So, here we go…

Over the last two weeks, I have received two great compliments from my advisor about my thesis. First, last week he posted two exemplars of the thesis proposal, and he chose to post mine as one of the examples. I was elated that what I had written at that point should be chosen to demonstrate an effectively written proposal. Then, today he gave me feedback on my second draft of my proposal and encouraged me to turn it in so that I could get to work on the thesis itself. I am happy that I have an extra week to work on my thesis, but I am anxious as I move forward.

So, what I am anxious about? Just finished reading chapter six of Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day by Joan Bolker. Chapter six deals with “Interruptions from Outside and Inside.” It is too easy for me to get caught up in the nonsense and static that is in my head. It’s also easy for me to get distracted by all of the other things going on around me. However, I feel pretty good about how I’m doing emotionally right now, so I don’t think that I’ll get caught up in anything as I move forward. Things are pretty calm right now at home and work, so I would be surprised if any major catastrophe happened in the next few weeks. But, life is also very unpredictable. No use worrying about things that haven’t happened. Don’t steal my joy now for fear of a future that may never come.

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The only really emotional part of my paper will be in discussing the mental health crisis amongst teens in the United States today. I have unfortunately experienced losing a student to suicide two years ago, and many of my students experience severe depression and various anxiety disorders. Having struggled with anxiety and depression for the last twenty-five years, I know too well the battle that my students are dealing with today. And there is always the concern about vicarious trauma as I continue to teach in the high school setting. Life is difficult, and unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be getting any easier for most of our teens today who have many things that negatively influence them emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, and relationally. This subject is very close to home for me.

However, I feel that I have gotten a pretty good handle on my own depression and anxiety over the last year with medication, therapy, and a growing relationship with God. I also feel like the factors that led to my depression last year are no longer things that bring me down. My marriage is at its strongest, my relationship with my son is better than it has been before, my job is stable, and I have great friends who understand my struggles. I have also learned to mourn those I have lost, but to continue to move forward remembering that the reason that I mourn is because of my great compassion and love for them. This is why I commit my life to students: to demonstrate compassion to people who do not always experience kindness from others.

So, now what? I’d like to echo Flannery’s prayer today: “Help me to get what is more than natural into my work – help me to love and bear with my work on that account. If I have to sweat for it, dear God, let it be as in Your service. I would like to be intelligently holy. I am a presumptuous fool, but maybe the vague thing in me that keeps me in is hope.”

Works Cited

O’Connor, Flannery. A Prayer Journal. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2015.

Why Flannery?

Today, my question is, “Why Flannery O’Connor?” What has intrigued readers and critics for the last sixty years? Why do people continue to talk about Flannery’s stories and novels? And my question is why is she so interesting to people who are not believers? It is clear in her personal letters, in her prayers, and in her essays and speeches that Flannery was writing from a Christian worldview. She explicitly identifies Christian themes that permeate her stories like grace, redemption, and free will. Despite her clearly Christian worldview, she has been respected and admired by people outside of the Church. At the end of “On Her Own Work,” she asserts that “what I write is read by an audience which puts little stock either in grace or the devil” (MM 118). So, why Flannery O’Connor?

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For me, Flannery O’Connor shows a different perspective of grace than what is understood in our society today. She demonstrates through her fiction that grace is a natural part of the world around us. She shows that grace is offered to even the worst of sinners like the Misfit in “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” This fits my perspective of grace. God continuously calls us to Him. This is what is called prevenient grace. Before we knew God, He called to us, He wooed us. God never forces Himself upon us. He always invites and extends His love. We have the freewill to choose Him or to walk away. As Flannery explains, even a character like the Misfit “knows what the choice is – either throw away everything and follow Him or enjoy yourself by doing some meanness to somebody” (HB 350). And I love the fact that Flannery says next that “I can fancy a character like the Misfit being redeemable” (HB 350). Even the Misfit is redeemable.

