Today it’s my pleasure to welcome author and speaker, Jodie McCarthy, to the blog. Be sure to read to the end because one lucky reader will have the opportunity to win a signed copy of one of Jodie’s books.
Reframing a Year of COVID-19
Thanks for joining us, Jodie. 2020 certainly wasn’t the year many of us were expecting. How were things in your home state of Western Australia? Can you share a couple of things you and your family did to help you through?
We have been incredibly blessed in Western Australia with no community transmission now for 9 months*. We experienced a period of lockdown in the middle of the year, and had home school for some weeks and home church even longer. However, we haven’t had to experience the level of restrictions in some other states. My brother and his family live in Victoria, and they had it a lot worse than we did.
That said, one of the things I have been very intentional about is how we frame 2020 as a family and how we look back on it. I have two daughters aged 9 and 11, and I didn’t want last year to be defined solely by Covid and social distancing.
So as a family, over the New Year holiday, we went through our diary and for each month wrote down everything that happened in 2020. For example, we saw Lauren Daigle in concert last January which the girls had forgotten. I wanted them to realise while Covid was a part of 2020, it wasn’t all of it, and there were so many good and beautiful moments last year. It was such a useful practice for us all.
(*Since completing this interview, there has been a new case of community transmission, and Perth and nearby regions have gone into a snap 5-day lockdown. Let’s pray this new situation can be nipped in the bud quickly.)
Peace in the Midst of Challenges
That’s a great idea to write down the good things that happened. It’s so important to remember those positives. One highlight for you must have been the publication of your third book, ‘Grace and Space: Prayers of Peace for Everyday Life’. Can you tell us a bit about the book and the inspiration behind it?
I have been talking about a book of prayers and blessings for a while, and I knew this was the next book I wanted to write. Despite this, like most writers I am an introvert, and having all my family in my house for several weeks was not conducive to any creativity at all.
I guess when the family went back to school and work, I needed a project. What’s more I needed this project. I needed the reminder that in the ups and downs of life God is always present, he is always working, and we can call on him no matter our circumstances.
In a lot of ways, the experience of lockdown reminded me of how little of the ‘stuff’ we surround ourselves with is needed. And that’s not just physical stuff. I loved that we weren’t rushing off to dance, and piano, and other activities. As a family we enjoyed the quieter way of living. It allowed us to focus more on each other and God.
So that’s what I brought to this book. The depth of relationship with God and others that comes from stripping away a lot of the extraneous ‘stuff’ of life.
The book is four sections each with 10 prayers—prayers of beginning, prayers for the ordinary everyday, prayers for times of pain and unravelling, and finally grace and space, how God meets us in any moment.
Taming the Social Media Beast
I think a lot of us can relate to that need to slow down and allow ourselves the time to breathe. You mention in your introduction that it’s easy ‘to constantly react to the incessant ping of notifications’. Do you have any tips for dealing with social media? What’s worked for you?
Yes, first of all I turned off notifications!
But seriously, like everyone I understand that social media is a part of our life, and as an indie published author it is my main platform for selling my books. Like most things in life, social media is not purely positive or negative.
It can be a beautiful place of connection and encouragement and it can also be a whirlpool down which I disappear and don’t return for at least an hour. So to keep balance, I have three main practices that help.
- The first is ‘create before you consume’. Social media contains a plethora of other people’s ideas. It is hard to create when your mind is filled with the ideas of others. My workday rhythm (during school term) is to drop the girls off, then come home for a cup of tea and prayer. I work better in the morning, so I plan my day and try to stay off social media until I have completed my creative tasks.
- Next, as a family, Saturdays are our sabbath. We have had many years of my husband Simon playing on the church worship team on Sunday and being away most of the day, so Saturday works better for us. On those days I try to stay off social media, and we focus on family time.
- Lastly, I give myself grace and space. I don’t get things right all the time. I have times when I fall into the social media time warp more than others. (School holidays being a prime example! Thanks for this reminder, Nola.)
I don’t spend time beating myself up when I get it wrong. I just remind myself of these practices and bring it back to God. When I am more grounded in him, I want less of what social media has to say to me anyway. And when I am more grounded in him, I can discern his voice in and through the social media, for he often uses that to speak to me too.
