Catching my Dreams

I’ve spent this year learning more about my craft. I’ve written stories and worked on a book. I’ve taken classes from people who are writing pros through Master Class (Check it out. It’s excellent.) I’ve also written blog posts and entries in my journal. If all of that was added up, I’ve done a lot of writing. And people I’ve talked to say my writing has improved. But, I’ve noticed something, and it’s changed how I’m going to approach my writing for the rest of the year. I got stuck on a book I was writing. Yes, yes, I know all the stats of beginning writers abandoning what they’re working on to move on to something else, but hear me out.  When I couldn’t think of where else to go with the book I was working on, I started considering where I was trying to go with my writing and what I was really trying to accomplish with it. That’s what I want to talk about today. Catching my dreams.

Dreams can be elusive. Over my lifetime, I’ve gained and lost dreams that have been important to me. I’ve raised a family and homeschooled my children. I’ve moved from place to place so my husband could pursue work which supported our family. I’ve pursued hobbies and maintained relationships. Now, I’m at the place where I want to pursue my dream of becoming a published author, and I didn’t have a book inside of me that I could finish and then improve. Where could I go if I didn’t have that? Not very far, I’m pretty sure.

So, I reached back into my past for the book I wanted to write and made myself a promise. I formulated a main character who was just starting out and had dreams of her own. I did research on those dreams and figured out the best world I could put them in. It would be a story about overcoming obstacles to achieve dreams. And, I would have a first draft completed by the end of November. This draft would have at least 50,000 words which is the goal of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). So, you won’t hear from me for the rest of the month as I chase my dream. As I tell the story that only I can tell. I wish you a wonderful November as you chase and hopefully, catch your dreams which makes the working title of my book appropriate, Dream Catchers. Have a great month, and God bless you!

Words When There Are No Words

I haven’t done the best job of keeping up with this blog recently. I haven’t planned for topics; therefore, posts have gone unwritten. But today…today, I feel the necessity to try and write words where there are no words. Thoughts where there are only tears. Good where I can only see evil.

In case you don’t live in the United States, or you haven’t kept up with the story, a young girl with the sweet nickname of “Cupcake” was kidnapped from my home city. For two weeks, many people have been hunting for her and praying for her safe return. But, last night…last night that ended with the finding of her remains. My heart hurts for this family. It hurts so much. It hurts that I can see the evil present in this society and not know what to do about it. It hurts that times like these seem to be the only times we come together.

And I don’t know what to do about it. Isn’t it funny that I can sit here and write these words and still not know what to do? I feel paralyzed, and yet, I don’t think God wants me to feel this way. He has a purpose for me as I reflect on this tragic event. First, He wants me to pray for this family and all who knew this child as they mourn. I cannot and will not try to imagine their overwhelming pain. But, I can approach the throne of God on their behalf. I can ask Him to give them peace and comfort as they cry.

I can also love and appreciate my family and the community around me more. I know I’m imperfect at this, but, at the same time, I know that the presence of the Holy Spirit in my life and heart can and will help me to love better as long as I don’t get in the way.  🙂

Being a part of the solution instead of a part of the problem is another way I can have an impact. Our world is so divided, so torn apart. Satan wants it that way, you know. He doesn’t want us to know about the incredible love Jesus offers to those who believe in Him. And, if we do believe, Satan does everything he can to make sure that people don’t see Jesus in our lives–don’t see His love or His grace. We can change that. We can mourn with those who mourn, and we can grieve with those who grieve no matter how uncomfortable that might make us. And, we can cling with all our might to the cross, the cross where Jesus demonstrated that love, as I am doing this evening. Oh Jesus, come quickly!

