Dreaming Isn’t Only For the Young (Why Age is Just a Number)

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What are your dreams? Have you given them up because you think you’re too old to accomplish anything of worth?

Well, here’s a little reality check for you:

  • Sarah Bernhardt was 78 when she acted in her last stage performance
  • Sophocles was 89 when he wrote Oedipus at Colonus, one of his dramatic masterpieces.
  • On the day of his death, at the age of 78, Galileo was said to be planning a new kind of clock that would tell time—in minutes and seconds, not just hours—using a pendulum swing instead of movement of water or sand.
  • Robert Frost was 88 when his last volume of poems, In the Clearing, was published.
  • Winston Churchill was 79 when he received the Nobel Prize for Literature.
  • Igor Stravinski was 84 when he completed his last work, “Requiem Canticles.”
  • Charles DeGaulle was 75 when he was reelected president of France.
  • Pablo Picasso produced 347 engravings in his 87th year.

And last, but certainly not least:

  • Grandma Moses received her last commission as an artist when she was 99.

Obviously, age was just a number to such high-achieving artists and world-changers.

Closeup of message stones on white background.

Closeup of message stones on white background.

And don’t forget one of the superstars of the 2008 Summer Olympics, Dara Torres, who was the oldest female swimmer in the history of the Olympic Games (at the relatively young age of forty-one). She came away from the games with three silver medals. Not bad for a gal who was called “Grandma” by all the young swimmers in Beijing!

Torres, whose memoirs are appropriately titled Age Is Just a Number, won the first of her twelve Olympic medals in 1984, a year before Michael Phelps was even born! She broke her first of three world records in 1982, at fourteen, and has retired from swimming and has come back three times, She’s also the first American swimmer to compete in five Olympics (despite sitting out 1996 and 2004).

Torres is a role model for staying fit, aging gracefully, and pursuing your dreams. Dara’s dream of an Olympic comeback first hit her when she was months into her first, hard-won pregnancy. She returned to serious training while nursing her infant daughter and contending with her beloved father’s long battle with cancer.

Talk about an inspiration!

So what’s stopping you? Has Satan lied to you and told you that you’ll never amount to anything, because you’re “over the hill?” Do you feel worthless because you haven’t pursued something God has laid on your heart? Do you think it’s too late?

It’s not, my friend! God gives us dreams for every stage of our lives, and His grace continually makes all things new. So tell the devil to back off! Claim the truth that God is for you, and that He is the author of dreams.

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Note: This post is an excerpt from Dena’s book about aging gracefully (and with a sense of humor), Let the Crow’s Feet and Laugh Lines Come (Barbour). Used by permission of Barbour Books. 

The Power of the Ask

I sometimes forget the strength of the simple. Social media is a brawny tool, but it’s sometimes vexing to figure out the best way to reach the masses using our profile platforms. That’s why a couple of informal posts I recently put up surprised me in their reach and response. I re-learned a lesson about the power of the ask.The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

From infancy, we quickly figure out we must communicate our desires and needs in order to have them filled. A baby cries. A toddler whines. A little child begs. A teenager says, “Mommy or Daddy, please?”

If we make our requests without manipulation or ill motives, especially when we are inspired for a greater good, we generally receive what we ask for. I remember a few years ago, when I read Randy Pausch’s book, The Last Lecture: Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams, and feeling struck when he mentioned the power of simply asking as criteria for getting what we want. The world relinquished a wise and insightful man when he lost his battle with pancreatic cancer in 2008. Randy’s book was his final gift to the world.

Randy Pausch Questions More ImportantI was reminded of The Last Lecture when two different times I asked for help on my social media platforms. My intent was to help others, but as a by-product, the information I received also helped me. I believe because my questions were genuine and sincere, my friends, fans, and followers were eager to assist.

First, as a favor to a friend who is an editor for a women’s magazine, I asked seven questions in order to find out what the hottest topics were for women today. Not only did the volume of answers surprise me, but so did the patterns they revealed. It turns out many women are struggling with similar issues–raw, real, and relevant in our 21st century culture.

My friend got the information she needed, but as a bonus, I’ve been able to share what I learned with other women with hearts to share messages that matter. The benefit I received was my own fresh insight into what sisters of today are battling, allowing me to search for answers on their behalf. All because I dared to ask.

Getting Through Amazon Best SellerThe second thing I asked for came as a result of requesting detailed and specific aid from my social media peeps. When my latest book, Getting Through What You Can’t Get Over released in late March, it enjoyed a strong opening run. The first 90 days, readers reviewed and spread the word as the message resonated with many who were hurting, or knew someone else who was. But as authors, we know the challenge of keeping our messages out there, and figuring out how to reach appropriate audiences with our words of help, healing, and hope.

