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For those struggling with depression, healing from abuse, anxiety, or living with a chronic illness - the idea of hope can sometimes feel disconnected from our reality. Matt Pappas joins me in this episode to discuss his own journey with hope. What's helped him tangibly engage and define his personal sense of hope and encouragement for listeners who may WANT to hope, but don't know where to start. Click here to give it a listen!

Thoughts on Hope: A Podcast Interview with Matt Pappas

*This post may contain affiliate links, which means when you purchase an item through one of my links I may receive a small commission. Thanks for helping keep this blog going!

It’s been a few months since I launched with my first podcast episode for my channel, Grit & Grace and I loved hearing your feedback and connecting with you all. After that episode I went radio silent as it’s been a difficult few months of juggling treatment and work from home…But I’m finally back with our next episode!

Today’s Guest: Matt Pappas

I recently chatted with Matt from Surviving My Past about the reality and challenges of the word “hope”.  He is active in the online community, striving to bring encouragement to others who share his past of childhood abuse as well as those who battle anxiety, PTSD, and illness.

It can spark a variety of emotions in us when we hear or talk about the idea of hope, can’t it? Engaging hope when you feel hopeless can bring pain or discouragement. We may feel “less than” for not being able to grasp it in way others want us to or how we think it should manifest. All the while, others seem to keep the flame of hope burning inside, despite the struggle of pain, depression, or loss.

But wherever you’re sitting on this topic, you’re welcome here.

In this episode, Matt shares honestly on the ways he views hope, as well as the real challenges that both abuse survivors and the chronically ill face. It’s an insightful conversation, not a head-in-the-clouds message on hope. This is all about grassroots hope, real experiences, and encouragement for the struggling heart.

How do you engage hope? Let us know in the comments!

To connect with Matt more visit his blog at survivingmypast.net and be sure to download your FREE copy of his new book: Surviving Grief.

You can find Matt on the following social media channels:
Twitter: twitter.com/survivingmypast
Facebook: www.facebook.com/survivingmypast
Instagram: www.instagram.com/survivingmypast/

And be sure to subscribe to his podcast!

Want to listen to the episode on Marriage in Chronic Illness? Click here!


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Susan's novel, The Last Letter, is a story for the brave souls fighting Lyme disease. But it's also for their families - to gain understanding and insight into the struggles of their loved one.

Meet the Author: Susan Pogorzelski & The Last Letter

A few weeks back I had an email drop in my inbox from the lovely Susan Pogorzelksi, a Lyme author who released her book, The Last Letter back in September. She offered to send me a copy of her book and I am so happy to now share the love with another Lymie!

I asked if she would join me here on the blog to share a bit of herself and the passion behind her book and she happily agreed to have me interview her. Having her here with us today is such a treat and I hope you enjoy connecting with her story and passion. She is such a light for the Lyme community!

Meet Susan

I invited Susan onto the blog to share more about her book, The Last Letter, a fictional reflection of her personal journey fighting Lyme disease.

Thanks so much for joining us on the blog today, Susan!

Thanks for having me, Kami! It’s a pleasure!

When did you first start writing?

When I was in kindergarten, my best friend and I would recite stories to our teacher, who would then write them down for us. We’d illustrate them with rudimentary crayon drawings and make covers out of cardboard and contact paper, punching holes in the sides to bind them with metal rings. These were our first books.

I think I knew then that there was something special about books–about the stories within the pages and the magic they create. I was fascinated by the fact that I could play a part in that–actually, I still am! It’s nice to know that feeling has always been with me.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?

Writing wasn’t my professional goal until I think I was in middle school–when I learned that was something people could choose. It was just always something I did, a part of who I was.

When I was younger, I was a voracious reader, and my stories emulated what I was reading at the time: I wrote mysteries after consuming the books in the Fear Street series. I wrote a book about a group of friends who were runaways after reading survivalist/dystopian books by Scott O’Dell and Lois Lowry (stories which will never see the light of day!).

But then when I was around twelve or thirteen, I discovered A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and coming-of-age literature, and I was hooked. I learned that I could use writing as an outlet to figure out what I was thinking and feeling–to figure out life–and stories became that much more powerful. I think that’s when I decided I wanted to be an author. I wanted to be able to share a part of myself in that way.

I’ve started reading the copy of The Last Letter you sent me and am finding it such an intriguing approach to sharing about Lyme. Can you describe the book to readers?

Written as a series of letters between 1999 and 2003, The Last Letter is a coming-of-age story about Lia Lenelli, a teenage girl struggling to shape her own identity while a chronic illness threatens to tear her world apart. While the book is primarily a work of fiction, it’s a semi-autobiographical account of my own struggle to find a diagnosis and subsequent recovery from Lyme Disease, particularly the emotional toll that having such an illness can take.

From Susan: "I realized that fiction could be the perfect conduit to help those with Lyme feel like they’re not alone while bringing awareness to an illness that is so easily (and dangerously) dismissed."

What made you decide to write the book as fiction as opposed to an autobiography of your Lyme journey?

I’ve been blogging and journaling about my own journey through Lyme since I was first diagnosed in 2012 (and through fifteen years of misdiagnosis before that) but never had any intentions of publishing a book on the subject, despite prompts from friends and family to share my story–a story I know thousands of people can relate to.

Whenever I did consider it, I couldn’t bring myself to write–I felt like I’d already said what I wanted to say and what was left, I didn’t have words for. But then in 2014, right after I reached remission, I wrote the beginning of what would be the first draft of The Last Letter: a letter from a teenager named Amelia to a stranger, to be placed in a time capsule as a reminder that she had once existed. I didn’t know where it was leading, and so I put it aside.

The idea of leaving something behind as a reminder that I had once lived–the idea of legacy, identity, and survival–began to haunt me, especially considering what I’d been through with Lyme. And so, as I began to write more, I realized that I could tell my story–our story–in a way that provided some emotional relief while really exploring these themes.

