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Choosing Brave

At the end of every day, I collapse onto the couch and make the most of my evening with Netflix and a glass of wine or warm cookies or salty, buttered popcorn, glad to waste brain cells and time until I crawl into bed and fall asleep. My husband died three years ago, when my son was two years old and I was still pregnant with my daughter; being a single mom is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

Quite often when someone finds out I’m a widow, the conversation comes to a grinding halt. I watch as their eyes glaze over and they enter the foggy land of “what on earth do I talk to her about when my hard stuff could never compare to being a single parent of young children, grieving the loss of a partner?”.  I really wish we would stop comparing hard stuff; the challenges you face in life are daunting for you, just as mine are for me, and nothing gets any easier when we insist on making life the saddest type of competition.

In the last five years, I’ve lost my dad and my husband, given birth to two children, and learned to live with my chronic anxiety and depression. It has been incredibly challenging and tremendously rewarding. I have learned what it means to live bravely.

Ten years ago, if you asked me what it meant to live a brave life, I would have described something along the lines of giving up worldly possessions to live in the deepest, darkest jungles like the Swiss Family Robinson. Or to join an elite military squad, risking my life just to do my job. Or to escape a human trafficking or other abusive situation. But I never would have used the word brave to describe what happens after a loved one dies.

I would never have said it’s brave to keep living.

As I explore what it means to practice courage, I realize that brave and heroic are not the same thing. Parenting my children when I’ve lost the person I built a family with is brave. Getting through my daily routine when I’m in a brutal depressive spell is brave. Breathing through a panic attack and remembering it will end is brave. Celebrating another life milestone without my dad or my husband to cheer me on is brave.

Going food shopping when we could have cereal for dinner, but we’ve already done that for a few days is brave. Maybe not, but that last one sure feels like a giant accomplishment.

Grief and anxiety pull my thoughts towards the past and depression makes survival seem impossible. But I’m learning to dream again because loss and mental illness don’t mean my life is over. There are more good things to come. Dreaming and hoping are brave.

Anyone can be brave. Courage doesn’t require an extra chromosome or special coursework. It simply (but not easily) requires the choice to be brave. Maybe your brave thing is to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Maybe you need to say no to something. Or say yes. Brave can be admitting life is hard, but choosing not to give in. Or acknowledging the broken parts of your heart and pursuing healing.

I wasn’t born brave and neither were you, but we can choose to live bravely, together.

Becky McCoy

Becky L McCoy lives on the Connecticut coast with her two precocious and hilarious children. She once enjoyed teaching high school physics and now tells her story of loss, grief, and joyful living on her blog. Having struggled with depression and anxiety and experienced several seasons of grief and struggle, Becky is passionate about creating an online community where people share their stories and encourage one another to choose to live bravely and authentically through disappointment and discouragement.

You can find Becky on all forms of social media @BeckyLMcCoy, on her blog at BeckyLMcCoy.com, and her podcast Sucker Punched.

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iola bloom playlist

The new issue is coming this September 2018! We are so excited! This issue will have the theme of bloom. Like last issue we have a themed playlist that goes along with this iola Bloom issue, and whilst you are patiently waiting for the next issue to be available, we thought we would release this playlist suggestion to get you excited about the coming issue. Now you have a playlist to listen to through August while you have the kids home from school or whilst on one of those long road trips, or relaxing by the pool or on the beach! Introducing the iola magazine  bloom playlist.

iola magazine bloom

We love these songs by these artists and think they suit the themes of articles coming in iola but the inclusion of these artists in the playlist doesn’t suggest they have endorsed the magazine!

So if you have Spotify you can listen to this playlist here:

If you don’t have Spotify just search out these songs on your favourite player and create your own playlist – we are sure you will love them!

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I stole a bra!

I did, I really did, and it wasn’t even a sexy one.

Let me explain.

I’d been out to lunch with a girlfriend and our laughter and chatter hadn’t stopped for a moment. The modern, deconstructed menu challenged my taste buds, and our conversation stirred my emotions – she was going through a rough spell and I couldn’t fix it.

