Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Filling Your Own Cup

Every workday, a colleague and I walk around the large parking lot on our morning and afternoon breaks. If the weather is unpleasant, we walk the pedestrian pathway in the plant attached to our office area. Interrupting the workday with a little exercise and usually fresh air has become a beneficial routine for me. It energizes my body and mind to return to my tasks after the 15 minutes away. Today, my coworker admitted she sometimes feels guilty for taking our walking breaks, knowing the work that could be continued or completed during that time. As I have never felt this way about our breaks (though certainly I've skipped them on occasion to get through a project), my reply to her was, "I don't think anyone should ever feel guilty for taking care of themselves."

We sit on our rears for 8+ hours a day, giving our contribution to the productivity and profits of the company. Many in my department work through lunch, eating at their desks or not eating at all. The idea that we ought to feel badly about taking 15 minutes in the morning and the afternoon to refresh ourselves is absurd to me. But the American office's expectations is not the topic at hand.

What I realized after I made that statement to my colleague was that outside of taking those walking breaks, I do not follow my own advice! At least once a day, sometimes more, I feel guilty for exactly that reason.

Sit down to read a book after the kids are in bed? No way, there are dishes to wash!

Exercise after dinner? I'd be telling my husband I don't want to spend my little bit of free time with him!

Take a walk or bike ride on Saturday morning? Heck no, there's laundry to do!

Fix myself a healthy meal that my family isn't going to enjoy? That would be rude! I should eat what I have made for them and be satisfied.

Take five minutes to pray before tending to the kids' needs, whatever they may be? Of course not, they're waiting for me!

I am terrible at allowing myself to take care of me. Now some of it is laziness, absolutely. A lot of it though, is guilt. I get filled with unnecessary guilt, convinced that if I do these things for my physical and mental well being, I will slip below my standards as a wife and mother. Yet when I neglect these matters, I have less energy and clarity. I lose my patience more easily. I feel ugly and uncomfortable in my own skin, disappointed in myself. Obviously, tending to these simple needs of mine is integral to being the wife and mother I try to be!

Such a simple truth, by no means original to my brain, and terribly hard to learn.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Because the Saints Said So: He Is a Beautiful God, Is He Not?

When you are walking alone, listen to the sermon preached to you by the flowers, the trees, the shrubs, the sky, the sun and the whole world. Notice how they preach to you a sermon full of love, of praise of God, and how they invite you to proclaim the greatness of the one who has given them being.
St. Paul of the Cross

The other night I had an argument with my husband. By the end of it, I lashed out in anger and frustration over something - something that had nothing to do with what had started the argument. Basically, I'd given him my worst version of myself in the heat of that moment. Afterward, I didn't want to face it. I didn't want to look myself in the eye or try to repair the damage with an apology. When I finished putting the kids to bed, I told my beloved I was going out, that I needed to get away for a little while.

I didn't know where I was headed or what I thought I'd accomplish in this. All I was doing was running away from some ugliness. Human ugliness. I'm not sure why I did it, but as I grabbed my purse and keys, I also grabbed my camera.

As I drove away from our home, my attention was grabbed by the sky. After-the-storm, weighty clouds were hanging low against the streaks of pink, orange, and blue of the sunset. As that expanse of beauty hit my eyes, tears came. Only a few; a physical reaction to the tension between what was on display in the sky above me and what was on display in my heart that evening.  I sped down the county roads to an area full of farm fields where I knew there would be horses grazing in the twilight. I climbed out of my car and snapped picture after picture, swallowing the lump in my throat with each click of the camera. I knew I couldn't really capture it all but I had the compelling need to try.

This is what happens when something ugly collides with something beautiful. This is what happens when the fallen soul meets God. For God is beautiful and we were designed to need, to ache for, that beauty.

Every single piece of beauty in this otherwise ugly world comes from Him. "Every good and perfect gift," as St. James puts it (James 1:17). Because the beauty has God as its source, it is always more powerful than the ugliness.