Serious Writers Never Quit: They Find the Way–A Review

I’ve spent this past week reading and considering the words written in this book by Bryan Hutchinson, owner of the Positive Writer blog and website.  https://www.amazon.com/Serious-Writers-Never-Quit-They-ebook/dp/B07XT7BCXV/ref=sr_1_1?crid=XXFQG6QVOD6R&keywords=serious+writers+never+quit&qid=1571002250&s=digital-text&sprefix=serious+writers+never%2Caps%2C304&sr=1-1

Ever since I found his website, I’ve gained knowledge about my craft through his words and the words of others who have guest blogged and written comments. I’ve also read several of his books with this one being the one most recently published. I’ve found that his books have two underlying themes both of which I’ve talked about on this blog myself and both of which I’m looking forward to specifically relating to this book today.

The first of these themes is about the writing craft itself. I found the book knowledgeable and informative. With chapter and section titles such as “What Serious Writing Is All About” “The Way Is In Every Draft”. “A Draft Is A Process”, “What Readers Want” and “Journaling Is The Way”, how could I not? Since I’m working on a book and journaling each day, it was interesting to gain another perspective on both. Hutchinson discusses the fears and doubts that keep us from writing, and the perception that our writing will never be good enough to release to the world. People with perfectionistic tendencies will relate to this one. For myself, I have been paralyzed at times with continuing a story because I couldn’t think of the words which would make it perfect enough to be published. Imagine the number of unfinished stories sitting on people’s computers and in stacks of notebooks around their homes. So many ideas lost to fear and doubt because we, as authors, didn’t believe in ourselves.

This is solved, Hutchinson says, by adopting something called “The Way” which is simply a mental reset of what you think of yourself and your writing. For those of us who experience symptoms of mental illness as I do, this can be a difficult thing. He talks about how instead of calling the first draft of whatever we’re writing “crap” (which is fairly common) we should label it our best writing at this particular time which we’re going to work on improving. This resonates with me today because I had someone tell me that my writing had improved over the amount of time she had been reading it.

It’s hard to do this though, and something, I think, would need to be done on a daily basis. I say this as someone who experiences depression and anxiety and someone who has had to apply these lessons to her own faith as I’ve also discussed here. It is doable, and I say this as someone who has been a consistent journaler for almost seven years.

When I write in my journal, I don’t feel any anxiety whatsoever. My thoughts and feelings are rich, and I can communicate in ways I would never be able to do in person. Between what I’ve written in my journal and in this blog, I’ve gained a confidence I never dreamed I would gain. It’s what keeps me writing. Even though I’ve not published my words in a traditional way yet, I find that I’ve taken the lessons from this book and used them long before I even knew the book existed.

I give this book a five-star rating and can recommend it highly. Be aware though that this is not a one and done lesson. You will be using the lessons from this book daily for the rest of your life as a writer.

 

Rugged Love

This title has been in my head since last week through the things I’ve done for my family and friends. It has followed me through my devotion readings. It even made an appearance as I listened to last Sunday’s sermon. That’s when I knew it would be a good title for today’s blog.

So, what’s rugged love? It’s a term I made up so I want to take my time laying out a definition. First, and foremost, it has to do with the Scripture lesson I heard on Sunday. From Luke 6:27-28, “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” Jesus’ own words to show us how we need to treat everyone who comes across our path.

Luke goes on to share the examples Jesus shared so His listeners would know how He meant for them to act. From Luke 6:29-31, “If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

I read Jesus’ words, and rugged love immediately comes to mind. Loving our enemies. People who don’t want good things to happen to us. We’re supposed to do good things for them and love them. I don’t know about you, but this is a hard thing for me. Especially if I know the other person has ill will towards me. I need to reach deep into myself to live these words. To that place in my soul where the Holy Spirit resides. For those of you who are believers, you are probably saying, “Of course. Relying on God’s power is the only way we can love our enemies.” Bear with me though. My point will become clear in a minute.

As I think about Jesus’ words, I think of rugged love as being a love that is forged in a fire. Not dependent on feelings or warm fuzzies. Just wishing for the best to come to that person no matter what they may say or do. That love is a strong love, and that’s why I call it rugged. I don’t succeed at doing or being like that all of the time, and I’m pretty sure the rest of us don’t either.