We paid our bill and decided to spend the precious minutes before school was out and our kids needed us home, meandering the smorgasbord of new shops that had sprung up in the area.

The sun was out … the sky was blue… the shops were open …

All was calm and as it should be on a girl’s lunch out, until I screamed,

“Aaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhh!! I’ve stolen a bra!”

I’d left the first boutique empty-handed and as I grabbed the handle of our next fashion emporium, eager to find something more my style, I noticed a rather ugly bra dangling not-so-innocently from my wrist.

“I stole a bra, oh my goodness, I stole a bra!”

Immediately, I spun on my heels, waving the snow-white undergarment above my head, determined to confess and surrender to my fate. Peering around her shop door, the store owner’s confused expression said it all …

“Did this middle-aged English woman really walk out of my store, wearing a rather unsexy brassière slung over her wrist like a Kate Spade clutch?”

To which the answer was, most decidedly, YES! Yes she did!

With a thousand apologies spewing from my lips, in my humblest English accent (I’ve found a good Downton Abbey accent gets me out of the stickiest situations), I paid for the bra and left – embarrassed and contrite.

She had silently watched me pick up the bra, turn to my friend to exclaim that I’d been looking for one just like it (yes, I wear unattractive underwear … for comfort!), sling it nonchalantly over my wrist to buy later, get distracted by the shiny objects in the jewelry area, and then absent-mindedly turn to leave; completely unaware I was still carrying the underwear I’d so admired for its practicality and comfort!

Her grace, humor, and understanding kept me out of jail and in a slightly heady, I-can’t-believe-I-just-did-that kind of mood for the rest of the day. I had the clear sense I’d dodged a bullet, or at least an awkward conversation with my teenagers about underwear, policemen, and the dangers of mixing the two.

But as the day wore on, my relief turned to reflection as God nudged me to think about the day’s events and the allegorical connection between my lingerie thieving and my tendency towards emotional kleptomania.

“How much emotional baggage, invisibly slung over your wrist, are you carrying around with you?” He asked.

Whoa! He had me there!

As I looked at myself, I saw myself tired and exhausted from carrying the weight of emotions and beliefs I’ve refused to put down over the years. There were slightly hippy looking hurts from growing up in the 70’s swinging next to beliefs from the 80’s still lurid in their neon ra-ra skirts. Work-related resentments, deep unforgiveness from failed relationships, and ugly self-beliefs, all tumbling down my arm like thrift store rejects.

“I’m not good enough.”

“I can’t forgive him”

“You’ll leave me.”

And so the list went on … and on … and on!

Boy, do I have some spring cleaning ahead of me!!

Thankfully, just like the shop-keeper, God’s grace and humor prevail, and like the shop-keeper, He knows I didn’t mean to pick up all that emotional detritus along the bumpy road of life. He knows it weighs me down and gets me into trouble, and He knows just how to help me put it down.

He forgives me.

He heals and comforts me.

The one BIG difference between my new favorite shop owner and God, is that He paid for me. I don’t owe a thing. Nada. Zip. Zero. All I have to do is put this baggage down, let go, and walk away.

Of course, that’s easier said than done, but I know it’s worth it.

So, that’s how God spoke to a dippy, middle-aged woman, through a very unattractive piece of underwear, about how to lay down her emotional baggage! Wow. I guess He meant it when He said,

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. Isaiah 55:8

I love His sense of humor!

Niki Hardy

Niki Hardy is a Brit in the USA, a cancer survivor and pastor’s wife, a fresh air junkie and tea drinker. As a speaker and blogger her candid, humorous storytelling helps us find humor and grace in the darkest place, and learn to laugh and trust God when all we want to do is scream. When she’s not speaking, writing or running trails with her Doodles, she can be found trying to figure out which of the three remote controls actually turns the TV on.

You can find her, encouragement, and lots of practical resources at nikihardy.com.

This article is in the first edition of iola.

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Self-care for when you are coming out of a time of depression.

On either side of my driveway crocuses and snowdrops have started to appear. They have forced their way through the decomposing leaves. Bursts of colour against the damp brown matting.