So, why is there this fascination with Flannery’s work outside of the Church? I believe it is because she shows life as it really is. She shows us with all of our distortions, all of our perversions, all of our prejudices, all of our pharisaical beliefs. She saw people as they were, experiencing “disabilities, displacement, discrimination, disorientation, disease, death” (Leigh 365). And in each of her stories, grace is offered. Not all of her characters accept the opportunity for grace, and in fact, many face their own death or the death of loved ones before they will accept grace. However, there are some who move closer to understanding the nature of the mystery of God, the mystery that the world “for all its horror” has “been found by God to be worth dying for” (MM 146). This is grace. This is God’s love. To empty Himself for our benefit. To love us even when we were sinners, even when we were His enemies (Romans 5:8).

I guess the answer to my question is simple. We read Flannery because we hope that her characters will turn toward grace. We read Flannery because we see the mystery of God – He loves us with all of our disabilities, our disease, our death. And I’m sure this is why those outside of the Church ready Flannery, too. They are searching for a love that defies our expectations. That’s the love that God offers. Redemption even for the Misfit.

Works Cited

Leigh, Davis J. “Suffering and the Sacred in Flannery O’Connor’s Short Stories.” Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature, no. 5, 2013, p. 365. EBSCOhost,

O’Connor, Flannery. The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor, edited by Sally Fitzgerald. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1979.

—. Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1970.

Tell the Truth: Word of Advice from Flannery

Just finished reading Flannery’s essay, “The Church and the Fiction Writer,” and my brain is about to explode. Her main message is that the Catholic artist needs to tell the truth, to be authentic, to pull no punches when it comes to communicating the Mystery of God. She states, “When people have told me that because I am a Catholic, I cannot be an artist, I have had to reply, ruefully, that because I am a Catholic, I cannot afford to be less than an artist” (O’Connor 146). I see this message beyond the Catholic Church although I know that was Flannery’s primary position. The artist needs to be honest.

As Christians, we are to live in the world but not be of the world. This means that we live as strangers in our world. We are set apart from the rest of the world because we understand, or we are at least grappling with, the mystery of God. However, we need to be a part of our world in order to help save the world. We have a great privilege and responsibility to continue the work of Christ in our world. This suggests that we must know the world to help save the world.

I love the Victorian era because it is such a great example of the struggle within the individual and the culture of Britain. Last night, my husband and I watched the last three episodes of season three of Victoria because that’s what you do on a Friday night. In one of the episodes, Queen Victoria was horrified because a newspaper had gotten a hold of drawings that she and Prince Albert had done of their family when they were young parents. The newspaper published a picture of the queen washing a baby, so Victoria was appalled that her people would see her as a washerwoman instead of as a queen. However, it seems that people began to relate to Queen Victoria more because of the pictures. In the episode, Lord Palmerston, then Foreign Secretary, says to Victoria that the people are able to relate to her because they see her with a baby and they see her with her dog. They can’t understand living in a palace, but they can understand a baby and a dog.

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This isn’t much different from what Flannery may be communicating in some of her fiction. People understand tragedy. People understand heartache. People understand things that happen in life that may not follow strict dogma, doctrine, or theology. Flannery argues that “By separating nature and grace as much as possible, [the Catholic writer] has reduced his conception of the supernatural to pious cliche” (147). The need for grace is because of nature. We cannot separate the two if we are to help people to see their need for a savior. In order to communicate the Mystery of God, we need to tell the truth even if that means communicating things that are not “Christian.”

Flannery’s work is often claimed by communities of people who are not believers. Several musicians have used ideas from her short stories and novels as inspiration for music. Al Jourgenson from the industrial band Ministry incorporated lines from the film version of Wise Blood, for example, in their well-known song, “Jesus Built My Hotrod.” There is a reason for this: Flannery wasn’t afraid to tell the truth. She showed what life was like, albeit using the grotesque to tell the story. But she told the story of human nature distorted and the need for grace.

Let’s work on telling the truth. Flannery says, “To look at the worst will be for [the artist] no more than an act of trust in God” (148). Let’s trust in God as we tell the truth about our world so that the world may know the Mystery of God’s grace through His Son, Jesus Christ.

Works Cited

“A Coburg Quartet.” Victoria, created by Daisy Goodwin, performance by Jenna Coleman, season 3, episode 6, Mammoth Screen, 2019.

O’Connor, Flannery. Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1970.

