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Want To Be Happy? Then Ya Gotta Have Hope.

The other day I was trying to figure out why it is that when I feel happy and content, I don’t worry about the meaning of life or my purpose in it. Heck, I don’t even think about those things when I’m in a really good mood (unless I’m writing a blog post about it, lol).

Why? I kept wondering.

And then, it came to me: hope. Hope is expecting good things from the future, and when I’m happy, I’m full of hope. I’m wearing the proverbial rose-colored glasses, and everything I see is beautiful. Including life, whether it be the life I’m living at the moment, or the life that will be many moments hence.

When you’re full of hope, you’re also full of faith. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for…[Hebrews   11:1].” And when you’re full of faith, you can’t be depressed. When you’re full of faith, everything in life has a positive meaning.

Feeling happy leads to hope, leading to faith, leading to greater happiness (not to mention joy)…it can potentially never end.

Reality check.

Of course, that’s not true for any of us living on earth. Stuff happens, and hope diminishes, either nibbled away gradually over time, or washed away in one fell swoop.

Demons might speak discouragement into your mind. A hormonal imbalance might lead to a brain chemistry imbalance. A loved one dies. You constantly run up against obstacles that keep you from achieving your goals, even the smallest, presumably easiest ones.

The good news is, you don’t have to live in a state of hopelessness.

Proof that life is NOT pointless.

I recently read a Quora thread where several people answering a question declared that life is pointless, has no meaning except what we invent for it. Clearly, they are atheists and agnostics who don’t believe that we have spirits that live forever. Obviously, if this life is all there is and we’re just going to die and eventually the sun is going to burn up the earth (or shrivel up and cause earth to freeze) and obliterate all traces of human existence, then the logical, true conclusion must be that life has no intrinsic meaning, that we’re just here to fight for what we want for a while, and then have our existence annihilated.

Those people are hypocrites. Atheists are hypocrites. Because there’s no hope in that belief, and hopeless people are depressed people. Depressed people check out of life as much as possible, and many of them, as you know, completely check out of life in an irreversible way. The very fact that a so-called atheist is still alive, or goes out with friends, or seeks a more fulfilling job, or gets married, means that deep down inside, they have hope for the future.

They have two mental hurdles to get over. The first is knowing – not believing, but knowing – that an ultimate Creator exists. I have good news for them. Quantum physics has proven the existence of such a Being. The video below explains it.

The second hurdle is coming to the understanding that this eternal Being has also created humankind to be eternal Beings. No one can give any tangible proof of that. People who claim to have had visions of heaven or the spiritual realm, or to have actually gone to heaven (or hell) when they died temporarily, can be accused of having had hallucinations or dreams. Believers like me can’t prove that what we sense as God’s presence inside us is, indeed, God’s presence. And that such a presence means God is leading us into a perfect, eternal life.

The best I know how to approach that second hurdle, the disbelief in eternal life, is to tell you to ask yourself why you do anything. The answer is, to achieve something. We eat in order to have energy, to think more clearly. We date, court, and marry to fill our need for love and affection. We go to work to have money to pay the bills and afford luxuries. We yell at our kids to get them to stop doing something potentially dangerous. We turn on the T.V. to keep from feeling bored, or to escape from a bad day.

Everything we do has a purpose, no matter how trivial or short-lived.

Okay. If we peons do something for a purpose, don’t you think the Supreme Being created the universe for a purpose?

People might still argue that God’s purpose was just to create beings that could procreate, and after that He took His hands off. Thus, everyone that’s been born during the past thousands and thousands of years have been merely the result of a heterosexual couple copulating, not a result of God intentionally causing particular people to be born.

Again, I can’t prove that’s not true. But I can take you back to hope. Where does it come from? Where does our sense of right and wrong come from? Why do we respond with compassion when we hear about a natural disaster that’s affected hundreds, if not thousands, of people? Why has every single culture throughout the history of mankind believed in superior spiritual beings, and why was religion invented in the first place?

