Recently, I was asked to write on the topic of guilt, and I was surprised to realize I hadn’t already done so. Interwoven between all of the stories I have written so far has been this elusive and plaguing emotion. How do you know when guilt is a good thing? How do you learn from it? What do you do when it’s bad? These are all questions I want to discuss today.
Good vs. Bad
Guilt alone is actually a good thing. It is a warning sign that you may have crossed a moral, ethical, or legal boundary. Feeling guilty is a good if it helps you identify where you have done something wrong and how to fix it. The Bible called this type of guilt “Godly sorrow” because it actually helps point us to how to rebalance ourselves. For example, you may feel guilt for dinging your neighbor’s car, and you won’t feel right until you go tell him and share insurance information.
“Worldly sorrow” is guilt that festers into a sense of negative self worth and hopelessness. It is a feeling like you will never be worthy of anything good; it’s feeling you are only ever going to be a disappointment and failure. This kind of bad guilt feeds depression and suicidal thoughts. It keeps people trapped in negative spirals and unable to get ahead in life.
How to Learn From Guilt
The first question I ask myself when I feel guilty is why.
To get to the bottom of why you feel guilt, you have to be honest with yourself. Assess your own actions and cycle through your activities. Consider the following questions:
When was the last time I felt free of guilt?
What happened to change that?
Were these events or actions something I did wrong that I need to correct?
If my guilt is not from something I did or said, is it from something I contemplated?
If my guilt is not from anything I have done or thought about, is it from something done or said to me?
The second question I ask myself after I discover the why is whether or not this is my responsibility.
If you know why you are feeling guilty, it is important to screen if your guilt is because of your own values or the expectations of others. For example, you can feel guilt for saying something hurtful to a friend, but you can also feel guilt because someone asked you to do something you haven’t done yet.
Appropriate Guilt vs. Irrational Guilt
Feeling guilt is appropriate for regulating behavior, but it can take a turn for the worst. Some people feel strong connections to their own emotions and the emotions of others and are said to be prone to guilt. Others suffer from irrational guilt where they feel responsible for stuff that is not their fault or they think things are worse than they actually are. For more about how to keep guilt from spiraling out of control, check out this article.
Guilt is incredibly uncomfortable–but it is meant to better us. I remember, when I was a child, I always felt guilty when I picked on my sibling. That was a good thing because it led me to change my behavior and treat her better. As I got older, I wrestled with guilt over decisions. For example, I felt guilty about choosing a college closer to home versus one that gave me a scholarship to move two states away. In both cases, my guilt caused me to evaluate my beliefs and make better choices.
Sometimes, however, I do struggle with guilt over things beyond my control like hidden secrets or hurting someone’s feelings by accident. What I am learning in these situations is to not obsess about what I cannot control. Rather, I must take life one day at a time and one decision at a time moving forward based on the ideals and values I choose to build my life on.
Your mental health is important, and guilt left unchecked can contribute to anxiety, depression, and a lot of other toxic things. If you struggle with guilt more than occasionally, consider discussing your feelings with a medical professional or counselor to avoid long-term negative effects.
Early this month, Elon Musk backed out of a 44 Billion dollar deal to buy Twitter because of “a continual disagreement over the number of spam accounts on the platform”. According to this article in the NY Times, the deal was made on a whim in the first place and Twitter will most likely fight him in court to keep it. Twitter claimed to have 217 million active users by the end of 2021, and Musk was supposed to pay $54.20 per share to own it. Even if his personal love of using the platform got him into the talk, it only makes sense for Musk to look into it more before seriously spending that much on it.
I think this hesitation is an opportunity to expose a much bigger issue at play on all social media platforms.
Con Artists and Human Traffickers on Social Media
I’ve written about this before with some of my own experiences with romance scams, but the biggest problem with social media now is the unknown percentage of it that is either a bot or a physical person lying about who they are. When someone lies for financial gain, they can say beautiful heartfelt things but the truth is that they became heartless long before they met you.
My experience was with a lot of stolen valor and romance scams. First, there was the Army Ranger who really stole my heart with his incredible honor, respectful words, and military service. Then it was dozens of fake accounts on dating websites like POF. I thought it would be better on Christian dating sites, but it wasn’t; even the sites themselves were corrupt. So I gave up on online dating and tried to make meaningful relationships in person. That is hard to do when everyone you meet just wants to keep you in the friend zone. Then, as my business grew, so did the number of strangers reaching out to me online for business. LinkedIn and Instagram accounts propositioned me for business investments and partnerships. If it wasn’t a multi-level marketing deal with a 4-digit buy-in, it was something similar investing in Crypto-currency.
Beverly Weeks of Cry Freedom Ministries says that human trafficking starts with stalking prey online as friends. Whole relationships are formed over a cyber connection before they ever meet in person and, when they do, sexual favors become a requirement of the interaction. Today, people I don’t know like my posts online and follow me on social media. Many of them go forward and message me compliments about how I look. Many people now don’t feel safe to even entertain comments on social media from strangers. I didn’t want to close that door myself, so I let myself say hello back. What ensued was probably the most hurtful experience of my dating past online.
An Example of Social Media Manipulation
John Fedrick Williams was a single father–an E7 Gunnery Sargeant in the Marines deployed to Yemen. He messaged me through Instagram then Google Hangouts/Google Chat.