Is there anything more beautiful than the moments when we let it in? When we look upon the 27th sunset of the month and suddenly halt in awe at the sight; when the field full of dandelions transforms before our eyes from an acre of weeds to an acre of golden flowers; when the sound of the rain ceases to be a reminder of the mud that will follow and becomes a symphony of divine sustenance played for our planet. Those are the moments that get me through. Those are the moments when I know, I know, there is beauty in me. For I am made in the image of this beautiful God, and so are you, my friend.


Wednesday, June 1, 2016

We Are Afraid of Ourselves

Why are we terrified to admit to who we are? I do not mean your flaws or sins. I mean WHO YOU ARE. Why do we as human beings recoil at any claim of our inherent worth? We hear someone declare that human life is sacred, or that we are made in the image of God, or that the human person possesses an inalienable dignity that only a human can possess, and we balk. Downplay it. Avoid the topic. Point out all that is darkness so that we do not have to face the light that exists in us. Why are we afraid of who we are?

Events of recent weeks, headlines and online chatter, have me contemplating a long loved quote of the great St. Augustine:
"Men go abroad to wonder at the heights of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motions of the stars, and they pass by themselves without wondering."
I have a few ideas of why we are afraid to look with rightful wonder upon ourselves and our neighbor:
1. Acceptance of who we truly are would require us to raise our standards by about a mile. My chosen behaviors, the actions of others, the circumstances we settle for, the lies we tell ourselves to be more comfortable in this world: they would all be knocked down by the standard to which the human person, in all his greatness, deserves to be held.

2. We could not look upon the evil humans can and do commit with either indifference or tolerance.

3. Acknowledging the truth about ourselves leads to acknowledging the truth about every single other human person. The couple in the house next door; the terrorist; the kid who comes to your door; the murderer in prison; the handicapped man bagging your groceries; the elderly woman no longer productive in society; the jerk behind you at the ball game; the unborn child; your spouse; your best friend; your worst enemy. The truth of who we are as human beings demands a radical change in our treatment of each other, no exceptions.

4. Belief in this truth opens the door to all the answers to life's great questions. This seems like a welcome treasure to gain, but I believe that actually having those answers is a frightening prospect for must of us because having them would require us to do something about them.

This quote from Marianne Williamson is one I've come back to again and again for personal inspiration. You have probably encountered it before. Read it slowly and maybe twice.
"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."
Even well-meaning Christians hesitate over the truth of the inherent worth of every human person. They settle into the idea (the more comfortable idea) that any worth and dignity they possess is only because they have Christ living in them. They decide to believe the theologically unsound notion that if Christ did not live in them, they would be worthless. This is not true. Even if Christ does not live in you, you are infinitely valuable. Let me repeat that. Even if Christ does not live in you, you are infinitely valuable. That is why Jesus came! If it were not true, you would not mean enough to God for Him to send Jesus to die for you!

You are not worth everything because Jesus died for you. Jesus died for you because you are worth everything! If Christians want a leg to stand on in evangelization, we cannot treat anyone as less than what they are.

This belief in the dignity of every unique person does not give rise to the lie that is modern tolerance. "I'm ok, you're ok" is not the message here. Nor does it mean that everything else is meaningless. Who you are as a human being infuses meaning into all of your time, all of your encounters, and all of your endeavors. And like I mentioned already, it raises the standard for what is 'ok' tremendously higher than where we tend to place it on a daily basis.

The true nature of your personhood and that of the person you encounter next today means that you and the other are worthy of love and nothing less. Authentic love is desiring the good of the person (yourself and others) and then doing something about it. If we hold each of our behaviors, attitudes, and words under the spotlight of that definition, how much authentic love would we find?

I beg you as I beg myself, stop being afraid of your own worth.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Because the Saints Said So: Manifesting the Truth

Speaking the truth is not the same as living truthfully. They ought to go hand in hand, without a doubt, but they are not one single matter. Why is this matter on my mind today? Because of this weighty declaration by St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest minds in the history of Christianity:
“As a matter of honor, one man owes it to another to manifest the truth.”
When I hear "manifest," I think of something being revealed and made known in a way that the recipient has not experienced before. It is a tangible illustration. And when I hear "the truth," my mind goes straight to Jesus. Surely though, the truth refers to every facet of God's revelation though - from Natural Law to the words of Sacred Scripture to the daily applications of Christian morality.

