My One Word: Diligence

Some years I have taken the time to select a word I want to delve into a bit more. I want to grow personally, and having a word for the year has proven to bring my mind back to the “theme” fairly often in that year. Last year, I tried to spend time thinking about what life might look like with a heart of humility. This year I’ve settled on diligence.

I’ve got to be completely honest. This year’s word feels more challenging than the last. You see, I have a creative mind, and one of the beauties of that creativity is it’s paired with a “lively mental nature” (read: a wee bit of a focus and follow through problem). Some call it the “Oooooh, shiny!” part of life. Others call it the “Squirrel!” life.

If you’ve followed along, you know I’ve got projects going behind the scenes. I’m beginning the year with a speaking-teaching engagement mid-January. I have the honor of writing at a beautiful collaborative site with my friends (facetsoffaith.com). The writing ideas I have for my own blog clamor for attention. A little draft of an ebook waits in the wings closer to finished than I want to admit (admitting how close it is would probably mean it should’ve been done by now). I have another deeply-personal behemoth of a project that cries for attention (this one’s like eating an elephant one bite at a time). I’m negotiating another large editing project (that I’m really excited about!). I’ve been developing some new online educational course content in the Moodle-Collaborate environment (more slowly than I’d really like). My son needs to finish high school coursework. And then there’s this other little thing I wonder if my husband and I will pursue in the future.

*D-ee-ee-ee-ee-ee-eep breath!*

Truthfully, I’m a little overwhelmed at that paragraph up there. I think my heart rate just quickened by 15 bpm. Those are just the spinning plates that I know about right now. As 2018 rolls along new ideas, projects, and responsibilities will appear on the horizon more than a few times.

I think that’s why my word is diligence.

Sometimes I’d like to have more hours in the day. Isn’t that what most of us would say? What I think I really need is better use of the time in a day. I don’t know if this is true for you, but I’m a little surprised every time I tally my time. I don’t really want to know how much time I’m using on social media, but I need to be honest about it. I don’t really want to count the time spent on Celebrities: Where are They Now? and Royal Family Members Doing Royal Things and Dogs Doing Dog Things slideshows. (I’m not the only one that gets sucked in by those clicks, right?) And so—I thought diligence would be a great focus this year!

I took the time to create a “reminder” for me in my social media accounts. I’m pretty sure this is about the same as a sticky note. What do you think?

2018 TW Diligence

When distraction comes knocking, I’ll be the one refusing to answer the door! I’ll be trying different things to streamline my focus (by eliminating any distractions I can manage).

Do you take the time to select a word for the year? If so, I’d love to know what yours is. Share away!

~jennifer

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Favorite Things: Faith

It’s always been my heart to write about the things that are closest to my heart. This is that. I love to write, and I love lots of other activities, but at the core of my identity is my faith. I hope you enjoy this share from my favorite collaborative project site with my dearest friends. Enjoy!

Original post located at facetsoffaith.com.


 

I labored over the topic of faith for this post. I’m not sure how to describe the seasons and my ever-growing understanding of faith, and there is good reason.

Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen. Hebrews 11:1 CSB

Faith can be as easy as sitting in a chair, knowing it will hold the weight; but it can seem as complex as stepping out of the boat onto the waves driven by strong winds (Matthew 14:21-33). How are these two scenarios related? It’s the unknown factor in both. The chair may not hold me. I may not walk on the waves; I might even drown. I’ve yet to suffer a panic attack over a chair, but the waves…those could terrify me.

My faith has been like that. Simple chairs. Crashing waves.

Faith requires following through when we can’t see the path we’ll take or the destination.
My experience of faith is like that. When I first began to live with God, I was happy to trust Jesus with my laundry list of sins. It was long and ugly. It was obvious I had offended God with my decisions if I just looked at the “Big Ten” in Exodus 20. My Bible showed every kind of proof that Jesus could be trusted with my sin. Through trust in Jesus’ payment at the cross I could have peace with the holy, perfect God.

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Romans 5:1-2 CSB (emphasis mine)

But, could I trust the Father with my “somewhere out there eternity” and my life? Life decisions are tiny and moment-by-moment—and they are monumental every so often. Can He be trusted with everything? This is all about the waves!

