When I was eighteen years old, facing my high school graduation, I also faced an uncertain future. I lived in California–not the nice, beachy part of California but a small rest-stop-of-a-town in the middle of the desert, right on the border between Mexico and California. The economy was terrible; people who had jobs weren’t quitting or retiring. People who didn’t have jobs were flooding the only community college in the area, making it nigh impossible for kids right out of high school to get the classes they needed. I felt a little stuck, unsure what was coming next for me. I also wanted a car (back then a car equaled freedom and not an insurance bill and endless gas payments) but my parents weren’t wealthy enough to get me one. They told me they’d pay for half but I needed a job in order to raise the other half of the payment. Thankfully, my grandparents (who lived in Phoenix, AZ) offered to house me for the summer. My uncle said he could get me a job at the corner deli where he’d gotten his first job.
I’d visited my grandparents before, for up to a week every summer. But this was different. This would be for an entire summer. I’d never been away from home, without my parents, for that long. It should’ve been scary, the prospect of moving. Instead, I felt at peace. I just knew in my heart that this was what I was supposed to do. A little voice said, “Go.” So I did.
I spent that summer working, holed up in my room writing, or attending my grandparents’ church. It was enormous compared to the church I grew up in, which had 50 regular attenders at the most. This new church had a college group, which I eagerly began to attend. With so many people who had grown up in the church together, it was hard for me (the new kid, the socially awkward introvert with terrible self-esteem) to make friends. Still, I persevered because that certainty in my heart of hearts remained. I knew God wanted me there. So, instead of going back to California after the summer was through, I stayed in Phoenix.
It was hard. Sometimes I’d come back from college group, face plant into my pillow, and cry myself to sleep because I was so discouraged and lonely. Sometimes, I’d come home from a long shift at work, lie on my back on the floor, and prop my feet up on my desk because my ankles were so swollen. Sometimes, I’d wonder what my purpose was for being there. I wondered if things were ever going to get easier.
I got progressively more involved with my church. I volunteered in the nursery. I volunteered in the mid-week children’s Bible program. I started singing in the choir. I saved my pennies and finally bought myself a car, a tiny Dodge Neon that was my pride and joy. I moved out of my grandparents’ house, into a flat above an older couple’s garage. The garage was separate from the house so I had my privacy and independence. I got a new job at Chipotle, started community college.
That was hard too. My bosses quickly learned that I was fast and efficient, so they put me in the back. I labored over a giant stove and a grill, sweating constantly, burning myself constantly, slicing and dicing and marinating and washing enormous piles of dishes and scrubbing floors. It was the most physically demanding job I’d ever had. Sometimes, I had to work nights and came home after midnight. Only to wake up early the next morning and rush off to class. I didn’t have a washer or dryer in my flat. I had to go to the laundromat once a week. I still remember doing my homework as I waited for my laundry to be done, all the while keeping my eye out for suspicious characters.
Things at church got a little better; I made a handful of friends at least. Then I met the man who would later become my husband. We dated, got engaged, and married all within a two year span. We moved into a tiny apartment. I got a new job working as a receptionist for my church. While it wasn’t physically demanding, it was mentally taxing. Dealing with all sorts of people who came through the door, looking for financial assistance, looking for counseling, looking to help organize various events, looking to sell me something; it was exhausting. But sitting for hours and hours at a desk, waiting for a phone to ring, also provided me with endless time to write. I completed multiple manuscripts while fulfilling my receptionist duties. I also had time to do homework and finished my schooling while working there. I’ll always be thankful for that time in my life.
But then I transitioned into writing and being an author almost full time, which proved to be hard as well. Despite how diligently I tried to have a social media presence and promote my books on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest, despite keeping up a blog and sending out a monthly newsletter, despite writing and rewriting my books to make sure they were the best versions of themselves, I wasn’t making any money. I read articles, I consulted other authors, I used free and paid online promotional services, I made Facebook and Bookbub ads, I even did some cross promotion with other authors. Nothing. Worked. It was so incredibly frustrating! I started questioning whether it was worth it, being an author. But the voices in my heart and mind, the voices of my characters and my loved ones and my inner child, couldn’t be silenced. So I kept trying.
Three years later, we welcomed our son into the world. Becoming a mother brought on new challenges. Breastfeeding a premie proved to be impossible; he was struggling so much to gain weight so I resorted to pumping and bottle feeding. Those were scary days and endless nights as we tried to figure it all out. Thankfully, we did. One day, we weren’t just surviving anymore. We were living, having created a new routine to incorporate our little one into our lives. It was a beautiful time. Until I had to go back to work. I left my precious boy with my grandmother and a friend of the family while I worked from 8AM to 4:30PM, Monday through Friday. For a whole year I balanced work, writing, and motherhood. Little sleep, little time with my baby, little time with my husband. I longed for the day when I could be at home full time. Just when I thought I’d finally gotten used to being a working mom, we found out we were going to have another baby. And it was made very clear that I couldn’t keep working.
So when our daughter was born, I quit my job at the church. I became a full time mom, just like I’d always wanted. But that was hard too. Being stuck indoors all the time with two babies, one of which was very gassy and colic-y, was taxing on my mental health. I went through post-partum depression, started questioning my ability to be a good mother and wife, struggled with anger and hopelessness, could hardly put words on a page. Fortunately, that season–like the others–did eventually pass. God was good and provided for our financial needs until I was in a better place, mentally, and able to work again. A friend of ours told us about a remote job opportunity through the company he worked for and I prayerfully submitted an application. I was hired maybe two months later.
Baby girl still wasn’t sleeping through the night and learning my job responsibilities took time, so it was another sleepless season for me. But I was thankful for the opportunity to help provide for the family and determined to do this job well. After all, it had been an answer to prayer. It took time to grow accustomed to the new routine, to balance work with writing and book marketing, and motherhood and being a homemaker and wife. There are days when I still get overwhelmed, frustrated, and discouraged, and I start to wish things weren’t so hard.
But life has always been hard, hasn’t it? Just in different ways. And with every new set of challenges comes a new type of joy, one provided by my gracious Heavenly Father. I can look back with gratitude and celebration, look forward with confidence despite the unknown, because I know wherever I go, whatever I face, whatever I do, He will always be there.