We have a duty of honor to manifest the truth to others! By words, actions, proclamations, stories, lifestyles, choices, reactions, attitudes - the list can go on and on. Because there are so many ways to manifest the truth, perhaps we could consider that doing it well is an essential part of that duty.

It is natural, when you are certain of a truth and that truth has done something remarkable for you, to desire to share it with others. It is natural and it is good. Sometimes, in our eagerness or confidence though, we can be unfortunately misguided in our methods. Great intentions but terrible form. I'd wager we have all experienced this, both as the truth teller and as the recipient.

Do not hesitate to manifest the truth, my friends, but be sure to tailor your approach to the circumstances. Consider the audience. Consider your relationship with them. Consider their situation. What in their life could make them receptive to what you are sharing, or make them resistant? What do they know of you that would cause them to trust what you are illustrating? St. Francis Xavier wisely noted, "The better friends you are, the straighter you can talk, but when you are only on nodding terms, be slow to scold." If what you are sharing contradicts what they have previously believed or how they have behaved, are you standing on fertile ground that is ready to welcome the seed of truth you are offering? Or are you coming at them with your proverbial finger pointed and a glint of pride in your eye?

One of the most important precursors to sharing the truth, whatever bit of truth it might be, is a humble recognition of your own need for that truth. "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8)." If I say I am better than another person because I possess the truth, I am wrong. If I say I am better than the person I was before knowing that truth, I am on the right track.

In knowing our own need, we know why others need us to manifest the truth. If we truly "owe" our brothers and sisters the truth, as St. Thomas states, there must be a reason! Why do each of us need the truth? Because we are created by God, in the image of God, for eternal life with God. What I am trying to say is, intentions matter. If I am speaking the truth to another, it is not out of pride or judgment. I speak it because I hope they can know the love that I have experienced, and the joy, the strength, and the adventure that comes of knowing Him who is Truth. I speak it because I not only long to live my eternity in Heaven, but I long to have you there with me. If my intentions in manifesting the truth fall short of this (which they so often do), I do not stop trying to manifest the truth but I do keep purifying those intentions.

From our humility in accepting the truth for ourselves, comes change. Our lives must back up what we might say to another about the truth. When this is true, "saying" can become unnecessary in certain cases. The living speaks for itself and attracts others to the truth. No one expresses it better than St. John, I guess, for I go to him again: "Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth (1 John 3:18)."

I write this as one who needs to hear it. As one who must pray from the soul, "Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling (Psalm 43:3)!" And my prayer goes on, "Make me a beam of that light of your truth."

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Because the Saints Said So: On Sadness and the Spirit

In the past few years, the saint whose words and stories have resonated with me the most is St. Pio of Pietrelcina. An Italian farmboy born in 1887; a world renowned miracle worker known for his humility, integrity, and simple wisdom by the time he died in 1968. There are plenty of biographical details worth examining from his life but that is not the purpose of this post.

Numerous statements by St. Pio have I read, considered, prayed over, and taken to heart. Most recently, the one that is staying with me is this: "Don't allow sadness to dwell in your soul, for sadness prevents the Holy Spirit from acting freely."

My first response was, "Well, that's just too much to ask!" But I stared a little longer at the words. I wondered if it was a matter of refusing to be sad about anything. That seemed unnatural and impossible. Was it about not letting the sadness reach your soul then? That could be debated, I suppose, but I still believed I hadn't hit the nail on the head. True sadness does reach the soul. That's the nature of the beast. So what then was St. Pio challenging me to do?

Eventually my eyes lingered on one word: dwell. Don't allow sadness to dwell.
Dwell: verb: 1. to live or stay as a permanent resident; reside; 2. to live or continue in a given condition or state
Don't let sadness be a resident. Allow sadness to be a visitor. Treat it as such. Visitors require attention. Meet the needs of the visitor of sadness. Ignoring it is not appropriate. Visitors (hopefully) come for a reason. They are present but they are expected to depart. Visitors are not permanent residents.

