The little steps

These tiny yellow flowers add up to a lovely background for the larger ones. Keukenhof, the Netherlands, March 2007

These tiny yellow flowers add up to form a lovely background for the larger ones.
Keukenhof, the Netherlands, March 2007

“Don’t despise the little steps you know you can take every day. There are tiny miracles in each and every one of them.”Israelmore Ayivor

Do you ever have days when you feel like just giving up?  I do.  Often.  In fact, I’m having one today, which I hope will be far behind me by the time this post is published and you read it.

At such times, I tend to feel unfocused and hopeless, even desperate, seeing how many of my attempts to solve difficult problems seem to be making no difference whatsoever.  I’m exhausted, out of energy, ideas and optimism.  I just want to go off somewhere and escape into sleep.  Unfortunately, in my life right now, that’s hardly ever an option.

Usually the only way I can dig myself out of such a pit is to do something, some little thing that I have a fairly good chance of accomplishing.  It can be the dishes, or a quick note, or a phone call to schedule an appointment.  But it needs to be something that I can get done in five minutes so I will be able to get some psychological oxygen before I smother in failure.

Sometimes it backfires on me when what should be a simple phone call turns into a multi-tiered robotic obstacle course (you know, the kind where you have to listen to endless menu choices to get to yet another menu, then get put on hold, then get disconnected).  But usually, one small task done leads to another, a trail of pebbles I can follow out of the forest as Hansel and Gretel did.

Not every day is a big-step kind of day.  In fact, for me, relatively few of them are.  But don’t lose faith in the tiny steps.  They add up, and over time, they turn out to be the foundation for a larger success.

One year ago:

One step at a time




  1. Susan

    EXACTLY! !
    Yesterday was one for me, just nothing was working (serging, hand sewing, booking a flight, trying to order something on line, even the book I was reading was not what I had expected, being neither light nor funny), and those are just mundane, usually easy tasks. I was ready to give up and go to bed by 4:30. Then I realized that there was a yin yoga class in half an hour (yin involves a lot of just remaining still, which I thought I could manage). So I did it! And successfully completed a phone call I’d put off. And sent out some photos I’d promised. And made lunches for this week. And then I picked up a different book…. As you noted, one little step led to another, I just had to start small.

    • Thanks for this encouragement, Susan. I really think I would do well to take up Yoga, for lots of reasons. My flexibility is disappearing as I age, and I think it would help me mentally and physically. I’m so glad you were able to turn your day around! Maybe I can do the same today. This was one of those days when I woke early but didn’t want to get up. 😀

  2. Ann

    Julia, don’t give up! What can I do to help you?

    P.S. Do you know how to eat an elephant ?
    Answer: one bite at a time 😄

    • Ann, you are already helping me; your presence is an encouragement! Thanks for being here. I’m chewing on the second or third bite so far today! 😀

  3. tpeastin

    Hello Julia!

    I’m SURE you know the children’s book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst…nothing goes right for the little fella…some of our days are just like his…and as the book says- even in Australia! I have a dear friend whose husband suffers from depression, and he often spends much of the day in a dark bedroom, in his bed. I can only begin to imagine his torment and his wife’s oftentimes utter desperation as he is unable to ‘shake it off’ by doing something, anything that will bring him out of the depths of his despair.

    The apostle Paul in the bible has something that he describes as ‘a thorn in the flesh’ that he just can’t shake. Paul goes on to write that the Lord tells him: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” Paul begins to realize: “when I am weak, then I am strong.” (II Corinthians 12: 9-10) I always had a bit of trouble understanding the last verse, but I’m beginning to understand it a little better the older I get (funny how THAT works!). You and I are fortunate to be able to get through the “life is overwhelming” kind of days by keepin’ on keepin’ on!

    I trust that today is a wonderful day for you.