At the crux of it are two straightforward, difficult decisions: trust Jesus with your sins at the cross for the saving of your life and trust Him with more and more life choices for the direction and course correction of your life.

Having only a vague idea where each decision may land but making the decision based in biblical truth anyway—that’s faith. For some, that’s embarking on an exciting adventure. For others, it’s a frightening look at the waves, wondering if they will bear the weight. Faith is like that.

Something you should know is that I can be happy in the land of obvious, easy black and white. In one season of life I thought my faith was like that: things should always fit neatly in the right-wrong or good-bad extreme categories. That feels easy when the discussion is about lying, stealing, and murder. It’s troubling when a beer, a tattoo, or junk food becomes the topic of conversation. I held strong, self-assured opinions, and I forced my perspectives and stark contrasts on others in that season. I’m not proud of it. That had little to do with biblical faith.

And then God did something new.

One of many beautiful, golden threads woven into the fabric of faith is grace. Someone pointed out graceless words flowing from my heart, and I was stunned. My black-white paradigm was often unloving and uncaring when I talked with others.

“As a Christian, you can’t do THAT! You’re sinning!”

I couldn’t argue with the evidence. I had once cherished the grace upon grace I read about in the Bible, but I began to overlook the lovely gracious words to focus on the hard, “no wiggle room” truth. In my eyes, the scales of truth and justice became much larger than the distant, old, wooden cross.

Faith decisions only came out of extremes, rather than asking the more important questions—What does God have to say about this for me? What true and loving thing does He say about this for the people of God?

That season was longer and sadder than I’d like to admit, but by God’s grace I was drawn back to the Word of God again. Out of that precious time came a little known place in the blogosphere: Fragrant Grace.

That’s when faith, truth, and grace intertwined. So precious!

Then a new season began to take hold—the season I’m waking to and discovering now.

Just one thing: live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Philippians 1:27a

When I remember Jesus’ incredible, loving sacrifice on the cross, it starts to get real. I accept the benefits of the blood of Jesus and His name as my identity confidently now and forever. As a daughter of God something in my heart, mind, words, and actions starts to look different (even if it’s far from perfect). I’m not doing anything as if I earn points with God, but I do it because I love the One who assigned infinite value to my life by dying for me. I begin to want to live a life worthy of the God who saved me from myself and my sin. It’s a bit more bold and a little louder. Why? Because rightly placed and understood faith makes an eternal difference for me—and for every single soul on earth. And I’m not sure the unseen, private faith turns out to be any faith at all.

~j

We Need a Hero…

As I think about my life, I’m ever grateful for the hero in the story. When I was young, I watched The Adventures of Letterman on television. He was a cartoon, but he saved the day nonetheless!

Faster than a rolling ‘O’
Stronger than silent ‘E’
Able to leap capital ‘T’ in a single bound!
It’s a word, it’s a plan…it’s Letterman! (The Adventures of Letterman, The Electric Company. PBS. 1971-1977.)

A damsel in distress needs a hero, doesn’t she! How many times does the hero swoop in at just the right time to save the girl trapped in the villain’s dastardly plan? Thankfully, every time. And what kind of terrible villain was at work in my life? The worst enemy imaginable: the one who wants to see me destroyed— body, mind, and soul—forever. For-ev-er.

Once upon a time, I was a petite young lady looking to wake up and conquer each new day in some fresh way. Home life. School life. Social life. Life was all about me, and I had the ability to meet the challenges in creative ways. But the skills I used were entirely mine. There was no need to look for the hero in the story then. Oh, I did that when I was younger, but the hero never came. I was able to meet my own challenges and succeed well enough. Good enough. Smart enough. And—bonus!—a decent number of people liked me.

Isn’t that how most people handle the world? Is there any other way?

Maybe there is, but back then, I didn’t know any other way.

Speeding down the highway in a ’71 Pontiac Catalina in 1990, music blaring. Later speeding down the highway in an ’96 Chevette, music blaring. Queen of the road—my own road.