St. Pio is not demanding the impossible. Nor is he saying anything that wasn't already indicated long ago in Scripture by Jesus and his apostles.
So you also are now in anguish. But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you (John 16:22).
Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted (Matthew 5:4). 
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us (Romans 8:18). 
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you who by the power of God are safeguarded through faith, to a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the final time. In this you rejoice, although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:3-7, emphasis added).
They and St. Pio challenge us to give sadness its proper due but nothing more.

What should you allow to "dwell in your soul?" Well, St. Pio touches on that, too. The rightful resident of your soul is the Holy Spirit, and therefore the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit.
Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you (1 Corinthians 3:16)?
Gifts;
The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength [fortitude], a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the Lord, and his delight shall be the fear of the Lord [piety] (Isaiah 11:2-3a, emphasis & notes added).
Fruits:
In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law (Galatians 5:22-23, emphasis added).

When visitors like sadness are allowed to act as residents, the life and work of the Holy Spirit is fettered and obstructed. Luggage blocking the hallways where the Spirit should move freely. In the case of sadness, it is the fruit of joy that is most inhibited. However if joy is a resident of your soul while sadness, caused by any number of things, is only given a visitor's pass, you will not lose your joy.

Joy is not merely a higher degree of happiness. It is different than happiness. Joy is rooted in hope, particularly the hope of salvation. As its roots then link it to eternity, Joy is not eroded by the changing tides of circumstances the way that happiness can be. Certainly circumstances can affect our joy, strengthening or weakening our awareness of joy or our ability to choose joy in our reactions to things. Circumstances cannot steal authentic joy though. That is among its key differences from happiness.

It is wrong to say that a Christian should never be sad. It is right to say that a Christian does not allow sadness to be a resident of the soul.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Approaching From Another Side

Yesterday, in a half hour's time, I thoroughly rearranged the flow of chapter one of Full of Days. Mostly the same details and action, different order. I think I have improved it. I am never certain because no matter how many times I revise my book, I can always find more to change. It causes me to wonder how I will ever know when it is ready to be sent out alone into the big, scary world of manuscript submissions. This never ending journey known as Revision makes me laugh at the fact that I tried to find a publisher so soon after my first draft was completed all those years ago. Oh, innocent, naive Carrie Sue.

Every reader knows that the first pages of a book are critically important for creating a desire to read further. This is as true for publishers as it is for readers. So, no pressure on perfecting that first chapter, Ms. First Time Novelist. Nope, no pressure at all.

Chapter one's needs have hounded me. The feedback I've received from readers and my own experience as a reader made it clear that it has never quite been what it needs to be. I sit and stare at the lines of the pages and I am stuck. My brain locks into "I wrote it this way for a reason" mode and I can't seem to see how to make more than minor tweaks.

What inspired me to finally tackle the rearranging of the first chapter was some time spent listening to The Piano Guys. These immeasurably talented men gave me the perspective I needed. In addition to other beautiful pieces, they specialize in covering popular hit songs on pianos and cellos and more. Often the covers are composed as mash ups with gorgeous classical pieces. The result is incredible and I could listen for hours. Here's a favorite. Give it a listen and then come back to me.


See what I mean? A feast for the ears. Listening to them yesterday, song after song, I could not stop marveling at what they accomplished via a new approach. They take material already created, already well known in its first form, and approach it from a new direction. A new angle, a new order, a new combination, and, voila! A new creation.

Of course as I type up these thoughts, it becomes clear that this perspective applies to a whole lot in life. Yesterday though, I was simply grabbing hold of the inspiration to rewrite chapter one yet again.

Maybe that chapter is ready now. Maybe The Piano Guys led me to where I needed to be. Maybe there's still more to change. Time will tell. The lesson that a radially new approach to the same material can produce beautiful results is one I'll hang onto as I continue on my way.