    Love, Pat

    • Pat, thanks so much for these encouraging thoughts! Yes, Alexander is a character so many of us identify with! That book is a true classic. I really appreciate the verses you cite here. When one contemplates all the things that happened to Paul (and I’m sure he was only listing a few of them in II Corinthians 11:23-29) it’s amazing to contemplate that he survived all this under the burden of whatever disability/”thorn” he was dealing with. Thanks for reminding me that we are FORTUNATE to be able to keep going! Today will be more wonderful to me because of your kind visit here. I wish you a beautiful day, too! Love Julia

  4. Beverley

    Dear Julia, Thank you for being so transparent. If we are truly honest with ourselves and others, yes, we all have days when we feel like giving up. You are right about accomplishing the small tasks – having them gone really adds up to ‘much’ being accomplished:-) As we serve others, sometimes the tasks can seem overwhelming. The Lord has now graciously presented friends into my life whom have ‘been there’ to help lessen the load. My greatest “task” is in asking for help! I’ve had many days of feeling “unfocused and hopeless” and the only thing I can do is literally cry out to God for His strength and wisdom … and then either rest if it is required or take ‘the small steps’ to getting certain tasks done. Once again, Julia, thank you for this very “honest” posting of your life – praying for you and others:-)
    I shared the following passage with someone last week and they were very grateful. In the ESV it is entitled, GOD OF ALL COMFORT … it refers to affliction, however I often find this passage a comfort to me during my ‘hopeless days’.
    2 Corinthians 1: 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.[a] 6 If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. 7 Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.

    • Beverly, thanks so much for that beautiful passage. I do find that those who have been through a great deal are the ones who best understand how to comfort those who are suffering. Some situations are very hard to comprehend from the outside looking in. I am so thankful for those who shine the bright light that says “I have survived and thrived – you can too!” I will repeat those verses to myself today and whenever I start feeling low. I hope to knock out some of those nagging little tasks today and not stress over the rest. Thanks for being here with us, with encouragement and prayers!

  5. Sheila

    Julia, your post from one year ago made me think about elevator vs. stairs. I’m glad to know you often use the stairs and still reach your destination. So it is with tiny steps! We are all bombarded with one thing or another at various times that make us reach for that “psychological oxygen” that you mention. YOU are just that to so many! 🙂

    • Thank you Sheila, if so it’s a case of what they say on the airplane, “put on your own mask first before helping another.” I guess the blog is one way I put on my own mask first. I rely on steps — at home and elsewhere — to get some exercise into my day when I can’t do it otherwise. I have loved living in a 3-level townhome for that reason, but BOY did it take some adjusting to climbing two flights at once! Now I will intentionally make trips sometimes just to keep myself moving. I did the same thing during all the weeks I stayed in hospitals with Jeff or Matt – and sometimes there would be encouraging signs with quotes in the stairwells, cheering people on for taking the stairs. As you can imagine, I loved that!

  6. Needed to hear this. Arrived home last night after being gone for three days and my mind was consumed with tasks undone and the fact that we will be leaving again on Friday morning. Besides that I was exhausted and had no energy to even start laundry or unload the dishwasher or tackle the strawberry patch which is desperately overflowing with strawberries needing picked. Sometimes life consumes me. We ended up spending an hour in the living enjoying each other’s company and headed to bed early. Things look better in the morning. 🙂

    • Barb, I think you have just described a true occupational hazard of being a wife/mom. For some reason, even though men do as much or more than we do, it often seems to me that they are more focused and less distracted by every little thing that comes up. Oddly, I think part of what makes so many mothers such good managers is their ability to have their minds on many different needs and situations at once, but it’s also risky and can definitely overwhelm us at times. I think “you have chosen the better part” by spending time with your family and getting to bed early – it reminds me of what Jesus said to Martha about getting in a tizzy over things and not seeing what really matters. (As you know, that’s a story close to my heart! 😀 )

  7. Carolyn

    This to shall pass, I’m with you today.. Terry’s outside working hard and me, just wishing I was somewhere else, like in the mountains watching and listening to a river. Oh well, go and have a great day. Hugs to all.

    • Carolyn, I’m so sorry you’re having a hard day today. I will pray for you extra! And I hope you are feeling OK. Maybe you can visit that mountain stream in your mind. but meanwhile, just know that we love you and hope your day gets better soon! Thanks for being here.

  8. Carlyle

    Julia. I believe I have told you this before but it bears repeating.