So when I asked on social media for ideas and/or connections to reach chaplains for the military, hospitals, or prisons, I was again shocked at how much my friends were willing to assist. The power of the ask extended my reach, and the longevity of my book’s impact.

In a world that often feels complicated and confusing, with voices shouting, “Try this. Do that,” it’s refreshing to remember the strength of the simple. Lately, I’ve seen many ask for help in a myriad of ways on social media.Social Media Platforms

“What pediatrician do you recommend in the Denver area? Go!”

“My son got blood on my favorite yellow shirt. Can it be saved? How do you remove blood stains? Go!”

“I need a quick dish for our family reunion this weekend. What’s your fave? Go!”

These days, folks are used to being asked to help with many things. So why can’t we ask for help in sharing our messages, or to find out what messages we should share? Instead of overcomplicating it, why not enact the power of the ask?

What are your current hot topics? Do you have any insights on how/who I can spread my message of real healing and hope for the hurting? How can I help you?

Finding Your Voice

find your unique voiceAbout ten years ago, I started thinking about publishing a book. After writing my way through twenty years of various marketing and development ventures, telling many wonderful stories of others along the way, every now and then I’d start to think I had something to say. My own story to tell.

The problem was, I didn’t know how to say it. I’d spent all those years adapting to the voice of others, setting aside my own ideas, submerging myself in a particular client’s mindset and style in order to honor their voice and tell their story well.

Somewhere along the way I lost my voice.

I started second guessing what I should sound like, who I should be. Eventually I shaped this ridiculous concept (based on the comparison and envy of other folks) of what I should be, what I should sound like. And that image, that false representation of me, is the one I carried to the outside world.

Now trying to share my own story, I imagined I needed to mimic somehow those popular writers who had scores of people following them. So I tried hard to fit in, to sound like I should. But my words leaked out flat and predictable with this stiff journalistic bent.

Because that’s the sort of thing that happens when you silence your authentic self.

Thankfully since those days I’ve learned a lot about finding my voice. I’ve learned to trust my uniqueness as this is the very thing that makes me me. This unique combination of my quirks and passions, my own style and feelings and beliefs, these are the very things that set my words apart from the millions being shared daily.

I don’t know that I can pin the discovery of my voice on one particular experience, and I don’t dare suggest there’s a magic formula that suits us all. But I would love to share three of the things I’m learning along the way in the hopes they may somehow encourage you.


1. Be an original.

When we lack confidence it feels easier to imitate others, but its flat hard to pretend to be something we’re not.

So wherever you are, whatever you are writing or thinking about writing, I’ll encourage you to confront any false voices that try to convince you that you have to have it together out of the gate. Because you don’t.

Take this moment and give yourself permission to no longer compare or pretend or perform.

Then, take a deep breath and commit this day to start relaxing into your unique you. Practice, practice, practice being yourself; your true voice will eventually emerge.

 2. Value your life experiences.

Perhaps, like me, you’ve walked some hard days. Maybe you’ve faced a loss, an illness, or a dysfunctional relationship? Maybe it was a crisis of faith or a dire financial situation? Whatever it was, I bet it was dark and lonely and didn’t make a bit of sense.

Here’s the thing: we can’t be afraid to say what it was like in the dark.

These life experiences often act as a catalyst, gifting us the ability to reimagine these hard days in a way others can relate to them. While we might not be able to change the way it was there in the dark, we can change the story we tell ourselves (and others) about those days.

As dark as it was, your journey to the other side holds the potential to stir a fresh hope for the person still stuck.

 3. Take risks.

I’ve never been naturally courageous, but I have learned this: if I want to make a difference in this world, there are times I’m going to have to be brave.

Sharing your heart will feel risky (because it is), but an unhealthy caution will stall your voice.

Too often we don’t realize how very close we are to finding our voices.

Give your voice the room it needs to grow. Explore, pursue, and practice until your true voice becomes your natural default.

Be an original, take risks, and don’t be afraid to dream big.

Your voice is a unique and unforgettable mixture of your own personal style, perspective, and message. Surrender to it. Shape it as needed, yes, but don’t be afraid to share it.

Going Deeper: Where are you in your journey to find and use your voice? Share your thoughts and observations in the comments below.

Want more? Click here for a free 10 Tips for Finding Your Voice printable.

All Things Come to She Who. . .

gray coneflowerCome this September, I will have been a published author for nine years.

I’m still not a household name, and I don’t expect to ever be one.

But, I can say with complete assurance, my writing career is beginning to bloom into what I had once only imagined.

In the last two months, I received my first Kirkus review, which is, according to my agent, a “big deal.” Not only that, but it was a positive review, and it’s already generating advance word of mouth among readers thanks to shares on social media. I also finally landed a review with a major magazine in my (fiction) subject area of birdwatching, which will generate the nationwide publicity for me that I’ve yearned for since my first Birder Murder Mystery book came out. Both of these reviews are for the seventh book in my series, titled The Kiskadee of Death.