As I’ve been reading the book I’ve thought of how hard it can be for us to revisit moments of our past when we are fighting illness. Whether it’s a moment of pain or even a memory of not being sick, they can be hard to relive. Did you struggle with this when writing this story?

This is so true and part of why it was necessary for me to craft my story around a fictional narrative. I think life has a way of anesthetizing our experiences–once you’re healthy, you forget what the worst of it was like, how bad it really was when you were sick.

When I went into remission, I thought I’d put Lyme behind me, but then in early 2015, I had a severe relapse from which I’m still recovering. I knew what I’d been through before, but I was so eager to move on with my life, I’d forgotten how bad it was until I found myself back there again.

Writing this book through my relapse made me not only remember that pain, but it forced me to confront it. Fiction provided enough of a distance that I could do so safely.

I read my book the other day for the first time since the release. I wanted to read it objectively–not as the writer or as an editor with a critical eye, but as a reader. I’ll admit, it was hard.

Because now that time has passed and I’m slowly getting better, I’m again forgetting all those days when I couldn’t lift my head from the pillow, or when I writhed from the pain in my legs, or how I fought for every word when I was writing the book because my neurological issues were so bad, I had only brief pockets of clarity before the fog took over.

Because I was writing the book as fiction, I could lie to myself and pretend it was Amelia’s story. Now I’m reminded that it was mine–that it’s all of ours in some way or another–because everything Lia experiences both symptomatically and emotionally is what I’ve experienced, too.

That’s always the hardest part: knowing how much truth there is even in fiction. But there’s also a sense of pride there. Because reliving those experiences, I’m reminded of what I survived–that I did it once, and I can do it again. It’s what keeps pushing me forward in recovery.

What do you hope readers experience when reading your book?

Part of the reason I chose fiction for this story is because fiction is a powerful form of storytelling. When you’re reading a memoir, the thought that this is someone else’s story is still lingering in the back of your mind.

But when you read fiction, you become the characters–you think, feel, and experience what they do. I realized that fiction could be the perfect conduit to help those with Lyme feel like they’re not alone while bringing awareness to an illness that is so easily (and dangerously) dismissed.

That’s all I could ever want for this book–for it to help someone. For someone to recognize themselves in it and know they’re not alone in their suffering–that there are people who are fighting along with them.

And for those who don’t have Lyme, I hope it brings to light what those with Lyme endure on a daily basis and why we need support, acceptance, and unconditional love more than ever.

What’s next for you? Are there dreams you have for 2017?

It’s been a long journey through recovery, so I’m hoping to keep getting better so I can be in a position where I can be of service to people. On the Lyme front, I’m hoping to do a lot more as far as advocacy and building awareness, especially when it comes to healing emotionally from this illness.

I’m not sure what that looks like yet, but I’m happy to be playing a small part by contributing my writing on The Mighty and the Global Lyme Alliance blog. I’m also working on my next novel, which I hope to release next fall.

Is there anything else you’d like the readers to know?

If I could speak directly: I want you to know I think you’re some of the bravest, most inspiring people I’ve ever met. This disease is ruthless, and it often feels lonely and isolating and like no one understands. To be able to face that takes so much strength and so much courage, and I hope more than anything that you’re able to recognize that strength and courage in yourself.

This Lyme community is something truly special. When you cry, someone is there to dry your tears. When you fall, others lift you up. When you feel weak, we’ll remind you that we’re fighting with you. Please don’t ever forget that you have people on your side and that you’re so much stronger than this disease makes you feel. Stay strong. Be brave.

And to you, Kami: Thank you for being such a strong voice in the Lyme community! It’s been a pleasure getting to know you, and I’m grateful for this opportunity to share my book.


A big thank you to Susan for joining me for this interview. And for being a voice of hope and compassion to Lyme sufferers around the globe. Your story is one that so many can relate to and find comfort in the reminder they’re not alone.

You can find Susan’s Lyme book, The Last Letter on Amazon and other online book retailers. Or you can purchase signed paperback copies on Susan’s website

To connect with Susan, look for her on the following social media outlets:

Twitter | Instagram | and Facebook at her page Lost in the Lymelight, a community focused on healing from the emotional impacts of Lyme disease.

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Are you looking for a professional business logo at an affordable cost? Check out the premade section at Eight Fourteen Designs! "Creative designs for your blog, shop and home!"

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"How beautiful it is when together, with arms linked, we rise."

This is Where Hope and Reality Coexist

Awhile ago I designed this shirt and it sat in my files. It sat because I was unsure of what it really meant to me.

Why were these words the ones that settled into my heart? I feel like I’m doing anything but rising above. I sit on the couch the majority of my days. And if I’m lucky I’ll sit on my porch for a few minutes.

I spend my time detoxing, treating, resting, treating, resting, detoxing, Netflixing, and treating again. I load the dishwasher as my biggest task many days.

I cry tears. Lots of them. I ask questions I don’t have answers to, feel deeply and ache hard.

But ‘rising above’?

I more often feel like I’m barely hovering below (whatever that means…let’s just go with it). I think of how slow my days are. How deeply I feel the weight of this intense struggle with Lyme. And I don’t view myself as exceptionally positive or optimistic. In fact, lately I’ve described my feelings as “meh”.

Yet these words kept coming back: Rising Above Lyme.  For weeks I wrestled with them until their truth sank in deep.

These words echoed in my heart for weeks before I officially released the t-shirt design. When the truth of the words "rising above" fully sank in, it wasn't at all what I expected.

‘Rising above’ doesn’t mean we disconnect from our reality. It doesn’t mean we cover up the scars, deflect, or pretend the hard isn’t there. That the trauma, the memories, the fear or the pain doesn’t exist.

Rising above can simply say: I will breathe in this moment of laughter, however rare it is.

I will appreciate and give back to the new friendships I’ve found in the midst of this sick life. I’ll choose to be real and honest, even when it’s hard.