We talked about everything. We talked about “our daughter” and made plans that moved very quickly. He sent me pictures and videos; I made him special graphics. He proposed to me; I tried on and bought a wedding dress!
When I received a large sum of money, it seemed only natural to tell him about it.
One day when John was talking to me, enemy gunfire rained in on him. He survived, but it scared him so badly that he became convinced that he would die if he went on the next mission–to pursue the invaders. I tried to talk and pray him away from his fears, but he became obsessed with applying for leave. He had his daughter’s babysitter reach out to me via email and vouch for his character, and he sent me bank information to pay for his leave. The account showed that he had over a million dollars in the bank but no access to it. When that bank payment fell through, he asked me to pay. When I refused, I was told I was “leaving him to die” and how could I do that to “our family”. When I still didn’t budge, he called me (on my VOIP number). I heard his voice and knew it wasn’t the same person I had fallen for in all the pictures and videos. I ended it cold right then, but I still missed him. Even knowing he was a lie, I wanted to have him in my life.
Why People Lie Online
Unfortunately, a lot of people get stuck in that spiral. They feel ignored, and they long to be loved, so they accept attention wherever they can get it. Social media fills that void.
You can be whoever you want to be online!
Life is glamourous and rich there. You can follow your favorite celebrities and be a part of their lives as they share on social media. You can dream about vacations and nice things. You can post your best moments, your best angles, and always look put together and your best online.
No one talks about the times they ugly cry to songs on their Spotify or grunge all day in pajamas and junk food with last night’s makeup on and their hair in a bun.
Even with no bad intentions for the world around us, we all lie a little on social media because of the way we want to be perceived in the world.The difference is that some people make a living out of telling lies and using others.
Legitimate money can be made online through advertisement and marketing, but that all depends on having a product to sell that is worth buying. What happens when the product is an emotional connection? That’s when certain people steal identities, pretend to be someone else, and get others to send them money and/or pay for stuff for them.
The High-Value Haves
A high-value have, in my definition, is someone that generates a lot of attention and potential revenue through their online presence. According to a recent statistic, over 50% of celebrities are active online, and that data is strategic for fan engagement. Social media helps celebrities continue to have the support they need to do what they do–but it also makes them targets for people wanting to catch some portion of their success. Entrepreneur Magazine did an article that suggested 1-in-4 people create fake accounts online. Some of that was for reasons not connected at all to identity theft, but still sad nonetheless.
I followed a page for one of my favorite recording artists, Brandon Lake. I was surprised when he messaged me back personally! The awe and excitement of talking with him wore off, however, when he asked me where North Carolina is. The real Brandon Lake is a worship pastor in Charleston, South Carolina–directly south of North Carolina.
Another group of high-value haves on social media is public service workers and military service members. There is just something attractive–even trustworthy–about a person in a uniform. Real public service workers work as volunteers or low-paid civil servants. Real service members don’t make a lot of money until they move up in rank–and that takes years of service. In both cases, these people serve faithfully for wages that make some of them still qualify for food stamps. Scammers take images of service members and public workers and create accounts claiming to be them. They bank on the patriotic heart of an American to support them in dollars when they ask for it.
One person I met had all his images taken from Instagram and used to create over six different accounts in his name across Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. He kept reporting them, but they kept showing up.
For more about how to love and protect yourself online in the military, read this article.
Final Thoughts and My Top 5 Recommendations
If you are a high-value have, your best bet is to avoid social media platforms altogether.
Social media is useful for inspiring ideas and staying connected with loved ones, but it is constantly putting your identity at risk because it is not carefully monitored.
Physical exercise is one thing many of us avoid. But what if I told you that making it a purposed part of you day would make the rest of your day better? What if doing that activity you avoid could actually lengthen your days and make the quality of them better too?
The Oxford Dictionary says that procrastination is to “delay or postpone action”. At the beginning of a new year we often reconsider doing the things we have been neglecting. What about in the middle of the year?
If you are like me, the absolute last thing you want to do in the heat of summer is exercise. Recently, I found myself on a beach not liking the selfies and on a boat unable to step in and out of it without assistance. I knew if I wanted to be better on either of those fronts, I needed to make a conscious effort to add strength training gym activity to my life. But how am I supposed to have time and money for that when the cost of everything–especially gas–is increasing but my wages aren’t?
I’m not a great swimmer, so I don’t trust myself in the depths of the ocean. Standing in the ebbing ocean waves, letting them push and pull my hips, my heart longed for more time in the water. I had a few hours over two days to dip into the salty sea, and I was saddened to leave it. Why? Because time away in peace and exercise is nourishing to the soul.
Health Benefits of Exercise
According to research on PubMed Central, exercise is important for mental and physical health.
Exercise improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood and by improving self-esteem and cognitive function. Exercise has also been found to alleviate symptoms such as low self-esteem and social withdrawal. Exercise is especially important in patients with schizophrenia…patients…who participated in a 3-month physical conditioning program showed improvements in weight control and reported increased fitness levels, exercise tolerance, reduced blood pressure levels, increased perceived energy levels, and increased upper body and hand grip strength levels. Thirty minutes of exercise of moderate intensity, such as brisk walking for 3 days a week, is sufficient for these health benefits. Moreover, these 30 minutes need not to be continuous; three 10-minute walks are believed to be as equally useful as one 30-minute walk.