Serving Her Well

This last Sunday, I decided that I would let go of my fear. I am beginning work on my thesis for my Master’s degree, and I am terrified. I was thinking about topics that would be easy for me to work with: education, the view of women in Victorian fiction by male writers. However, on Sunday I finally came to the conclusion that now is the time to write what I want: an in-depth analysis of the short stories of Flannery O’Connor because she is my spirit animal when it comes to religious devotion and my concept of grace.

Grace is sticky business. Grace is a gift of God. Therefore, we see grace as good. We see it as a present that was a surprise on Christmas morning. However, God does not always work within our definition of “good.” Sometimes grace comes at us in very tragic and potentially violent ways. This is the view that Flannery presents in her fiction: grace as a divine act of productive violence.

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That may sound heretical. And maybe it is. Maybe I shouldn’t think about grace in such horrific ways. But I have experienced this form of grace myself. Grace came at me in a potentially tragic display of life and death over ten years ago. Thankfully, I paid attention to the way that God was trying to get my attention. Thankfully, I avoided tragedy.

In Flannery’s short fiction, it seems that she is concerned about the state of the world that she lived in. She sees the way that religious devotion has changed to consumerism, especially in the Protestant church. Sure, she was Catholic and there always has been that animosity between the Catholic Church and Protestants all the way back to the Reformation. However, we serve the same God, we believe in the same Jesus. Flannery saw the religious devotion of some people as harmful to the faith. She also saw the influence of psychology and science and the way that it led people away from God.

As Flannery came closer to her own death, her short stories appear to be more violent, more tragic, and include more acts of divine grace. She was urgent in this message: Get right with God NOW! This is what I would like to explore as I work with her fiction.

I hope I will serve her vision well.

Choose Joy

One of my favorite scriptures comes from the prophecies of Isaiah. In Isaiah 43, the Lord says, “‘For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.'” There are many references to the wilderness or the desert in the Bible. For example, when God first calls Abram, he is in the wilderness. When God calls Moses to lead His people out of Egypt, they wind up in the wilderness. Jesus is tempted in the wilderness. As Christians, we are a people of the wilderness. We live our lives as outsiders of our culture because, hopefully, we live lives that are countercultural. We experience trials in our lives, sometimes because of the fact that we are followers of Jesus. These experiences all cause us to be people of the wilderness.

When I think of the wilderness, I think of dry ground. I think of a barren wasteland. I think of death and decay. And there are times in my life that have felt barren. There have been times when I felt that death and decay were right around the corner. But I have also come to understand that God is working in the wilderness. God is calling me to trust in Him in those barren, dry, decaying times in my life. It is the wilderness times in my life when I have come to rely on Him more because I know that He is the only way that I will experience life.

In Isaiah 43, the Lord gives a promise to the Israelites who are experiencing punishment for their lack of faith. For generations, the people of God had disobeyed God’s clear commandments. They had worshiped other gods, they had intermarried with people who were not Jewish, they had sacrificed their faith for comfort and prosperity. And just as God promised, they were punished for their lack of commitment. Isaiah prophecies to the people of God in the midst of their exile, the time period in which they had been scattered for their disobedience. And after several prophecies that are very bleak and depressing, Isaiah prophecies hope for the people of God. God promises new life, He promises rivers in the dry land, He promises good things for His people.

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It is easy for us to get discouraged when we are in the wilderness. It is easy for us to look around and see a barren wasteland. It is easy for us to think that death and decay are right around the corner. It is another thing altogether to look for God’s promises in the midst of the wilderness. As we see from His Word, God always promises good for his faithful people. He promises life. He promises hope. He promises love. He promises joy.

Trust God in the wilderness. Remember that He is always doing something new. Remember that He is a God of creation.

Choose joy as you start this new year, reflecting on the fact that God is creating new things out of the barren wasteland of your life.

Chasing Drama: The Cure

Now that the holidays have passed, I realize that part two of this series was a little depressing. Ya, I was feeling down because I’m far from my family yet again this season, but I need to rejoice in the fact that I have come so far this year. Healing is continuing to happen and there are several reasons for this.

1. I’ve learned to let things go.

Last Christmas, I was managing my depression after a failed foster placement and upcoming surgery to remove skin cancer. I still think about our foster son, but I also pray for him which is more important.