Rising above can happen from our couches, our sick beds, our pile of tears tangled up with the layers of illness.

Because this is not the “positivity train”. This is where reality and hope coexist in even the smallest of moments. 

We rise when wrapping arms around another who needs someone to hope FOR them, WITH them.

We rise in the moments we advocate for the voiceless, the oppressed, the marginalized.

We rise when we listen to our body’s need for rest, for nutrients, for treatment.

We rise when we open our eyes to see someone that’s different than us with kind, compassionate eyes.

And how beautiful it is when together, with arms linked, we rise.

Rising Above Lyme: The story behind these words that have settled deep within my soul.

I designed this shirt to promote Lyme disease awareness as well as another to offer a universal “Rising Above” design that can be worn by anyone. You can see all of my designs and grab your very own here!

This post contains affiliate links. 

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Tanya Fierro of My Fruitful Home shares how she finds encouragement through the Psalms. Living with chronic illness is no easy task and her message is one of honesty and encouragement for those seeking it in their faith.

Encouragement from the Psalms: A Guest Post by Tanya Fierro

I’m happy to introduce today’s guest blogger, Tanya Fierro of My Fruitful Home. On her blog she writes about family, faith and home – all through the lens of living with a chronic illness. 

Do you find there are times when no one understands what you’re going through?

Do you feel like sometimes God is silent or he doesn’t seem aware of your situation? I know I have. It’s in these times that I draw encouragement from the Psalms. They have always spoken to me in a real way. So many of them are filled with raw emotion.

When I read them I am reminded that it is OK to be real with God and to even question Him. He can take it. If David can express his emotions and he was called “A man after God’s own heart”, then we can be expressive with God too.

It’s a challenge living with a chronic illness.

It can cause anxiety, depression, and low self esteem. I know I’ve dealt with all three. One of my favorite Psalms that addresses this is Psalm 41:3 (NIV). It reads, “The Lord sustains them on their sickbed and restores them from their bed of illness.”

On some days I feel like I can barely get out of bed, so it is comforting to know that God will sustain me even when I feel like I can’t make it through another day. Can you relate?

Psalm 13:1-3 and 5-6 are also Psalms that I turn to when I am feeling discouraged and helpless:

“How long will You forget me, Lord? Forever? How long will You look the other way when I am in need? How long must I be hiding daily anguish in my heart? How long shall my enemy have the upper hand?

Answer me, O Lord my God; give me light in my darkness lest I die … But I will always trust in You and in Your mercy and shall rejoice in Your salvation. I will sing to the Lord because He has blessed me so richly.” (TLB)

Living a life of chronic illness can feel more than discouraging - it can feel unbearable at times. Tanya Fierro of My Fruitful Home has shared her thoughts on the blog regarding how she finds encouragement in the Psalms. And how you can, too.

I’ll be honest, there are some days when I feel far from God.

I long to connect with Him and I feel like I don’t hear anything. I’m so glad David didn’t hesitate to cry out to God with his true feelings, but in the end he says he will always trust in Him. Even when I have questions and wrestle with God, in the end, I too trust God with my life.

My last favorite verses in Psalms are from Psalm 6:2-3;6. “Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am faint; heal me, Lord for my bones are in agony. My soul is in deep anguish. How long, Lord, how long?”

Go ahead and give God everything that’s inside. Lay it before Him and be cleansed and comforted.

Do you look for encouragement from the Psalms? I would love to know which ones are your favorite.

Tanya blogs at My Fruitful Home about having an abundant life while living with a chronic illness. You can find her on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter.

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Illness has a way of shifting the way we not only process our day to day life, but how we view the life. Priorities shift and reality sets in. And we'll each find our own unique perspective in illness. Finding our own way to cope with, survive and even mysteriously thrive in spite of a life of sickness. These 3 bloggers share their thoughts on their perspective now.

How Chronic Illness Shifts Your Perspective: 3 Bloggers Share

Perspective has a way of shifting when your life gets turned upside down by illness. It’s impossible to go through hard things without it affecting you in some way. Whether that be in the form of challenging you, breaking you, or taking away your abilities and a life you once lived.

This month I asked several of the bloggers from my Chronic Illness Bloggers network if they would share some of their honest thoughts on perspective. How it has shifted in illness and what that looks like in the lives they fight to live.

I was moved by their responses and am sure many of you will be as well. Every word and unique perspective is valid and authentically theirs. And it’s a reminder that though we may not be on the same page, viewing life through the same lens – we all have a common thread.

We’re all reaching for a way to survive.

"By being present, I now notice small moments in life and gain much strength from the beauty within nature." - Kirstin Larkin

Kirstin Larkin

Highway to Healing
Find Kirstin on Facebook and Instagram

I once led a fast paced lifestyle running through life without really living it. I was too busy with school, work, and friends to appreciate all the small gifts of life.

When I developed a chronic illness six years ago, a dramatic shift occurred in me mentally, emotionally and physically. I was no longer able to speed through my days and instead was forced to sit alone with my thoughts. I turned to meditation to help me get through the loneliness. As a result, it changed my perspective on life.

I learned that rushing through my days was not a fulfilling way to live. Instead, I needed to be more aware of the life that was around me and appreciate all things large and small. By being present, I now notice small moments in life and gain much strength from the beauty within nature.

In my times of silence, I learned that I am not invincible and my life can be taken at any moment. This has reminded me to be grateful for every breath, every sunrise, and every sunset. I have become a firm believer in showing gratitude for all things because life is fragile.

By changing my perspective on life, I have become a more positive person. I am centered and happy because each decision I make now comes from a place of love. It saddens me that I rushed through the first twenty one years of my life and didn’t truly appreciate all the gifts life gave me.

"Chronic Illness, and its not-so-subtle reminders, drastically change all your choices. It's that daily shadow you just can't shake." - Seda Bryant

Seda Bryant

Overcome Lupus
Find Seda on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

When you’re given 3 weeks to live and you don’t know if every daily sharp pain is your last, your perspective has to change. While all the flowery quotes and the transformation into a new appreciative version of you ring true, the reality is, your own mortality stares you in the face everyday.