    My only prayer that God always answers instantly is when I pray for the peace of God which passes understanding, to keep my heart and mind through Christ Jesus Phil. 3: 6.7

    • Daddy, it certainly does bear repeating, and it is truly “a prayer for all seasons” — ironically such peace can be just as hard to come by in good times as in bad ones. I will keep your message in mind and pray that prayer today, as I have many times. I love you!

  9. Patricia

    Julia, I don’t read the blog daily, but when I’m prompted to, it is always just what I needed to hear. We all are going through so much, me especially the last two weeks. Dr. Tom Pace, of St. Luke’ Methodist in Houston, preached recently that the best way to get over being overwhelmed is to count our blessings. I have too many to count! Your advice to take small steps led me to count again.
    I hope all is progressing as needed with your family. My prayers are for that. We miss hearing from you in The Upper Room.

    • Hi Patricia, thanks for coming by today. I’m so happy you were encouraged by the blog. I love the old song “Count your blessings” which we used to sing at church. I don’t hear it much anymore, although most of us have more blessings to count than ever! Dr. Pace has some good advice there. It’s hard to stay too mired in misery when we focus on all that is good. I really do want to get over to UR. I always end up staying there a long time, because there is so much catching up to do. Thanks for being patient with me and keeping us in your prayers. We are all OK. Jeff’s recent scan was not as good as we had hope for, so that will likely mean more chemo, but we are trying to stay positive and walk in faith that all will be well. Thanks again for coming by and give the UR congregation my love!

  10. Michael

    As Anne Lamott says,” sometimes the best prayer is just the one word-help.” I kind of slogged through the last half of her book. She is pretty brilliant at times and I love her sense of humor- i.e. her desire to win a -“Nobel prize for humility.” She is very good at picking up nuggets from her friends like the line she got from her pastor- “Peace is joy sitting down and joy is peace standing up.” I had to think about that one for a while. In fact I am still thinking about it.
    I used to recite a little ditty from Norman Vincent I think that -“Life by the yard is hard, but by the Inch it is a sinch.” Sometimes these little ditties can help us live in the moment- which seems to be part of the puzzle. The real miracle to me is how do people go through such muck and somehow not collapse?
    I will try and catch the Karon-interview.
    Have you seen the Movie -“Blue like Jazz.” Supposed to be a Christian movie?

    • I didn’t know Blue Like Jazz was a movie, but I’ve heard many brief references to the book, which have left me with the impression that it became a sort of fad. I intend to read it although I am a bit wary of titles that suggest fad-like popularity. I don’t know why I have that impression of it. I agree with you that memorable phrases can really help us focus in difficult moments. The trick is to remember only those phrases which are truthful and relevant to our situation. I like the line from Lamott and yes, it does take quite a bit of thinking – real food for reflection. I think that is a good thing in writing.

  11. Michael

    Another Rumi quote.

    Run from what’s comfortable. Forget safety. Live where you fear to live. Destroy your reputation. Be notorious.

    • Michael – I think these thoughts are good, but I can’t help thinking they are also somewhat ambiguous; I can imagine using them to justify anything from criminal activity to infidelity to profligate financial ruination. Therefore, here is my revised version of that quote 😀 for what it’s worth, with apologies to Rumi for my overly scrupulous use of language:

      Run from what’s comfortable, if you are well-rested and seek to make a difference in this world.
      Forget safety when others are in peril and in need of your help.
      Live where you fear to live if you are called to a role that only you can fill there.
      Destroy your reputation among those who are phony, cruel, self-serving, manipulative or evil – or anyone who seeks your approval for wrongdoing.
      Be notorious for the right reasons.

  12. Walk in closet and kitchen pantry a decluttering day. I will no longer be intimidated by this overwhelming task. Julia has shown me to approach big projects by “taking tiny steps.” Thank you, Julia, for this post.

    • Yvonne I think I need to follow my own advice! That pantry is a never-ending task, and don’t get me started about closets. But with the pantry, I recently told myself just to do a shelf at a time and not wait until I had a few hours to devote to it. I got it mostly done, but now I need to paint the shelves…that’s been on my mental “to-do” list for a couple of years now. Maybe I should try painting one shelf at a time 😀 – less junk on the counter that way. I’m so happy you like the post! Thanks for your visits here.

