My Beauty from Ashes Story

Beauty from Ashes

by Carol Underhill

Originally written in April 2019.

I’m a storyteller.

I tell stories through writing fiction.

I have been writing stories

since I was in second grade.

This is my true

“Beauty for Ashes” story:

My parents built a new house.

It meant I had to change schools.

I was still in the same district,

but I had to start second grade in Morley.

That year my older sisters both

shuttled back to Stanwood

for fourth and sixth grades.

I was at Morley by myself.

I don’t remember much about the first day

Until I was getting ready to go home.

I couldn’t remember what bus to ride.

I stood in the hallway, crying.

I got on the right bus

But I couldn’t adjust to my new school.

After several more episodes of tears

During the first few weeks of school

I was nicknamed “Crybaby.”

I struggled so much

that I saw a counselor.

There were two boys

who were in the counseling group

with me.

The counselor played word games with us.

One day she told us to go home

and write a story.

We had a bunny rabbit

that we were raising in the house,

just a tiny thing.

It had died.

I wrote about the bunny.

My counselor liked my story.

She had me read it to the kindergarten class.

My aunt asked me to write

a copy of it for her.

I was hooked on writing.

I was 7 years old.

An author was born.

Eventually

I adjusted to school.

I was still sensitive, though.

All anyone had to do

was say curse words to me

and I would cry.

In sixth grade,

I spent time in the health room

Lying down.

But I wrote stories about a squirrel

and his woodland friends.

They were plagiarized

From a book I read

But they were fun to write.

I went to a Christian camp.

I met a counselor there

Who believed I could write.

She became my champion.

She sent my story

To a publisher.

The publisher sent back a nice reply

They said that I was talented

But not what they were looking for.

That has become

The story of my life.

I write a book.

I find a publisher or agent.

I submit sample chapters.

They ask to see the whole story

Then the response comes back:

“It’s not what we are looking for.”

I have received so many

Of those letters

That I have lost count.

I have kept a few.

One, in particular, is special to me.

In 1994, I wrote a story.

I had two toddlers.

I would stay up late after they were in bed

And write on my word processor.

I would get up before they woke up

And write my story.

I burned the candle at both ends.

When the story was done,

I sent it to a publisher

Who had recently published

Some contemporary Christian romances

Which is what my story was.

I sent some sample chapters.

They asked to see the whole book.

I sent it to them.

They sent me a letter.

A rejection letter.

No matter how many times

I receive those types of letters

They still hurt

But this editor made some personal comments

In the letter.

She told me the reasons why it was rejected

And gave helpful feedback.

She wrote:

“Please be encouraged that I thought

your manuscript had enough flair

To at least recommend it

to the review board.

80% don’t make it that far.”

Instead of getting discouraged,

I wrote another story.

This time a historical Christian novel.

I did the research.

I used the same word processor.

I wrote the first few chapters

And mailed them to a publisher

From the Writer’s Market book.

They asked to see the whole story.

I typed up the rest.

I burned up my word processor

And had to borrow another one to finish it.

I sent the book to the publisher.

It was rejected.

I set my writing aside.

Life got busy.

My children grew older and were active in school.

I worked part time at different jobs.

I was busy in the church.

We changed churches a few times.

I had another baby.

In 2002, I started to write.

And write

And write.

I researched everything I could get my hands on

And wrote another historical novel

And a young adult contemporary novel

Infusing my faith in God

Into the story lines.


By all accounts, I was living a normal life.

I worked full time in an office.

I was raising my kids, helping in their schools.

I was involved in children’s ministry at church.

But inside, I was falling apart.

It happened so slowly that I didn’t even realize

I was breaking down mentally.

Suddenly in May 2003

My life and actions spiraled out of control.

I told my husband, “I can’t find my center.”

He was confused

By what was taking place.

My kids were confused.

Even I was confused.

I was admitted to

A psychiatric hospital for evaluation,

I couldn’t remember my own name.

I received great care there.

Within a couple of days,

I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

It all made sense.

The ups and downs of my emotions.

Long months of depression

Followed by bursts of manic moods.

Uncontrolled temper.

The inner chaos.

My life had fallen apart.

 apart

I couldn’t find my center.

I lost my faith

But only for a moment.

From the ashes,

God started doing something new

In my life.

I was put on medication

Which my husband made sure I took

Even though it was expensive.

I saw a counselor

To find new ways to cope with life.

I saw a psychiatrist

Every two to three months

To keep my medications in check.

My family made sure

I got to my appointments.