Could it be that the Bible is true, that God created humans in His image, and therefore every single human being has at least a vague sense of having been created, as well as a sense that this earthly life is not all there is?

If there is no such thing as eternity, how can the limited human mind conceive of such a vast, profound concept?

So we come back to hope.

If you’ve been calling yourself an atheist or agnostic, realize that the very fact that you keep living, keep reaching for more, means that you have hope for a better future – and not just until the end of your earthly life.

If you’ve been feeling hopeless, tell those demons to shut up and go away – or work on rebalancing your brain chemistry – and realize that no matter how you’re feeling, the truth is that your very existence gives you reason to hope.

And when hope returns, so does happiness. Or, at the very least, contentment, along with a sense that you are not alone in the world and that God has a wonderful plan for your eternity.

Yes, if you’re over the age of twenty, your body is slowly beginning to fall apart, and one day it will quit working altogether. But you are not your body. You are your soul and your spirit, and they go on forever, without the limitations of frail human flesh. Grab onto that truth, cling to it for all  you’re worth, and use this earthly life as practice for the marvelous life to follow it.

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I’m Supposed To Be Over This!!!

Yesterday, when I wrote this blog post, I was on top of the world. I had tons of energy and felt like I could do anything. I thought, “Finally! That miserable pessimism and feeling of worthlessness is gone. I’ll finally be able to be consistent with my online creativity.”

Well. That lasted all of twelve hours. Then it all came crashing down.

It all ended when…

…I majorly messed up in trying to upload a video onto my new personal finance YouTube channel shortly before bed.

But even a couple of hours earlier, I’d started to get frustrated with the realization that yes, indeed, Irlen syndrome does get worse as one ages, and that I can’t write, create pins for blog posts, and edit videos all in one day. [Insert your favorite curse word here.]

Then the losing a video thing happened, and I was so upset I refused my husband our ritual bedtime snuggle. Life wasn’t worth living if I couldn’t upload videos when I wanted, if I couldn’t write or be on the computer as much as I wanted.

Then I woke up…

…in an equally sour mood, having let demons whisper all kinds of lies in my head during the wee smalls of the morning. After getting out of bed, I lay into poor J for this, that, and the other, culminating my rant by telling him…well, that one’s too personal. None of your business.

Let’s just say that before it came out of my mouth, I knew it would cut him. But I let it come out anyway.

I cried and had a pity party. Threw a silent tantrum at God.

And then…

…I played my guitar and sang a couple of hymns. That was it. Singing to the Lord was the cure for what ailed me. It usually is. Something I should remember more often.

After I put up my guitar, I went to my computer and decided to upload what I thought was an older, different version of the introductory video I’d tried to upload last night.

You’ll never guess what I discovered.

C’mon, try.

The video that I uploaded this morning was actually the one I’d wanted to upload. The other one, the one I’d tried to upload last night but lost when I hit the wrong keys, had been the original, unedited video, I figured out after wracking my brain.

Duh.

So of course, I felt even better. And much chagrined.

J came in shortly after, and I threw myself at him, apologizing profusely. I told him I thought I was over this mood swing stuff.

Dumb, because I’ve read about women still having hot flashes ten years after going through menopause, and other symptoms several years after.

Two lessons learned.

First, I must call every negative thought captivity the instant it comes into my head. Tell the demons to go to the Pit where they belong, if need be. Because sometimes, negative thoughts come from outside. And if a lack of serotonin in your brain is already making you feel less-than, those outside evil thoughts will drag your mind all the way down into the hot middle of the earth.

Second, I must remember I’m not out of the low-estrogen-symptom boat yet. And give myself grace, and not take my misery out on my loved ones.

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I Demand Happy Endings!