I take a rake and gently pull it across the flowerbed, easing my way through the flowers carefully, trying not to knock off the delicate blooms. The flowers I expose are top heavy, their stems are white, translucent, anemic. Many of them flop forward, unable to support their own weight. I fear my zeal might have shortened their already brief life.

I recognise myself here.

I have been re-learning how to live in a way that enables me to be well, to enjoy my days and weeks without the constant threat of sliding under. Figuring out what I need to do to make sure I don’t fall foul of the beast that is anxiety… again.

I have pushed through. I have worked my way into a new place, out of the dark. And now I am here in the sunlight. I feel disoriented, sun-blinded, unstable.

Elli Johnson

I fear my legs will not continue to hold me as I venture forward.

I am top heavy with new ideas, new habits, new ways to be.

This new life I am discovering has involved a complete overhaul of my priorities, how I spend my time, who I spend time with, how I treat my body.

Everything has had to change.

And change at such a rapid rate (okay so I’ve been on this path for over seven years – but that is pretty quick to change your whole life) can leave you vulnerable, exposed, it can tire you out.

To ensure I grow in a way that promotes strength and enables longevity I have put some things in place to protect me. To act as a safety net while I am venturing forward.

Scheduled rest.

Constant activity was one of the pillars of my old way of life. Busyness was seen as a status symbol and any rest was treated as an unnecessary luxury.

I need rest now.

Rest to enable me to remember how to live in this new way, and rest as part of the new life.

Rest in the rhythm and routine of my days and weeks.

I look at my diary and schedule in time for nothing, for having a bath or watching trashy tv, for playing board games and walking by the river. Rest and renewal is an essential part of growth and forward motion. And I have learnt it only happens when I schedule it.

Surrounding myself with grace-speakers.

I make sure I spend time every week with people who will remind me of the new things I have learnt. People who will prompt me to let myself off the hook, to have compassion towards myself, to cultivate a life of present attention, not future obsession. These ideas are still new to me. I can easily begin to lose them in the hustle of the everyday.

I have made new friends, and new ways to be with old friends, to ensure I am surrounded by people who will remind me my worth is not determined by my productivity or achievement, people who won’t let me forget the truths I have learnt the hard way.

Remembering rule number 6.

As decreed by Benjamin and Rosamund Zander* rule number 6 is:  Don’t take yourself so goddamn seriously.

Blimey, all this talk of mental health and self-compassion can get a bit serious. Learning to laugh at myself is important, no – vital. (Ask my husband).

In the process of changing my life and learning how to live again, I am going to make mistakes. This is a fact.

I am going to do too much and burn out, and I am going to go to the other extreme and find I have become a little too hooked on soap operas. I am going to say the wrong thing. I am going to take two steps forward and three steps back. I am going to make a fool of myself.

But it’s all good.

No one ever learnt anything new with an unbroken record of success. It takes failure and mistakes too.

Not taking yourself too seriously is a necessity when you spend your days talking about mental wellbeing and depression-busting strategies.

(My children are very good at making sure I don’t forget this!)

*From The Art of Possibility by Benjamin and Rosamund Zander, an excellent read.

Elli Johnson

This article is from the first issue of iola magazine.

 

Elli Johnson has been blogging at thehippochronicles.com for over 4 years. She writes about mental health, creativity, beauty and the chaos of family life. She is a professional child wrangler, (over)thinker, and tea drinker.

Elli lives in Liverpool with the river Mersey at the bottom of the road.

To find her newest and most exciting work, check out: patreon.com/thehippochronicles

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Nothing is wasted

If you’re reading this magazine, then it’s safe to assume that on some level, you’re interested in the creative process. Maybe you fully identify as a Creative already, or maybe you’re reading this more as someone on the outside looking in, timidly curious about the creative life but certainly not existing in that realm yourself.

Or maybe you’re more like me- new to the party and still figuring out how to fit in.