I had a good support system.

I wrote a contemporary young adult novel

In a month.

In my mind,

I had a different story

About a different main character

For every letter of the alphabet.

They were only an idea

But I may have bragged a little

In an online author’s group.

I looked for a publisher

For the new book.

I sent it a few places.

I even paid to have it on a website

For publishers to look at.

It was rejected every time.

It went through so many rewrites

That I don’t remember

How the original started.

I finished book 1

Of the Courage series.

My friend was going on a trip

She wanted something to read on the plane

She took my story with her.

She loved it.

She wanted copies for family and friends.

I found a local printer

Who could make spiral bound copies.

They looked all right.

Nothing fancy.

My family and friends bought them.

The print was so small in the original

That one friend had to wear

Two pair of reading glasses

In order to read the words.

A cousin told me

That she liked it so much,

But she kept falling asleep while reading it

Because she was so tired.

She would wake up and read a little more

Then fall asleep again.

I don’t how many times

I heard people say:

“I couldn’t put it down.”

With so much encouragement,

I continued writing in the series

Books 2 and 3, then 4, then 5.

After many attempts,

I couldn’t get an agent

Or a publisher

To take notice.

In 2010, tragedy struck

My husband was electrocuted

at work

And was in a coma.

When it became clear

That he was not going to pull through

It was time to let him go.

It was hard to go on

Without him.

I clung to my kids

And got up each morning

For them.

I spent a lot of money

To mask the grief.

I missed my medication one night

And almost went back to the psychiatric hospital

But my support system

Pulled me through.

In 2011, I went to a friend’s cabin.

It was like a mini retreat

In the woods

Beside a creek.

I came home and wrote book 6.

Encouraged by family and friends

I decided to self-publish

the Courage series

In a paperback book binding.

I met with a designer

And a printer.

They produced a beautiful book.

That I could be proud of.

A book club read book 1.

I met them at a library.

I didn’t know what to say

But they were happy

Because I brought book 2

With me.

I was asked to speak

At a ladies’ meeting

At a church.

I was an author

But I was not a public speaker.

I read from the paper

And it was over in ten minutes.

I was embarrassed

But they were happy

Because I brought book 3

With me.

I spoke again

At a library

About my writing journey.

I did a much better job

Speaking in front of the group

More confident in who I was.

I had some book signings.

I wrote really dumb stuff

And signed my name

In the front of the books.

I sold 100 copies of book 1

Then less of each following book

Until I sold out of books

1, 3 and 4.

My readers are still asking me

When I am going to write

book 7.

The truth?

I don’t know when.

I wrote book 6 in 2011

And did not write anything new

Until December 2018.

Seven dry years.

The lost years.

Focusing on my kids.

Helping them reach independence.

Struggling with bipolar disorder

And all the problems that go with it.

God placed in my path

A Christian counselor.

Someone I could trust.

She continues to help me figure out

how to live each day

With the challenges

I have.

For seven years

After my husband passed away

I could not write a book.

But I also couldn’t concentrate

On reading, either.

In 2018, I read a book about joy

By a woman

who had overcome many obstacles.

After reading her book

It was like a dam burst inside of me.

Suddenly,

I read all the time.

All kinds of books

Mostly on my kindle

But I didn’t write anything new.

In October 2018,

I went back to my friend’s cabin

It was a mini retreat for me.

Mostly I stayed at the cabin

Watching Nicholas Sparks’ movies

And drinking coffee

On the porch

Overlooking the river.

When I came home

An idea came to my mind

For a new contemporary series.

I wrote the first story.

Then I wrote a sequel to that story.

I also rewrote an old story

Updated it

And sent it to a publisher’s contest.

I rewrote another old story

Updated it

And sent it to a different contest.

Neither panned out,

But I continued to write.

Over the years,

My writing style has changed.

I have read the guidelines

And studied the way published authors write.

I know what the publishers are looking for

In inspirational fiction.

I try and write to fit that model

But my creativity doesn’t want

To be confined.

I am a storyteller.

I like to tell the whole story

About my characters

And how they relate to each other

How they overcome obstacles

How they find faith in God

And in love.

Sure, there’s romance

You gotta have a little romance

But it’s clean romance

It doesn’t make me blush

To read it back to myself.

I had my Courage series

Edited by some very smart people

Who sacrificed their time

To help me.

I had a new cover designed

For book 1

Because the old one

Was too contemporary

For that time in history.

I’ve re-published newer versions

Of books 1, 2 and 3

On Amazon.

I’ve sold a few.