Sharma, A., Madaan, V., & Petty, F. D. (2006). Exercise for mental health. Primary care companion to the Journal of clinical psychiatry, 8(2), 106. https://doi.org/10.4088/pcc.v08n0208a
Though some argue that time in exercise has to be consistently brisk for 15 minutes or more to be beneficial, I would argue that ANY amount of time is better than no time at all–especially if it creates a habit of doing so continually over time. Exercise is not about clicking a bell at 15/30/60 minutes or more; it is about establishing lifestyle changes that effectively change the quality of life you have for a lifetime.
Further research in the article confirms that exercise plays a role in making you sleep better, have a better sex drive, increased endurance, increased mental clarity, and so much more.
Just Do It!
It’s a Nike slogan but the point is still true; the only way to go from procrastination to living an active lifestyle is to just do it. It may start small and that is okay. Do whatever you can afford and maintain with consistency. Let it grow over time from there.
You have to find your motivator.
For me, I thought about what I wanted my life to look like over the next 10-20 years and the health I would need to do those things. I also think about people I know who struggle with health issues that could have been prevented if they were proactive when they were younger.
You have to let go of misperceptions.
I used to think that working out in a gym was for people who already had toned bodies and were trying to keep it so. That is SO not true! Most people are working out to overcome health issues in their lives that are both seen and unseen. One of my dear friends lives an active lifestyle and has the body to prove it, but she does so because of internal issues that would leave her nearly bedridden if she were not actively addressing those issues in the gym. Like there are suits for all sizes of swimmers, so there are gyms for all sizes of workers. Don’t feel intimidated by the person beside you who has more experience than you, and don’t look down on those who are fumbling on equipment trying to find their way. It doesn’t matter if you can press 15 or 80lbs. What matters is that you are doing it at all in the first place.
There are no end to negative thoughts and voices telling you to quit a good thing when you get started. You don’t overcome procrastination by ending the negatives; you overcome it by not listening. Establish a routine that you do consistently and keep it up for one week, one month, one year. The longer you do something, the easier it becomes to do it again.
Plan With Caution
If you have certain health risks, consult a physician and personal trainer before you take on any particular activity. Never attempt a new activity without proper training on equipment lest you hurt instead of build your muscles. If you have joint, back, or weight issues, consider joining workout classes in water that use Newton’s Law of Inertia to increase the intensity of your workout without harmful pressure from weight on your joints.
My first week back at the gym was exciting. When I got in the pool, I felt like I found my tribe! It was a little unnerving working out in the gym around all these guys watching me pull small weights while they huffed through big ones. I almost didn’t go in one day, then I thought of how much better I would feel with the strength to walk beaches without losing my breath or climb stairs with strength in my knees to do so. I think about the things I will be able to do because I am caring for my body now–while I still have the options to control it. I think about the way my body will begin to reflect shaping from all my efforts and look better in the clothes I own. THAT makes the time and effort worth overcoming the obstacles.
I hope this inspires you to take a proactive role in your personal health.
Recently internationally best-selling author, Mari L. McCarthy, sent me a copy of her new book, Mindset Medicine: A Journaling Power Self-Love Book. In the book, the author shares 14 writing prompts and ways to heal from mental, emotional, and physical trauma through journaling. I accepted the book to write a book review, but I picked it up to read it at a time when I desperately needed it.
Mari’s book came to me at a time when the absolute last thing I thought I needed to learn about was disciplined writing. When I opened it to the introduction, it read like Mari was talking directly to me.
If you’ve slowly developed a feeling that big tech, mass media, and our cultural and government institutions are doing everything they can to brainwash you, you should pay attention to this feeling. You should pay attention to it and trust it, because it’s your intuition feeding you the truth. Make no doubt about it, your heart and soul are under siege by societal forces that don’t have your best interests in mind….These forces want to separate you from YOU….view this book as an invitation to journey inward and deprogram what you’ve been conditioned to believe you should be.
Mari L. McCarthy
The book is about helping you reclaim your mental, physical, and spiritual health. Pulling from her personal experience overcoming Multiple Sclerosis (MS) through journaling, Mari leads readers to overcome their own greatest challenges through focused introspection. She doesn’t just lean on her own experiences either. Ms. McCarthy cites examples of other published medical studies that saw real change as a result of writing. Fourteen short chapters teach readers to apply the technique of writing to self-heal.
The first chapter really got me thinking about something. In my circles, I have seen a lot of harm come from social media. Friends pose pictures of themselves in their best lives, outfits, and moments. All the perfection makes you feel like you are missing out on the way life is supposed to be.
Then random strangers message you “hey beautiful” trying to get at your heart. If you are curious and lonely, you say “hi” back and open a door. If you are smart, you ignore them.
The question I find myself asking is why social media even wastes our time if it hurts our hearts so much. This idea is part of what I wrote about in response to the first prompt from the book below:
If you could really change the world, what would you want to change about it? Consider getting your own copy of Mari L. McCarthy’s Mindset Medicine and join the revolution of changing the world through writing.
About the Author
Mari L. McCarthy, Founder and CEO – Chief Empowerment Officer of CreateWriteNow.com, teaches curious health-conscious action-takers how to use Journaling For The Health Of It®️ to heal the emotional, creative, physical, and spiritual issues in their tissues. She also shows them how to use this powerful personal transformation tool to know, grow and share their True Self. Mari is the multi award-winning author of Journaling Power: How To Create The Happy, Healthy Life You Want To Live, Heal Your Self With Journaling Power and Mindset Medicine: A Journaling Power Self-Love Book. She’s also created 20+ Journaling For The Health Of It® Self-Management 101 Workbooks including Who Am I?, Take Control Of Your Health! and Start Journaling For The Health Of It® Write Now.
