How to Nourish the Mind

In a few short days I will be leading a group of 38 students and parents on an international trip of a lifetime. We will visit seven major cities in twelve days: London, Paris, Florence, Rome, Pompeii, Sorrento and the Island of Capri. Needless to say, we are all excited.

At a recent group meeting, one insightful young man asked a valuable question: Do you have any tips for slowing down time? How do we remember the details when we are constantly rushing around?

While the answer I gave was specific to the trip, I think much of what I communicated can be applied to life in general.

Slow down. Recognizing the problem is always the first step. Since we know life is speeding by, we can now become more conscious of the world around us. Rather than always looking straight ahead with laser-lock focus, glance to the left and right to see what lies next to you.

Occasionally lift your head to the heavens and marvel at the color of the sky, the shape of the clouds, the warmth of the sun. Scan the path beneath your feet and notice the texture of the ground and the smell of the earth.

Allow your imagination to wonder who else traveled this same road. What did they experience? How was their life the same or different from yours?

Engage the senses. Don’t just walk around on automatic pilot, looking but not really seeing anything. As much as possible, try to notice specific elements, particular smells, distant sounds, unusual textures, and mouth-watering tastes.

The more we engage all five senses, the more likely we are to remember the moment in vivid detail.

Prior to writing his chef-d’oeuvre, Remembrance of Things Past: Marcel Proust wrote, “The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it … but … as soon as I had recognized the taste of the piece of madeleine … which my aunt used to give me …. the memory suddenly revealed itself.”

Monsieur Proust then went on to write more than 3,000 pages of memories. Do not underestimate the power of the senses.

Journal. We are far more likely to remember events or information if we write them down.

In her book, Writing Down Your Soul, Janet Conner reminds us, “When you write, you use several modalities at once: visual – you see what’s on the page; and you also see the events you are writing about in your mind. Auditory – you hear yourself talking about the events you are writing about; kinesthetic – you feel the pen, the paper, the whole physical experience of writing. That alone – using all three modalities – makes writing very, very powerful.”

When dealing with the hectic pace of an international tour – or everyday life – we don’t always have blocks of time to sit and write. In fact, we consider ourselves lucky to grab a spare minute here and there. But that is plenty of time to quickly jot a note, a thought, or a fleeting emotion.

The act of writing is what matters, not the perfect prose or the elaborate description.

At another time, when life is less chaotic, we will have the opportunity to review the journal entries, relive the experience, and add specific details as they come to mind.

When we take time to slow down and savor the moment, we are living in a state of mindfulness. It is in this space that routine tasks can become a source of joy.

For example, rather than grumble about the sink full of dirty dishes, shift the paradigm. We can be grateful for food to eat, colorful pottery on which to eat it, and indoor plumbing.

Rather than stand at the sink, mindlessly pondering our task list, we can emerge our hands in warm water, feel the bubbles tickle our forearms, and gently scrub away the grime.

Mindfulness is holistic, meaning, it focuses on life as a whole rather than the specific goal of the day. The latter emphasizes tyranny of the urgent, whereas mindfulness helps focus on life’s priorities – deliberately choosing what will bring long-term peace and joy.

Mindfulness also means living in the present. If we focus on the here and now, we have no time to think about the past, regretting things we cannot change; and we have no time to think about the future, worrying about things that may or may not happen.

This present moment is really all we have. And it is enough.

While present in the above context means the here-and-now, another meaning of mindfulness is gift. Imagine a large package, wrapped in colorful paper and tied with a festive bow. Excitement builds as we carefully remove the pieces of tape to discover what lies within. Such an exquisite package always contains a precious treasure.

This image is nourishes the mind. It helps us remember to never take a single day for granted. It keeps mundane chores in proper perspective. And it slows our steps so we can vividly live in the moment.

©2017 Molly Totoro for GateWay of Hope

Molly Totoro is a writer who has a heart and passion for authentic living. She firmly believes “Everyone has a story to share.” Molly helps others write their stories to impact future generations. Follow Molly’s new blog series, “How to Journal” at Revising Life after 50.

Fresh Start

I love this time of year.colored pencils

As a child, I could hardly wait to return to school and see my classmates. We shared stories of family vacations and summer camp, then picked up our friendship where we left off the previous year.

As a parent, I was ready for my children to return to the routine. Even they agreed the lazy days of summer gave way to boredom. While they looked forward to social activities, I envisioned quiet solitude.

As an educator I would look forward to teaching familiar subjects to fresh new faces. I eagerly anticipated sharing my favorite novels with students, hoping they would appreciate the beauty of the prose as well as the significance of the story.