I want to add something else to my definition of this kind of love. I believe rugged love also comes into play with those we say we love or those we’re supposed to love like our families, friends, and Christian brothers and sisters. There have been plenty of times when someone I love has asked me to do something, and I haven’t wanted to do it. There have also been times I should have reacted to someone with a loving attitude, and I haven’t. I think those times require rugged love as well.

Then, there’s the other side. I’m sure those of us who are parents have told our children no or disciplined them for something they weren’t supposed to be doing. And then there’s the time when it would have been better to keep my mouth shut, and I didn’t. In this life of ours, there are plenty of times where we can speak love and give love to the people around us. For a lot of those times, that love needs to be rugged.

As I said before, we fail at this most of the time. Our pride makes us think of all the ways we should show love and not the ways Jesus tells us to show love. (Love, regardless or rugged love in case I haven’t made the connection clear enough. 🙂 ) We also are selfish and don’t want to take the time to show love unless it can benefit us.

But, when we fail at showing rugged love, God gives us something I want to leave you with. Grace. God’s grace. Ephesians 2:8-9, the theme verses for this blog, say this, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works so that no one can boast.” We can’t show this love by ourselves. It has to come from where God has planted Himself in our hearts.

God bless you all!

 

Difference Maker

Over the past few months, I’ve been praying for something fervently. The specifics are not important. What is important is that God has said wait. That hasn’t sat well with me. This was something I felt like I urgently needed. Well, I wanted it urgently anyway. How’s that for honesty? 🙂 I wanted my request as fast as God could possibly grant it so I wouldn’t feel different anymore. From other people, I mean. I wanted to fit in and not be noticed so I could go about the business God had for me to do. But, as I’ve thought about my request recently, it’s not something God can do quickly. He’s teaching me lessons about prayer, about being different, and about being molded into the person He wants me to be. So, that’s what I want to talk about today–about being a difference-maker.

During my life, I’ve suffered for being different. I wasn’t the most popular child or teen. I wasn’t a cheerleader or a homecoming or prom queen. In fact, I’ve stayed in the background for most of my life much to the chagrin of some of the people in my life and of the world, in general. This world is made for people who are at the forefront or who want to be at the forefront of whatever is going on. People who want to stay in the background are generally not noticed which, I guess, is the point, but bear with me. I do have a point.

God has called us to be different whether we are introverts or extroverts and whether people think differently than us or not. We’re different races, genders, sizes, live at different income levels, and have different interests. He made each of us differently. I get that. I can see it anytime I go outside. What I don’t get though is why we, in the church, insist on classifying everything into a certain order. Our children are in age-classified or grade-classified classes, and we expect the adults we hang out with to have children the same ages as ours. We expect them to have the same life status as we do and the same income level. In fact, Martin Luther King Jr. said this fifty-five years ago. “It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.” And, this has been true over my entire life as it has been a lifetime since this statement was made. In all my years of being a Christian, I only found an integrated church seven years ago. Pretty sad, isn’t it?

My point with all of this is that we are different, and it’s time we, in the church, accepted each other for being different. This is easier said than done though, and it brings me to my second point of the situation I’ve been praying about. Prayer. Like I said in my opening paragraph, I’ve been praying for this situation to resolve itself so I wouldn’t feel different anymore. And, of course, I’ve been praying for the situation itself. God has used this time though to teach me about persistent prayer. Praying on my knees. Continuing to pray even when it seems like nothing is happening. Learning how to wait. I liked the quote from Lewis Smedes that John Ortberg used in today’s Devotionals Daily email. “Waiting is the hardest work of hope.” I’ve had to learn how to hope in the midst of the waiting.

This brings me to my final point of being willing to be molded by God into the person He wants me to be. My devotional journal had a Scripture on today’s page I want to share here. From Isaiah 64:8, “Now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.” God is molding and forming me even in the midst of this painful situation. I don’t like it. If we, who are Christians, would be honest, I think most of us would say the same. But, there is another quote from John Ortberg I want to share because it sums up everything I’m trying to say. “What God does in us while we wait is as important as what it is we are waiting for.” It stung me as I read it. I should be celebrating the chance to wait and to be my own unique self. Because being different, in my opinion, is the only way I can be a difference-maker for the Kingdom. And, isn’t that who we all, as believers, should aspire to be?