For some reason, the beginning of the New Year feels like the perfect time to start something new. I’m not sure if fitness center marketing started that or if it really feels like an organic time to Get. On. Track.
The old habit:
Start a workout program with full vigor.
Watch it fizzle into a twice a week half-hearted treadmill jaunt.
Watch that turn into equal parts “I’m too tired” and self-shame.
Give it another go in a few month ‘cause New Year, New Me
Setting Goals That Matter
I’m talking about prioritizing changing the shape of your attitude before your abdomen. I know, the term “self-love” is really thrown around a lot. It sounds like a big task but it is really important and it takes practice and discipline–just like getting that booty you’ve always wanted. But it can help change your life, not just your body.
The Things We Tell Ourselves
I think the part that I always struggled with is: How do I love myself when I’m just so imperfect? How do I believe that I’m perfect AND have so many goals to be better?
The truth is that you ARE perfect right now. You are a miracle! And like a miracle of perfection you have the inner push to be better every day. So, be your own today’s version of perfect and it’s okay to push for tomorrow’s version of perfect sans the self-shame of not being perfect. Clear as mud?
The New Habit List
This new habit list is a starting point. Take what resonates with you and leave what doesn’t. I do recommend trying them a few days in a row before completely disregarding them.
Change is almost as uncomfortable as the day after lunges. You can make them fit your agenda, beliefs, and timelines. I just ask that you stay curious and make sure they feel good to your soul.
When you wake up and go into the bathroom, look into the mirror. Look into your eyes and smile at your reflection.
A few things can happen here. There is a good chance you’ll say, “This is stupid”. I ask that you stare a little longer. This isn’t easy for everyone, so have patience. You might get emotional.
Looking into your eyes might feel a lot like looking into your pain points, your sleeplessness, your insecurities. Notice the thought and let it go. Smile again.
No matter how you feel about what you see, this IS you. This is where you get to start your new journey today. Have gratitude that you’re standing and you have another opportunity to start a mini-adventure.
Do your bathroom business to include any self-care that lifts your mood.
Before you leave, put your hands on your hips, pick your chin up and close your eyes. Take a few deep-cleansing breaths.
On every inhale, count to five and imagine breathing in fresh, clear, clean air.
On every exhale, count to seven and imagine breathing out any thought or worry you’ve ever had.
Keep your eyes closed. Now imagine how it feels to be who you want to be.
If your goal is to be a healthy person, embody that feeling. What does it mean to you? What does it mean for you? How would you feel in your clothes? How would you feel in front of strangers or at the gym?
With your eyes closed, put that costume on and walk like a boss. Own your body and your attitude and everything that comes with it. Know that you are that healthy person and take that with you throughout the day.
Make decisions as that healthy person.
During the day we make hundreds, even thousands of decisions. When you come to a valid choice point, ask yourself “Which one of these would a healthy person choose?” The answer is usually clear, if it’s not then it might not be relative at all.
Use discretion and not judgment.
If you choose the cake over the oatmeal for breakfast, say it out loud: “I am choosing to have cake for breakfast instead of oatmeal.”
You have the opportunity to be honest with yourself without shaming your choice. This is a concept that I did not grow up understanding, and it is one that brought a huge shift in my perspective. But clearly, sometimes cake for breakfast is a must.
Be patient with yourself.
If you have any trials with anxiety or insecurities, this work may be almost as exhausting as the first day back to the gym. Keep going. You got this.
Try this method for a few weeks. Notice the ease that comes with smiling at you. Notice how other people respond to you.
When negative thoughts pop in, let them. They are just thoughts; notice them and let them go.
Tiffany Cleveland is a light and encouragement to all who know her. She dabbles in all the things she loves: volunteering at the Food Bank, writing, mountain biking, and Youtubing. She describes herself as “just a girl who understands that unconditional love is a slow dance of choice and a practice of repetitive choice”.
Tiffany grew up in a small town in eastern PA and blossomed into her “ever-changing self” in North Carolina, Italy, Japan, and the desert that speaks to her soul: Tucson, Arizona.
When she is not busy serving as a Master Sergeant in the Air Force, Tiffany embraces experiences that take her out of her comfort zone, deep conversations over decaf espresso, and sitting in stillness to hear the inaudible nudges from above. She has a passion for learning, and she loves brave, incredibly compassionate people doing wildly good things in this world.
This is a challenge involving working with your bare hands in soil. It is especially helpful for creatives of all types that find inspiration from nature or are curious to explore it more. It helps to increase contentment and appreciation of what you have and the world around you. It also helps you learn about the partnership between art forms that can help you face and conquer difficult situations.
Outdoor Gardening Challenge (Option 1)
Outdoor Garden Challenge Prompt
First, you want to make a plan you can accomplish in a day and gather materials. I knew I wanted to upgrade a 1×3 foot section of my yard with exotic plants from a recent trip. I gathered shovels, a wheel barrow, plants, gloves, bug spray, and music.
