Leave the Luggage Behind

luggage“Where are your bags?” is the most frequent question I’ve been getting lately from the friends I stay with when I travel for author events. I show up at their doors with a small tote in my hands, and they look around me for the rest.

“This is it,” I say, and they marvel at how little my bag is.

For some reason, I guess everyone expects me to be loaded down with luggage, dragging along a carry-on case, a tote on my shoulder and more bags to come. While that may have been the norm for me years ago on the rare occasions I flew somewhere with my five kids, it’s no longer my style.

These days, I fly with minimal baggage, and I love it. Instead of packing car seats, food snacks, toys, games, and multiple outfits for all, I get a kick out of taking as little as possible. I actually look forward to living out of one small bag for three or four days, since it requires me to trim my wardrobe to only the essentials I need. Once on the road, I don’t have to make any clothing choices since I already made them when I packed; I save time and effort with less to manage. Limiting myself forces me to evaluate priorities and pack accordingly. There’s no room (literally!) for changing my mind, or my clothing options.

The result is perfect for traveling: I have what I need and no more. It makes me feel mentally and emotionally light and free, and I don’t have to physically exhaust myself lugging extra bags. To fly unfettered by baggage is a wonderful thing in a world of extra luggage fees, delays, and lost bags.

If only I could do the same with my journey through life!

“Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts— no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep,” Jesus tells his disciples when he sends them out to preach and minister in Matthew 10. Clearly, our Lord knew the value of traveling light! Without all that extra baggage to keep track of, his disciples were free to devote themselves to the work to which they had been called. Unencumbered with material concerns, they could focus on the priorities, the essentials of Christian mission.

I’ve found that is also true of traveling through life as a Christian author: when I keep my eyes on the Kingdom, everything else loses its urgency. Sure, I’d like to make more money (who wouldn’t? travel expenses do mount up no matter how many free beds you can find!) and it would be nice to have readers flocking to me in droves. Yet when I’m focused on the essential task of sharing God with others, it only takes one heart-felt ‘thank-you’ from a reader to know that I am ‘worth my keep.’

How do you pack for your journey?

Looking for Direction and Peace?

Photo/KarenJordan

Overwhelmed? Drifting above the landscape of your work like a hot air balloon?

Lost your sense of direction? Fear your approaching deadlines?

Searching for answers. When life seems overwhelming, it forces us to look for answers and direction. And it’s important to know where to seek help.

At times, I’m tempted to rely on guidance and encouragement from the resources the world offers me, like the evening news. Instead, it breeds confusion and discouragement, revealing more signs of the ultimate demise of our culture and way of life.

In Matthew 24, Jesus described signs of the end times. And His disciples asked, “Tell us … when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matt. 24: 3 NIV)

Jesus explained that He didn’t know when the end would come—only His Father knew the answer to that question (36). But He encouraged His disciples to always be ready (44).

How can we “be ready”? Most of the time, I can’t keep up with the pace of my life, much less worry about the future—especially the last days.

Jesus offered a story to encourage His disciples to focus on the things that matter most. He described a servant who had neglected his responsibilities during his master’s absence, as if he expected him never to return. But when the master returned, he held the servant responsible for his disobedience and disrespect.

Facing the truth. Once again, the mirror of God’s Word forces us to look at ourselves—not to shame us, but to confront us with the truth.

Am I living as if He’s not coming back? What responsibilities am I neglecting?

When I come to my senses and examine God’s Word, I’m reminded, “Instead, be concerned above everything else with the Kingdom of God and with what he requires of you, and he will provide you with all these other things” (Matt. 6:33 GNT).

What does God require of me? Am I taking care of the things that He’s entrusted to me? My home? Spouse? Children? Relationships? Work? Gifts or talents?

As I examine this verse in The Message Bible, I find the specific direction I need.

Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.

Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes. (Mt. 6:33-34 MSG).

Practicing our faith. How can I focus on God’s presence, guidance, and provision? Once again, I turn to God’s Word for help.

Jesus, help me to discern Your presence, guidance, and provision. What do I need to focus on right now? Give me the courage and strength to trust you with my future and to listen and obey Your Word. Amen.

What do you need to give your attention to right now? Where do you sense God’s presence, guidance, and provision in your life?

The Making of a Masterpiece

In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.” Michelangelo

I’ve spent the past month living as a hermit while I finished a manuscript. (Insert sigh of relief here.) I spent countless hours after my day job writing and fine-tuning every detail. Some days, I couldn’t wait to share the story with the world. Other days? All I saw were flaws, flaws that sent me running to fast food and the newest Netflix series while I processed what to do next.