Miscarriage, Grief and Hope
You certainly don’t shy away from discussing the deeper issues of life. Your previous book, ‘Beauty in the Ashes’, is subtitled ‘Learning to Lament’. You share your personal story of grief following miscarriage, and offer hope for others going through difficult situations. ‘Lamenting’ isn’t something we hear much of in Australian culture. Could you share a glimpse of your journey with us and what gave you hope through your circumstances?
Wow, Nola, a big question for a big topic. I love how deep your questions are.
Beauty in the Ashes was written from my experience with miscarriage, and my grief, anger and disappointment with God. It is interwoven with the stories of other women and their own griefs. Grief of divorce, grief of infertility and the grief of losing a daughter.
My experience of grief was that the hurt and the healing are intertwined. This is not a linear process, where grief comes and then the process of healing. Often grief comes with healing, a moment of sadness and beauty simultaneously existing. In the face of hurt, and in spite of it, healing can be present. I believe that’s what the Bible means when it says, ‘Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn’ (Romans 12:15 NIV).
Rejoicing and mourning often co-exist. I wanted to write this book for those journeying through grief. To acknowledge the depth of the emotions they are feeling but also to point to the hope, and the healing that can be present in those very dark times.
Restorative Benefits of Poetry
Poetry is obviously an important means of expression for you. Your first book, ‘Blank Pages’, contains poems about your experiences of infertility and miscarriage; and you’ve also used poetry to great effect in your other books. What is it that draws you to that medium? How can reading and writing poetry help in the healing process?
Robert Frost says, ‘Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.’
I love this quote because poetry is how I understand my big emotions. In the time when I was grieving, poetry was the only way I could write. The word choice, the spacing, and the shortness of the form all create space to let the emotion breathe and be heard.
At first, I hesitated in calling myself a poet, because my work doesn’t rhyme, and I don’t use obscure terms that need to be looked up in a dictionary. I thought that was what poetry should look like. But I am drawn to the works of Robert Frost, Mary Oliver, Maya Angelou and more recently Morgan Harper Nicholls. These poets use simple language to great effect. A few short phrases and pure emotion handed to you on a plate.
I often will read poetry as part of my prayer time. A particular poem can cut through and open me to God so that I don’t just read my Bible in an intellectual way but also on an emotional level. I love that the Bible includes poems too, poems that express deep emotions, anger, joy, fear, awe, sorrow and love.
Hope for the Future
What are your hopes and dreams for 2021? What word of encouragement can you offer others who might be struggling at the moment?
2020 felt like a year of reset. For our family we reset our priorities, we reset our focus, we reset our centre. It has given us a deeper grounding in God and focused us on relationships rather than schedules. It has been a year of reflection and re-evaluating.
As I go into 2021, I guess my biggest hope is that we don’t go back to ‘normal’, rather that we continue with this new way of living. Where what we have and what we do is not the priority, but rather who we are with and how well we love them.
Because in the end isn’t that what Jesus said, that we will be known by how we love?
Thanks so much for sharing your heart with us today, Jodie. You’ve given a lot of wisdom for us to think about.
Jodie has kindly donated a signed copy of one of her books for one lucky reader. The winner will have their choice of either ‘Grace and Space’ or ‘Beauty in the Ashes’. As these books are signed hard copies, this giveaway is only open to those with an Australian postal address. (But if you’re overseas, don’t worry! I’ll have other giveaways during the year that will be available for everyone.)
In order to enter the giveaway, simply leave a comment on the blog. Entries are open until midnight on Saturday 6th February (Australian Eastern Standard Time). The winner will be chosen at random from all eligible comments; and the winner’s name will be announced on this blog, on my Nola Lorraine Facebook page, and in my monthly newsletter. Click here for the full terms and conditions.
Jodie is a writer, speaker, poet and mother. An unashamed words girl who writes to process the myriad of experiences of life. In her writing and on her blog she investigates the journey of life: the beautiful, the painful, the everyday, and the mundane. She has a heart for encouraging others on their life journey, particularly when that journey traverses the harder places of grief and pain. On the days when she is not writing you will find her in her kitchen, usually licking the beaters from a chocolate cake.
Social Media Links
While last year was a slow one on my blog, as I was home schooling and writing my latest book, you can find my books and my writing on https://jodiemccarthy.com/
You can also find me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/jodiemccarthyauthor/
and on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/jodie.mc/
While I do have a Twitter account I am not there very often, as I focus my time and energy on Facebook and Instagram. But if you want to find me my address is https://twitter.com/jodiegmccarthy
Photo credits – Author photo and cover shots supplied by the author.