I recently discovered something interesting about myself. If a story has a lot of tension, the characters experiencing harrowing events – even violence or life-altering disasters or trauma – but has a happy ending, I like it. But if a story contains bright spots inside it, even insights I find to be personally helpful, but ends on a generally tragic or depressing note, I hate it. That’s even if it ends positively for one of the main characters.

I must have happy endings to any story I consume, whether it be written or on-screen.

Poisonwood Bibles and Green Miles of the world, stay back!

I will gladly go on record as saying that The Poisonwood Bible is an excellent specimen of literary fiction. Barbara Kingsolver is unarguably a master of her craft. But the ending of that particular novel of hers is a mix of tragic and depressing, so I don’t like it.

I recently made the traumatizing mistake of watching the movie The Green Mile. At least, I watched it up until halfway through Del’s execution. My reaction to that scene shall be the topic of another blog post. Suffice to say I didn’t finish the movie. And when I went to Wikipedia a couple days later to find out how it ended, I was glad I didn’t. The ending is totally depressing.

Just before that, my husband and I watched a BBC production of Oliver Twist. Back in my twenties, I read all – yes, I said all – of Charles Dickens’ novels, and I remember loving every single one. Either I wasn’t as sensitive then as I am now, or words on a page aren’t nearly as heart-wrenching as the same story played out by real people on a screen.

The ending of the movie – true to the novel – was completely disheartening and depressing. (SPOILER ALERT!!) So what if Oliver Twist found his wealthy family? What about Nancy? The Artful Dodger? I even felt sorry for Bill Sikes when I realized he was obviously remorseful over accidentally murdering Nancy, and what did Dickens do to him? Made him hang himself!

I hate Oliver Twist, and despite loving the mini-series Little Dorrit (which we’d watched just prior), I am now wary of watching any other screen production of any of Dickens’ other novels.

On the other hand, a few months ago I read a thriller novel that had quite a bit of blood and gore in places. I could stand it because about halfway through, I began to suspect that what was happening was all in the main character’s mind (I was right). Still, it was very tense and the protagonist’s internal struggle ripped at the heart.

BUT! The novel ended happily. Very happily. So, guess what? I like it!

Happy endings are a must.

It was only a couple of years ago that I discovered that I’m a Highly Sensitive Person. I never had a good reason before then to explain my need for happy endings.

Now, I do. See, HSP’s tend toward anxiety and depression. We feel everything more strongly than non-HSP’s. We’re not trying to overreact or by drama kings and queens. It’s just how we’re wired.

So we experience the tragedies and struggles and traumas of both our own lives and other people’s – even complete strangers we only read about – more deeply than the average person. This makes finding silver linings around clouds analogous to finding a needle in a haystack. (Kindly excuse the metaphor mixing. 😉 )

I can’t speak for everyone else, but I believe I consume stories with happy endings as a kind of therapy. “Okay, life can’t be all bleak and gray – look at how this story turned out.”

Happy endings give me hope.

The subject of a soon-coming blog post. So, stay tuned!

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“Love is a choice.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard or read that statement. But in my fifty-one years, it’s been enough that every once in a while, it comes into the front of my mind.

It hit me like a sledgehammer this morning. But before I explain why, I need to delve into the mechanics of menopause for a minute.

In women, estrogen rules.

During the past five years, I’ve done a lot of research into perimenopause, trying to figure out what’s been going on with my body, whether this symptom or that is normal for a woman in her mid- to late-forties (they all have been, crazily enough). The crux of the matter is this: estrogen is required for an insane number of functions in the female body, either directly or indirectly, functions that never occur to the average non-medically trained person.

For example, those hot and cold flashes perimenopausal and post-menopausal women experience? Estrogen is required for proper functioning of the hypothalamus, which regulates body temperature.

Ah! I see a light going on above your head!

Estrogen works with the nervous system, as well. So when levels of the hormone are low,  a woman might experience inexplicable itching, crawling, or stinging sensations on her skin, as well as random aches and pains that make zero sense, as well as tingling in the extremities.