  13. Ahh, one of those days…how they do lead us a stray! 🙂

    • Isn’t that the truth! One of these days I’ll retire that phrase from my vocabulary! 😀

  14. Michael

    You are right about the quote- it could be used to justify anything. Nice revision.
    Here is a prayer I pulled off the UR site that I appreciated.

    St Columba’s blessing
    God be with you in every pass;
    Jesus be with you on every hill;
    Spirit be with you on every stream, headland, ridge and law,
    each sea and land, each moor and meadow, lying down and rising up,
    in the trough of the waves or on the crest of the billow.
    Each step of the journey you go,
    go with God.

    • Michael, that’s beautiful! I had not ever seen it before and truthfully, don’t remember ever hearing of St. Columba. Thanks for sharing that.

  15. Michael

    Me either. It was posted by Georgina of Arqua Petraca, (sp?) Italy. Related to Christopher Columbus. I don’t know.
    Some of us are in the troughs – and some are on the crest. I guess the trick is not to sink outright.
    Have you read any of Tom Robbins stuff? I think I started one once. He has a new memoir out and in it he talks some about his writing process- ” Tibetan Peach Pie.”
    Peaches again.
    Hillary is here for her new book signing at-University Books. I did not make it. But I did get to see Jimmy Carter there some years back. Did I mention my middle name is Carter and my grandpa C on my mom’s side came out west from West Virginia after the Civil War? Some history there.

    • Michael, when it come to not sinking, I’m still a poor swimmer but a great dog-paddler! It’s a good analogy because for me the best trick for staying afloat is relaxing and riding the waves. I’ve never read anything by Tom Robbins but Tibetan Peach Pie is an interesting image. Hillary was at a Costco signing books here just recently. Did you know that Jimmy Carter still teaches Sunday School at the Baptist Church in Americus, Georgia and lots of tourists attend? I didn’t realize you were a Carter. Maybe you have relatives somewhere in Georgia. (other than your son, of course) 😀

  16. My heart aches for your, Julia. Life can be so hard. xxo

    • Thank you Alys. This morning I was thinking of our grandmother’s generation, and how they lived as young women. If someone had told them all the advantages we enjoy, they might have wondered how we could ever say life is hard. But that seems an inescapable part of living – EVERYONE has hardships of some sort, even if it’s just total ignorance of what really constitutes hardship. In any case, it is always a comfort to know someone cares. Thanks for being here. ❤

      • Each generation carries a burden. I think it’s human nature. We do have it better in many ways, but face many challenges as well. I often think of the analogy of someone who is missing one arm vs someone missing both. Missing both arms seems much worse, but it doesn’t mean that missing one arm isn’t also difficult and challenging. With all our modern conveniences, we also have modern demands. We no longer live in the same community with all our family for a life time, or for generations. Media knocks at our door 24/7 placing constant demands on our mental energy. Judgment lies around every corner. Are you smart enough, fast enough, pretty enough, tech-savy enough? By this car, this TV, this computer. Work, work and work some more.

        Lots to think about.

        But like you, I recognize the value and gifts in my life. I’m not living in a war-torn country or wondering how to feed my family. I walk down the sidewalk without fear of assault for my skin color, race, religion, politics or sexual orientation. In other parts of the world, any of those ‘differences’ can get you killed.

        There is always something to think about on your blog, Julia.

        • Alys, I think the onslaught of demanding media designed to create needs (for commercial reasons) has made many of us withdraw more into ourselves and become more isolated. We can be misled into feeling inadequate to associate with others if we pay too much attention to agenda-driven messages that hit us from all directions. So you are right; the problems are different, but no less real. And I do think we lose something without the lifelong communities or extended family support that once were the norm. Jeff pointed out to me years ago that every new device designed to save time ends up creating higher expectations. Our mothers never dreamed of feeling the need to be available 24/7 to their children via cell phone, as many Moms do today. Our mothers didn’t have to worry about responding to voice mail or email. Not that I would want to go back to those times, but our progress has created many new dilemmas. My friend who just returned from teaching in what we might think of as a “third world” country says it changed her forever. I hear that from almost everyone who spends time overseas. It made her thankful to live here in the USA, while at the same time realizing much that we consider necessary here really isn’t. The school where she taught had dirt floors and no windows, but she said many of the students (especially in the younger grades) were academically ahead of students in the U.S. schools where she has worked. Really makes me wonder about education, and how we should best attempt to improve our schools. Money doesn’t appear to be the answer, at least not in itself.