2. I’ve learned to do what I love.

I have been much better this year at taking care of myself and doing more of what I enjoy. This means that I bought colorful clothes for myself when the new school year started. I even painted my toenails PINK! I’ve gotten a hair cut more than once in the last six months. I watch movies and shows that make me laugh and make me think. I have fun in my classes, laughing out loud along with my students. I write every day even if it’s a struggle to find the time or the words. And I cuddle with my husband and my dogs.

3. I’ve remembered to pray more.

I had gotten away from prayer journaling for years, but for the last year I have journaled pretty much every day. I pray when I’m going to sleep, I pray when I’m in my classroom, I pray for my church and my community, I pray for my country, I pray for my family and friends. God has been so faithful to me throughout my life, and I have remembered this year to reach out to Him more.

4. I’ve forgiven those who have hurt me.

Forgiveness is hard. It’s not a human thing. I don’t think we can truly forgive without God’s help. I had a lot of people to forgive last year, including people who were doing the best they could. In order to move forward, I’ve had to forgive and let go.

5. I’ve remembered to love.

I honestly love my life. It might be difficult at times, but I love my husband, my son, my parents, my brothers and sisters, my aunts and uncles, cousins, grandparents, nieces and nephews and everyone in between. I love my friends, my job, my church, my community. I’ve remembered where that love comes from: my Savior who loved me when I was still His enemy. Love truly conquers all.

I hope that as you step into 2020 that you are better than you were last year. I pray that you have hope that move you forward. I pray for continued and abundant blessings that come down from the Father of Lights.

Be blessed.

Chasing Drama – Learning to Manage

Am I the only one who plays conversations through her head a million times? Am I the only one who plans how she will react to someone that she may need to confront? Am I the only one who frets about what might happen if…?

I’m pretty sure that I’m not the only one, but sometimes these things that I do make me feel crazy. I remember when I first learned how to manage my anxiety and depression, I decided that I wanted to read One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey. I was reading silently in my senior English class, and suddenly I started wondering if I was crazy, if I would some day wind up in a psych ward somewhere like McMurphy. I was honestly convinced at the time that my anxiety and depression were making me crazy.

Self talk is probably my greatest weapon against these crazy feelings, but sometimes self talk is dangerous. It’s dangerous when I’m stuck in a loop. When I can’t seem to let things go. When I’m afraid how I might react to that one student in my class who pushes me too close to the edge. When I’m terrified that I might have to deal with this cycle of depression and anxiety forever.

But self talk helps me out of the loop. I often have to tell myself that I’m not going to go off on some kid. That I’m not going to suddenly flip out and kill everyone that gets in my way. That I’m not going to run right into the car that’s heading toward me on the two-lane highway. I have to remind myself when I start having a panic attack that it will end. That I can control my breathing. That I can distract myself with something, anything.

Knowing that I’m not the only one who feels this way is a lifesaver. Thankfully I’ve had people around me who understand my anxiety. It’s amazing how many people feel the same fears that I do. And sometimes just telling someone that I’m having a panic attack helps the attack to pass pretty quickly.

Solutions for my thoughts are endless. Next time I’ll share more of my experience with the solutions that have given me more good days in the last year.

The Problem: Chasing Drama

So, I’ve discovered something about myself in the last six months. I am a classic drama chaser. I don’t follow celebrity news or watch things like Entertainment Tonight or Access Hollywood. I don’t follow the gossip, listening intently as my colleagues talk in the workroom about what they heard that so and so was doing. I’ve tried for most of my adult life to avoid gossip at all costs because I’ve learned that it doesn’t do me or anyone else any good. I don’t watch the news, hoping to hear the latest sound bite about my least favorite politician. I don’t gloat when someone in the other party has failed in some horribly ironic way. I don’t like drama. In fact, I hate drama. However, I am a drama chaser.

Photo by Carolina Heza on Unsplash

Last year, my family and I underwent probably the most difficult period of our lives. We tried to add a new addition to our family, an eleven year old boy who was looking for a forever family. We were excited and anxious and happy about the possibility of growing as a family. Unfortunately, things did not work out and this crisis led to all three of us doing some serious soul searching individually and as a family. As a result of this crisis, I felt the need to go back to therapy and seek medication for depression and anxiety. I am happy to report that I am stable…no more mornings where I feel too fragile to even get out of bed. No more days where I feel like I will just crumble if someone says the wrong thing to me. In the midst of healing from the crisis as well as some other conflicts in the past, I discovered that I chase drama. My drama is one hundred percent internal; it is within my own mind.