I was a person who felt invincible. Never feeling insecure about my stability or future. Ruled by ambition, I worked a lifetime in 15 years. Literally living a compressed life, I now have the physical health & perspective of a 60 year-old in my 30’s. Facing everyday like it’s the last.

Even five years later, mortality becomes ingrained in your every move. Every time you reach for bottles of meds, eat a meal, take a step. Chronic Illness and its not-so-subtle reminders, drastically change all your choices. It’s that daily shadow you just can’t shake.

So bullshit conversations are no more. The phrase “I don’t have time” becomes true to life. Anyone not beneficial to leaving that legacy you were brought to this earth to leave, becomes inconsequential. You problem solve and slash & cut through doubters, unsupportive family, lovers and draining relationships like a navy seal with a machete in the jungle.

Nothing is worth dragging out. You must streamline all things, and move with the focus and tactical efficiency of a sniper.

So one poignant & powerful little word leads the charge as the new ruling force of your life.

Onward.

Because you literally don’t have time….for anything else.

"Through growth and acceptance of my path - this fight for wellness - my faith has strengthened. And for this, I'm truly thankful." - Terry Mayfield

Terry Mayfield

Color Me Lyme
Find Terry on Facebook, Instagram & Twitter

Despite the plethora of struggles that accompany being chronically ill, housebound, and feeling inexplicably miserable most days, I am happier today than I’ve ever been. I am beyond grateful for the blessings that surround me.

Perhaps this may seem odd or even a bit twisted to some, especially to those who truly “get” the dark, painful, and isolating side of living with chronic Lyme disease, or chronic illness in general.

Learning to cope and live with these debilitating diseases that have consumed my body and enveloped my world has been undeniably trying. At times completely overwhelming, with a fear of no positive end in sight. However, through growth and acceptance of my path – this fight for wellness – my faith has strengthened. And for this, I’m truly thankful.

I try to keep focus on a future filled with boundless energy – feeling healthy and strong. Doing my best to learn from these current health challenges and trials. Constantly reminding myself to be grateful for this life I’ve been given. Sincerely appreciating all of the simple pleasures along my journey – taking nothing for granted.

The years of battling illness, to some degree, have provided me an enlightened sense. Realizing that sweating the small stuff and worrying about what may be out of my control, is a complete and absurd waste of precious time while on this planet. Perhaps I’m even a little less OCD! Bottom line, I am learning to “let go and let God.”

Whether you are a believer or not, my wish for you is as follows: I hope you are able to embrace ALL the good surrounding you, giving thanks along the way. Life is precious and full of blessings. It’s all in one’s perspective.


How about you? How has chronic illness or hardship changed your perspective?

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Behind the Maker: Meet the owner of TrendyStop. Hannah's story is sure to inspire. As someone who has faced many challenges with her health, her spirit of determination and her passion for creativity shine through her handmade items featured in her shop!

Making in Illness: Hannah from TrendyStop (+ Special Offer!)

Last month I began this new series and I couldn’t be more excited about it! I’m loving getting to know each of these shop owners. And it’s such a special thing to then be able to share their stories and creations with you!

Today’s guest is Hannah Moore. She and I connected on Instagram over our shared struggle of Lyme and an all-too-similar ache for motherhood. Beyond her strong spirit in her fight against Lyme and other illnesses, the amount of creativity and beauty she’s put into her shop will impress anyone!

Before I introduce her I just have to show you the items that Hannah sent my way to try out. YOU GUYS. This scarf!! That wristlet! I wore the scarf for the first time on our recent trip to the coast and I’m in love.

 

An Interview with Hannah Moore: Owner of TrendyStop! Handmade Scarves, Wristlets and More!

 

Behind the Maker: An interview with Hannah Moore, owner of TrendyStop

 

Now for the BEST part of this post:

Get to know Hannah

 

Meet Hannah Moore: Maker of Handmade Scarves, Head Wraps

 

Connect with Hannah on Facebook | Instagram

A few of Hannah’s faves:

Favorite Motto: “If you’re going through hell, just keep going.”

Favorite Food: I lucked out and married a man who loves grilling, so I have gotten quite attached to his phenomenal steaks on the grill. Cheesy potato casserole to go with, and I’m a happy lady.

Favorite TV to Watch: I’m not ashamed to admit that I watch a LOT of tv, with most of my true favorites being reality shows. Human behavior has always fascinated me. However, I’d choose a football game (specifically my GB Packers) over any show, any day!

Where are you from?

I was born and raised near Milwaukee, WI. I lived in Minneapolis for a few years around college, but came back to Wisconsin. I moved up “north” to Oshkosh when I got married, and have grown content with a slightly slower pace of life, and the lack of traffic!

Can you tell me about your family?

My family and husband are my world. We are a tight group with a tremendous amount of love for each other. I’m the oldest, with a young sister and then brother. We all work hard on bettering ourselves, supporting each other, having a lot of laughs, and enjoying the little things together.

When were you first diagnosed with your chronic illness? What effects has your illness had on your life?

I’ve had a weak immune system since I was young. I became a restaurant manager at 23 and saw a desirable future in front of me for the first time in my life. Things were going really great and I was getting awesome opportunities and feedback.

Then I started going downhill in the health department. I pushed for another year, but finally couldn’t even get out of bed. I had to give up my job in early 2010 and lost most of myself in the process.

I saw some improvements as I began with a holistic doctor, but became drastically worse on my honeymoon in 2012. In early 2014, after getting laughed out of many offices, I found a doctor that knew to look for chronic Lyme. He ordered tests and started my early treatment.

A Look Behind Trendy Stop: Handmade scarves, pacifier clips, head wraps and more! Meet Hannah's story of fighting chronic illness and running her own handmade shop!