That’s one of the many fun aspects of writing, though, isn’t it? I’m making the manuscript, but in the process, the Lord is making me. As my character wrestles through a growth point, I wrestle with it, too. Often what my character is learning is a lesson the Lord has spent months instilling in my own heart. From the overflow of my heart to the page…I think the story of The David illustrates this perfectly.

In the late 1400s, a group called the Operai provided blocks of marble for several prominent sculptors and artisans to create twelve statues of characters from the Old Testament. Work began on The David in 1464 but after initial carving, the piece was abandoned to the elements for twenty-five years. Then Michelangelo begged the Operai to allow him to complete The David. For three years, he carved the statue, shaving away the damaged parts and shaping features in great detail.

Kariss Lynch creating a writing masterpiece

If you hate history, I hope you stuck with me because none of that is the reason I love The David statue. Michelangelo took a wrecked, abandoned piece of marble and he turned it into a MASTERPIECE. Where everyone else saw a useless block, he saw potential and beauty, a story waiting to unfold.

I think the writing process is a lot like this. A story idea with little initial substance becomes a piece of art with a lot of effort. Over time, the author chips away the unnecessary and ugly pieces until a beautiful story is left.

I believe that’s what Jesus does with the author as he/she writes. Just as Michelangelo labored over The David and you labor over your manuscript, so the Lord labors over you, writer friend. He is in the process of creating a masterpiece that lasts for eternity, and he wants to do that with your writing, too.

Yours is a message of truth and hope. As you identify impurities and polish your writing to perfection, know the Lord wants to do that with you. He wants your voice for his glory. Sometimes the polishing and chipping are painful. With every bit you allow him to remove, you enable him to speak more clearly through you.

Keep chipping away at that novel while the Lord chips away at the excess around your heart. The beauty becomes more evident with every fallen piece.

Revising Aloud

Tihamér_Margitay_Exciting_story“Reading aloud,” I’m always telling my writing students, “is the best way to revise.”

I encourage them—sometimes require them—to find read-aloud partners or start writing groups in which they take turns reading their work aloud.

“Hearing your sentences spoken lets you know whether they’re clear and natural-sounding—whether someone actually could speak them,” I explain. “And it doesn’t work to read to an empty room. You need a warm body, a listener, to complete the communication. Speaking is, after all, a collaborative act.”

Finding that read-aloud partner is easy at college, where everyone’s engaged in writing all the time. Outside the college setting, though, finding someone willing to listen can be a challenge.800px-Anker_Sonntagnachmittag_1861 People are busy. Few have time to sit still for an hour while some verbose writer drones on. That’s how they’ll imagine it when you propose reading to them. We Americans have lost—or never had—the habit of listening to people read. We had only the shallowest tradition of serial novels, released chapter by chapter as Dickens’ novels were and read to the whole family at fireside. And no comfy pubs—without blaring TVs—like the one where C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and their writer buddies hung out, drank beer, and read their work to one another. Writers who give public readings these days will tell you it’s hard to get even close friends to attend. Our lives are too busy for read-alouds.

I often recommend to writer friends that they make use of the lonely people in their lives: shut-in relatives, kid-imprisoned friends who wish they had a grownup to talk to, recently retired colleagues with time on their hands. 1280px-Anker-_Die_Andacht_des_Grossvaters_1893It sounds terrible, this “making use” of others, taking advantage of their neediness to assuage your own, but in my experience such mutual exchanges not only helped my writing but also transformed intended acts of mercy—“I should spend more time with my mother-in-law,” I was always telling myself—into pleasurable time together, which we both looked forward to. My mother-in-law not only got longed-for company but also felt needed; I got my warm body but also genuine enjoyment, without having to chide myselfHugo_Bürkner_Lesestunde (usually in vain) to, as Paul recommends, “give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9.7 NRSV). The mutual benefit, I found, guaranteed that cheerfulness, for both of us—because attentive listening and being listened to can’t help but nurture relationships.

My daughter Lulu has been on semester break from college for the past month, with a couple more weeks to go. It’s tricky having a grown daughter home that long. We’ve long since put our Christmas CDs away, but I’m still in the throes of Bing Crosby’s parental prophecy for the season: “And Mom and Dad can hardly wait for school to start again!”

Luckily, Lulu’s engrossed in the final revision stages of her senior project—a hundred-Amédée_Guérard_Bibelstundepage translation of and critical introduction to an East German book—and I’m busy trying to cut 30,000 words from a novel before sending it out, so we have tasks to distract us from the inevitable mother-daughter combat. Also, since we’re in about the same place in our revisions—where what we need most is to hear them aloud and find out if they work—we’ve established a read-aloud schedule: I read her a couple short chapters during her late breakfast, and she reads me one long chapter while I trim vegetables for dinner.