Music is an important part of this challenge that you don’t want to skip. Not only does it help create a mood to help you conquer the work, it empowers you to feel stronger and more capable of overcoming adversity. This is an opportunity to learn how different forms of creative expression can partner together to achieve a goal. Put together a playlist that makes you feel empowered, bold, and strong. This could be a static workout list you use in the gym or a list that changes daily. For me, it was a 90’s Christian Rock kind of day.
Next, you want to break ground and clear the soil for your planting. It is important that you take the time to do this right because not enough depth can leave roots exposed on the new plants and make them die. Also, weeds or grass left behind can choke out the new plant. If you are going to this effort, take the time to do it right and give the new plants their best chance at life.
Next, remove the plants from their pots, loosen the soil, and place them in the prepared ground. Potted plants are often root bound and need their root ball gently broken before they are put into the new soil. When you do that, a lot of soil will break loose. I broke my roots over my wheelbarrow with the soil I had already taken out of the hole in the earth. The spare soil will be mixed together and reused later. For now, just get your plants where you want them.
It was at this step that an unwelcomed visitor stepped in: fire ants. Fire ants swarmed my new Indian Hawthorne and my hands as I tried to remove the pot and break the root ball. Solution: spray the plant and ants with a mixture of orange essential oil and water. The orange oil doesn’t hurt the plant but it instantly kills the ants.
Next, with the plants in place, mix the native soil displaced from the whole and the potting soil displaced from the plants together. I used the wheelbarrow and shovel to do this as I was planting. Fill the remaining space in the hole with the soil mixture. Pack it tight and gently stomp it down around the plants because you don’t want water to come and erode away the earth from the roots.
Lastly, mix a high quality plant food in water and water the plants generously. You want to soak the earth on and around the new plants. Follow instructions on your plant food and plants to continue to water them for the next couple of weeks while they get established. Enjoy!
Indoor Garden Challenge (Option 2)
Indoor Garden Challenge Prompt
For the indoor garden challenge, you want to take a potted plant that is overgrowing its pot and replant it. I chose a collection of cacti and house plants I had mostly in one pot in my office. If you don’t have a pot like this already, you can find similar pots needing replanted in the clearance section of most garden shops.
For this challenge, I used bagged potting soil, spare pots, and my bare hands. I also chose to leave the music off for this challenge to allow myself the full sensory experience of touch and sound as I played with the dirt.
If a plant is overcrowded, it will struggle to stay alive. Lift the plant(s) gently out of the overcrowded pot, and let your fingers feel the through the soil to where their roots lie. Gently loose the plant from the soil around it with as much root and soil as you can keep that were near the stem of the plant. Continue this gentle unearthing process for all the plants. Then replant the plants into new pots with at least two inches of soil below and around them. Mix plant food in water and generously soak the plants in their new pots. Return the plants inside.
Working in the earth is almost primal in its connection to us as human beings. When you accomplish something with your bare hands, it makes you feel empowered to do more challenging things. Playing in the dirt is God’s natural way of reinforcing confidence. As we battle against forces beyond our control and win, we feel stronger about taking on new challenges in life. Take a moment to consider that. What did this challenge make you feel empowered to do?
Please take a moment to share images and thoughts in the comments below from when you tried this challenge. If you chose to do one or both of the challenges, we’d love to see it!
When the COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) pandemic hit America, I was teaching in a local community college. We didn’t know much at the time but, as a precaution, we all switched to remote learning. The school went dark for a month to allow teachers to transition courses online. When we turned back on, it was in a whole new world.
No one expected it to last long. We were midway into the Spring semester and still making plans for a normal graduation celebration. We resumed classes as online only but planned to have fully in-person classes available by July. That didn’t happen.
I was more prepared than most for transitioning to online teaching; I already had a lot of the systems in place in my classes. My students were prepared to maintain their workload online, so I didn’t experience the drop in attendance as bad as my peers. What did change, however, was the hours when we worked. Because many of my students were parents working in the service industries, they were working more and sharing their internet (with their kids also doing school from home) more. My students didn’t have time for their own education till late at night, so I adjusted my time to match them. When their peak work hours were midnight to 3am, mine were too. I found myself stretched. On one end, I had to be alert and active during the day for work Zoom meetings. On the other end, I had to be present for my students to interact and answer questions when they were available to work.
I was exhausted, but I didn’t tell my supervisors. If I had, they would have advised me to keep normal office hours and tell students I would respond to them within 24 hours. I tried that, but I didn’t feel like it was the right response for me or my students. We were all scared. We were all searching for some semblance of normal pre-pandemic life. Keeping a rapid connection–even though it was just responding to emails and questions on the learning management system–made us feel like we were still connected…still human.
Fear of Human Connection
I stayed online with my students for a year. My students and I supported each other through race riots, pandemic, and economic losses, but I still couldn’t write about it.
I went silent on this blog and most of my social media for a year. Everything in the world was chaos, and I didn’t want to be another trite voice adding thoughts to the discussion of it. I underestimated my role and value in the world, and I let my feelings dictate my actions.
Working remotely was more freeing than anything I had experienced in my career, and I loved it. I could work in my pajamas. I could do house chores that I never had time for before. I could visit with family and friends within my safe circle–all while still doing my job as a teacher. I was no longer tied to schedules or office hours; I was free!
I did everything from home and only returned to the office once a month for paperwork as needed. When I did return, I was wearing a mask and staying socially distanced from everyone. The first thing I noticed was that the office culture changed. People didn’t gather and talk anymore; everyone stayed in their separate offices and barely acknowledged when someone else was nearby (except to put on a mask if they were).