I still haven’t written book 7.

Someday

I hope to write that book

And more

In the Courage series.

In March 2019,

I started reading “Billionaire” romances

On Kindle.

It made me think of

That first story

That I wrote in 1994.

The main character in that story

Was a billionaire.

I decided to rewrite the book

Instead of editing the first version

I sat down at the computer

And started writing it from scratch.

It is an inspirational story

So I thought of a Bible verse

That would go well with the story:

2 Corinthians 5:17

“Therefore if anyone

Be in Christ,

They are a new creation;

Old things are passed away;

Behold, all things are become new.”

That verse is very significant

To the story.

I decided to reread the original version

Of the story.

I had not read it for over 20 years.

I was surprised

To discover

That I had used the same verse

In the same context

In the original story.

I had also written:

“There were so many broken dreams,

so much sadness,

Both in her life and in his,

And yet she felt the hope she had in Christ

That ‘old things are passed away;

Behold, all things are become new.’

God could build beauty from ashes.

He had sent Jesus,

His own Son

To die on the cross

To be punished for the sin of the world.

Through Christ,

She had received God’s forgiveness

For her past sins,

And was clothed with righteousness.

God had a plan for her life,

But He willed her to be patient

As He healed her heart.

She knew that she could trust God

With her future.”

I wrote those words

Over 25 years ago

As part of a work of fiction

But I believe those words

Are true in my life today.

I don’t know what the future holds.

But God has been working

On healing my heart.

I believe God

Watched me crying as a little girl

Afraid of a new school

Not knowing what bus to ride home

And He said to Jesus,

“Someday her tears

Will reach people

For salvation.

I will send someone to show her

How to write.

She will one day use the talent

I’ve given her to glorify us.”

I have faced some difficult challenges

And I have had many failures

But God has been in all

And worked through it all

To make me into

Who I am today.

My life, that was such chaos

In 2003

Has settled into order

With the help of medication,

A psychiatrist’s care,

And a counselor with a caring heart.

My family and friends are supportive

Through the ups and downs;

The ups and downs of bipolar.

The pendulum swings high into mania

sometimes

And I write for 4 or 5 hours at a time

And do little else.

The pendulum swings low into depression

And I feel like I am in a pit

Of negative thoughts

And low self-esteem

And cannot write.

But I turn to what I know to be true

That God accepts me as I am.

That God forgives me.

That God loves me

And I am able to rise again.

Some days the pendulum doesn’t swing.

My life has balance.

I find my center

In Christ.

All of my stories:

The ones that are finished,

The ones that are still in outline form,

The ones I have self-published

In paperback

And spiral bound

The ones that have been rejected

By authors and agents

But have become well-loved

By readers:

My stories are my

“Beauty from Ashes.”

Isaiah 61:3 reads:

“To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion

to give unto them beauty for ashes,

the oil of joy for mourning,

the garment of praise

for the spirit of heaviness…” 

That is my story

Of how God has used my writing

To turn the ashes of my life

Into beauty.

Blessed be the name of the Lord.

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Wrapping up the month of November

Monday, November 28

The pain I’ve been dealing with is coming from the sciatic nerve. I’m going through physical therapy now and hope to be back to normal activities soon.

Tuesday, November 29

This morning started out with a sluggish weight and depression setting in. I’m not used to being home with nothing to do all day except think. I’m actually going this morning to talk to my mental health counselor and get a handle on my mood before it sinks into a full depressive episode.

I’m waiting to hear from both my doctor and my boss to see what the next few weeks will bring. I worked 4 days total in November, so this is going on a second month of sitting at home in pain and thinking too much.

Tuesday, November 29, later in the day:

My counselor was able to help me get back on track with a few statements we’ve talked about before. A) acknowledge that I am thinking negatively about myself; B) believe what is true about myself and God; and C) change the default. A) yes, I am in pain and am missing time from work; B) it isn’t easy, but God has never let me down and will help me through this challenge; and C) to try to stop the negative thoughts from taking root. Changing the way I think takes time and practice. I’ve done pretty well over the past few months but I needed some reminders. Thankfully I didn’t slide back into that pit of depression. God is awesome and His Word is true and powerful.

Wednesday, November 30

One of the steps to gaining back my mood balance is to “Change the Default.” That is something my counselor came up one day when something she was printing went to the default printer, and not to the one in her office. She told me that is like what I go through. Every time I struggle, I default my thoughts to blaming myself, self-judging, worrying about what people think about me. She said I needed to change the default thinking.

