“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” — Anais Nin

Courage. That’s the thing we need in order to exercise our creativity. Right?

Walk and talk for a long moment with me. If you are anxious, worried or fearful (they’re synonyms, in my book, but you may disagree) — will you work to exercise your gifts? Probably not.

I know that now. Finally. I have accepted it after years of wrestling with my anxiety, doubt, depression, fear, shame and guilt.

I am finally in a place where I can stop, slow down, and breathe. I can listen to the voices of positivity and affirmation around me.

When I was tangled up in “my anxious ball of yarn,” as a dear friend put it to me plainly, I could not listen to anyone, or at least not to the people closest to me. Would not.

Now, I am feeling better. Not fixed or problem-free. I doubt I will ever be “fixed” or “problem-free.” Not here on Planet Earth, this crazy-stupid-awesome-beautiful-fun-joyful-scary place.

But I can take heart. I can grip the hands extended. I can reread all the letters, notes and cards of encouragement shared with me over the years that I read at the time but didn’t absorb.

I can write my stories without fear of failure, shame or disappointing the people around me.

Because what, ultimately, matters? In this battle for courageous creativity, what matters most, to me, is Freedom. Joy. Sight. The ability to communicate clearly and powerfully, whether in writing or verbally, without breaking out into hives and having to wear turtlenecks and scarves to hide my pain and anxiety.

Because hiding is not what I need. Freedom, courage and joy are what I need.

I am starting to believe your voices, friends. Keep speaking to me. Keep listening. Keep trusting me to work through this in my own time, my own way.

Your input isn’t going to be the thing that gets me through this, though. I will listen and receive it with joy, as much as I can. But I need to begin listening to my own voice now. I have been suppressing it for far too long in a false effort to achieve daily survival.

The phrase “false effort” sounds like self-judgment, but it’s a strong, powerful descriptor of the truth as I experience it. I have believed lots of lies about you, me, the world in which we live, and The One who created it.

From a very early age, people in my life saw my pain and were trying to help me work through it. And I could not, would not, receive help.

Why? I am sure there are a lot of factors, including heredity, environment, brain development, brain chemistry, personality (I am a very intuitive, sensitive woman), and spirituality.

That last one especially. I believed God was the cause of my problems for far too long.

You may still agree God is the cause of your problems. You may deny He exists at all. But listen to me. I am 10, 598 days old. Know I am saying this in a gentle and honest tone: You, too, can have freedom from believing a lie about God.

He is not out to get you, if He exists, which, believe me, I understand you might not accept. I have trouble grasping it myself. I fear what it will mean for my life if I affirm it.

But look, there’s that word again. Fear! What a way to live! It’s not a way. It’s a coping mechanism.

In the Gospel of John, the fourth book about Jesus in the New Testament, Jesus says, “I Am The Way, The Truth and The Life.”

As I step into that statement and move around inside it, looking at it from all angles, examining its corners and rough edges, I realize one thing: He is right. I have been looking for a Way Out. I have been looking for Truth with a capital T. And I have been looking for a Life of Abundance.

Nothing I have sought or tried has given me any sort of peace, rest or answers.  I am finally at a place where I am ready for peace, rest and answers. I have decided to try trusting God.

I suspect He will deliver. Almost everyone I know in West Michigan believes He will. Eventually. Deliver. In. Some. Way.