The very thing that made us human–our communication, connection, and care for each other–became the first thing we shed in our fear.
I found myself afraid of being around others. For a year, I isolated myself from friends and community involvements like my church. The mere thought of returning to in-person classes caused me anxiety. I wanted to care for others but keep my distance, so I leapt at an opportunity to work remotely full-time for more money than teaching. I left eight years of teaching for the security of never having to see another person face-to-face unless I chose to. The irony of this choice is that I was already given special permission to work remotely as long as I wanted to, but I knew there would come a point where that choice would no longer be given to me.
I thought that isolation was a good thing. I was staying out of the public (with all the germs). I was ordering my groceries and online shopping for everything else. I was watching more church online than I experienced in person. I was socializing with people I lived with and a few close friends I trusted. I was distancing myself from the rest of the world, and I thought I was safe. I had no idea how much that distance was toxic for me.
Loss Becomes Real and Personal
Isolation was supposed to keep myself and my loved ones safe, but it didn’t. My only living grandparent–more isolated than me–got COVID, ended up in intensive care, and almost died. We couldn’t go see her. Our only communication was the hospital phone or the personal phone she had taken with her. If either line stopped working, we had no way to know what was happening to her, if she was safe, or if she was coming home to us.
I still remember the sound of her voice on the phone. Hooked up to machines and heavily drugged, her voice was low, gargled, and strained for breath. She was afraid and said a lot of things that didn’t make sense. Nevertheless, she said she would fight to stay with her family as much as possible, but she also kept saying her goodbyes like every breath would be her last. It was heartbreaking. I was powerless. All I could do was pray and surrender, so that’s what I did–every day, every moment that I thought of her and feared I was losing her.
I guarded her story. I didn’t share my life on social media or my blog, nor did I allow my friends to do so for me. In many ways, I gave up on the world and ever being part of it again because I was convinced it had nothing but hurt to give me.
When our prayers were answered and my grandparent got better, I knew that time with loved ones was something I didn’t want to take for granted anymore. I took it a step further. I determined to spend more time with the people I loved, and I devoted my energy to being present as much as possible. I helped care for sick loved ones, I spent time with extended family, I visited close friends, and I made plans to see family out of state.
Life became complicated in May 2021 when I lost my job (the one I left teaching for) and couldn’t go back to teaching. All the pain and angst from isolation were intensified by fear over money. Loss of income derailed my plans for connection and made me feel powerless, but those were just feelings (and feelings are temporary).
A month later, I lost three people that were important to me: my brother-in-law died of a sudden non-COVID-related respiratory problem, an 8-year relationship ended, and a former student died in a boating accident.
So much loss derailed me. I wanted to succumb to my feelings and just die, but God said…
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-7, NIV
Change Your Perspective
Doubt, anger, guilt, sadness, and fear circled me. I allowed myself the freedom to feel my feelings while they were raw, but I did not allow them to root in me. Feelings, both the good and the bad, are temporary and they lie to you. You can’t let your self worth and perspective of the world be determined by them.
I took control of my thoughts as best as I could–even though it felt like holding a balloon in the wind by a thin sewing thread. I reminded myself of scripture and the truth of Christ that makes up my moral compass.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things.
Philippians 4:8, NIV
I found that if I took control of my thoughts and pushed out the ones based on fear and pain, I could fill my mind with thoughts of strength, love, and affirmation. The more I allowed God’s peace to fill me, the stronger I became for the challenges that surrounded me and the more I saw God’s hand directing me through them.
COVID made me afraid of being around others. Loss, loneliness, and sadness made me need to be around them more.
It is a basic human need to crave in-person connection with others; we were not meant to live life alone. I craved fellowship beyond a mask. I craved community without fear. I longed for a new normal where I could hug or shake hands with a stranger and not immediately fear exposure to a life-threatening disease.
Something had to change, and it started with who I was listening to. I stopped reading the CDC website because it kept changing its mind on what to do and left me more confused and afraid of others. I stopped listening to the news because they had nothing good to say and capitalized on fear and anger. In case you were wondering, fear and anger are emotions we have historically used to control the public. This article from The Conversation website, does a fair job of explaining the history and how it has been used for COVID but experienced backfiring results.
I limited who and what I allowed to speak into my life. (Which is a policy I think showed more wisdom than fear and still saves me today from unnecessary confusion.)
I started filling my mind with advice from people I trusted including family, friends, and ministers.
Next, I started studying the Bible more and seeking God in worship and community at church.
Next, I sought wisdom on issues from authorities that were dealing with them first hand. I found doctors and hospitals online debunking COVID myths. This website was particularly helpful for countering some of the lies I was fearing.
With self-education, I felt safe enough to be in public as long as I maintained social distancing and sanitation. I didn’t consider the germs a child is exposed to in a public learning environment and then brings home to you. I had been taking my nieces to and from school every day for weeks. I didn’t question their lack of hygiene in a time of COVID. They are teenagers and what teenager EVER stops touching their face, phone, and every other surface long enough to sanitize or pull their mask up over their nose these days?
Then my eldest niece got sent home to be quarantined. She had been exposed to a COVID-positive person at school and had to stay out for ten days unless she tested negative. We had to isolate her and not let her socialize with the rest of us unless she was wearing a mask and distanced. I had to keep enforcing those protocols like a relentless dictator, however, because teenagers don’t pay attention to their actions. While I waited and watched for symptoms, I also lived with the fear that I had already been exposed and that this was no longer in my head–it was real threat.