Nothing is wasted
Amber Salhus

For most of my life, I genuinely believed that I wasn’t a creative person. I wasn’t even mad about it, really, I just always put “art” into a box, and when I didn’t see myself fitting into that box, I assumed I had no place in the Creative Club.

I can’t paint or draw or write a song. I don’t craft or invent or collect artsy things. I can’t even dance, unless you count car-dancing (which I do) because it only requires me to utilize half of my body at once: The upper half, which everyone knows is the easiest part. It’s the footwork that will trip you up (pun intended.)

Other than my inability to dance, I never minded much that I wasn’t “the creative type”. I have other passions. I love words on a page, interior design, gathering and encouraging women, I love to make people laugh and to look for the humor in every situation.

It wasn’t until a few years ago as I began noticing the things that make me come alive and intentionally moving towards them that it dawned on me that I was actually being creative.

I started blogging and realized that I could connect with women, encourage them, and even make them laugh, all through words on a page.

After 10 addresses in 12 years, my husband and I developed a passion and a skill for renovating and designing homes, and we quietly started a house-flipping business on the side.

These things had always come naturally to me but for the first time ever, I actually recognized them as my creative work.

With a sudden rush of panic and delight, I realized that I’d somehow snuck into the party, but I still wasn’t sure if I belonged.

The moment I found the courage to name my talents, dreams, and creative offerings, the voice of my inner critic grew loud, plaguing me with questions of,

“Who do I think I am?”

“Do I belong into this space?”

“Is there room for me here?”

You see, it’s much easier to do your creative work when you’re not aware that you’re doing it. But the fact of the matter is that if you’re a living breathing human, you’re creative. And odds are, you’re already doing your creative work, whether you realize it or not.

That might look like tying on apron strings and making beautiful food, like bringing order to chaos within your home or on a spreadsheet, like the innate ability to make people feel welcome not just in your home but in your life, or a million other things.

Your art can be anything or nothing you expected, but it will always be what makes you come alive.

So often we overlook those things that come naturally to us because they come naturally to us.

But the second we name those things and get intentional with them is the second that Resistance will push back.

For some Resistance might look like comparison and insecurity.

You bravely try something new and you’re immediately reminded of all the people who could do it better or who’ve already done it better.

For others still, Resistance might look like circumstance and timing.

Maybe you’re in a season where your work feels more practical than creative. Maybe it looks like a day job that pays the bills, full time parenting, or both at the same time, and you find yourself in a limiting circumstance where “exploring your creativity” feels like a pipe dream. You secretly worry that the dreams and talents tucked away in your heart are forgotten on a shelf somewhere, collecting dust and losing relevance.

For others still, Resistance might look like confusion and uncertainty.

Maybe you haven’t fully realized your gifts yet, or what your creative work looks like, much less how it fits into the middle of your right-now life. Maybe you’re the type who needs to know exactly where you’re going and precisely how you’ll get there before you’ll ever take one step.

The good news is that whatever Resistance looks like for you, it does not have to win.

If you find yourself in a season of limited time and opportunity, of confusion, or of feeling unqualified, take heart, because the thing about seasons is they always change.

Whatever work you happen to be doing, trust that none of it is wasted and know there is always art you can make because you are always you.

 

Amber Salhus

This article is from the first issue of iola magazine.

Amber Salhus is a wife, mom, blogger, house-flipper, comedy lover, and burgeoning farmer. She lives in the Oregon countryside with her husband, their two kids, and their ever-growing list of animals. She openly shares the adventures of dreaming big in the middle of motherhood, navigating the creative process, and finding the humor in all of it at ambersalhus.com.

 

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iola playlist 1

iola 1 playlist

For the first issue of iola magazine we have created an iola playlist. A playlist of songs compiled to complement the theme and articles in iola. If you love these songs, you’ll love iola. Grab a cup of coffee, put on the playlist and settle in to read iola.

There are two playlists in the magazine this is the first one from page fifteen. On page thirty-four we have another, Give thanks playlist compiled by artist Libby John alongside her piece on having a heart of thanksgiving.

iola 1 playlist

You can listen to the playlist on Spotify here.