  17. Sometimes co-incidence smacks me in the face and I smile. I was reading this post with concern and thinking “oh no, dear Julia!!” Meanwhile, Jon Stewart is on the Tele in the background. He’s interviewing comedian Kevin Hart tonight (do you know of him, he’s really really funny). Jon played a clip before Kevin comes out and at the end of the clip Kevin’s singing, “this little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine”. No fooling! For some reason, that song always reminds me of you. Probably because as a little kid, I’d sing it in Sunday school. Fun hey?
    I know I’m so far behind on posts and I hope this day came and went and things got a wee bit brighter everyday since. I wish you didn’t live so dang far away. I could plan a visit sooner and do my best to take your mind off of your daily struggles for a bit and distract you with silliness and boom-foolery (hehe, new word). Once I get moved, I have the next 15 years to unpack (that’s when we retire to the coast), so I can spend all the time I want on WP or Skype. I miss our chats, I miss posting and I miss being creative. All work and no play makes Boomdee a dull girl. I read a funny quote somewhere today, “people with a library card never go to bed alone” and I thought of you. Even when you don’t hear from me, be sure I’m thinking fondly of you my dear. Hope things ease up. xoK

    • Wow, that is one of the nicest compliments I ever got if you think of me when you hear that song. We sang it in Sunday School too and I still like it. I have never heard of Kevin Hart. I wish I could tell you that things are a lot brighter right now but it hasn’t been that kind of week. I’m writing this from the radiology waiting room where Matt is waiting on an x-ray before his cardio check up and we are hoping for good news. Last night we had a terrible storm with lots of winds and hail – our deck gazebo awning got shredded and my pot of flowers was smashed by falling debris. After I saw all the damage in the neighborhood trees and signs I decided we got off easy. Boomdee is most assuredly NEVER a dull girl and you can inspire boom-foolery by proxy from great distances, such as when Grady decied to imitate Alyster!! Thanks for thinking of me when you heard the library card quote too! You are shining through the storm clouds.

      • My goodness, sweet Matt really is being put through the mill and there you are, being a mom: worrying, advocating, supporting and nurturing. If there was an award for dealing with the most challenging days, months and year, the Denton’s would be a shoe in. I sure hope Matt got a good check up too. I can see by the photo’s of Matt you’ve shared, that his spirit is strong. He looks really joyful and that should benefit his health and recovery greatly. Does Matt have to be careful of who and what he comes in contact with during his convalescent period? I ask because I know how much you both love animals and with Pasha gone, you might be really missing an important emotional support there. When I was having really hard times with a divorce years ago, my dog Jasper was my lifesaver. I wonder if a local shelter might encourage play times or even walks with their ‘guests’. Just a thought. I know you really love to walk daily, me too.

        I’m sorry to hear that crazy storm has made damage for you. I’ve been reading this exact thing at other WP Blogs around the US. We’re generally good at tallying-up the financial hit but no one ever considers the emotional hit. How maddening to lose a pot of flowers when they no doubt were just starting to look beautiful. What a disappointing mess. I hope your garden centres still have some selection, I’ve just been this week and I was very surprised to get some nice plants still. Plus they’re really full now. I don’t know if you heard about a devastating flood last year in southern Alberta, but they’re on alert again in many of the same areas. Too much rain, too fast. I’m thinking this must be the ‘new normal’. It’s been downright ugly weather wise all over.