  • C.S. Lewis (eventually) believed it, after years of questioning and doubting. 
  • G.K. Chesterton was convinced.  
  • George Washington wrestled and found a form of God he could accept. 
  • J.E.B. Stuart was devout and articulate in his written prayers and letters. 
  • Robert E. Lee had trouble understanding God because of death and destruction. But He loved Him anyway. 
  • Maya Angelou's poetry and personal writings clearly show a heart turned toward God despite unspeakable levels of trauma. 
  • Flannery O’Connor was a lifelong doubter who rolled around inside Catholicism and prayed eloquently, fervently and honestly, grasping the truth tightly with both hands. 
  • Louisa May Alcott wanted to believe God but felt she couldn’t. Transcendentalism was too powerful an influence, and it appealed to her deeply. 
  • L.M. Montgomery often tried to find and love God but was distracted by the abuse from her preacher husband. 
  • A.N. Wilson rejected the idea of God for years as an agnostic but finally came around. 
  • So did J.R.R. Tolkien, who wrote the words above, "Not all who wander are lost." 
  • Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens built careers by destroying the evidence they saw in order to persuade others there is no possible way The Way could be true. 
  • Folks like Ken Ham, John Piper and Albert Mohler have pieces of The Truth. But they have put up blinders to the rest, and, I believe, distort the parts they know.  
  • Honest seekers like Rob Bell, Rachel Held Evans and Scot McKnight have made it their public mission to unhook The Church Universal from its warped presentation of The Gospel. 
  • Pope Francis has tied the Vatican to a chair until the bishops and cardinals will listen to his voice of sanity, reason and compassion. The voice that traveled from humble roots in Argentina to sit in the world's most powerful chair is spreading healing to the whole world by washing the feet of lowly travelers.
  • Jesus Christ represents the purest form of love that ever walked the Earth. His stories, writings, actions, words, group of friends and followers -- they all prove clearly to me He was not just a witty guy, a good prophet or an articulate and kind teacher. He was all of those things. And He IS -- STILL -- the Son of God, and He walks the streets of the heavenly realms waiting for the day when we will all finally get what He was all about. His mission was one of compassion and life-change everywhere He went. His voice accepts instead of condemning. He erases fear by spreading love and truth. 

I believe this body of evidence all points to one place: The Cross. It points to Father God’s creation of the universe. It reminds us of His Son Jesus’ death and resurrection to atone for all of the lies, fear and guilt we heap upon ourselves and one another. It illustrates The Holy Spirit’s still small voice, whispering truth and waiting for us to invite Him inside so we may receive His Power to carry out the will of the Father and Son.

Where else could the evidence lead? I don’t see other options, and I wonder if I really need other options. I am willing to give it a shot.

I embraced the Spirit’s power in December in a Women’s Bible study at Ada Bible Church, finally trusting, just enough, that He wasn’t a mystical force or a weird and silly lie.

I trusted Him just enough to let Him inside. He started to move around, looking at me from all angles, considering my corners and rough edges.

This week, I realized the Holy Spirit is the only One who has enough power to take that examination of the truth about me and do something with it.

I can leave it in His hands. I don’t have to worry He won’t get it right. I can accept the power courage gives me, and I can walk back to my computer, back into my house, back into my friends', neighbors' and some former co-workers’ lives, without being afraid of disappointing them. Without being afraid at all. Of anything.

Hold me to it, friends. Please hold me to it.

May the triune God bless you with His great love and His mighty, peace-filling presence. Amen.

You know that thing where Facebook can be really weird? I have a story about that.

I scrolled through old Facebook messages recently in order to mute and archive them.

I face a deadline this week, and I want to make sure I reach it. A lot rides on it – in my own head, at least – although God probably knows better than I do. (“Gee, thanks, Rach, for the vote of confidence,” God says … probably …)

For reals: God knows what is going to happen with the deadline and whether my effort will come to fruition. He knows whether I will enter a new stage after it passes.

But, I don’t know the outcome yet. And I have a lot of work to do in all areas of life right now. Especially grieving.

In case no one has mentioned this to you or in case you haven’t experienced loss yourself, let me enlighten you: Grief is painful. Getting through it takes hard work. You have to make a lot of conscious choices. There is a sort of who, what, when, where and how process to follow, but it isn’t often linear. Many people do not know grief has five unruly stages but there is a process to follow to help bring healing. It's called self-kindness and self-awareness. And we don't usually get there alone.

This idea of stages resonates with me as a writer and journalist. I understand words are unwieldy. And so are emotions.

Right now, in this stage, you are reading this to find out how to grieve, privately, on social media. Specifically on Facebook, The Big One.

I don't have all the answers. I hope to share three helpful steps today. You will discover more.

To grieve privately on Facebook:

1. Let yourself look at your old Facebook messages. Do it when you have time, not when someone is expecting something from you or when you owe yourself something else. Set aside time when you won’t be interrupted. Minimize distractions. Go through your list of messages.

2. Archive your outdated chats. Go into the “See All” messages mode. There is a scroll bar on the left side of the page. It shows your recent conversations in a list. Next to each name/group of names in the thread, on the right, there is a small black “x.” It appears when you hover over it with the cursor. The “x” is a powerful tool. Pressing the “x” will wave a magic wand over the thread. It doesn’t delete it; it just saves it out of sight. It “archives” the message. You can find it later if you want to keep it.