Ok, here's another, just for fun.


Thursday, May 5, 2016

Polly

Writing Prompt: He had my name written all over him.
Writing Time: 15 minutes

He had my name written all over him. Literally. Polly. Polly. Polly. Polly. At least 50 times, it was written on his skin in blue marker. I stopped in my tracks. Stared. I couldn't help it. The man looked to be 60 years old but only at first glance. My stare continued and it became clear that under the grime and the sunburn and the shaggy, unkempt blonde hair, he might have been 40. Besides the letters, the man wore dirty plaid cargo shorts and leather sandals, one heel strap loose from its seam at the inside of his ankle. Finally, he looked my way. His eyes darted from mine to the ground, to the tree, back to me, back to the ground.

Polly.

I tried to look away.

Polly.

What a strange, unsettling coincidence. That's how I would remark to my friends later tonight. I was meeting them for drinks at our favorite bar. I imagined describing the details of the scene. I'd include the absence of anyone else in this corner of the park. Maybe I would mention the boat approaching the landing behind the man, and how the sun was low enough to catch the metal of the bench and momentarily blind you.

He wasn't sitting on the bench, my favorite bench. He was standing beside it, one hand resting gingerly on its back. Waiting. Waiting for me? Don't be ridiculous, Polly.

Polly.

I didn't know where to turn. He'd seen me. He was the sort of person most people steered their path around in a wide berth, not wishing to smell him, much less chance touching him. I could see in the low hang of his neck the silent rejection he encountered in every hour of  every day. My father had taught us that every single person had dignity and worth. Even when they didn't know it themselves or they had buried it by their choices, still they possessed it. My father taught us to always leave a person feeling more certain of their dignity than before they encountered us. Damn it, Dad. If I walked away now, this man would know rejection once more. I could feel the threat of my father's disapproval from heaven above.

Don't get me wrong. If I sensed any danger, I would have walked away. Briskly, my eyes and ears on alert, I would have left the scene. There was no danger here. I knew it as well as I knew my own name.

Polly.

Monday, May 2, 2016

10 Things I Love In This Life




1. My son's laugh. Timothy's laugh is the most delicious combination of giggle and belly laughter. It is physically impossible not to smile when I hear it coming from another room. The sound, especially when it is near my ear, is a mood altering drug.

2. My husband's touch. The first time he met my closest friends, we were out to dinner at a favorite restaurant. I wore a sleeveless black blouse and fidgeted nervously throughout the meal. At one point, he leaned over and lightly kissed my bare shoulder. That simple, gentle touch was felt straight through to my fingertips . I love when he takes my hand; when he absently caresses my back as he's passing by; when our feet rest against each other as we fall asleep. Matt's touch is full of reassurance and tenderness in the ordinary moments of our lives.

3. My daughter's smile. From four weeks old, Annabelle has specialized in open-mouthed, pure-joy smiles. I have considered printing every single photo I have of her top notch smile (there  are many) for a photo album that could cure any sad day.  The fact that I am often on the receiving end of her smile is one of the deepest resources of happiness I could possess. 