        Anytime you have a new Grady antic or smile to share, please do. I can not get enough of his happy face and those chub chub toes. He certainly is a little bright light 😀 Thanks for your kind response too, I’m sure I’m dull to some people but it isn’t for lack of trying xoxoxo ❤

        • I am so happy to say that Matt got rave reviews from the cardiology team, EVERYTHING (and there are lots of things to consider) looked good on his x-ray, ECG, Echocardiogram, Pacemaker interrogation and whatever else they did while we were there. I could tell the docs were really pleased. Matt was his usual local celebrity self there, grinning and soaking in all the attention. He did have to avoid people for fear of infection for the first couple of weeks after surgery, mainly because his lungs still had fluid and they wanted to avoid an upper respiratory infection (coughing is quite painful after extensive open-chest surgery). He’s OK to get out now and we’ve been taking him to the gym daily, to church on Sundays, etc. but we really need to find a day program or job that will fit his needs. They are all either too difficult or too boring (his uneven developmental profile means that he is very unhappy in programs for low-functioning individuals, but the ones for very high-functioning people are too hard for him to manage without help). I’m trying very hard to get him into a local program like the one he used to work for, where he would be part of a mobile work crew that does various paid jobs in the community. As with all employment, they are hard to come by, but the one we have our eye on includes working at an animal shelter 1-2 days per week so you can imagine how much we would want a job like that for Matt.

          Jeff brought home a new flower pot and I was able to re-pot my seedlings within 24 hours – not sure they will survive but as of today they looked pretty good. We will have to get a new canopy, though. I fear you are right about the new “normal” weather patterns. Nothing predictable except the unpredictability. I have some new Grady videos and pics I hope to post soon – one where he is “dancing” to the baby iPad toy (not really an iPad, just an infant version) that we got him for Christmas. I’ll let you know when I get it posted. Thanks for your kind words about him! Of course we think he is adorable.

  18. Michael

    I find that Psalm 31 is a good one when I feel like giving up-especially line 12-” I have become like broken pottery.” Some days are like that.

    • Amen! Broken pottery was a repeating motif in the only novel I have ever written, so that verse must be lodged somewhere in my subconcious. Thanks for the reference; I was blessed by reading that psalm again. It must have been the source of the final words of Jesus. Wow.

  19. Michael

    Today weather forecast Seattle-“Clouds and sun may fight to a standstill today.”

    • Hey, I like that. It’s nice to hear an alternative to “partly cloudy.”

  20. Michael

    Tom Robbins talks about four threads in his life- a silver thread of spirituality, a red thread of passion, a multi-colored thread of creativity and an inky thread that ties it all together by his writing.
    He says he is disciplined about his writing and as he is a professional -he shows up everyday at the same place. He says sometimes he finds his muse there, but “even if she does not show up right then she knows where I am at- not in the bars or in bed recovering from a night of binging.”

    • Michael, that’s an interesting quote and so true. As Marge Piercy has said, “the real writer is one who really writes” or something like that. I won second place in a poetry contest with a poem that challenges the romantic notions about the Muse. She’s a very no-nonsense character, as I see her.

  21. Michael

    Tom just wrote his memoir “Tibetan Peach Pie” at age 82. It would be nice to do that and perhaps the writing thing is one way to keep the wheels turning within. Better done than never, but then when I see Miley Cyrus putting out her so called “memoir” -I don’t quite get it.

    • Michael, the cynic in me says it’s all about dollars where young celebrities such as Cyrus are concerned. I can almost hear some agent or publisher or whoever else has a stake in the enterprise, advising her to “strike while the iron is hot” and not wait until media attention focuses on the next flavor of the month. Often, increasingly outrageous conduct from such people seems to me a desperate attempt to stay in the public eye, as with a deadly addiction. I think we are lucky not to be stuck on that particular treadmill.

      I think journals, diaries and memoirs are valuable to one’s family members and friends no matter when they are written. I would love to read the memoirs of so many of my ancestors and relatives, if any of them had written any. As it is, I have just a relatively few old letters, all of which mean a lot to me. So I think anyone who can find the time to write a memoir is doing something worthwhile, assuming they enjoy doing it.

  22. Michael

    That’s is an excellent point-about passing information on to our offspring.

    • I think maybe the daily details might be the most interesting many years from now. Stuff that would be left out of history books about the era, plus stuff that would be unique to this particular time.

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