Three years later, I’ve switched doctors and treatments several times, but I am so thankful to have fantastic help now. I will likely be done with treatment in a few months, and almost all of my symptoms are gone.

It’s been brutal to lose my personality, ability to be active, annoying friends when needing to cancel plans, and missing lots of fun events, to name a few. The most painful aspect has been having to put my deep desire for motherhood on hold. I’ve always felt that is my one real purpose in life, but I’ve been too terrified to pass on the Lyme. My husband has been the most patient man, my rock and my happy place. I will never take that for granted!

What inspired you to open TrendyStop? How did you decide on what products you wanted to create?

I was living in Maryland with my husband for his job, and I was barely functional and bored. I’d grown up sewing, thanks to my professional seamstress Grandma and experienced Mom. I knew I remembered the basics and wanted to make a few infinity scarves for myself, so I ordered up a miniature machine.

I threw up a few photos on Facebook and was surprised at the response. I’ve wanted to have my own business since I was pretty young, so I combined the two concepts and put my heart into making it a success. I have a lot of awesome supporters who helped me take off, and a couple ladies who mentored me along the way.

Check out TrendyStop: The place to shop for handmade scarves, head wraps, pacificer clips and baby & kid scarves!

As the seasons change, I try to come up with other items that will sell in the warmer weather, but I always focus on keeping my items fashionable and leaning towards the practical side. Customer service, creativity and working with my hands have always been where I thrive, so I absolutely love that this business combines all of those and more! Having this purpose the last few years has gotten me through the many hard days, and it always puts a smile on my face to see a positive review.

How do you manage running a shop while fighting illness? Do you have others who help you?

My orders and business averages out to a part time job, so it ends up being pretty flexible for me to be able to work on tasks when I have better hours and/or days. Once I started though, I found that working with my hands always makes me feel better, so it’s been healing.

My husband assists me at craft fairs and hangs out in my work loft if I need to do projects into the night, but I mostly work alone. I’m very particular about my items, so that’s probably best.

What advice or encouragement would you give to someone who is thinking about opening their first shop?

I would tell that person to make sure they really love what they want to sell, because you spend many hours focusing on those items, and you’ll have to put a lot of love and time into it. Because of the many sellers on Etsy, it can be tricky to rise above the competition. So I recommend participating in team games that can boost views & favorites.

Try to focus on a product that is unique and will make you stand out. Talking with a successful shop owner will help you avoid early pitfalls and having other social media accounts is very helpful too. Don’t forget about signing up through a friend, so both of you get the free listings bonus!

Meet Hannah in the Living Grace Blog Meet the Maker series! In addition to fighting Lyme disease, Hannah creates beautiful thing for women and kids of all ages!

Is there anything else you want to add or share about you and your shops?

Everything I make and sell in the shop is out of fabric or yarn. I use a regular sewing machine instead of a serger, with a focus on infinity scarves – lots of plaids, knits a silky. I sell tons of kids scarves, and then supplement with wristlets and lanyards, headwraps, arm knitted scarves, pacifier clips, and button earrings.

I’m so thankful for the bonds and friendships I’ve gained through having an Etsy shop. It’s been healing, encouraging and brought joy to my life. Kami, thank you so much for giving me this opportunity to hang out on your beautiful blog!

Exclusive offer for Living Grace readers!

Hannah has graciously extended a limited-time offer to you lovely readers in her shop! Her handmade scarves are perfect to add to your fall style. 😉
Simply visit TrendyStop on Etsy and use code BLOGLOVE15 when you checkout to receive 15% off your TOTAL PURCHASE! Offer good through October 15, 2016.

Be sure to find Hannah’s shop and social media and say “hi!”

TrendyStop Etsy Shop
Facebook | Instagram

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The strength found in believing YOU ARE ENOUGH.

The Strength Found in Embracing Your Worth

I wrote this post for ProHealth’s Inspirational Corner, where it first appeared last month:

Confession? I’ve never been a super confident person.

I am kind, yes. Caring, yes. But confident? It’s never been my strong point.

Many of my years have been spent feeling ‘less than’; worrying too much about what other people thought and holding on to far too many careless words spoken to me. I have struggled with the thought that I’m somehow too much in the same breath that I don’t quite measure up.

When illness hit hard several years ago, this area of my life felt as exposed as it ever had before. I couldn’t push down the feelings any longer. They bubbled up and overwhelmed me. And as a result, I believed many lies in the wake of all that was lost over that first year of illness.

When I could no longer drive, I believed I was a burden.

When I had to cancel plans over and over again, I believed I was a disappointment.

When I could no longer work or play the same role in community, I believed that I no longer had anything to offer.

There were moments when I could push away these lies, but more often than not the honest truth was: they crippled me. And every moment that they weighed heavy on my heart, they kept me from seeing myself through honest eyes.

They kept me from embracing the strength that comes from believing the following words:

‘I am enough’.

Regardless of how limited my illness has left me, how many friendships have faded, or how discouraged I have felt: the core of who I am is still here. And if it’s changed, I believe it’s only changed for the better. My spirit is stronger. I have a deeper love and compassion for others. My approach to life is more purposeful and authentic.

And friend? You are enough, too.

Believing that Who You are is Enough When You're Chronically Ill.

When you and I believe that powerful statement, if only for a moment at a time, we recognize that we are more than our illnesses. We choose to believe we have value. That we are more than the sum of the things we cannot do.

I’ll be the first to admit that this change in perception is not an easy switch. The many reminders of how different life now looks makes this challenging.

But it’s possible…

We can turn to the people who believe in us. Sometimes we need the encouragement of others to bring life to these words. People who see our bravery and our worth. We feel valued when we are reminded: we are loved.

Tapping into our faith can help lay the foundation. This will look different for each of us as we all have different backgrounds and perception of faith. Find ways to connect with the truths that remind you of your worth, that bring your soul rest and peace.