4. My stepson's hugs. Nethanial has the warmest of hearts but he's also nearly a teenager, which means sometimes the hug is a from the side, one arm around the shoulder, quick release version. That's ok, because those only increase the value of the other version he's capable of offering. From the time I first bonded with him six years ago, he has demonstrated great skill in the field of hugging. Arms wrapped tightly, his smooth cheek pressed against me and his thick, messy hair tickling my chin. It's a treat every single time.
5. A novel that makes me doubt I am any good at writing. That sounds negative, and the experience has the potential of negativity, but in actuality it is a great thing. Reading a sentence so well crafted that I can't imagine writing one of its equal, or finishing a paragraph with the sensation of seeing that moment of the story with my own two eyes - it fills me with satisfying excitement and the driving ache to write more.
6. Finding a new favorite. I'm of the mind that we need not limit ourselves to a very few select "favorites." A favorite gives pleasure. It's uplifting and encouraging. So discovering a new favorite is such a blessing! Favorite hiking trail, favorite lighthouse, favorite coffee shop (requirement: best chai tea in town), favorite song, favorite ice cream flavor, favorite episode of your favorite show, favorite prayer, favorite hairstyle, favorite shoes, favorite scripture verse, favorite sound, favorite photo. They are a bouquet of gratitude; a collection of guarantees that there are things to enjoy in my life.
7. My characters. I don't know if I will ever have my books published. I don't know how many people will read them or whether or not they'll be glad they read them. What I do know is I have created people I love. I care about them. I'm interested in them. I look forward to hearing what they have to say and where they will take me next. I discover more about them and myself the more time we spend together.
8. Pasta.
9. Lake Michigan. My roots run through the woods of the Upper Peninsula to Lake Michigan. The lake touches home - both my first home and my current one - and it touches adventures away from home. I close my eyes and listen to it. I feel its waves slapping my feet. In its calm moments I see serenity poured out to the horizon and beyond. I snap picture after picture. Sunrises, sunsets, swims, boats, beaches, hikes, lighthouses, dunes... They are all splendid on Lake Michigan.

10. The Eucharist. I could say so much but Jesus said it all. "I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh" (John 6:51).

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Away From Elsewhere

I sit at my desk wearing a fleece jacket zipped to my neck and a thick afghan blanket over my legs. The culprit is the A/C vent in the ceiling over my neighbor's cubicle. He's comfortable, by the way, as the vent doesn't force the air straight down but rather outward in each direction. My hands, starting to tan from time in the occasional sunshine we have been treated to lately, are icy cold on the keyboard.

No matter how I feel about my job overall, this is reason enough to wish I was elsewhere. 

Elsewhere. 

I keep planning little escapes in my head. Places to visit, adventures to take. They're all elsewhere. I want to put my baby girl in a carrier on my chest and hike the trails I used to enjoy. I want to take a day away with my husband to revisit the waterfalls a few counties north of here. There was a day like that from one of our dating summers and it stands out in my memory as particularly splendid. I'd like to take my little boy on an adventure, maybe explore a farm full of animals or go camping for a night, just the two of us. The idea thrills me to take them all, plus my stepson, on a drive to Holy Hill for a day of beauty and fun and peace.

Or I could write. Elsewhere, I could write. Elsewhere, I could sit for hours with my manuscript and pens, marking up the pages with changes and improvements. I could move closer and closer to being ready to seek a publisher. 

I want, I want, I want. I could, I could, I could. There is no contentment in letting my mind be occupied in this way. These aren't bad things to be desiring. Some of them might come to fruition in the near future with some good planning. Focusing on them at the expense of what is right in front of me though, is unacceptable. Instead, contentment might be exactly what I ought to seek right now. 

In our everyday language, contentment has taken a bad rap. We use the word too often to refer to "settling" or "resigning." Settling for less than what you desire or seek; Resigning yourself to circumstances you wish were different. We talk of someone being content with the hand they were dealt, content in their comfort zone, or content to put up with this or that. Maybe we are using the word incorrectly.

Contentment - definition: the state of being contented; satisfaction; ease of mind
Content - definition: satisfied with what one is or has; not wanting more or anything else

Ease of mind. Satisfied. Sounds deliciously wonderful to my restless heart.

I do believe I have feared contentment at times. If I am content, will I stop dreaming? Will I stop striving for greater things or improving myself? Will I no longer seek new experiences?

The answer to those questions might be yes, but it's completely up to me. Instead, contentment can be exactly what's needed to be ready for the next dream, the next experience, the next change. Contented peace of mind will allow me to be my best self, present and engaged instead of anxiously longing for the elusive elsewhere. Contentment will open my eyes to the goodness of the moments here and now, to the blessings I take for granted. Contentment will soften my heart to understand why my path has taken me to this place with these people instead of that place with those people. Contentment contains patience, cheerfulness, calm, and joy. 