At this time of year, trips to the store become extraordinary outings. I stroll down the aisles in awe of the school supplies. Packages of pens in a variety of colors call my name. Composition notebooks with covers to match any mood or interest captivate my attention.

Packs of index cards inspire creative projects. And the pink erasers, glue sticks, post-it notes, markers and colored pencils. Since prices are discounted, I stock up for the year.

As I carefully stack twenty or so notebooks in my cart, I envision potential writing projects. Each clean page will transform into meaningful stories or journal entries. I smile at the unopened box of 64 crayons and the pack of colored pencils.

I know they have a bright future, helping me turn a stressful day into relaxing moments. The resurgence of coloring books for adults means I no longer have to hide my childhood passion.

This time of year also signals a seasonal change. The hot days of summer will soon give way to cooler autumn temperatures. I will trade in my t-shirts and shorts for colorful sweaters and scarves.

My beverage of choice will slowly change from iced tea and lemonade to hot cocoa and spiced lattes. The changing of the leaves will bring apple picking and pumpkin carving, all in preparation for the upcoming holidays.

In August, I start with a clean slate and focus to improve knowledge and mental health. It is a time of hope and possibilities – time for a fresh start.

But in reality I do not have to wait for a special time to start fresh. God provides a fresh start each morning when I open my eyes to begin a new day. He still has a purpose for my life. He still has work for me to do.

Each day provides the opportunity to forgive, to correct poor habits, to take that next baby step toward wholeness and healing. God erases the mistakes of my past and instead looks only at the possibility of what I can become. He gives me hope and a future every single day.

©2015 Molly Totoro
Molly Totoro is a writer and a recently retired English teacher who has a heart and a passion for authentic living. She firmly believes “Everyone has a story to share” and is currently establishing a ministry, Milestone Memoirs, where she helps others discover and write their stories to impact future generations. Molly shares the importance of leaving a legacy at Stepping Stone Publications, and she frequently blogs at My Cozy Book Nook.

Tweaking Our Desires [Inspiration]

Forty plus years ago, I became a professional freelance writer. Throughout the years, my work has been published in various magazines and my current book series is becoming a best-seller in the Christian market.

Since my byline is RJ Thesman, people don’t always associate the Program Director at GateWay as the same person who writes the Reverend G books.

As a side business, I also became a freelance editor and helped several writers polish their books to make them publisher-ready. At one point, I wondered if it might be possible for me to become an editor at an established publishing house.Psalm 37-4

So I checked out places online and discovered most staff editors were journalism graduates with a long record of working in various communications formats. Probably not the easiest place for me to break in.

Still, I knew I was a good editor and while helping my own clients, I had a desire for more. How could I best use my English skills and my almost instant recognition of spelling and grammar errors?

In my role at GateWay of Hope, I am also responsible for all our social media sites and both of our blogs (http://gwhope.org/; www.StartingOverSingle.com).

Often, as in today’s post, I am the writer. I love this part of my job!

But I also initiate blog posts from other writers, from trusted sources who I know will write well about the issues we deal with at GateWay – how we help women become all God created them to be.

One day, as I was editing one of these guest posts, I suddenly had a stunning reality buzz.

All those years of thinking I could become a staff editor and here I am – at GateWay – in the role of writer and editor for our blogs.

That desire of my heart, planted so many years ago, has been tweaked by our creative God. I’m not working at a publishing house and thank goodness! Many of the publishers have ceased hiring staff editors. That’s why we freelancers stay busy.

But that desire to help writers do their very best has been realized as I edit posts, schedule for our blogs, search for just the right images and then share on all our social media sites.

King David wrote, “Take delight in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4).

I’ve seen that verse come true as God has tweaked my desire and made it a reality.

How has God been tweaking the desires of your heart?

©2015 Rebecca Thesman, CLC
GateWay of Hope – The Helping Place for Hurting Women

Writing Through the Grief

The inaudible voice in my heart was unmistakable and the message clear: I want you to write your daughter’s story and I will give you the strength to do it.Bethanys Calendar Cover

It was not an assignment I relished; in fact, it was a directive I dreaded.

Write about my daughter, Lord? Seriously?

The thought of re-living my daughter, Bethany’s battle with a terminal brain tumor seemed a daunting and emotionally painful task.

How could I bear that step-by-step recollection of the worst days of my life?

Yet, after decades of knowing Christ as my Savior, I knew it was pointless to argue with the Holy Spirit’s promptings.