We can put our abilities, our value on paper. Sometimes we need to make the effort to own our gifts. Perhaps we could benefit from writing out the talents/abilities that others say we have or that we see in ourselves. Taking the time to focus on that list periodically (or as often as needed) can help refocus our thoughts about ourselves.

Saying it out loud helps to engrave in on our hearts. Okay, so it sounds weird. But stay with me! Hearing ourselves say it is powerful. Even if it’s just a whisper to begin with. If you need to wait until you’re alone, that’s fine. You could say something as simple as the following: “I am enough. I am valuable. I am talented. I have something to offer.”

Even if we have to remind ourselves of this over and over again, that’s okay! I believe baby steps are just as valuable as giant leaps. Needing reminders doesn’t change the fact that this statement is true for us.

Our lives may look different, but our worth hasn’t changed one bit. We’re still as valuable as ever.

We are more than enough.

 

Want to read more about how I’m learning to find life, healing and purpose in the midst of this life of illness? You can download your own free copy of my book “Embracing the Raw” by clicking here.

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Behind the Maker Series: Kacie Fleming

This is the first installment of a new series I’m starting here on the blog entitled: Behind the Maker! Each month I’ll be featuring a shop owner who not only creates beautiful things and runs their own business, but is also a chronic illness warrior.

Today I’m beyond excited to introduce to you Kacie Fleming, the maker and owner behind not just one, but TWO highly creative shops: Katya Valera Jewelry and Streetlights at Midnight. I met her on Instagram this year where we began connecting through our healing journeys. She is a sweet soul, full of light and authenticity and I just can’t wait to share her story and creations with you all!

In addition to hearing about her life as a business owner and chronic illness warrior, she has something special to offer you lovely readers! So be sure to take advantage of that at the bottom of this post! (Or share this post to give a “hint, hint” to someone in your life…I won’t judge.  ;-))

Meet Kacie Fleming

Katya Valera and Street Lights at Midnight

Connect with Kacie on Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Favorite Quote:
“He brought them out of darkness and the deepest gloom and broke away their chains. Let them give thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love and His wonderful deeds for men, for He breaks down gates of bronze and cuts through bars of iron.” [ Psalm 107:14-16 ]

Favorite Food: Plantain fries. Odd I know, but seriously just sliced up and fried in olive oil and pink salt. They are amazing. (Dip them in guacamole!  🙂 )

Favorite TV Show: My favorite TV show is definitely Friends. As with most shows it seems, it has its issues, but it is great for a much-needed laugh and perfect for background noise while I’m working on my shops.

Can you tell me a bit about yourself and your family?

I grew up in West Virginia on a gorgeous cattle farm (cows mooing and the sound of a Ford truck will always make me happy…) with my parents and older sister. Both of us are grown up and married now, and I have the most adorable niece and brand new nephew. I’m very close with my family, and my mom is a huge supporter on my journey to healing, as we are both on the same journey.

I live with my husband of four years in North Carolina, and he is the most patient, long suffering, hardworking man I (and probably most people, honestly) have ever met. He lives this crazy ride of chronic illness along with me, and I know I could not have gotten through these years without him. We met at college my senior year, and though I graduated with my B.A. in Creative Writing, the infinitely more valuable result of that education was finding him!

When were you first diagnosed with your chronic illness?

I was originally labeled with Fibromyalgia in January 2011. I had just graduated college the summer before and had become mysteriously sick, seemingly out of the blue, soon after that. Fast forward three years and lots of prescriptions later, the whole time assuming that I had no choice but to stay this sick, and I discovered the world of holistic medicine and eventually my true issues.

I finally learned in the summer of 2015 that I actually have Babesia (a Lyme co-infection), Celiac Disease, the MTHFR gene mutation, Leaky Gut, mercury poisoning, autoimmune issues, hormone and liver issues, and other various issues all teaming up to make it no wonder I was so sick—and a wonder I’d been functioning as much as I had.

Behind the Maker Series

What effects has illness had on your life?

Illness has absolutely, completely changed my life. It’s inevitable with chronic illness that every decision you make comes to revolve around your health and, in my case, the quest for healing. I’m unable to go out and get a job, getting to go to church is a rare occurrence, and accomplishing things like laundry and dishes is a big deal.

My dreams have been indefinitely put on hold, and my college degree has been collecting dust. But I’ve finally found real hope for healing, which I can’t believe I never knew existed, in holistic, homeopathic treatments. We are witnessing the healing slowly but surely, so I am trying to not let those dreams slip totally out of reach. And I’m finally using my degree a bit in my card and print shop.

Can you tell the readers how you landed on the names of your two shops?

Katya Valera (pronounced KAH-tyuh Vuh-LAIR- uh), my handmade jewelry business, definitely has a unique story. I love Russian and took it for two years in college, during which time “Katya” was my nickname. “Valera,” means “healthy”. So the two together essentially mean “Healthy Kacie,” which I am not, so this shop is my defiant act of creativity and productivity while being too sick to go out and get a “real” job.

Streetlights at Midnight, my original card and print business, was inspired by my long-time love of the light-shadows that come from streetlights shining against the wall in soft oranges in the middle of the night. It seemed fitting for a shop that focuses on encouraging gifts for those struggling with chronic illness or any other kind of trial.

Behind the Maker Interview on Living Grace Blog

When did you first open each of them? What inspired you to open?

I first opened Katya Valera in fall 2011 on a complete whim. It wasn’t even called Katya Valera yet. I had been searching online for bridesmaid jewelry for my upcoming wedding and kept seeing all these clay rose pieces that I loved. Several YouTube videos later, I decided I could totally make those myself. Within two weeks I had bought supplies and opened my shop with ten pieces of jewelry.

We’re now coming up on five years of this shop and I’m so glad I just went for it. My jewelry has evolved a great deal over the years, but it’s helped me stay sane during the hardest years of my life. It’s also ended up being my small attempt at fundraising for my medical bills.