3. Archive as many as you can handle. I did this for a practical reason the other day – cutting down on notifications – and I found myself blown away by the emotions that welled up. I saw threads from two people – one an uncle and one a mentor – who died within the past three years but have "alive" social profiles. I saw threads from friends who have exited my life for various reasons but are alive in the flesh. I saw TONS of family threads. I saw my best friends’ names pop up as I kept hitting the “x” without pausing between page loads. It was a cathartic experience. I cried. Alone. In my study.

Archiving these chats became a new way to look at my life. I began to see my grief is real. It is there, underneath my difficult-to-achieve functionality. It is not bad or good, it just IS. And in order to deal with it, I have to notice it.

I also noticed I have a lot more friends than I sometimes realize. It’s a big support network.

Hopefully, noticing this will lead to the final stage of grief: acceptance.

Read about the Elisabeth K├╝bler-Ross "five stages of grief" model here.

I would love to find out whether you plan to try or already tried this practice of archiving old Facebook chats. If so, what did you learn? Did anything surprise you? Did you rediscover something you already knew? If so, congratulate yourself. Give yourself a hug. You, my friend, are the Holy Grail of personhood. You are Self-Aware.

I look forward to bonding over our shared griefs and joys. Life can knock us down. But because we live on this planet, and we aren't islands, we ought to help each other up. It's the least we can do.

I often blog on mental health issues. Read posts on depression here and anxiety here.

Dear friends and readers,

Today is my birthday; I have officially entered the last year of my 20s.

Well, depending on who you ask. Because I know people who say -- and I tend to agree with them -- that you are always technically at least a year older than your numeric age.

This is because you spend nine months gestating and a full year post-partum before you are given the numeric age of "1 year old."

So I'm either 29 or 30 and nine months. Let that simmer in your stew pot.

Anyway, I'm feeling very grateful this weekend. For all of you readers. For my husband and family. For my little cat and my big cat. For my house, neighborhood, town, state, country and world. For my dear friends, all of whom are very creative and intelligent people.

I am so blessed to "know" you all. Some of you I haven't met officially, but you're faithful readers and that matters to me a great deal.

Thank you.

Thank you for being a part of my full, rich life. I cannot tell you how pleased I am to be your writer friend.

For some of you, I might be the only person you know who is a writer.

For others, I am just one among dozens or hundreds of committed writer friends.

Either way, I want you to know I am both serious and light-hearted about my job, and I will share that with you in every blog post.

Serious: I understand that being a writer is a complex, demanding and rewarding job, full of opportunities to build others up or tear them down. I want to choose life and compassion as my default pattern rather than criticism and destruction. You may hold me accountable to that.

Light-hearted: I continually reach for laughter as my favorite practice. It helps me experience joy. It helps me heal.

I try not to take myself too seriously, and I'd be tickled if you wouldn't take me too seriously, either.

I'm a playful person. I like to have a good time. I like to make people laugh.

I am often silly when I hang out with my closest confidantes. I bwa-ha-ha and guffaw just as much as the next person.

I adore improv and comedy writing. Some of my favorite people -- famous and less-famous -- employ humor, parody and satire to convey the truth as they experience it. Jon Stewart, Steve Martin, Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Amy Sherman-Palladino, Mindy Kaling, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Stella Gibbons, Bill Bryson, Conan O'Brien, Jimmy Fallon, Sharon Garlough Brown, Lorilee Craker, Susie Finkbeiner, Michael Karpus, Adam Forrest, Pam Elmore, Rickey Ainsworth, Matthew Jensen, Mark Lago, the list goes from outstanding, famous celebrities to local writers to incredible friends who likely would describe themselves as "regular people."

But are they just regular people? They aren't to me. You aren't to me. You are special. Creative. Endearing.

Thank you for being a blog reader o' mine. I owe ya a cold beer and a big hug.

Rachel E. Watson
This fly is The Devil. Just look how he rubs his legs together in glee, taunting you.

Here are four tried-and-true ways to attempt human-on-fly murder. The effort will help preserve your precious #writing #sanity:

1) Grab a fly-swatter and chase the cheeky offender madly about your apartment/house. But it probably won't die. You are a #writer, not an #athlete.

2) Kiss your whole day of #writing goodbye. Head to the store and buy The Electronic Bug Zapper Racket. Proceed to spend the afternoon on a customer service hotline trying to figure out how it works. You are a #writer, not an #engineer.

3) With primal patience, trap the fly between the window pane and the screen. Make sure you put the fly into a window that's in a different room from the one in which you are writing. That way, you won't be able to hear it buzz, and it won't kill your #writing buzz.