Since the unspoken message came during the Spirit-filled praise and worship time at a 2011 writer’s conference, I decided I had not imagined this mission.

In the midst of my angst, the Comforter continued to reassure me He would be there as I wrote each and every word.

Yet I knew every phrase would be wrought through an onslaught of tears.

I delayed starting this “assignment,” knowing how difficult it would be. But that inner voice kept nagging my spirit, even while I continued to write my preferred genre of historical fiction.

In 2014, I finally gave in and began my daughter’s story.

On New Year’s Day that year, I sat in my home office and read through Bethany’s journals, which she had started when she was barely old enough to put sentences together.

Reading through her lifetime of thoughts was an indescribable gift and a legacy of her faith in Christ. It was a day of reading that I will always treasure.

I gathered excerpts from her diaries and used them to open each chapter. Amazingly, nearly every quote fit beautifully with the topics. Even more amazing, the writing of the book flowed unhindered.

Of course, I kept my box of tissues nearby and used them frequently. But my daughter’s story bloomed like a perennial garden after a long, cold winter.

It was time to push through the dirt of disease and show the beauty of a life lived well for the Lord.

The response to Bethany’s Calendar has been more than I could have hoped for. So many readers share how they have been touched by the things our family learned during Bethany’s illness and ultimate passing to eternity.

From caregivers to patients to those who just want to help others going through illness, I pray Bethany’s Calendar is a blessing to all. Just as Bethany was a blessing to us.

©2015 Elaine Marie Cooper Elaine Cooper
This post first appeared in “Southern Writers Suite T” blog.

Bio: Elaine Marie Cooper has released her first non-fiction book, Bethany’s Calendar. It is a personal memoir of her daughter who died of a brain tumor and how the Lord was their strength during the darkest journey of their lives.
As a novelist, Elaine Marie Cooper has written “Fields of the Fatherless” and the “Deer Run Saga.” Her passions are her family, her faith in Christ and the history of the American Revolution, a frequent subject of her historical fiction. She grew up in Massachusetts, the setting for many of her novels. Visit her website at: http://www.elainemariecooper.com

How to Live Life

One of my friends recently sent me an encouraging note that said, “I hope you are living life to the fullest.”looking up

Smack in the middle of the winter blues, I wasn’t sure if I could totally embrace her encouragement. So I started thinking about it.

What does it mean to live life to the fullest?

For me, it begins with the practice of acknowledging who I really am. If I am living an authentic life, then everything I do will somehow encompass my core values.

I can’t live life to the fullest if I’m lying to myself about who I am or if I’m living out of activities that don’t fit with my core values.

So I have to know my core values and determine that every activity is in sync with them. If not, then I need to get rid of that activity.

I am also an introvert and a writer. Although I love working with women and coaching them here at GateWay of Hope, I also need my space and my quiet time.

So I set boundaries around how many people I serve each day and what that looks like. I carve out time to write and I spend time each day in quiet meditation.

Living life to the fullest also includes setting goals for my own growth and planning how I will progress forward.

Since I’m a coach at GateWay, I know how to do this. I help women do this every week. But I also need to be proactive about my own growth and make sure that I’m moving toward my own goals.

If I don’t help myself, I can’t help others.

One of my goals for 2015 is to engage in more artist dates. I pencil in on my calendar the places I will go and the things I will do to nurture the writer within and keep me creatively fresh.

So right now…I set an artist date for myself for Feb. 28th. I’ll be visiting a bookstore in the area and browsing through the art of other writers.

And … just because … I may even indulge in some chocolate on that day.

It’s a good practice for us to occasionally check out our core values and make sure we’re living authentic lives. Then as we set boundaries and move toward our goals we live life to the fullest.

I hope you’re doing the same today.

©2015 Rebecca Thesman, CLC
GateWay of Hope – The Helping Place for Hurting Women

Called Forever

sepia-praying-womanAs she sat in the chapel service, she suddenly felt as if she was the only one present. Although surrounded by others, she wondered if she hadn’t experienced some type of out of body vision. Because as clearly as she knew her own name, she also knew God had just called her to serve him in ministry.

After high school, she tried to enroll in a Bible college with the plan of pursuing ministry and earning her Masters of Divinity. But she was told women would not be accepted. So instead, she enrolled in an education degree because she was certain that someone somewhere might need a Christian teacher.

After graduation from college, she served as a missionary. But her method of teaching and her desire to help her students learn how to survive when they returned to the US landed her in trouble with the chairman of her district. He wanted to send her home. Another missionary fought for her to stay. But at the end of her term, she returned to the States, feeling rejected and wondering what had happened to her “call.”