I fought my fear with facts and self-educated.
I found out that COVID-19 is easy to kill with soap and water, so I washed my hands more and made my nieces shower when they got home from school.
I shut down any of our plans to be in the public, and I found ways for us to stay social but distanced together indoors.
I found out that people with the COVID vaccine can still get sick and still have to quarantine if they experience exposure–which made me wonder how the vaccine is helping at all if vaccinated people are still getting COVID.
I learned that COVID takes a minimum of five days to germinate and present enough bacteria for an accurate test result and ten days before symptoms begin to show.
I also learned that very few symptoms often present in children. That meant that my niece–who struggles to focus on schooling when she is home–would be stuck self-motivating herself to do well in school for a whole week of work before she could get tested. It also meant that all her household chores fell on me and her sister because all her energy and time were spent on staying focused on school.
I watched the girls and myself closely for symptoms according to the CDC and WebMD. The girls didn’t exhibit any signs, but I had almost all of them. While I could explain away the nausea, dry cough, fatigue, muscle ache, headaches, sore throat, and congestion, I couldn’t explain my loss of taste and smell. I was pretty sure all my symptoms were allergy and med related, but I had never had allergies take away my senses of smell and taste. What was worse: if I did have COVID, I had been exposing the family far longer than the school because I had all the symptoms before school began. The choice was clear: I had to get tested and quarantine myself.
Luckily, COVID-19 testing is federally mandated to be free right now, but that doesn’t mean it is easy to get tested. You still have to prove exposure and/or symptoms to be eligible to get tested. Here is what I did to get tested.
I googled “Covid testing near me”, answered some questions online, and scheduled an appointment.
When I got to the appointment, everything was handled through a drive-thru window and dropped in a LabCorp box for analysis.
Though I didn’t do the rapid test, I had my results within roughly 24 hours.
Panic over COVID made me treat others like parasites and live in fear in my
own household. It created a
wound in people I loved and built a barrier between important relationships. It
exposed a lack of faith in an Almighty God to protect and restore us. It
revealed an area of growth and healing I needed to pursue.
What My COVID Scare Taught Me
Testing negative for COVID-19 gave me back a sense of power in my life–but it came at a cost. I had created wounds with my own fear that needed restoration. I grabbed up my nieces and hugged them tightly. I wanted them to know they were not the Black Plague of germ death to me (even if teenagers sometimes seem like they are).
No matter what happens with the pandemic in the months and years to come, we can’t let our “new normal” become a place of fear about connection with others. We need to stay alive and aligned with our core values, and we need to stay in a place of safe in-person contact with other people.
This is a challenge involving riding on a public transit bus and doing freewriting on your body. It is especially helpful for writers and artists to step outside their comfort zone. It helps to increase confidence about your work despite the criticism of the world around you.
First, grab some ballpoint pens or Sharpies (whatever instruments you feel comfortable using on your own skin).
Next, take a public transit bus for the full duration of it’s route. If you drive, park at a safe bus stop and ride the bus till it returns to your parking location.
Next, as soon as you sit down in your seat, take out your writing tools and start writing or doodling on your skin. The point here is to not over think it or pause for permission. Keep writing until you have covered all your exposed skin and/or you have reached your starting location.
Next, depart the bus and return home. Journal about your experience, how it made you feel, and what you learned from it. Capture images of the work on your skin.
Finally, share images and thoughts in the comments below from when you tried this challenge.
If you do not have access to a public transit bus, you can still accomplish the work of this challenge by doing the work in a public place. Pick a public park, library, or facility and commit a couple hours to sit or walk and write or draw.
Like many of us, I got sucked into watching a stream of videos on Facebook the other day. I landed on one from a fashion blogger sharing makeup application techniques. She started with a layer of foundation about ten shades darker than her actual skin, and she proceeded through at least seven layers of MORE foundations. When she was done, she looked like a runway model. She was flawless and sexy–on fleet–but she had a lot of time and money invested in her look. There had to be over $100 invested in just the foundations she used alone to look like this. The look was so foreign to her own skin that I imagine her own mother wouldn’t recognize her is she passed her on the street. She was incognito.
When I was younger, I had the most beautiful porcelain skin. Cover Girl couldn’t make a shade light enough for me. I had bright cherry pops of color in the apples of my cheeks that other girls envied too. I was proud of my mix skin. Then, one day an art teacher pulled me aside outside of class. She wanted to inform me about a condition called rosacea that could be causing my facial blemishes. She thought she was helping me with her unsolicited medical advice. I was always self conscious about how I looked after that.
Over time, the cherries expanded, and my whole face looked a little ruddy. I tried to hide the uneven tones of my skin in foundation, but nothing stayed on. All makeup melts in the hot summer sun, even the expensive kind. My favorite skin to wear is my own.
If cells had a voice, I wonder what they would say about all the layers of makeup we put on them. Stop, you’re suffocating me?!
We put all kinds of filters on our images to change the way we look to the world. We want you to like us, but we wouldn’t know each other on the street.
At what point did we become so uncomfortable in our own skins that we had to bury them in borrowed ones to be “on fleet”? When did makeup become less about enhancing natural beauty and more about hiding it?