Something was happening, though, behind the curtain in the realm I couldn’t see.

All the pain. All the hurts. Some I chose, and some others recklessly dumped on me. I had to take it all somewhere. Without resolution, the wounds festered, cancerous to my soul. Where could a girl take the pain of life and know there could be healing? Tumbling through the villain’s cycle for my life, I stuffed the emotion until implosion or explosion. Then I started again. No release. I wreaked havoc on my own life, but targeted others as often as I could to lessen the pain.

But now, this is what the LORD says— he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;  Isaiah 43:1-3a

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Romans 5:8

My pain was real, and I acted out of that pain for years. But the God of the universe was willing to rescue me when I was still an angry, spiteful, pain-driven woman for so many years. Knowing I would hate Him (and any other male figure in society)…

He took the beating, the long walk to the hill carrying that crossbeam, and the nails in his hands and feet. The wood slivers shredded his skin as he rose to draw each breath and sunk to rest between. The spear pierced his side.

He didn’t have to endure that. Jesus was perfectly innocent and powerful enough to make things happen differently, if he wanted. He could have chosen to remain at a distance. He could have left me (and all of us) to the consequences and justice deserved. But love motivated every step to the cross. And love held him there.

We have no right to be even acknowledged, let alone in the presence of Holy God, in our sin-ravaged state.

But God…

Rescued.

Redeemed.

In relationship.

Thanks for reading along.

~j

Memories at the Bus Stop

I’ve been MIA for a bit, and I’m sad that’s the case. Since I’m participating in NaNoWriMo this year, I thought I’d be a little more consistent with posts. (We’ll see how that shakes out in reality, but it’s a nice idea.) Here’s a little memory I was thinking about this week. I wonder how it will strike the reader…

 

Blue_divider

Every day of the school year my older sisters walked down the street to the corner where the yellow bus rumbled and roared up the hill, screeching to a stop. Sometimes Mommy and I walked down our street on warm, sunny days to watch them go. Sometimes we walked down the street just before the bus came in the afternoon.

“Soon you’ll get on the bus with your sisters.”

“I will? Ooooh, I want to ride the big bus!”

The bus was the biggest, loudest, yellowest thing I’d ever seen. I heard it long before I saw it. One stop at the bottom of the hill. Our stop at the top. A right turn to stop at the next corner, and two more before it chugged out of the neighborhood.

The next fall, my short legs dangled off the front seat behind the bus driver for the first time.

Blue_divider

For years, I waited at the top of the hill for a ride to school. What began with quick, happy skipping in the afternoon eased into a slow drag over the years in the early mornings. No one was in a hurry to get to the bus stop—unless the bus was roaring away to the next. Some years I waited with my older sisters. Eventually, the older kids in the neighborhood claimed one bus stop, and the younger ones were left to the others. Some years I waited with my friend, Lena, alone.

I was about ten or eleven, I think. One day in late November, we waited for the bus, bored. Someone had the brilliant idea of putting me on someone’s shoulders. I wasn’t up there long. I remember seeing the crumbly street rushing up to meet me, up close and personal. Ouch!

The pain was intense. My face throbbed, but the bus was roaring up the hill. No mirror to check my eye and cheek. No time to run home and clean up. Not even enough time to run across the street to Lena’s house. Falling on my face didn’t seem a like good excuse to go back to my house—even if whatever happened made others’ faces look a little horrified. It couldn’t be that big a deal, right? I ducked in the door, hustled up the steps, and slid into a seat, hiding between the tall seats. I only hoped no one would see my pain.

“Do you need to get off the bus and go home?” the driver asked.

“No.”

“Are you sure? You’re bleeding.”

“No, I’m going to school.”

The bus driver waited to give me a chance to change my mind, then reluctantly pulled away and around the corner.

If I went home there had to be a good reason. Never mind that I was never sure exactly what a good reason might be. My family cultivated tough kids who believed nothing should stop us from moving along. The mindset was different from some. Healing should happen. Maybe before the bus got to school….

Nope, I thought, as I looked in the girls’ bathroom mirror.