Contentment is starting to sound a whole lot better than Elsewhere.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Wearing the Writer Hat When There Are So Many Hats to Wear (Or Replace "Writer" With Whatever Hat You're Having Trouble Keeping On Your Head)

In perusing old posts on this blog, I happened upon this statement: "My first book didn't get written because I had nothing else to do. It was written because I chose to write it." I need this reminder once in a while, as every writer likely does. I am a wife. I am a mother. I am a full time employee. I am a daughter, sister, aunt, friend. You could write your own list, I'm sure.

During the stretch of time in which I wrote that first novel, I did not yet hold some of those privileged titles. I have gained a beloved spouse and family in the years since then. So the argument is valid that it was much easier to choose to write then than it is now. It is harder now. It is more complicated. You know. Your life now is not likely the same as your life when you began as a writer. How then do we continue to wear the hat of Writer when it is so difficult to balance it on the stack of other hats we wear?

Perhaps all it can come down to is giving yourself an honest answer to this question: Is writing still worth it?

If the answer is yes, please proceed to the next paragraph. If the answer is no, I wish you well and hold absolutely no judgment against you for your decision. In fact, I hope you're blessed by this realization as it likely frees you from the tedious burden of clinging to a pursuit you are no longer called to follow. If the answer is maybe, give yourself some time to mull it over.

Okay, since you're reading this, I shall believe that you gave a firm nod of the head in the direction of your computer monitor. Yes, you thought, it is still worth it. How about we say it aloud? "Yes, writing is still worth it! My life has changed. My responsibilities are many. My interests are varied. Among all the other titles I hold though, I am also a writer and I want to remain a writer." Still with me? Let's keep rolling.

I dedicated myself to writing when I was fresh out of college. Single, living with my sister and dear friend, working an easy, stress-free job as I waited for that career-starting position to come my way - my lifestyle was tailor made for taking up writing in the manner I'd long hoped to do. The way circumstances allowed me to be immersed in the endeavor of writing, to adorn myself in the identity of Writer, is something I could not fully appreciate until those circumstances changed. I thank God I had those years when I was lonely and bored with my job. I don't wish to return there but I certainly find I am grateful for them! After that period of abundant harvest though came the time of dryness.

Writing fell by the wayside as I unwrapped the gifts of romance, marriage, babies, and more fulfilling work. It became that dear companion of my past: missed, remembered fondly, and promised a future reunion as soon as the time is right.

Ha! As soon as the time is right! If you're relating to this post in any way, you understand why the idea makes me laugh. To put it succinctly, the time has not been "right" and I do not expect it to be "right" in the foreseeable future. When you live a full life (which is a great enhancement to your writing), the time will always be wrong to return to writing. You are highly unlikely to stumble upon some fresh period in your life that is perfectly shaped for a commitment to writing. The answer to this unfortunate truth? Write anyway.

Your life is unique. Your writing is unique. No advice or plan will completely suit everyone. Still, I hope you can find some encouraging help from the things I have found work for me. Here is how I wear my Writer hat when there are already a pile of hats on my head.