For the purposes of this article, I want to share a new piece of information I just learned: estrogen is required for the production of oxytocin.

The love hormone…that’s slowly dying inside me.

Oxytocin. Remember that? If you’ve had children, or ever looked into how having an orgasm with your partner makes you feel “in love” with them, you may have learned all about it. Oxytocin is the “love hormone.” It’s released during orgasm, and released every time a woman breastfeeds an infant. It’s also released when a father interacts with his baby child. I’m guessing it might also be released when friends share a life-changing moment or experience together, during which they support and encourage each other, and cry and laugh together.

It is, in essence, the chemical that powerfully bonds one human to another.

And it dwindles down to sometimes minute levels as a woman nears, and passes over, menopause. Why?

Because you need estrogen in order to produce oxytocin!

“More than a feeling…”

Most of the time, when you hear people talk or sing about love, they refer to it as an emotion, whether a tender feeling or a passionate urge.

Think on what I’ve just told you, and you’ll realize that’s completely wrong.

The “feeling” isn’t love. It’s a natural, chemically-induced high resulting from an explosion of oxytocin in the brain.

Most people don’t know that. So, women approach the age of fifty, and what happens? They lose that feeling, and think they must not love their husband anymore. They wonder why on earth they ever had children, because they wish those teenage monsters would disappear. They realize with sudden shock that they feel no love for their children, and exchange guilt for that love.

Which, of course, isn’t love at all. Never has been.

Because love is a choice.

But a lot of women who don’t realize that, end up abandoning their families. Or, at least, divorcing the person they once thought was their soul mate.

A relief, and a new frustration

I was relieved to discover that I’m not alone in my diminished feelings of affection for both my husband and my son. It’s not an “attack of the enemy” on my mind, nor a result of a selfish desire for independence. It’s a perfectly normal experience for a woman over the age of forty-five.

On the other hand, I’m frustrated that it’s taken me so long to realize the truth of the statement, “Love is a choice, not a feeling.” Here I sit, at fifty-one years old, having to force my mind through a Grand Canyon-sized paradigm shift, and it ain’t comfortable. I have to change my definition of love.

Love choosing to put others’ needs ahead of my own. It’s choosing to stick with them, no matter how hard the road gets. Of course, I’ve known that in my head for years. But I spent those years mistaking the oxytocin flowing through my blood for the real thing.

For my husband, this shift means choosing to stay faithful to my wedding vows, even when I don’t feel like it (not that I haven’t been planning to. It’s just that the paradigm shift makes it less of a struggle). For my son, it means choosing to continue to mother and nurture him, even though what little nurturing I had in me before has shriveled like a forgotten grape on the vine.

Please understand: I don’t mean to say that I never feel affection, or a wave of “in love-ness,” toward my husband. Or that all maternal feelings toward my son are gone. I’m just saying that I experience them much less frequently than I used to, at lower levels.

Regardless of my frail human emotions and delicate brain chemical balance, thank God for Yeshua, who is my perfect example on how to live in real love.

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Slowly Backing Away From Fiverr…

If you don’t have any kind of Internet business, you’ve probably never heard of the outsourcing website, fiverr.com. It’s not the only one – there are guru and odesk, as well – but Fiverr became popular a few years ago because online business owners (or even brick-and-mortar business owners who needed online work done, such as help with a website) could pay only $5 to a freelancer to get the basic level of a particular job done. Of course, for more advanced work the sellers would charge more. But you could always hire out a simple task for only five dollars.

That’s no longer true, but that’s beside the point here.

Before I go on, I need to go on record as saying that I’ve used Fiverr in the past and found reliable freelancers who did a good job. But soon, I will be deleting my account with Fiverr with no plans of ever going back. And it’s all because I wanted to give a new seller a chance.

My gut feeling said no.