This is not a round room. It has corners. You might hurt yourself. Get a round room.

4) If all else fails, shut yourself in a round room with no access to sharp objects or windows. The fly won't follow you, because round rooms are for the desperately disturbed, and flies aren't at all disturbed. They are rather pleased with themselves.

Prediction: Flies will one day drive YOU nuts. Especially if you are a #writer.

What drives you bonkers in the meantime, pals? Lay all your #petpeeves on me in the comments. 
Brandi Carlile

On a sunny and gorgeous Friday afternoon a couple weeks ago, I regained an appreciation for Brandi Carlile's song "Caroline."

Why? Because I spent a couple hours at a park with my precious 7-month-old niece, Emmy. Carlile wrote the song about her niece, Caroline, and recorded it with the legendary Elton John, whose fingers skip happily over the keys and infuse the song with life and joy. 

I love the song even more now that I'm an aunt, an experience I hadn't yet had when it was released on Carlile's 2009 album "Give Up the Ghost."

Now, six years later, I have three nieces and a nephew on my Watson side of the family, and four nieces and three nephews on my husband's side of the family. And I have a new appreciation for lines like this gem: "But I've seen things so beautiful / All around this broken world / That pale in comparison to you."

Nieces and nephews are a blessing from God. I pray that all of you readers will someday get to experience the joy of watching wee loved ones grow up.

In the meantime, here's the song:

"Caroline," by Brandi Carlile

I woke up long after dawn
20 years had come and gone
I know when it changed for me
A day in June you came to me
I've seen through someone else's eyes
With nothin' on the other side
Every motel, every town
Pieces scattered all around

Promises that I can't be
Someone's heart that I can't keep
Days so long I couldn't speak
Roads so rocky I can't sleep
But I've seen things so beautiful
All around this broken world
That pale in comparison to you

Caroline I'm on my way back home to you
Can't imagine what I'm goin' through
without you by my side
It's been a long long time
Oh won't you say a prayer for me
I hope you will remember me
You're always on my mind

I have seen the canyon lands
Crooked lines like in your hands
You'd swear the earth was split in two
I wouldn't lie I promise you
That I have seen it, you will too
You could not believe if not for
photographs I took for you, Caroline
They've built towers to the sky
It hurts sometimes to watch them try
They run themselves into the ground
But I know you will love them
and their city lights and city sounds
There's beauty in the struggle
Anytime I feel it get me down
I see you smiling

Caroline, I'm on my way back home to you
Can't imagine what I'm goin' through
Without you by my side
It's been a long long time
Oh won't you say a prayer for me
I hope you will remember me
You're always on my mind
My Caroline

Now I have seen things in the sky
Stars and lights and birds and I
I've been rocky mountain high
And told them all about you
Because you are still the only thing
That constantly amazes me
I love the road and I've been blessed
But I love you best

Caroline, I'm on my way back home to you
Can't imagine what I'm goin' through
Without you by my side
It's been a long long time
Oh won't you say a prayer for me
I hope you will remember me
You're always on my mind
You were always on my mind
My Caroline

I finished this book about two weeks ago and gave it five stars out of five on Goodreads. I'm still processing it. Still remembering the characters' struggles and still learning from the insights they experienced on their journeys.

It's a one-of-a-kind novel that's part fiction, part spiritual retreat manual, part Bible study experience.

The four protagonists are Meg, Hannah, Charissa and Mara. They each are carrying burdens that have become too much for them to bear, although they don't all know it yet. The women find out through various channels about a sacred journey retreat that has helped friends of theirs release baggage and experience peace. With much reluctance, each of the four women sign up for the eight-week class, and they end up sitting at the same table and becoming friends.

Meg Crane is a recent empty-nester single mom of 46 who is alone in a big Victorian home she inherited from her parents, haunted by memories about her recently deceased angry, critical mother. She is weighed down by her many phobias and insecurities, trapped in the grief of her past.

Hannah Shepley is a single, 39-year-old associate pastor who is given a forced nine-month sabbatical from pastoral duties, because, as her lead pastor puts it, she needs to learn to "disentangle her personal and professional identities." She has spent her whole life avoiding her problems and pain by helping others through theirs. She is the classic "fixer."

Mara Garrison is a 50-year-old mother of three, haunted by a lifetime of rejection, who believes she's never been wanted. She is married to an unkind man who doesn't love her, and she buries her sorrows in comfort food and reality TV. What she really wants is peace, rest and someone to love her.