Yes, it took seven books for me to land on these reviewers’ radar.

Seven books.

Another first in the last month was receiving a request from a magazine editor to write an essay for them. In my entire writing career, I have never had an editor approach me for an article – I was always the one doing the pitching. To have an editor seek me out to author an essay was a huge boost to my career confidence; knowing that I’ve made an impact on publishing professionals is worth the months I’ve spent cultivating readers and developing my brand.

The final mark, for me, of having my feet firmly planted on my writing path is the number of guest posts and speaking engagements I’m now booking with relative ease. Whether my new-found success in that arena is due to my hard-won lack of fear of rejection, the persistence I’ve practiced, or just a matter of time, I don’t know. And at this point, I don’t care what has generated these new opportunities; I’m just very grateful to have them.

Coincidentally (or not), I recently read an interview with Kate DiCamillo, the celebrated children’s author. Before her first publication, DiCamillo recalled meeting Louise Erdrich, the award-winning author, who asked DiCamillo how long she’d been writing. When the budding children’s author said “Four years,” Erdrich advised her to hang on, that her own book career had taken six years to get off the ground.

It made me feel better that even some of the author superstars of the publishing world know what it’s like to have to wait for success.

The bright side of all that waiting is that when success does finally come, a writer can look back over the years that have gone before, and see that without that waiting, that revising, refining, re-imagining, and all those countless hours of learning a craft and business, the achievement would not taste as sweet as it does. Because the truth is not that all things come to she who waits, but that all things come to she who works while she’s waiting.

Have you begun to see some signs of success in your own writing journey?

 

Impossibility: Five Important Truths

Photo/TaraRoss

Sometimes God leads us to do the impossible.

This morning as I waited for the sunrise to go on my walk, it started raining. I thought, Oh, no! If I don’t go for a walk now, it won’t happen today.

Simple problems. Sometimes the simplest challenge can seem impossible. I also know that my emotions lead me to exaggerate my problems at times.

Life and death issues. I don’t intend to compare my insignificant problems with the life and death issues that others are facing right now. I’m aware that many people face horrific, painful circumstances every day. And as I look at my circumstances in light of the needs of others, my problems often seem trivial.

Photo/KarenJordanCrises in Spain. My writing life often pushes me out of my comfort zone toward some “impossible” dreams. It led me into the academic world where I faced all kinds of uncomfortable situations. My most memorable learning experience occurred in Spain.

I wrote a previous post on the WordServe Water Cooler about my academic journey in Salamanca, Spain, “Sergio: A Memoir from My Writing Life.” During that summer in Spain, God revealed His faithful guidance and strength as I faced my limitations and weaknesses.

Photo/KarenJordanImmersed in another culture and language, I discovered I had taken on an academic endeavor far beyond my abilities, and I felt totally incompetent to complete it. My personal weaknesses became painfully obvious, as I experienced the reality of my limitations.

I’d been pacing myself as I pursued a course of study as a nontraditional student, commuting to school from home. But after a few weeks in Spain, without warning, I crashed—physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Like an athlete, I hit the wall, suddenly losing all my strength after a long, difficult journey.

Spiritual Truths. I rediscovered five important spiritual truths about impossibilities during my painful summer of learning in Spain.

  • Some things are impossible to do in my own strength. “Humanly speaking, it is impossible …” (Matt. 19:26 NLT).
  • All things are possible with God. “… But with God everything is possible.” (ibid.).
  • I can do anything God calls me to do. “… I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength” (Phil. 4:13).
  • God will complete the work that He began in me. “ And I am certain that God, who began the good work within (me), will continue his work until it is finally finished …” (Phil. 1:6).
  • God gives me His strength, when I am weak. “That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10).

Reflection. These promises from God’s Word continue to encourage me as I face the impossibilities of my writing life. And I’m thankful that God offers His powerful promises to all who choose to believe His Word.

I’ll never forget some of the painful lessons I learned in Spain—and I still bear some of the scars from that experience. Now, I try not to take on more than I can handle, since I’m more aware of my limitations. In fact, I hit the wall faster and more frequent than ever as life takes its toll on me. So, I’m trying to stay focused on the course set for me.

Remember this promise as you face your impossible dreams and goals: ”Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.” (Matt. 19:26 NLT)

What seems impossible for you today? Does your situation seem hopeless, difficult, or ridiculous to even consider?

Paying It Forward — It’s Never Too Late to Start Writing

It’s my birthday as this publishes, so I think today is a great time to tap into a subject many aspiring and experienced writers wrestle with. Am I getting too old to publish?