As I began to grasp that understanding, this is something I wrote down. A prayer of sorts, to read to myself when I need to remember that I am okay just the way I am.

I wrote this several years ago but it’s always good to refresh my way of thinking. 

Feed the Light

It’s been a rough week.

I wish sometimes life would be good all the time, but that is not the case. Not for anyone. The tide ebbs and flows. The sun rises and the sun sets. Seasons change. We grow from helpless infants and travel through life only to find most of us helpless as we reach our final breath. The darkness comes at night, only to become light again as the sun rises.

“Feed the Light.”

Those were the words whispered in my ear last night.

As I said, it’s been a rough week. After some tests to find out what is causing abdominal pain, a doctor I saw in a walk-in clinic took time to talk to me about it and find out what was going on. She ordered an MRI so she can look at the big picture. I hope to find out what is causing the pain, yet if it is something serious, I don’t know if I want to know. People deal with pain all the time, but sometimes there are serious conditions causing that pain. Since I haven’t received a call to schedule the MRI yet, then there is nothing I can do but wait.

And pray.

And trust in God’s faithfulness.

I also may be facing laser surgery to correct glaucoma. It is a scary thought to me, to be so vulnerable to eye surgery. But without it, I could lose my eyesight. I have an appointment scheduled to see the specialist in December.

Again, there is nothing to do but wait.

And pray.

And trust in God’s faithfulness.

Our God is a good God, but not everything that happens in life is good.

We live in a fallen world full of darkness. God is our source of Light and Strength.

I wasn’t myself yesterday. I think the pain, the missed time from work, the fear of the unknown, all weighed heavy on my mind.

Late yesterday afternoon I found myself hurtled towards the darkness of the pit of depression.

“Feed the Light.”

Those words came to me.

I got out my phone and fired up my Spotify playlist.

This is the song that I played: “Rattle” by Elevation Worship. (Link to YouTube video below)

I couldn’t help but find the source of my strength and hope as I played the song.

This morning, I still don’t have answers. I still have pain. Yet I have found my hope.

I have avoided the dark pit of depression once again.

God is good. And faithful. He has promised to never leave me nor forsake me.

He is my Light.

The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid? Psalm 27:1

Good Monday Morning: Sept. 26

This is the last Monday in September. This month went by so fast.

Summer is over and fall is here. That turning of the season was a difficult time for me when my kids were in school. It was as hard for me to shift from lazy summer mornings to bustling everyone out the door in time to catch the bus or drive to school. In fact, many years during this change of season, I suffered from increased anxiety.

It feels like I still experience the aftershock of those hectic days when this time of year rolls around. My mood shifted a few days ago. A little bit of depression is creeping in, stealing my motivation and my joy. That affects my mindset and my thoughts turn inward. I self-reflect and pick out the negatives instead of focusing on the positive.

It’s time for another appointment with my counselor. I can get through this, but I need a little help to sort through my emotions.

Three years ago I was on top of my game. I was in great health and my first novella was about to be released.

Two years ago, I had good lab results and felt physically stronger than I ever had, but I struggled to find a job. Finances became a hardship. I learned how to cook dry beans and make up my own soups, as well as portion out the meat that I ate so that it stretched farther.

Last year, I’d already started to let down my guard, not paying attention to what I ate and not exercising regularly. I had some disappointments that I couldn’t seem to get over.

In November last year, I began working with children’s church. Like I often do, I came up with my own ideas for curriculum. For the next few months, I focused on preparing lessons weekly with Bible stories, games and crafts. It didn’t matter to me that we only had 1-3 kids most Sundays. It was a lot of fun for me to get back into the area of children’s ministry that I enjoyed when my kids were little.

I decided that last year, in 2021, I chased after things that weren’t important. I decided that in 2022, I would focus on what God had planned for me.

I spend a lot of time working on curriculum to use in our local church and in preparation for future publishing.

Although I have several ideas for Christian fiction, I haven’t written anything this year. I keep thinking I want to get something going, but I don’t have the drive.

I can’t tell if it’s because the church curriculum consumes all of my creative energy or if it’s wrter’s block that’s lasted for several months.

Maybe a little bit of both?

As any of you who follow my blog can tell, I’ve been lax this summer in writing new posts. One thing I have continued is the Pet Tails Series. I’ve requested photos and stories of pets who are available for adoption from our local animal rescue coalition. The last one named Hash brown almost tempted me to seek adoption.