God bless you all!

 

Lament

I experienced something I thought I would never see yesterday morning. I walked into my church’s worship service late because I was greeting and heard psalms being read that I had only ever read in the privacy of my own home. I heard songs that were full of sadness talking about sin and sorrow. It wasn’t the usual fare. I was caught off-guard for a moment, but then I heard the word. Lament. Lament was being talked about from the pulpit. I was astonished, amazed (in a good way) and ecstatic.

Why ecstatic? For the answer to that question, I needed to travel back in time over two years. The blog post search function made it easy. I found my post reviewing the book No More Faking Fine and talking about the lessons I had learned from it. (http://thrivingingrace.com/no-more-faking-fine/) I also found my post from the week before (http://thrivingingrace.com/gods-tears/) talking about what had been going on in my life. I read through both posts and remembered what a healing balm they had been. (There’s a reason God gave me this talent with words.) It was okay with God when I was sad. He listened to the psalmist in Psalm 6: 1-3, 9. “Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath. Have mercy on me, 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?” “The Lord has heard my cry for mercy; the Lord accepts my prayer.” This is good news to me. God listens to all of it–the bad stuff and the good stuff.

So, did I have anything fresh to say about this topic? After all, it’s two years later. I don’t like anything I write to be a rehash of anything I’ve already covered. Actually, I do have something to say. We, in the church, don’t do a good job of lamenting ourselves. Oh, we read the Scriptures of Jesus weeping or God grieving the creating of His people in the Old Testament. But, it doesn’t translate to what we think we’re allowed to do as we live out our lives in this world. When we come together as a community, things are always fine. We don’t feel free to share our hurts and pains, and we definitely don’t feel free to share anything we think we might get judged for. It’s the thing that prevents us, and me especially, from being vulnerable and having a true community experience as I live out this faith of mine.

That’s why I was amazed by the subject of this morning’s service. I already knew that God was okay with lamenting, and as I’ve said on here before, I would be totally happy with my faith just consisting of me and God and not worrying whether I include others or not. The risks of getting hurt or wounded are not nearly as high. But, God wants me to take risks as much as I might not want to. He wants me to be authentic in my joys and sorrows, and He wants me to do this in front of people. Today’s service made me optimistic that others in my community might be ready to do this too.

As we begin this week, may we all be authentic as we live out this Christian life–with our celebrations and with our laments.

God bless you all!

Wind Sprints in the Dog Park

This summer my older son acquired a puppy which had been abandoned on his girlfriend’s family’s property. I haven’t said a whole lot about the puppy because she belongs to my son and not me. But, God used her to teach me some lessons about prayer this morning so I’ll be sharing a puppy story today.

The story actually began over the weekend. When I realized my son would be gone this morning for job hunting purposes, I offered to take her for her walk. It’s not something I do often as this is a responsibility my college graduate son has taken on. He’s learning about adulting in all its glory. 🙂 ) But since this morning involved job prospects, I offered. It was something I did begrudgingly at first. Isn’t that typical of all of us who are parents? We want to help our children out, but doing so might involve something we don’t enjoy. I decided to take a positive attitude toward it though. I would get my exercise in, spend time with the puppy, and wear her out enough so she would take a nap. (Oh, don’t deny it. Any of you who have pets have probably done the same thing. :-))

Anyway, we went walking in the cool of the morning as soon as I ate and got dressed. She started off searching the grass for leaves, ants, and branches, but, as soon as I started running, she did too. It was more exercise than I thought I’d get. We spent the next few minutes alternating between running and talking to neighbors and their dogs. I have gotten to know more neighbors in the past two months than I did in the years since we moved in. I’m thinking that would be a God lesson too, but it’s not the lesson God specifically had for me this morning.

