I’ve been in a slump lately — and by lately, I mean since 2004. Or 2000. Or 1996, depending on which of my old journals you happen to be reading.
I’ve known for a while that I’ve been in a slump. Everything has been so difficult. I have no physical energy. I have no creative energy. I have no spiritual energy. I don’t want to stay home all the time, but if someone invites me to do something, I immediately start coming up with excuses for why I can’t get out the door.
The slump has been growing. Taking on a life of its own, and increasing in size and dimension so that it now has to be referred to in capital letters. The Slump.
A few weeks ago, I turned to some trusted friends and asked them to pray for me. I needed help to get out of The Slump, and I didn’t seem to be getting anywhere on my own. It didn’t take long for my friends to get back to me. One by one, independently and then together, they said the same thing. They all felt strongly that I needed to journal about some of the experiences in my past. That was SO not the answer I wanted, but it was the answer I got, and if I’ve learned nothing else in my years on this earth, I’ve learned that anytime I get into a standoff with God, I lose.
Every. Single. Time.
As I processed the idea of journaling (it wasn’t a real argument with God, just a small amount of murmuring. Honest!) I got the impression that I also needed to read my old journals. Well, okay! The whole reason I wanted help with The Slump is because I am seriously behind on several deadlines, and I need help to get the work done. I really couldn’t see how taking several hours out of my day to read about the past and write about it again was going to help, but … well … standoff. God. I’m not going to win.
So I dug out all my old journals and then I remembered a book called The Artist’s Way, that is a spiritual road to artist recovery. I got about halfway through it several years ago, and it seemed pretty clear that I was also supposed to embark on that journey. Because I had all this extra time on my hands and nothing to do with it. Yes. Sarcasm. A form of murmuring. I know.
I had my journals. I found my old copy of the book and dug out a brand new journal that I bought several years ago but hadn’t touched. I was all set.
And so I began.
I read journals from my early years. I read journals from my teenage years. I found a lot of silly stuff, some sad stuff, and clues about things I didn’t know I’d written about. I also found old wishes and dreams I’d forgotten all about as I grew older and more cynical and more wrapped up in disappointment. Some of the things I’ve found make me very sad — like when I see that some of the ideas that have held me firmly in bondage for 50 years were firmly in place by the time I was eight. I read about boys I liked, and boys I didn’t. I read about my marriage and realized how much of the good I’d lost in the pain of the divorce.
So yes, there’s been pain and sadness. But some of the things have surprised me in a good way — like remembering that yes, I did love my husband when we got married. Somehow I had forgotten that.
In my early 20s, I started making lists of things I wanted in the future and I’ve been surprised at how many of them have actually come about. Cars. New furniture. Vacations. Computers.
One of the things I mentioned quite often during my 30s and 40s was the desire to move away from Utah. Not that I don’t love my friends and family there, or even the location. There are many things I love about Utah. I miss the mountains so desperately at times I can hardly breathe.
But after a trip to Seattle in 1995, I realized that I wanted my children to experience the rest of the world and meet all kinds of interesting and different people. I wanted them to experience different cultures and different ways of thinking. Having spent my early childhood in Montana, I remember the culture shock of moving to Utah. It wasn’t bad. It was different. I never wanted my children to grow up thinking there was only one right way of doing a thing. I knew that moving even one or two states away can alter a person’s perception and open doors on ideas you might not otherwise encounter, so I dreamed of broadening my children’s horizons.
I also wrote often about wanting to live in a small town on the coast. I wanted to live near the water — near enough to see it on my way to the grocery store. Near enough to walk along the beach just to clear my head. Near enough to sit and watch the boats leaving port. Today, as I drove across the bridge over Pensacola Bay, I realized that in the middle of a dreadful, dark and frightening Slump, while I was feeling desperate and afraid and filled with panic, God had been busy giving me things I’d been asking Him for. And I hadn’t really even noticed.
Because here’s the funny part: As of three years ago, I’d given up on the idea of leaving Utah. My youngest daughter, her husband and (at the time) my only grandchild had moved to Florida the previous year and I wanted to move, too. It just didn’t look like that was ever going to happen. In fact, I’d reconciled myself to the reality that it wasn’t meant to be. And then, on the same day in late September, I got a new contract from my publisher for a mystery series set in New Orleans. An hour later we got a notice from our new landlord saying he wasn’t going to renew our lease and giving us 30 days to vacate the premises.
Can you say panic? Well, I could! Big time. I wigged out for about five minutes. And then the Spirit whispered, “Well, if you have to put everything you own on a truck anyway, you might as well take it off the truck in Florida.”
And so we set off in a truck with just enough money to get from there to here, trusting God to provide.
And here we are. Living in a small town on the coast less than 10 miles from my two granddaughters. Close enough to see them several times a week. Close enough to go to the beach just for fun. Close enough to the water to see it as I drive to Walmart, or to sit on a bench at the park and watch the boats.
Today, I realized that God gave me exactly what I asked for, even when I wasn’t looking.
Sometimes the brightest light comes out of the darkest storm.