Why am I fifty-one years old, and still don’t know not to ignore my gut feeling (otherwise known as the inner promptings of the Holy Spirit)? I suppose it’s because it’s what we’re all tempted to do when we’re desperate. Or impatient, which was my case.

The Holy Spirit was trying to tell me that this seller was too good to be true. She couldn’t possibly be able to create illustrations for my children’s book that were that good, for the price she was asking.

Turns out, He was right. What d’ya know about that?

And then, there were more obvious signs.

In her profile, the seller claimed to be in the UK. As soon as I began communicating with her, it was obvious that she was not a native English speaker. But, there are immigrants in the UK, right?

Except, a couple of days after exchanging a bunch of messages with her, I saw that Fiverr displays  the real time of the place of residence of the seller you’re messaging. It was eleven hours later than mine.

The UK is only seven hours later than where I live.

She lives in the Kazakhstan-Pakistan time zone.

I should have cancelled the order then and there. Not because of where she lived, or what her religion might be. I’d wanted to hire someone in that part of the world in the first place so I wouldn’t have to pay as much for my book illustrations.

No, I should have cut off our working relationship then and there because she was lying.

At first, I justified it. But there are plenty of other sellers from that area of the world who are truthful about where they are from. And I have never appreciated being lied to. I know that, as a believer, I’m supposed to love everyone, but I struggle to love anyone who lies to or deceives me.

Speaking of deceit, when she sent me her custom offer it included an extra sixty dollars to format the pictures for an e-book. That extra is not mentioned anywhere on her gig page. Besides, she was going to send me the illustration in JPEG. Hello? How is that not a format for an e-book?

I did have the brains at least to decline that part of the offer. But it left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

But not as bad as…

The biggest lie of all.

The other day, this young lady sent me a sketch of the first illustration. I’d asked her to use the style of one of her samples on her gig home page. It’s cute and whimsical.

Her sketch looked like a badly done coloring book page, like most of it was clip art pasted together in a scene that, in my artistic husband’s words, looked dead. It was not at all rendered like the picture on her gig page.

I could be wrong, but I think she stole the three sample illustrations on her gig’s home page from somewhere else, and is claiming to be able to digitally create similar illustrations so that she can get sales.

And here’s the clincher: I was going to shell out over $750 for sixteen total such unprofessional illustrations.

I messaged her that I was going to cancel the order, and did so. She had the gall to come back and tell me to wait until it was colored, that it would look much more realistic. And then if I didn’t like it she would refund me (that’s how she wrote it: “I will refund you”). As though she were in charge of my money.

Which, happily, is not the case. After you pay for a gig at Fiverr, it keeps the money in their account. The seller doesn’t get paid unless and until the buyer accepts the delivery of the work.

If a seller refuses to accept the order cancellation, Fiverr automatically cancels the order two days after the buyer requests the cancellation. It was a big relief to me to find that out.

Am I being melodramatic?

So, why delete my Fiverr account? Isn’t that a bit over the top?

The reason is so this seller can’t harass me, in case she decides to do so. This happened to me several years ago with an unscrupulous odesk freelancer. I don’t plan to use Fiverr ever again, and if I do, I can simply open another account with another e-mail address.

Which leads me to a conundrum…

Who’s going to illustrate my children’s books?

I am. I’m going to learn how to draw, or I won’t self-publish children’s books. Simple as that.

I got the idea from this video:

I’ve actually been feeling an internal nudge to learn to draw for some time, but kept setting it aside. However, I’ve been getting more and more bored in the evenings, and wasting a lot of time watching meaningless YouTube videos and playing worthless word games on my Kindle.

It’s far past time to be a better steward of my time.

And, I’ve learned over the years that the old saying is true: if you want something done right, do it yourself.

Parting thoughts…

I’m not saying Fiverr is evil. A lot of people use it, and probably most of the sellers on the platform are on the up-and-up. But if you do ever decide to use it, better to hire someone who already has some experience. Even if you have to wait for their expertise, or pay a little more than you’d planned.

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