When we finished our meandering, we headed for the dog park. Once I had the gates shut, I unhooked her from her leash. She started wandering through the grass. The pieces of equipment haven’t interested her much yet. (Except for the water fountain. She always likes to get water.) But, she will run, if someone else does. I decided to do some wind sprints to get my heart rate up. Before long, she was running beside me. It was something I couldn’t make her do since she wasn’t on her leash. She chose to do it. Then, God brought a thought to mind. Free will. He’s given it to all of us. Humans and animals though it’s more developed in humans.

I stopped. I needed more time to process the thought which I couldn’t do while I was running. It wasn’t an out-of-breath stop though. It was a ‘Wow, God, what have you shown me’ stop! Because, I have been in prayer about several matters which I consider urgent—for my family and for others in my life. These matters have had me on my knees—metaphorically and physically. They’ve discouraged me because I haven’t seen progress. They’ve wearied my heart because I’ve been in the middle of them. But, I’ve kept praying because I didn’t know what else to do.

Anyway, what God showed me was that the people and the situations I’ve been praying for all have a component of free will. I can’t make anyone do anything, and I certainly can’t make a situation go my way as much as I might want it to. God is the only one who can, and the other people have a choice too. They can choose not to accept God’s help. It was a hard lesson, but a necessary one for me. God wants me to continue to be on my knees for all of it—to pray without ceasing as it says in Scripture. We are in a war with Satan and his forces like I’ve learned recently. And it’s a war we can’t slack off on, or Satan wins. It might take years, or it might take decades, but those of us who love Jesus should be willing to pay that price. Pray without ceasing. Advancing the kingdom on our knees. It was a lesson that became clear to me as I did wind sprints in the dog park. I pray it becomes clear to you too.

God bless you all!

A Universal Theme

When I was planning out my blog posts for the next two months, I wrote down titles for each date but didn’t leave much detail. So, of course, the original title for this post (A New Start) ended up being something different. I think they’re related though because what I’m writing today has given me new insight into my writing. I was considering the elements of a novel earlier and how they were all intertwined with the story I was trying to tell. Some of these elements are obvious like setting (where the story takes place) and characters (the people who populate a story) But there is one element I’ve always been confused by, and that’s what I want to talk about today. I’ll be writing about theme, how the theme is different from the plot, and how I came upon the theme I’ve been using in the stories I’ve written so far.

First, there’s theme. When I first started becoming aware of and learning the elements of my craft, it was one of the hardest I had to consider. I couldn’t see where it was different from plot. I guess a better way to say it was that I couldn’t separate them. Here is what theme means. “The central idea, topic, or point of a story, essay, or narrative is its theme.”(literaryterms.net) It is trying to convey a belief about life that is universal. While I could tell what my story was about, thinking of a message behind the words was not something I could fathom. 

Then there’s the definition of plot – “the main events of a play, novel, movie, or similar work, devised and presented by the writer as an interrelated sequence.” (lexico.com) The main events. Like I said before, I could tell what my story was about in excruciating detail, but there was no life lesson, and therefore, no theme. There was no life I could see in them.

But, I’ve been doing some thinking recently about the words I’ve written, the stories I’ve finished, and the book I’m working on. And I realized my stories do have a universal theme. They all have a female main character who is trying to achieve her dreams while overcoming obstacles from her past. The situations are different, but the journeys are the same. This might seem basic to some, and I’m pretty sure it’s a universal theme, but it was helpful to me. Because, even if this theme is a basic one in storytelling, I still have my way to tell the story. Since I’m unique and the only one of me God made, I am the only one who can tell the story I need to tell. It was a realization I needed to have.

I don’t know if all writers need to do this kind of soul-searching to find the themes of their stories, but it has helped me make sense of my journey through life as much as my characters’ journeys through their stories. I’m hoping this is something all of us can consider as we consider theme.

Hope everyone has a great day!

 

Back to School Musings

There are two times during the year which are generally regarded as times of new beginnings. The first is obvious. At the beginning of the calendar year, people tend to look at their lives and decide what they either need to stop doing or what they want to start doing better. Then, they make resolutions and do their best to follow them. Sometimes, it works, and sometimes, the will to try is lost. The second time is when school begins again after summer vacations. In this scenario, children and adults of all ages are starting a new year of academic learning reflecting their age and how far they’ve come in academic achievement. Everything is new–their classrooms, their teachers, the people they’re learning with, and what they’re learning about. It’s a time of new beginnings.