My “baby,” my Black Lab named Rosie, turns thirteen next month and is slowing down. I think she may have a tumor and plan to call the vet this week and get her an appointment. I don’t really want another dog to replace her, but after my husband died, she was the only reason I went outside the house. She’s been a good companion in spite of her stubbornness and occasional digging into the trash. I don’t know when but we will be saying goodbye to her sooner rather than later.

I don’t think I will get another dog, however. We have several cats. Adding a puppy or even an older dog to the household will be more work for me. I’d like to do some traveling in a couple of years and I don’t want the responsibility of a dog that I’d have to ask someone else to take care of while I’m gone.

Then there is the expense: Vet visits, spaying or neutering, shots, as well as food. My kids have been paying for all of that over this past year as I have struggled financially. I can’t afford another dog until my finances get sqared away. I’m working on budgeting but there isn’t much left over after bills to budget.

I have to believe that will all change one day, hopefully sooner rather than later. I made some poor decisions in the past that have put me in this situation. I am unable to work full time due to mental health issues. But I’ve missed a lot of part time hours this summer due to illness or said issues.

The Passport Journey curriculum has gone amazingly well and is still a fun project for me. I’m also working on a series called Hall of Faith, based on Hebrews 11 and am making trading cards to go along with the stories. I’m also working on New Testament stories that we can begin in January if God directs us to.

So there are some positive things in my life, I just have to look a little harder for them right now. I’m also making the commitment to eating healthier and exercising more often, but we all know how hard it is to stick with those good habits.

I hope you all have a good week and I’ll see you back here soon!

Oh, and I’ve lined up some author interviews and book features for the next few months so I can introduce you to some great Christian fiction.

From the Archives: Get Up and Try Again

Week 4 of my Journey out of the Pit

During the process of healing from my depression, I found that maintaining change was hard work. After just a few weeks of counseling sessions, I was already failing in my attempts to get out of the pit.

I felt like I was in a downward cycle. I felt overwhelmed. I couldn’t maintain the house or remind myself of the truths I’d memorized.

I couldn’t find my way back out of the pit.

My counselor shared with me these Bible verses from Job:

Job 23:8-10

“But if I go to the east, he is not there;
    if I go to the west, I do not find him.
When he is at work in the north, I do not see him;
    when he turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of him.
10 But he knows the way that I take;
    when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.

My counselor said that even though I couldn’t find God in my life, He knew where I was.

He was with me in the pit even though I couldn’t see Him.

My feelings were all over the place. My counselor reminded me that feelings are not facts. That’s why I needed to latch onto the truths I had learned.

She also said that it’s okay to slip and fall. But I had to make a choice: I could lie in the pit, or I could apply the tools I’d learned and continue to move forward.

It’s okay to pray, “No, I really can’t do this, but God, if You help me, I’ll try.”

In those low moments, we need go back to these verses in Job. God knows where we are. He is with us, even when we don’t feel His presence or see Him.

And we don’t give up hope.

We get back up, and we try again.

It’s now been several years since I began the process of healing from depression. I wish I could say that it’s easy, but it has ups and downs. I slid back into the pit a couple of times, but never as low as I was before I started counseling.

These days, I live above the pit. By the Grace of God, applying what I’ve learned through counseling, and with support of family and friends, I can fight the darkness that drags me to the edge.

I stand strong most of the time, but sometimes a person says things that hit me wrong, I make a mistake that I perceive as dumb, or a circumstance that I can’t avoid happens. (Like when a new job didn’t work out–more than once).

Then my feelings start to get in the way of the truths I have learned about myself. I falter in my steps and slide a little closer to the pit.

When that happens, I do these things:

I attend counseling sessions so my counselor can help me get back on track.

I also read my Bible often, and pray for myself and for others.

I listen to music. With a music app, I can set up a playlist for every mood.

I take care of myself physically through regular exercise, healthy eating choices and getting enough sleep. (Not always, but often enough to make a difference in how I feel).

I do a lot of journaling, as well as other forms of writing.

I have friends and family who offer emotional support.

My counselor said I remind her of the Energizer bunny. Remember those commercials? I slip, I fall sometimes, but I always get back up and try again to move forward.

Proverbs 24:16 says:

” for though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again”

It’s by the grace of God and all of the above-mentioned efforts that I am able to keep out of the pit.

Still, one year later and 8.5 years after my first counseling appointment, I need to reset my mind and thoughts often. I don’t handle change very well, and my social anxiety is sometimes off the charts. But the only way to move is forward.

Psalm 46:1 says it all:

God is our refuge and strength,
    an ever-present help in trouble.