Colorful Birthday Cake

A Colorful Life Makes Colorful Prose

This week, I met a fabulous ninety-two-year-old woman named, Gloria. Before arriving in America, Gloria, along with many of her friends and family, falsely believed the streets in the United States were made of gold. I think they had us confused with Heaven — which America definitely is not.

Gloria’s first husband brought her to the United States when she was a young woman. The only English words the onyx-haired beauty with raven colored eyes knew were, “Hello,” “Thanks,” and “Goodbye.” Yet, with her baby son, she braved a storm-tossed sea on an ocean liner bound for her land flowing with milk and honey. However, as often happens in life, her milk curdled and her honey soured.

Shortly after their arrival, Gloria found out she was pregnant a second time. Her husband panicked and left. She and her family never saw him again, and her sons grew up not knowing their father.

For several years, the single mother raised her sons as best she could in abject poverty. But Gloria, not a woman easily beaten down, learned English, got a job in a local bank, and worked her way up the ranks. By the time she retired more than forty years later, through hard work along with savings and investments, Gloria was a wealthy and influential woman in her Iowa community.

This ninety-two-year-old powerhouse is still impacting others, and will again this December, when she goes on a mission trip to Africa. She knows it’s never too late to make a difference.

I learned most of her story by devouring Gloria’s self-published memoir. Talk about a fascinating and motivating read. I found myself speaking out loud to some of the pages.

“You poor thing.”

“Spot on, Gloria.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“How did you survive?”

“So that’s your secret.”

I laughed, I teared up, and I thought: If Gloria could make it through her situations, then I can face my fears and do the things I’m compelled to pursue.

But then another thought niggled my brain. What if Gloria hadn’t written her book? If she hadn’t shared her story, her family and the world at large would miss out on ninety-two years of revelation, inspiration, and motivation.

Getting Through What You Can't Get Over

My Way of Paying It Forward

Like a fine wine, writers get better with age — let’s face it, the more life we’ve lived, the more we have to offer. Deeper insights, decisions tempered with wisdom, balanced viewpoints, lessons learned, and the list goes on.

If we inspire or motivate one soul, if we can help someone face their pain and cry healing tears, or laugh out loud when they’re experiencing difficult moments, I think we should at least try. It’s the ultimate example of paying it forward. This is the very reason I wrote, Getting Through What You Can’t Get Over.

If we justify not putting words on the page or excuse ourselves due to age, then we hoard our gifts and steal from others. No matter how old we are, if we are writers, we should write. It’s never too late to start writing…whether for the first time, or for the first time on a new project. No matter how many birthdays we celebrate, we have something to offer.

Oh Yeah, It’s Not About Me

Praise for my work is as difficult for me to handle well as rejection. In a different way, of course. Praise doesn’t crush my self-esteem, destroy my confidence, and send me to bed with a carton of Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey ice cream. But it has the potential to be just as destructive.

woman prayingPraise for my writing can go straight to my head.

Don’t get me wrong. I love it. But sometimes I love it a little too much. Occasionally I take the very dangerous turn from loving it to needing it. Craving it, even. I collect the glowing adjectives carefully and methodically, like rookie baseball cards, and store them away in my mind to bring out in times of flagging faith in my writing ability.

I forget that this isn’t about me. That I didn’t give myself the gift. I didn’t invent imagination. I didn’t come up with the ideas for the stories. I’m not my own source of creativity. And my glory is not the intended result of any of the above.

It is all from him and for him. This is supposed to be my mantra. I’m having it engraved on a piece of jewelry as we speak. To remind me why I do what I do. How I do what I do.
And I need to be reminded, constantly.

Christians have long found themselves in a quandary over how, when and to whom to extend praise. As a kid, I attended many churches where the congregation refused to clap after a performance. The idea, I assume, was to impart to the musician that he or she should not expect to receive any kind of affirmation or reward for using their talents. God alone should receive the praise.

I understand the sentiment. But even as a kid I had trouble seeing how the awkward silence following a performance, the deliberate withholding of an expression of gratitude and pleasure, truly glorified God.

On the one hand, as believers we are to support and encourage one another, and to give the workman his due. On the other hand, it is true that every gift and ability we have is a gift from God and is intended for his glory and not our own.

I wrestle with this tension, and I suspect I am not alone. Yes, I enjoy and appreciate receiving affirmation of my work and in affirming the work of others. And yes, I believe all glory belongs to God without whom I am nothing and can do nothing. Can these two truths be reconciled?

Only when, through the grace of God and the working of the Holy Spirit, I am able to examine the attitude of my heart and the motivation behind my work to ensure both are pure.

If my sole purpose for writing is to share the stories he has given me in order to bless others and draw them to him, I can in good conscience accept the affirmation from someone that the blessing has been received.

And when I do, I will thank God for the gift he gave me and for the privilege of using it to bring him glory.