For a season, my life cycled around physical therapy, work, and home. I was afraid to drive for a while because other cars felt like a threat. Slowly my walking improved and my scars became less visible. I learned to listen to my body and invest in myself.
Invest Time In Yourself
Investing in yourself is one of the most important parts of emotional and mental health, but everything about life tries to keep you from doing it. Self-investment involves spending time with people, places, and activities that feed joy and positivity into your life. It also involves alone time doing things you enjoy and reading the Bible. These are the activities that fill our hearts and empower us to press on through this life. It takes conscious effort to invest in yourself.
Some people go through life taking all they can get along the way. Others spend their lives serving and forget even what it looks like to have fun. Sometimes takers need to be humbled to serve, and sometimes servers need to learn how to take. If you don’t take the time to self-care, you won’t be able to be there physically for others.
What can you do today to pour value into yourself?
Would an extra-long soak in the bath or painting your nails or wearing that new dress to work make you feel beautiful? How about a trip to the beach or a drive to the mountains?
Guarding your heart is not just about being careful about who you love or what you expose yourself to, it is also about giving your heart love in the language that speaks to it–your own personal love language.
This Christmas is not setting itself up to be one of my best ones, and it’s not because of what I’m about to tell you. It’s because so far this Christmas season, I have bought all my presents but not wrapped a one. I never found an ugly Christmas sweater to wear to the party, so I was completely left out of the photos. I’ve missed almost every Christmas song on the radio, been too busy-or sick-to decorate, and lost out on all my Christmas parties (even the ones I planned myself). It’s warmer than Autumn, most days this December, it’s not feeling like Christmas at all.
Christmas starts to feel like Christmas to me when the first cup of cider is poured in November, and the craft bazaars start popping up everywhere for early shoppers. This is my favorite time of year, and it excites me almost as much as Christmas morning, because this is the time I get to support local artists and buy gifts for the ones that I love. When we gather and give thanks at Thanksgiving, it just preps my heart more for the appreciation and love to come. The bright lights, the displays, and the holiday specials all feel magical to me. Christmas music and movies on constant play while I’m swimming in hot chocolate and gift wrap is…well…divine. Without all this cheer, all I hear is, “I’ll have a blue…Christmas.”
A Serious Wake Up Call
In the middle of my bustling, busy life, I got a serious wake-up call. I walked out the door, ten days before Christmas, excited to finally be going to a Christmas party, and my leg gave way beneath me. I fall on the steps and cried out for help. Help comes running, and I got back up only to feel my legs crumble again inside the house. I rested a moment, and looked at the clock; I was missing the party.
The shades of blue deepened in my heart. Again I tried to get up and leave. This time I made it to my car and fell completely on the cold, hard ground. I could feel the cold but nothing more, and I got scared. This falling business could be serious. I pulled myself up with a cane and my car wheel, but couldn’t hold it. My right leg was complete jello. All the strength of my left side was not enough to pick up Humpty Dumpty again. This time my cry for help would require a team of EMS workers to lift me.
With the arms of EMS gripped around me, I thought of my students. So many of them have expressed a desire to be EMS someday. I held on to the man closest to me–a volunteer first responder, a neighbor whose name I still don’t know. I let him be my legs that would get me to the stretcher and the ambulance and the hospital while I text work and my students what to do while their teacher missed class.
All Too Familiar
Six months before this moment, I was doing the same thing only much more damaged and covered in blood. I was hit by a van and spun down the highway three times. My brand new car was totalled. My face was cut and permanently scarred. My back was severely shaken out of alignment. Yet, I survived.
I remember thinking, in those few seconds of white as I spun down the road, “God, is this going to be it? This can’t be it. I’ve got so much left to do in the world.”
Then I thought about the tractor-trailer. Where was it? It had been right behind me before I was hit. I closed my eyes and braced for a second impact. “Oh God, Oh Jesus, please help me!”
I knew I would most likely not survive that blow. As my car spun out, I thought about my loved ones and how it would hurt them. I thought of all the things I left unsaid. I thought about my job, my goals, and my dreams. I wasn’t ready for the end.
Then suddenly, the car stopped. I opened my car door and tried to get out as quickly as possible. If I was still in the road, I didn’t want to be hit again. But I was not in the road. Somehow, I had been spun around enough to put me facing oncoming traffic but resting safely on the side grass a few feet beside the road sign.
This was God’s answer: Not yet.
Temptation To Doubt God
Landing back in the hospital, my thoughts spiraled.
“Are you sure, God? If I have a purpose not yet done in this world, why bring me more pain and suffering? How can that further your cause?”
I questioned God, but I didn’t get angry. I didn’t understand the purpose in the pain, but I remembered that we were never promised a struggle-free life.
In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart, I have overcome the world. –John 16:33 NIV
Four hours later lying immobile in the hospital bed, a CT scan revealed that I had a herniated disc in my lumbar spine. I left with heavy drugs, possible surgery, and weeks of required time off work. When it was all said and done, my body reset itself, and I learned a hard lesson in paying attention to my health.
But in the moment…all I had was the hope that God really was in control.
I wrote this poem:
Now my Christmas may be less active and bright.
I may be seeing your lights from a distance tonight.
I will be sending you gifts of hope and cheer,
while you celebrate with all who are near.
As you open your gifts, there’s one gift I hope we can share:
It’s the gift of the Christ child on Calvary’s snare.