Middleton Place, South Carolina - One of the photos I submitted for critique for the "photo walk."

"I'm so proud of you," my friend messaged me in early December. "You seem to be blossoming."

I had that feeling about myself. I am growing and changing. At work, my coworkers say that "you have come out of your shell." In my writing life, I am taking initiative -- with encouragement! -- submitting literary work to journals and organizing a query to a magazine. I entered a photo/story competition with a photo I shot while a Northern Michigan reporter.

And "Kestrel: A Journal of Literature and Art," the literary journal of Fairmont State University in West Virginia, decided to publish an essay I wrote built around two photographs I took at my family's West Virginia reunion last year.

Last weekend, I went to a "photo walk" in a nearby city where participants submitted 5-7 photos for critique by a professional photographer. It was intimidating, but I did it! The upshot is that I met a volunteer from work at the "walk" (small world!) who invited me to attend her photography club with her. She also wants to go shooting together in the spring. She is an amazing photographer, so I am sure to learn a lot!

The lesson I am taking away is that if you make an effort and put yourself out there, good things happen. This is a great lesson for a shy person to learn.

Last night, I attended a leadership conference at a local church. It was inspiring and I took a lot away from it.  I sat with the members of my 30's and 40's small group.

Now, I am reading a book recommended by one of the pastors who preached at the leadership conference: "Emotionally Healthy Spirituality," written by Pastor Peter Scazzero.

Scazzero writes that one of the mistakes Christians make is "dying to the wrong parts."

"God never asked us to die to the healthy desires and pleasures of life--to friendships, joy, art, music, beauty, recreation, laughter, and nature," he writes. "God plants desires in our hearts so we will nurture and enjoy them."

I think that, as I blossom, I am discovering or rediscovering what some of these healthy desires of my heart are -- for companionship, for laughter, for friendship. For writing, for photography, for piano. For serving others.

I also am learning to say, "no," to some of the unhealthy desires and to moderate the intensity of my emotions. Yes, I still "feel all the feels." But I don't have to act. Instead, I can choose positives -- to journal, to exercise, to play piano.

And, oh boy, do I have dreams!

"When I ask people, 'Tell me about your wishes, hopes, and dreams,' they are often speechless," writes Scazzero.

"'Why do you ask?' they respond. 'Isn't my only wish, hope, and dream supposed to be to serve Jesus?'

"Not exactly. God never asks us to annihilate the self. We are not asked to become 'non-persons' when we become Christians. The very opposite is true. God intends our deeper, truer self, which he created, to blossom as we follow him."

What are my wishes, hopes and dreams? I dream about a successful writing career. I dream about doing the work of advocacy and education. I dream about companionship and friendship, laughter and good times.

I think God will do the work of clarifying and refining my desires as I come to know myself better. After all, this is a journey I have been slow to embark on -- so much time has been lost to illness. Bipolar disorder struck me in young adulthood. So I have the feeling I am a late bloomer -- but finally, I am blooming. 



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