Most of my family was in a community theater play that winter: A Christmas Carol. Many weeks before I had belted “It’s a Small World” at the top of my lungs for my audition, and that led to a bit part as a Cratchit kid. Mr. Producer had a very serious look on his face when he saw me at rehearsal that evening after the bus stop incident. With two weeks before our first show, I might need an understudy to take over.

Everyone wanted to know what happened. The attention was just embarrassing. I wanted to crawl into a hole. Yes, I fell on my face! Yes, it hurts! I know it’s ugly!

Two weeks was enough time to heal. At least, it was enough time to allow stage makeup to hide the blemish that was left.


Thanks for reading along as I share bits here and there. I wonder—has anyone else has had something obviously go wrong but tried to pretend there was “nothing to see here”?

Have you done that?

As an adult, I can’t imagine it. Then, it was just the way to move through a day. Strange reasoning in the mind of a young child….

~j

Paradigm: the Shift

Worldview. It’s how I see, read, and understand my world. It’s the lenses I look through, and like most people, I don’t realize I’m wearing them. (Have you ever looked for your glasses, only to find them resting on your face where they belong?)

I have taught online classes for home educated high school students, and one of those classes has been a worldview course. It’s one of my favorites, not because I have the privilege of watching students come into their own a bit but because they learn there always exists something they don’t know yet.

Right now I’m pleasantly surprised to find that I don’t know everything there is to know. Again. That’s not new information, and I’m not so arrogant that I ever thought I knew everything—well, except for the teenage “disease” that seems to be an epidemic in that stage. It’s not that I was comfortable with everything I knew as much as I stopped thinking about it. I wasn’t examining my thoughts or their processes as often. I settled in my ways and the ways I thought about things. The people closest to me thought fairly similarly. I maintained a wider spectrum of social media friends to “stay in touch with the culture and reality.” I was happy with all of that.

Have you ever had someone ask a question that shook your paradigm (and maybe your worldview, too)? Maybe you remember the question well. My experience hasn’t been that exactly. No one question has ever rattled me.

In my experience it has been a slow exploration, and the questions come up in my own inner dialogue. While that can feel unsettling, it’s the most pleasant for me. I prefer to wrestle with my thoughts in private sometimes. (Have I mentioned I’m an introverted processor?) I’m still waiting for the idea “pieces” to fit together nicely, so it’s a messy process. I just enjoy the whole thing, though. After the initial surprise or shock of it, the thinking and the settling (even if it’s temporary) is fun for me.

Have you had this kind of shakeup happen in your worldview or paradigm? What was that like for you? How do you feel about the process?

~j

Writer Problems: Analysis Paralysis

Writing exists in different parts of my mind—the forefront or the back—and, every so often it drives me out of it. A good number of writers I know have said something similar in conversation. One of my biggest struggles is the “stuck place” that goes along with over-thinking everything: plot or flow, content or structure, word choices, word count, the number of adverbs! (Kidding about that last one.)

And I’m brought back to one consistent truth in the writer life: writers write. Sure, they read and research and doodle sometimes, too, but they invest time in writing. When the analysis overwhelms the process, paralysis sets in. I don’t really believe this is the same thing as writer’s block. Analysis paralysis is something a little different. While the block is a dry inkwell, the paralysis feels something like the inkwell vacillating between explosion and implosion. Suddenly, the words just won’t flow because my mind just won’t play nicely with whatever is on the page or trying to get there.

I have a love-hate thing with the fact that writing is a mental thing. The beauty is that writing allows the pictures, stories, or ideas floating in my head to be shared with people anywhere and any time. The agony is that my mind can have so many incomplete thoughts floating around, and I somehow feel each one should be examined for validity before it hits the page. (This is ridiculous!) What’s a writer to do when the analysis breaks the beautiful process?