Streetlights at Midnight has officially been open for only about a month now. Though, my cards have been part of another shop of mine, which Streetlights at Midnight has now replaced, for about a year.

I got the idea to have a card and print shop last summer, as I’ve submitted to greeting card companies in the past. A couple were accepted but I still had all these cards I’d written and nothing to do with them. So instead of dealing with submissions and rejections it occurred to me to just make and sell them myself.

How do you manage running a shop while fighting illness? Do you have others who help you?

I run both shops entirely on my own, which is honestly how I like it! My husband helps when I need to vent or make big decisions and is also my photographer when I need to model the jewelry myself. Otherwise, it’s all me: planning, designing, writing, photographing, editing, listing, making, and packaging.

It helps that this is a very flexible job, so generally I can organize my work around my body’s needs. At times it does get rather overwhelming, but that is usually self-induced (overachiever perfectionist, anyone?). And I really don’t know what I would do without these shops. They help me feel like I’m accomplishing something while also being fulfilling creatively.

Chronic Illness Crafter, Kacie Fleming

What advice or encouragement would you give to someone who is thinking about opening their first shop?

There are three things that I find most important to consider:

  1. The cost. Consider how much each piece of whatever it is you’re making will cost you, how much you’ll have to charge for it to make a profit, and if you’ll have the finances to keep it all going.
  2. Your business name. As I mentioned, my shop began as a whim, so I started with a name that I’d only thought about for a few days. A few months down the road, I realized that it needed to be changed. So I had to go through the trouble of re-branding, redesigning my shop, and getting new business cards, etc. The process was worth it, but it probably could have been avoided.
  3. The legal side. This type of information oddly seems to be a secret in the world of small business, but it’s important. Find out if your state requires a business license (probably) and if you need to be collecting sales tax and paying that, along with regular income tax (also probably). Your state might have a small business association you can consult.

I wish I had known these three things when I was planning to open my first shop. Though in retrospect, they may have deterred me from jumping in. So in a way I’m glad I didn’t. But life would have been a whole lot easier in the long run if I had. 😉

Anything else you want to add or share about you or your shop(s)?

This year at Katya Valera I started releasing seasonal collections, along with a seasonal box, KV Wishbox, that precedes each collection. It lets you browse and pick from the selection at a huge discount before it’s officially released. I’m so excited about the new Summer Collection that released in June, “Drops of Summertime,” which was inspired by the quintessential moments of summer days and nights. We’re talking watermelon, starlight, honey, sea breezes and more—it was a lot of fun to plan!

The Fall/Winter Collection is now in the works and will hit the shelves in October, with the Fall/Winter KV Wishbox releasing in September. I highly recommend checking it out on its website and taking advantage of it when the time comes!

Meanwhile at Streetlights at Midnight, prints are coming soon. All original quotes currently available as printables will also be available in tangible form, which I’m very excited about and eager to launch as soon as I’m able. And special gift sets are coming soon too—more ways to encourage those you care about!

Original quotes, downloadable encouragement cards

A special offer for Living Grace readers:

Kacie is offering a limited-time discount to all you readers for both of her shops!

Katya Valera: Use code LIVINGGRACE for 10% off through August 13th

Streetlights at Midnight: Buy two printed or digital cards, get one FREE through August 13th. (Just purchase two cards, then let Kacie know in the note at checkout which card you would like to add.)

Don’t forget to follow Kacie’s shops & blog!
Katya Valera: Facebook | Instagram
Streetlights at Midnight: Facebook | Instagram
Life & Dreams Blog

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Survey Results: Coffee and Pie Charts

Last week I posted a survey in an effort to hear from YOU, my readers. And boy did you guys rally!

Out of just under 200 email subscribers I had 42 responses. My secret [lofty] goal was to have 50 of you chime in, so I was pleasantly surprised to get close to hitting that number! A BIG thank you to all who took the time to participate. It meant so much to have your help!

So what did I ask? And what did all of you readers respond? Let’s start with the basics, in case any of you blogging friends want to get the full skinny on how I went about it.

How I Created My Survey

I used google forms to create my survey (for free) and I loved how easy it was to format and personalize. Linking a google sheet to my survey was a piece of cake and gave me the ability to read individual responses all in one place. It was also useful to see the results in pie chart form, which I loved! (Visual person, here).

When I was pulling ideas together for my questions, I knew I wanted my survey to meet the following criteria:

  • Take less than 5 minutes to complete
  • Consist of multiple choice answers (to give me the most clear feedback)
  • Straight forward questions
  • Include a response box for people to share as many of their thoughts as they wanted.

Through the survey I really wanted to get a feel for who I have following the blog. I wanted to hear how I can best connect and support you all through what I write here. But the process needed to be quick and painless for you while giving me valuable, clear insight.

So I stuck with 5 questions along with an open response box at the end for any added thoughts. Some would be fine completing the 2 minute survey without leaving any comments, but I knew others (like myself) might want to say more.

The Survey Results

This was my favorite part: hearing from you!! For starters, I know there’s a mixture of backgrounds among those who follow my blog. However difficult it is, I have accepted that I simply cannot please everyone. (Hello, I’m Kami: a glacially-recovering-people-pleaser).

But it IS important to me to do the best I can to share things that you actually want to read. So beyond general topics for the blog, I also wanted to know what would be most helpful/interesting to you whenever I create another eBook.

On to the juicy stuff! Here’s what I asked, what the survey-takers said, and some pretty, colorful pie charts to make you hungry. Grab your cup of Joe (or drink of choice) and let’s begin!

How I found out what my readers wanted from my blog

This first question was so helpful to me. It helped give me an idea of what you actually look for when you come here to the blog. I’ve been working on some new posts and series within these topics so I’m looking forward to sharing them even more now!

Survey results: What my readers want!

Obviously we have a few different camps here, but I’m glad many of you are happy to simply follow the blog. 😉 In the coming weeks I’ll be brainstorming details for a private community group as well as a “readers write in” series. So please be sure to shoot me an email if you’re interested in participating in either!