Over my years as an adult, I’ve also used the beginning of school as a time of new beginnings for my own life. I was homeschooling my children so it was a natural fit, but there were also things not related to my children that I wanted to try and do differently. So, I also used this time as a new beginning.

This year though things have been different. I don’t feel like I can use this period as a new beginning anymore because my adult children are done with this stage. The older one has graduated from college, and the younger one is starting something not quite as traditional as what he did last year. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, of course, but it’s made me realize that our days of following a traditional school schedule are over. It’s given me a funny feeling which is hard to explain. It’s like there’s a distance between me now and the people who are still in this stage. It’s like I’m supposed to wish for something neither of my sons is ready for yet. (grandchildren) Many people in society look at this empty nest stage as a stage where women are supposed to go find themselves and not expect stability until grandchildren have arrived. Or they think women who are in this phase should be willing to impart their “wisdom” (not that anyone listens to me anyway) to the generation of mothers behind them.

But neither of those fit where I am right now. I thought about it some more to see if I could come up with a solution, and I realized that God had already given me one. He gives us an option to start anew every day which has nothing to do with any particular part of the calendar. Don’t believe me? It says so in the Bible, specifically in Lamentations 3:22-23. “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” According to this, God has established every day as a new beginning. We have another chance to try again. So, this is what I will think of when I feel odd during back to school time. My God is a God of grace who is always willing to let me start again. I hope we can all think of God as a God of new beginnings.

God bless you all!

Simple Stories

This was written yesterday in case anyone who knows the particulars is reading.

I’ve been looking back today. Looking back on what happened over thirty years ago. I wasn’t in town on the day it happened. I was several states away. But, I came home a few days later and got to hold an unexpected blessing in my arms. He was so tiny then but already loved by so many. He’s not tiny anymore. He’s a grown man who has been a blessing to all over his life. I remember hearing he and his brothers sing at their father’s funeral a year ago, and I remember when he and his cousin were the ring bearer and flower girl at my own wedding over twenty-five years ago. His family had enfolded me into theirs when I was in college, and we shared all the important family events together…the good ones and the bad ones. There are so many stories I could tell about this family and the life I lived with them. I could fill-up this space and then some with all the stories I could tell.

But, that’s not the reason I share this today. I share it because of how deceptively simple the concept of story is. I have been complicating it with the book I’ve been writing as one of my dreams is to be published one day. I think that may have been the reason the writing has become complicated. I let the end goal complicate the results I’m trying to achieve, and the words stopped gushing. They shouldn’t have. The story I’m trying to tell of a journalist caught up in horrific national events while dealing with her own past is still there. I just can’t make it leave my head and travel to my computer screen.

I want to finish this story though. I want to tell it like I tell the stories of my life. The stories of a life well-lived like some people say at funerals. I don’t know if people will say that about me at my funeral. It’s funny that other people get to make those judgments. It’s almost like my own opinion about my life is not one that will make it into the history books. But I’m going to tell my stories anyway…the simple ones and the complicated ones. The ones that people want to hear and the ones they don’t. The times when I lived to glorify my Lord and Savior and the times when I didn’t. The stories that taught me life lessons and the ones that are just better for a desk drawer. Because if I don’t tell my stories, then who will?

I might never be as popular as J.K. Rowling or Danielle Steel. I might never write or sell as many books as James Patterson or Dan Brown. I might never win the Nobel Prize for Literature like Toni Morrison who died today. One thing though that I’m pretty sure we all share is the ability to tell a story. Whether that story is simple or complicated, we are forever yoked in the need to tell it. Because that is what our history is built on. The concept of story. From the parables of Jesus to the novels of today, all who tell stories are building on what has come before and making our lives understandable to those who will come in the future.

May we all have a chance to tell our stories! God bless you!