Here are three ideas that may help you get past the paralysis in your process:

  1. Take a walk and have a little talk with yourself. A change of scenery may be helpful. You just may have to give yourself permission to write badly or explore an incomplete thought’s development without evaluation. Agree to just write without judgment when you sit down again, if you can.
  2. Try writing from stream of consciousness as an exercise on a regular basis. Timed free-writes can be helpful with practice. You’ll often find you can get more words on the page when you have a specific topic or project to work on when you’ve practiced writing whatever comes to mind. You might also be interested in something like the “Five-Minute Friday” Link Up. Each week a very large group of writers will tackle a five-minute write on a single word topic. Give that a shot!
  3. Try the 10,000-foot view if you have to. You can’t land in “Pantser Land” with writers who just discover the plot (twists and all)? Back out of the project with an open mind and try outlining several different options for your work. Choose the one you like best, or ask someone to help you choose. I like to ask friends for ideas on plot or content when it’s possible or they are willing.

I won’t overwhelm you with a ton of ideas, but there’s at least three you might try. I know I sometimes just need encouragement to push forward in a project, so my “bonus idea” is—find another writer to chat with. See if you can talk shop (or not), if you need it.

Keep on keepin’ on, writer tribe!

~J

What Exactly is Failure?

Snowflakes and Superpowers

I guess I’m coming out of my hidey hole a little behind the headlines these days. There’s some buzz about an author who determined that two rejected novels equals failure. Of course, that would be painful! And I can empathize.

My thoughts? This is a sign of the times.

In our culture, we tell our kids they are special snowflakes in a gentle flurry. They are perfectly brilliant crystals drifting in November flurry. We grant them superpowers and tell them they can do anything. Parents want to give children the time to discover themselves and their abilities. “Talk all the time you need—or want,” we say. There’s no deadline to this discovery, of course.

Part of the above is true. We may be leaving out important details, though. I think reality may be closer to a snowflake in a blizzard. The struggle to succeed can feel more like being up against gale-force winds to the point of burnout. The “grit” part is missing from our narrative, and that’s surprising given the grassroots Americans who have worked so hard for generations.

The truth is each of us is a unique and powerful individual! Without work or a solid work ethic, it’s likely to be a hard road that may just be easier to walk away from. Writing is hard under some of the best conditions. Pour your sweat on the page or bleed all over it, and it’s personal. I get that. Maybe technical manual writers can say there’s no emotional investment in their writing, I don’t know. We write for personal reasons, and we offer something of ourselves in every sculpted sentence on the page.

But there’s something that’s not so personal. The reality is there are a myriad of writers composing works. We can respect that, but when we start writing, we speak into a very large body of water. All our thoughts may be excellent, but there is competition for the readers’ eyeballs (mainly getting in front of them) and their wallets, honestly. If I write well, that’s awesome, but that isn’t the end of the story. There are so many other parts.

I’m learning so much about the Millennial generation. As a Gen X-er, I’m curious about what’s up and coming in the culture, but I’m also aware of what’s common to humanity. Learning the hard truth about hard work—timeliness, deadlines, and being one of many in a very large pool—is part of life. And life is a tough teacher. Dismissing the “rules” doesn’t make the efforts for naught, but it sure reinforces that the efforts and opinions of everyone else are a factor. Where best-selling authors collected and practically honored the hundreds of rejection letters in their early writing years, we’re dejected and depressed in the single digits.

I get it. I’ve balked or chosen to walk from the hard stuff in life many times. I won’t lie. I preferred ease, comfort, praise, and success (in that order). But the good things, things worth , are rarely gifted to us. Instead, they are hard-fought battles more often than not. If it’s worth having, it’s worth fighting for, isn’t it?

God willing, I’ll persist in the writing challenge that lies before me. If I really have a story, a message, and an audience that needs to hear my voice in the conversation, I can’t balk or walk. It’s my raison d’etre. Dare I say, it’s my calling? I think so.

And that’s when I decide to answer the 5 W Questions of writing, the biggest being my “Why.” I wrote about that here.

Regarding the parting shot in the original article: I’m working on something, and I probably won’t be quiet about it. You see, my “why” flame is bigger than something a publisher, editor, or critic will snuff out. If my God leads me to it, He’ll lead me through it, no doubt.

Thanks for reading along. I love to share thoughts and kick them around with others. What do you think about this article that’s getting some attention? Have you responded to the post on your blog? Share below, of course!

~j