was still sitting with my head bowed while everyone else stood and sang along to the music. “Lord, use my writing as a way to bring souls my way so that I can tell them about you….”

My prayer evaporated. Tears stung my eyes as my words to God halted. I couldn’t go any further.

Because I knew I was lying to Him. Continue reading “When the Past is Full of Failure, the Present is Confusing, and the Future is Terrifying”

The Most Entertaining Thing at the McWane Center

Thanks to my mother-in-law, the boys and I are able to enjoy an endless number of trips to the fascinating McWane Science Center in downtown Birmingham. We’ve experienced so much exploring, learning, discovering and laughing there.

We spent a couple of exciting hours yesterday afternoon at McWane. But just before leaving, we made one last stop.

I’m not even sure what this object is called, but it was the most hysterical part of our day.

Don’t Miss Them

In an instant, they’re gone.

bubbles-by-david-schap
Photo by David Schap

So many of them happen unnoticed, disguised as mundane spaces between the exciting moments that become legends.

sparkler-by-caleb-jones
Photo by Caleb Jones

It’s in the first cool drops of a spring rain.

rain-by-geetanjal-khanna
Photo by Geetanjal Khanna

It’s in the earthy scent of rich, black soil.

soil-by-neslihan-gunaydin
Photo by Neslihan Gunaydin

It’s in the giggles of a happy child…

chalk-and-children-by-tina-floersch
Photo by Tina Floersch

… and in the cries of an infant at midnight.

baby-by-jordan-whitt
Photo by Jordan Whitt

It’s in the rays of a bright sun, warming the skin and lifting the spirits.

bible-on-the-beach-by-ben-white
Photo by Ben White

It’s Life.

eggs-by-ian-baldwin
Photo by Ian Baldwin

Life in all its mundane glory.

couple-and-sunset-by-asaf-r
Photo by Asaf R

God’s Love and Twizzlers

church

Photo by Astrid Westvang

There are a million reasons why I love my church. I experience God in this place in such a rich way, I walk away week after week challenged, convicted, encouraged, humbled, and empowered. Our pastor, Ryan Whitley, and song leader, Bryan Haskins, are the face of CrossPoint, displaying passion and enthusiasm for Christ that, in my opinion, is an incredible example of unrelenting faith and love.

But an exchange today is such a perfect example of how the family of CrossPoint works.

Continue reading “God’s Love and Twizzlers”