Charissa Sinclair is a 26-year-old Ph.D. candidate studying English literature at a small Christian university, a big fish in a little pond. She is a statuesque beauty with an adoring husband, doting parents and the respect of all her peers. She is Miss Perfect and she lives for The Right Answer. But when she embarks on the sacred journey, she finds herself suddenly without answers.

I found myself drawn most powerfully to the struggles of Hannah, the fixer, and Charissa, the perfectionist. They are "just fine" in their own minds. They don't need help. They don't even believe they have needs. This was me for so many years. It was an emotional and life-giving experience to travel with Hannah and Charissa as they gradually came to the end of self-sufficiency and realized they did need help, grace and love, and that it was OK to have those needs.

If you see yourself in any of the four archetypes of this novel, I highly recommend you read it. There's hope in the healing process. There's life in the sacred journey toward God.

Read more of my book reviews here.
Let’s be honest. It’s hard to be self-motivated some days. It’s hard to stay on task and stick to goals. In fact, this week I've had three days in a row where I've fallen short of the writing goals I set for myself. Part of it is health-related and part of it is due to other life circumstances.

I am trying to give myself grace. I’m trying to keep in mind that I'm still developing my techniques for staying on task. After all, I've only been a full-time writer for a few months.

Five tips

Isn't life as a writer/creative type — or worker from home of any kind — better when we can share our tips and insights? In that spirit, here are five things you can do that will help you stay focused and avoid procrastination:

1. Use a separate room of the house to write in — one with a door you can shut so you can't see the mess or distractions in the rest of the house.

2. Write your to-do list the night before, then rewrite it in order of importance in the morning.

3. Stick with the to-do list. And every time you fall into a rabbit hole of distraction, redirect yourself by looking at the list.

4. Set yourself a timer for when it’s time to eat lunch and when it’s time to get back to work. I wish I didn't have to do this. But I know that I will either forget to eat, or get distracted while I am eating and start doing other things besides getting back to writing. 

5. Remember to cut yourself some slack. You aren't perfect. Show yourself the same grace others extend to you when you mess up.

Share your tips

What are some of your techniques and tips for staying on task? I would love to hear them in the comments below.

It's been my pleasure to track the musical evolution of one of my old college pals, singer-songwriter and piano rock artist Zach Vinson.

Vinson's third solo album, "How We Spend Our Days" officially releases today. And it's good.

I've been absorbing its sounds and letting them rattle around inside my head for a few weeks now.

The six-song album is full of wisdom and poetry about love, life, family and Vinson's Wisconsin roots. The melodies compel me to dance fast and slow, to upbeat, piano-driven "You're the One," to the gentle, acoustic guitar strains of "A Simple Verse," to the contemplative, yet joyful rock 'n' roll of "Home."

I have to admit I wasn't prepared for the heavier electric and bass guitar rock elements on the track 4, "Something About the Way," as Vinson's first two albums leaned more to the pop side of the pop/rock spectrum. But the good news is, Vinson has the musical ability to flow from one set of sounds to another with skill and ease.

My favorite song on the album is "A Simple Verse." It's the essence of marital affection. Words fail. Just listen and appreciate its simple beauty.

"A Simple Verse"

I wanted to write a simple verse,
Something not feeling too rehearsed,
To remind you that in good times and in worse,
I am not leaving.

Cause this year's been different than before.
The row's we've dug run far beneath the floor,
And most days I'm the one who's keeping score
And I am not winning.

Is there a way to know everything?
Each bit of your pain,
Each memory you've seen?
Is there a way two can be one
and the same?

I wanted to write a simple song,
A melody in your head while I'm gone,
To hold to when you just cannot hold on.
I'm gone, but I'm not leaving.

Cause you and I are different than before
And your wrinkled smile lines hint at something more,
Something gleaming, something leaping at the core
Hiding inside you.

Is there is a way to know everything?
Each bit of your pain, each memory you see?
Is there a way two can be one
and the same?

I wanted to write a simple verse,
Something not feeling too rehearsed,
To remind you that in good times and in worse,
I am not leaving.

Zach Vinson's music

If you like the song I shared, you can buy Zach Vinson's third album, "How We Spend Our Days," as well as his two previous albums, "The Streets Will Turn to Streams" and "Cracked Open," at his website. To get updates about Vinson's shows and future album releases. "Like" his Facebook page and follow him on Twitter.

Read more of my blog posts about music here.