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.

U R a Writer (So Write What You Know)

“Everyone’s talking about the Victoria’s Secret fashion show  … how this one girl wore this multi-million dollar outfit …. and how amazing they all are ….”

Books

The lights in my daughter’s eyes dash in the night.  We are up too late, pillow talk, chewing on all things girl: how it’s hard to admit when we are wrong, how friend hurts run deep, how some girls seem to get everything they want … and does that mean happiness?

We are treading the waters of the life I’ve known. It is from this pain that I have written — the pain of feeling like I was never enough

We talk about the real stuff: how love is all the soul really needs; how persevering through the thick of life makes a woman beautiful; how honor and respect are the prettiest adornments we can wear.

We learn the hard way, because the longing to be beautiful is within us, and because Jesus is and always will be the utmost answer on anything Beauty.

When I wrote More Beautiful Than You Know, I wrote to the girl I used to be; the girl my daughter now is; and the girl who was at my house yesterday, the one who didn’t want to take off her shirt to go in the pool because she stated bluntly, “I don’t have a bathing-suit body.”

I wanted to jump out of my skin and hold her — cup her heart and heal it — flood truth into the blood in her veins so that she would know she is More Beautiful Than She KnowsI wanted her to define beauty in her generosity, in her laughter that fills the sky, in her eyes which pool with humility and honor. I wanted to redefine beauty for her, in her, through her.

And I will ask my daughter if I can give my book to her friend Bella, the one named Beauty who thinks she’s not. Because I wrote it for her, because of her, and because one time I stood being measured by a line of judges against another girl and her bathing-suit body beat mine. That was the last time I felt good enough in a bikini, I’ll tell you that.

We write what we know. Write from your pain. Your core pain. The more you do, the more the wound will heal — and it heals best when it becomes healing to another.

I guess there is still a scar there, because when Bella only eats fruits and vegetables while the girls with “bathing-suit bodies” guzzle sweet tea and potato chips, I want to make a big banner of my book’s cover and hang it over the pool. I want it to say, “Bella: YOU ARE MORE BEAUTIFUL THAN YOU KNOW.”

I know this blog should teach you something about marketing or managing your writing schedule or turning posts into promotion, but today, I just want to challenge you to write what you know, and write for one person who could be changed by your story. Write for Bella. Write for me. Write for the one you see in your mind’s eye who needs healing from the thing that hurt you.

Do that.

And then, do that again. And again. And again.

One day, that person you wrote for, might be sitting at your kitchen table eating vegetables — or about to jump in your pool and fill the sky with laughter.

Your friend,

Jen

Delightful Drudgery

Three cheers for the delightful drudgery of the writing life!

Hip hip hooray! Hip hip hooray! Hip, hip… what was that? Hit the brakes, Hemingway.

Wouldn’t delightful drudgery be an oxymoron? Yes, I suppose so but I can’t think of anything that more perfectly describes the process of putting words on a page.

Writing is delightful.

Writing is drudgery.

Writing is delightful drudgery and I’m equally familiar with both.

backspace

I know the drudgery of wearing the letters off my backspace key waiting for a sentence or two to show up that’s even a tad worthy of remaining on the page. And I know the delightful feeling of having thoughts tumble out until they almost seem to be writing themselves. Yet another irony of the writing life is how often those two experiences meet in the same bottom-in-chair sessions.

But, here’s the thing. I’ve decided we’re the better for it, that the delight is sweet precisely because we’ve been given the gift of staring that drudgery down, and we can’t have one without the other. And now, I’m not just talking writing anymore…

Someone once said that life is mostly about showing up. Maybe. That might be true, if voting present is the ultimate goal. But for any who want more, God gives opportunities not only to show up to life, but to put our heads down and our shoulders to the plow of whatever tasks He has given us. Not once, but over and over again we’re blessed to ignore the barren landscape and accept the drudgery that feels futile–until that day.

Until that day the seed of our very hard thing germinates and begins to sprout and we pause to wipe our brows and glance down, only to stand shell-shocked at the early shoots reaching up to meet us.

Isn’t this delightful drudgery thing something like what Christ did when He wrapped Himself in our skin? He showed us how to do the everyday things, day after day, until that one glorious day when He set everything right and reconciled us to His Father and ours on the cross. All those days He spent traipsing this earth in dusty sandals was worth it to Him because He knew He was up to more than what the casual observer could see.

This is what lights my word fire. When we refuse to begrudge the drudgery, we get to taste the delight.

Tell me about that hard thing you’ve stuck with that brought delight when all was said and done?

Dangerous Curves Ahead

You hear a lot in writing circles in regards to the pursuit of publication—just persevere. Keep at it. You’ll get there.

DangerousCurvesI heard this a lot when I was going for my ultimate job in nursing. I really wanted to be a flight nurse. After I got the required experience, I began the application process—something like seven interviews later I still didn’t have a flight nursing position.

I’ve spent lots of time theorizing why and I still would love to do this job, but in my heart I think it’s not going to happen. It’s just not God’s will for my life no matter how much I desire it.

It may not be popular to talk about quitting the pursuit of publicaton on a writing blog. But then ER nurses rarely do what’s popular—we do what’s necessary. I was pursuing flight nursing when I was supposed to be serving God writing. Maybe you’re pursuing publication when God has another dream for your life that will impact people more than what you’re pursuing right now.

But just how do you know? I’ve been obsessed with learning God’s will. I often say I wish I’d wake up with a gold note card on my pillow with the answer, but it is never that easy.

TheDipAll truth is God’s truth no matter who writes it. Isn’t that an amazing statement? I think I found some of God’s truth in a little (literally—it’s seventy-six half-size pages) book called The Dip by Seth Godin.