What do readers want? A look at my blog's survey and results.

After sharing my first podcast here on the blog, I wasn’t sure if it was going to be a regular thing or just a one-timer. But, several of you reached out personally to say how much that episode resonated with you, so I decide to consider. Your answers will help me as I (slowly) work on creating a more formal podcast series!

Future eBook and Content

Knowing your audience: do you know what your readers want?

I was pleasantly surprised to see that over half of you would purchase a future eBook written by me! Your support means the world and I don’t take your trust lightly.

Find out what your readers want with a simple survey!

The top two desired topics were neck and neck! I’ll be brainstorming which direction I’ll be going first, but I’m super excited about both.

In addition to the questionnaire, I left space at the end of the survey for you to share further thoughts, concerns, or ideas. I was surprised and thankful for the time many of you took to give your suggestions and encouragement. Here are some of the highlights (no names):

You’re doing great work, sending lots of love and healing vibes to you!”

I think it would be great to see guest posts and or series featuring other writers who write about these topics, too.”

I truly enjoy your writing Kami. You have such a wonderful gift, please continue to share it with the world.

I think you’re doing a great job Kami, would love to see more podcasts in the future. You relate to your audience well! Keep up the great work!”

Not a chronic sufferer, but thought questions from fellow sufferers would be helpful to others.”

Just…WOW. You guys are the absolute best. The suggestions, advice, and encouragement were all so appreciated!

As I go over the results and brainstorm in the coming weeks, I’ll be updating on what you can expect through my mailing list first. Be sure to sign up if you want to stay up to speed. Also, if you missed the survey and wish to add your thoughts I’d still love to hear from you!

Here’s to continuing the mission here with grace and adventure. I couldn’t do it without your help!

What are you most looking forward to?

Do you blog and want to know more about how to run your own survey? Check out these resources that helped inspire me with creating and running mine:

The Surprisingly Simple Secret to Knowing What Your Readers Want

Bloggers: Do You Give Your Readers What They Want?

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Finding new dreams when life throws a wrench in your plans.

Shifting Dreams: When Life Changes Your Plans

Yesterday as I was lying on the couch I watched the branches outside gently dancing in the wind. I thought of how nice of a day it was and how fun it would be to drive myself to a nearby lake. And then instantly thought of how much would have to change just to accomplish that tiny task.

Some days the whole illness thing is quite a drag, I’m not gonna lie.

But I’m a glutton for punishment, as my husband lovingly tells me. So my daydreams didn’t stop there.

I though of how cozy it would be to visit a local coffee shop, without the fear of someone’s perfume or loud voices sending my symptoms into a tailspin. Then, of later sitting at the lake, without worry of how the sun’s warmth or bright rays may affect my delicate system.

I dreamed of someday exploring the long list of waterfalls here in Oregon. (Sing it with me: Don’t go chasing waterfalls…)

I’ve thought about dreams a lot in the last couple of years. Plans I had made. Goals I had set. Visions of where I’d be as I approach the big 3-0 this year.

I’m sure you aren’t surprised when I say that living with Lyme disease and having a handicap parking pass weren’t exactly at the top of my bucket list. Let alone ON the list.

Before sickness took hold, Trevin and I had envisioned that by now we would have a budding family. We would have traveled to Spain, among other cities, states, and countries on our list.

We planned to move further north than southern California – and that we actually did accomplish! (Hello, southern Oregon. Don’t tell Trev, but I have a pretty big crush on you).

There are many things about our life that I’ll admit would never make my dream list. I’m sure you can think of things in your own life that weren’t things you’d have chosen either.

Yet, somehow…here you are.

Perhaps in a job you never dreamed of having, in a city you thought would be the last place you’d live, or single when you’ve always dreamed of marriage and a family.

It can feel depressing at times, can’t it? Sitting in this place of “what now?” or “will this ever happen/change for me?” We wonder what dreams we dare to keep holding onto and if it’s time to just let go.

For some of these plans, letting go can give beautiful freedom. For others, there is deep grief involved in loosening our grip. There is so much pain in accepting that some things may just never be.

And even though this place is raw and feels deserted,

I believe dreams can still exist here.

They may look different, yes. They might sit in the shadows, over in the corner of “someday, I want to do this. Today I legitimately can’t, but someday I will.”

They could be the kind of dreams that feel small or maybe even as if we’re settling for less, but they’re the dreams we have the strength to reach for. The ability to cherish in this moment.

These are the ones that give us hope wherever our hearts are sitting. They’re the dreams that don’t require us to wait for xyz to happen before we bask in their beauty.

They give us a sparkle now.

Chronic illness and shifting dreams

My simple dreams have become my fuel of late. They may seem far too basic to some, but they’re just the right size for me.

They’re things like being able to enjoy short visits with family or going for a drive through the countryside with Trev. It’s the task of successfully nurturing the pot of herbs a friend gave me and crafting a blog post each week.

These are my little dreams, filled with hope and purpose. They are reachable and enjoyable NOW.

I still have the bigger dreams. The dreams of traveling, building a family, becoming a better writer, attending cooking classes, and beating Lyme disease. But the reality is that sometimes those dreams feel so distant it’s painful.

So I am learning to give myself permission to set them back on their shelf when my heart is too heavy to hold them. To remind myself that I’m allowed to grieve what cannot be, what has been lost.

And I’ll keep reaching for the day they can be made possible. Hoping for someday. Asking God for the answers I’m aching for.

But for now, I’ll hold onto the pieces of these dreams within view.

I have a husband to love and support. Nieces and nephews to enjoy. A community of writers that inspire me to keep sharpening my skill. Fellow illness warriors who amaze and encourage me to keep fighting. An incredibly wise doctor who is advocating for my health and giving me hope to dream of wellness.

These are my pebbles of hope. My current fuel for tomorrows.

My plans and circumstances may change, but I will still reach to be a dreamer.

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