  1. Wear Your Writer Hat Proudly: Wherever you are right now, announce to the world, "I AM A WRITER!" Claim it. As cheesy as that may sound, it is an absolute must if you are going to follow through on your writing goals. Do not hide it. Do not be ashamed of it. Be proud of your identity as a writer. As with anyone who talks incessantly of only one thing, this should not translate into you making sure anyone and everyone must listen to you talk about your writing. You can be proud and unashamed without being alienating. The things we love ought to be shared naturally and joyfully. So, why is it that so many writers hesitate to admit to what they are? Even when asked about your interests or passions, do you avoid mentioning writing? Or at the very least couple it with other lesser hobbies as if it is not a priority in any way? I have done that. I've mentioned it dismissively or avoided it completely. In doing so, I was betraying my true self. When someone is showing genuine interest in you, they want to know the real you and you are a writer.
  2. Do Not Procrastinate: In this I am not only talking about writing. If you make it a general rule to avoid procrastination in any of your responsibilities, you will discover that you can find opportunities to write. Procrastination creates an atmosphere of 'too much to do.' It makes it easy to become overwhelmed, to resent the tasks of daily life, and to decide there is always something more important to be done instead of writing. Refusing to procrastinate in other priorities will make it tremendously easier to not procrastinate on your writing goals. If procrastination is currently a well rooted habit of yours, patiently retrain yourself. I guarantee it will bring about positive change in all areas of your life.
  3. Enlist Help: Your significant other, your kids, your roommates, your friends - these folks can be considered as hindrances to your writing. Often it is only a subconscious idea but it has very real and negative consequences on your attitude toward both writing and those individuals. Yes, at times they can cause delays in sitting down to write. They can distract you and fail to understand the writer in you. Help them become your helpers instead of your hindrances. Share how important writing is to you. Compare it to something that matters to them in a similar way so they can gain perspective on your writing life. If you're a scheduler, setting aside specific and regular times for writing (something I haven't worked my way up to yet), be up front with them about that schedule. They will adjust. Share with them what you write when it is appropriate or helpful to do so. Find little ways to involve them and communicate that you need them. The people closest to you can be your greatest voices of encouragement, confirming you in your efforts and challenging you to follow through on your goals. If they don't naturally develop that voice, ask them for it.
  4. Use Writing Prompts: When you're blocked completely, not a single sentence forming on the page, use writing prompts. When you're frustrated by your writing falling terribly short of what's in your head, use writing prompts. When you want to hone your skills, break new creative ground, or test your imagination, use writing prompts. When you want to have some writerly fun, use writing prompts! I've only been employing them for short while but they have become a highly effective tool for kickstarting my brain. There are a million and one available online. Some are more useful than others. You can search for prompts created for your particular genre or simply find one that interests you and go from there. Write for as long as you wish from a prompt or set a timer and challenge yourself to write as much as you can before the bell. However you choose to use them, they can be excellent aids for any writer.
  5. Read Books: This should be obvious, I think, but just as it can be difficult to see any available time to write, it can be the same for reading. However, we need to feed our brains with the fruit produced by those who labor in the same art we are attempting to create. Even if it takes you half a year to finish one book, always be in the midst of reading one. Much like writing prompts, picking up a book to read can churn up the ideas in your own mind. Sometimes a fine example of your own genre is what you'll need. Other times, a book that is outside your typical interests as both a reader and a writer will lead to greater creativity in your work. No matter what, be a reader as you work to create more for the world to read.
  6. Get Some Readers: Nothing makes you feel like a legitimate writer like having readers! It is a thrill, scary and exciting, to hand your work over to another human being and ask them to read it. When I do it I am filled with hope and trepidation. I want them to love it, of course, and be glad they spent their time and energy on it. When they come back with a positive response, I am filled with renewed motivation to keep my Writer hat on my head. When they return with critiques, I am sad but grateful to know where I failed them as my readers. Ask a variety of people to read your work. Join a writers group that is both welcoming and willing to challenge you to improve when you share your words with them. Promote your blog or other writing medium to gain readers. Sometimes a stranger, unswayed by their love and affection for you, can be the most helpful reader. Other times, someone who will handle you with care as you struggle to keep plugging away on that draft is exactly who you need. Every reader is tremendously valuable.
  7. Believe You Have a Contribution to Make to Humanity: I hope that doesn't sound trite. I firmly believe this should be part of our mindset for every title we hold and hat we wear. It is true of my place in the world as a wife, as a mother, as a worker, and no less, as a writer. Our gifts and passions were stitched into our unique design by our creator. There is a reason I love to write fiction while my husband loves to write song lyrics. There is a reason I find beauty in words in a way that reminds me of how my grandmother found beauty in the flowers and birds. We each have a contribution to make. Ultimately, that is why it is worthwhile to diligently fulfill our roles in this world. Every single one of them. When they are simple and straightforward, bringing joy to ourselves and others, or when they are difficult, complicated, and even painful, the titles with which we have been gifted in life are our paths to contributing to the amazing, intertwining existences of humanity. In the end, I hope that one of the great ways I honored who I was created to be was by being a writer.