Have you ever had those mornings when you wake up to a list in your head of all of the things that could possibly go wrong? The dog is sick and needs to go to the vet, but you don’t have the money to take the dog to the vet. Your son has been slacking in his classes and you told him that you would take away his phone if he didn’t figure it out, but you don’t want to take away his phone because then he will have a teenage sized temper tantrum that you just don’t want to deal with. You have all of the numbers in your head of all of the bills, but you don’t know how each one is going to get paid with enough money left over to buy groceries and put gas in the vehicles. And on and on and on. Each of these things are important, but these are the things that plagued my every morning for years. Each morning as I stood in the shower, I would run through the list of all of the “things” that were worrying me or making me angry or stressing me out to the point that I was losing sleep. I wasn’t thinking about these things with a plan to manage them. I was fixating on these things and others without having any way out. And I was obsessing about them to the point that I just couldn’t find a way to think positively about almost everything in my life. Chasing drama.

Chasing drama for me is almost like some sick form of entertainment. I find that I chase drama when I’m bored. When I’m on break from school, when I am finished with a class, when I have any downtime that doesn’t require me to use my brain in a productive way. I used to say that every summer I would go through a period of a depression because that was what always happened. I would actually prepare myself for the depression, knowing that it was just around the corner, lurking. However, depression wasn’t lurking, I was seeking it out, almost as a source of comfort. Something to expect and to rely on. Chasing drama.

Note: This is the first in a series of blogs about chasing drama. Come back next week, hopefully, for the next installment.

I never thought I would be here

I have always loved reading and writing. I wrote my first story in third grade and kept writing stories and poetry through high school. I worked on my high school newspaper and spent a semester writing for my junior college’s newspaper. I enjoyed being recognized for my writing, but I always struggled with having an opinion about what I read.

At eight years old, I knew that I wanted to teach high school English, and I pretty much pursued that goal as I finished high school and entered college. However, I never really felt that I had anything valuable to say about what I read. My first literature classes were difficult because I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to write for my term papers. The most embarrassing moment for me was in a class on the British Enlightenment when my professor said she wasn’t sure what my thesis was for my term paper. The embarrassing part was that I didn’t know what she was talking about. What’s a thesis?

As I started teaching, I avoided teaching more academically advanced classes because I didn’t think I was smart enough to teach honors and definitely not Advanced Placement classes. However, one of my principals encouraged me to teach AP Language and Composition. I taught the course for five years between two high schools, but I still often felt inadequate in my ability to challenge students who were striving to be accepted to attend prestigious universities.

About two and a half years ago, I realized that I wanted to be able to teach college level courses through the Dual Enrollment program in Virginia. That meant that I needed to get my Master’s degree in English. I found a program that is completely online, and I decided to take the plunge and apply for grad school. During my first few classes, I was terrified that I still didn’t have much to say about the literature I was reading, but over time, I gained confidence in my voice as a literary scholar.

This past week I finished my final literature class in my Master’s program. It was a fun but difficult class about post colonialism. I wrote my term paper, focusing on gender roles in Things Fall Apart. When I received my grade from my professor, he encouraged me to find a conference where I could present my paper. In the academic world, this is a huge honor and opportunity.

I encourage you today to pursue your passion. Don’t give up on the things you want to do in life. I have always loved reading and writing, and now theses passions have come together in my teaching and in my writing. Don’t let fear dictate what you do in life.

What does it mean to live sacrificially?

I learned early on in my Christian walk that Jesus calls each of us to a life of sacrifice. This means that we do not live for ourselves. Rather, we live for the sake of God and other people. As a woman, I feel like this is something that I can handle. However, at times, I get tired of living sacrificially. I am a high school teacher, I have a teenage son, I’m a pastor’s wife. I think you get the picture. Sacrifice is a daily reality for me. This is not the sacrifice that I’m talking about. I’m not just talking about giving up things for the sake of others. I’m talking about sacrifice that leads to great blessings from God.

Journey with me as I reflect on what it means to live sacrificially. I hope you’ll also check out my first book: Be Encouraged – Living a Life of Sacrifice.