Meanwhile, she also felt God wanted her to write so she filled journals with her stories, then sent them out for publication. After several tries, editors noticed her writing and asked for more. Their needs validated her call.

Then she married and raised a child. She was active in her church and raised her son to love Jesus. She continued to write and served on staff at her church. She felt content in her service to God.

Then she walked through divorce. The “church” no longer accepted her as a minister so she worked in the corporate world, survived and began to find her true self again. Always writing, she filled her journals with her experiences and her desire to teach the Gospel – to find a niche for her words and to serve God with whatever part of her call still existed.

She sometimes felt as if she had failed God, failed to succeed as a missionary, failed to surrender to the call. If the church no longer wanted her, then maybe God didn’t either. Maybe she was another Jonah, cast into the fish of rejection, swimming around in the refuse of undigested leftovers.

Then one day, she read Romans 11:29 and although she had studied Romans and even taught it through the years, this one verse caused her soul to wonder – could God still use her? Could the original call still be alive and well in God’s timeline and would he still allow her to minister?

In the Amplified version, Romans 11:29 states, “For God’s gifts and His call are irrevocable. [He never withdraws them when once they are given, and He does not change His mind about those to whom He gives His grace or to whom He sends His call.]”

Although the ministries of the earth that require certain demographics do change, God’s call never changes. Not even divorce can change God’s call. He does not change His mind to whom He sends His call.

God would never, ever withdraw his grace. The call on her life was still intact. She merely needed to trust Him to work it all out.

2014 GateWay of Hope – The Helping Place for Hurting Women

Stress Blocks Creativity

I know better.

I even teach how to do it better – how to live a creative life that feeds on play.

Yet recently, the stresses of life gained the advantage and play disappeared. It was all I could do to get up in the morning and look at my longer-than-ever list of tasks that “must” be completed.

But even though I knew better, I continued to live in the pattern of extreme hurry-ness, checking off each task as if its completion kept my world rotating in the proper direction.

Then, just as I began to wonder how long I could keep up the pace, I crashed. I sat on my deck during a beautiful autumn afternoon and instead of enjoying the colors and feeling gratitude for the moment, I wept.

Stress tears finally broke and leaked from my soul. In that moment, I knew something had to change.

As if to confirm my self-diagnosis, that evening I tried to write.

For me, writing is the same as breathing. Words go in through the books I read and on any given day at any given moment, words expel in creative bangles that treat my soul to its beauty sound.

I write when I’m happy and I write when I’m sad. I write books and articles and character sketches and sometimes – a type of poetry that somehow morphs into prose.

But when I am too stressed, my soul replies with a sort of dis-ease and the words become blocked and lost behind a stiff wall of pain.

When I am stressed, writing becomes a chore and everything else revolves around its unhappiness and the unsettling of soul regret.

Worse, when I cannot write because of stress, I feel bereft of the gift God gave me for creativity and connection with Him. Typing the words He whispers brings a sort of completion of the gift – His breath in me, His words coming from me, then His words back within me.

When I write, I feel Him smile. The joy of the Creator resides in my soul, cached in that holy of holies within.

When I cannot write through the stress, that block keeps joy from bubbling to the surface and instead becomes a tentacle of aloofness. I cannot feel God. I cannot breathe.

So how do I fight against the stresses that tempt me to self-destruct?

First, I say, “No.” When someone asks me to do another task that steals my joy – I say, “No.” I set the boundaries that protect my soul and keep that God-given creativity fresh and alive.

Second, I find ways to play. The best remedy for stress is play. So I sit at the piano and make up a new tune, with words only God understands.

I pull out my wonderful box of 64 crayons and fill in the lines in my coloring book. Who cares if the frog is purple? No one grades my coloring.

I take long walks and this time of year, search for pretty leaves to take home and plant on my sink so that I see them as I wash the dishes and remember to keep a joyful heart.

I browse through bookstores and search for other words that nurture my sentences. I read books from authors I admire and wish to emulate.

I stroll through a garden nursery and touch the flowers that God designed, marvel at all the intricate shapes and colors and remind Him how much I love Him.flowers

Then I go home and defy the stress to leave me alone as I sit down once again and search for my creative source.

Once defeated, stress has a harder time finding me. I am camouflaged within hope and joy, able to find peace again and offer my treasure back to God.

Then my writing becomes worship, and my work reflects joy.

2013 Rebecca Thesman, GateWay of Hope Ministries – The Helping Place for Hurting Women