In the beginning, he makes some pretty profound statements. The phrase all of us learned, “Quitters never win and winners never quit,” is profoundly wrong. Godin says winners quit all the time.

“They just quit the right stuff at the right time.”

The trouble is telling the difference. The dip refers to the process of learning when you’re taking on a new project you’re excited about—like novel writing. The dip is that moment you wonder why you started to write the book. You don’t think you can pull it off. You’ll never finish it.

If you can push through these moments of the learning process, then extraordinary benefits accrue to the tiny minority of people who are able to push just a tiny bit longer than most.

But, Godin states, the opposite is also true. Extraordinary benefits also accrue to the tiny minority with the guts to quit early and focus their efforts on something new.

Again—it’s telling the difference.

To help, Godin discusses three curves.

1. The Dip: The valley of learning. Successful people don’t just ride out the dip. They lean into it. Push harder—changing the rules as they go. Part of knowing you’re on the right path is that you do get small amounts of positive reinforcement along the way. You final in a contest but maybe don’t win it all. You get positive comments from an agent and/or editor.

2. The Cul-de-Sac: This is where you work and work and nothing much changes. For me in my nursing career—I have never gotten any promotion I ever applied for—in twenty years! Honestly, you would think I was the worst nurse ever. I’m actually a very strong nurse but something has kept me stuck. If that hadn’t happened I would have never pursued publication where the doors opened much easier for me. But perhaps this is the pursuit of publication for you. You’re in the cul-de-sac.

3. The Cliff: It’s a situation you can’t quit until you fall off and the whole thing falls apart. The example Seth gives here is cigarette smoking. Cigarettes are highly addicting, but you do get a good feeling even though it’s detrimental to you—which, in the case of smoking, could be lung cancer and then death.

Godin hypothesizes that The Cliff and The Cul-de-Sac both lead to failure and it’s best to quit these pursuits early and move on to the thing you’d be successful at. That thing for which going through the dip would be worth it.

I would never tell anyone to stop writing—ever. Writing is a creative outlet that soothes the soul and spirit. It can ease tension, stress and frustration because spilled words on the page is cathartic. But—the pursuit of publication is a whole other animal. It takes time, money, resources, and sleep.

And perhaps God is calling you to do something else.

What dream have you had where you’ve persevered through the dip and had great success? On the flip side—is there something you’re pursuing that perhaps you are considering quitting and why? Good things to think through.

All italics are quotes from Seth’s book. I hope you’ll take the time to read it.
This blog first appeared at Seekerville. I hope you’ll check it out!

24 Ways to Develop Your Muse

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Dickens_dream

Charles Dickens’ Dream

The muse that lives deep in your subconscious is something of a sprite. You can write without her of course, if you don’t mind being methodical. But when the muse shows up, she takes your writing to a whole new level, offering plot surprises, adding in soulful wisdom you didn’t know you possessed, and giving your story a dreamlike quality.

The problem is that your muse is not easily tamed. She comes and goes at her own will. She is notoriously right-brained and knows nothing of schedules and deadlines. And yet, like the stray cat in your neighborhood, she can be lured in.

Over the years, I’ve learned a few things that work with my muse. Your muse, I’m sure, has his own personality, so your mileage may vary.

  • Let your mind drift. When your guard is down, as you take a shower, walk the dog or do dishes, great ideas will surface.
  • Ask yourself tough plot questions before you go to sleep. Your mind will get to work on it without your conscious self even being aware.
  • Flirt with writing challenges that are too difficult for you. Your muse will take the dare, if you give her time.
  • Explore scene kernels. Take a snatch of dialogue or a small piece of action and set your mind to simmer for a few days before trying to expand it into a full-fledged scene.
  • Fire your internal editor. You can invite him back later once your muse has completed her work.
  • Release guilt, self-doubt and worries. The muse likes to play, so be a child at play.
  • Read poetry. It will enrich the word creator within you.
  • Write lists of random evocative words. (See above).
  • Take entire writing days. Send the kids to Grandma’s. Take a vacation from your day job. The longer you immerse yourself in the writing, the more your muse will surface.
  • Take breaks from the writing. Muses need their rest too.
  • Write dangerously. Forget the market. Forget your audience. Break a few conventions. You can always scale back later, but a few writing leaps will give your muse room to expand your story.
  • Do your research. Whether you’re writing about a Viking ship or a modern day heart surgeon, your muse can be more creative if she’s well-informed.
  • Say no. No to committee meetings. No to the internet and solitaire. Writing time is golden, and it has to be protected.
  • Follow rabbit trails. Leave the outline, and see where the what-if leads. Sometimes the muse just knows.
  • Sleep well. A rested muse is more creative.
  • Conversely, stay up late. If you’re on a roll, don’t let the muse leave.
  • Do something you haven’t done before. If you’re not a singer, sing out loud. Cook exotic meals. Dance. Hike. Learn origami. Trying something new, especially something physical, releases another part of you.
  • Let your muse free while you immerse yourself in a new book or movie. She’ll extract ideas that become totally original when they mix in with your story.
  • Put it in writing. Notes have a way of kick-starting your subconscious into action.
  • Twist the story without a clue of how it will resolve itself.
  • Go outside. Sunlight and wind and grass invigorate us, and thus our stories.
  • Live mindfully. Taste what you eat. Turn off the TV and listen to the sounds in your home. Feel the words on your tongue as you talk. Bring your senses alive and it will build new grooves into your story.
  • Be patient. If your story is in knots, work on some other aspect. Meanwhile, your muse will be untangling the story threads under the surface.
  • Most of all, don’t try too hard to design the first draft. Ride the story’s waves. Control has its place, but the stories with the biggest hearts come from a place of freedom.

There is more to the mind than we know. It has multiple levels and works in ways we don’t always understand. Give those deeper levels permission, and your muse will work hard for you.