I can’t say it’s the perfect exchange my mother-in-law and I had. Lulu doesn’t end my readings, as my mother-in-law always did, with “That’s the best thing you’ve ever written!” And, as a writer and teacher of writing, I give more critical feedback than Lulu really wants. But our reading fills two hours of our day with mostly pleasurable, mutually beneficial work. More importantly, the listening involved gives us both practice, at this complex juncture of our parental-filial journey, in navigating our new relationship as related but separate adults. As peers, in other words. Equals. Reciprocally heard, appreciated, and loved.

Multiple Author Events – Yes or No?

Smiling Group of ProfessionalsAs a writer, the weight of book promotion falls on my own shoulders. Since that gets tiring, I’m always looking for ways to maximize the results of the events I do: my current goal is to market smarter, not just harder.

So when a writer friend told me about the great attendance and good sales she experienced at a multiple author event at a book store, I decided to give it a whirl with both of my book lines. That meant gathering other authors who’ve written about dogs (so I could promote my girl-meets-dog memoir Saved by Gracie) and collecting another crew of authors who’ve written about birds (to expand the audience for my fictional series, Birder Murder Mysteries).

This is how it played out:

National Dog Day. I broached the idea for a National Dog Day Night to a local independent bookstore, and they jumped at the concept! I offered to recruit authors to attend, and the store agreed to stock the books, set up chairs and a microphone, and do publicity. They even partnered with a local dog rescue group for more publicity and support. Luckily, three well-known writers with dog books live in my area, and they readily agreed to participate. We all thought it was a smokin’ idea…but only five people showed up. What went wrong? Personally, I attributed it to the lovely summer weather; I myself would have chosen to be outside with my own dog, rather than inside with authors.

My big score, though, came from meeting the other authors, one of whom asked for an excerpt from my book to run in her monthly newsletter that goes out to thousands of readers. I made a hot contact even if the event fizzled.

For the Birds Night. I took this idea to a local Barnes & Noble and again, the events manager thought it was a winner. This time, it was a monumental headache for me to pin down the authors – talk about a flighty bunch! Not that any of them are absent-minded – it just took me a while to catch all these bird-chasing authors between their travels and professional obligations, not to mention the multiple email addresses so many of them use. I managed to round up five of the original ten that I contacted, and even then, I had one drop out at the last minute due to health issues, and one drop in who’d forgotten to confirm with me months earlier.

The event itself, though, was a big hit! We had over 20 people attend, a lively discussion ensued, and every author was signing several books by the end of the evening. Our B&N hostess invited us back for a spring event, and said her district manager had expressed interest in us taking our event to other stores.

After organizing two group events, my conclusion is that it’s worth the effort in terms of both book promotion and author networking. Upfront sales might be disappointing, but as one more tool in your marketing toolbox, I highly recommend giving it a try.

And keep some aspirin handy.

Have you participated in multiple author events? What was your experience?

Comfort for the New Year

Photo/KarenJordan“He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us” (2 Cor. 1:4 NLT).

A New Year offers new opportunities and challenges. As I sense the needs around me, I often think, “What can I do to help those in need?”

Sometimes it’s hard to know how to respond. In fact, some people may say,”the devil is in the detail,” inferring that there’s some mysterious secret hidden in the details. That term comes from the original phrase “God is in the detail,” which reminds us that the details are always important.

Discovering the mysterious details of how to help others requires wisdom. And God promises to guide us in this discovery process. But He wants us to ask for HIS help first.  “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you … ” (Jms. 1:5 NLT).

Seek God first. The Lord promises to provide the guidance we need throughout our lives. Psalm 32:8 says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you” (NLT).

God often uses my experiences—good and bad—when I seek Him for direction in helping others. At times, He prompts me to share small things—like prayers, concerns, and a listening ear.

When my friend, Kathy, struggled with vertigo following her cancer treatments, I felt helpless to help her since she lived in another state. And I knew the misery of vertigo. When Kathy mentioned that she could not even read her Bible, I was able to read scriptures to her by phone.

Later, Kathy told me, “Your calls helped me survive my cancer treatments.”

Listen. In Matthew 11:15, Jesus asks His disciples, “Are you listening to me? Really listening?” (MSG).

As we seek God and ask questions, it’s important to listen for the answers. Sometimes instead of listening to God, I’m tempted to offer unsolicited advice to friends and family.

Have you ever received a gift that you didn’t want or need? Awkward! Our unsolicited gifts might actually offend instead of blessing others. Perhaps they need godly advice, not just a hasty opinion or thoughtless response.

Ask questions. I also ask questions when I’m trying to discern how to encourage others. What matters most to them? How can I discern how to help? What helped me when I faced a similar problem? What do I wish someone else had offered me when I faced my last crisis?

John 14:26 promises, “… the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (NIV).

Tell the stories that matter most. As a Christian writer, I never want to lose sight of the needs of my audience. Author Anne Lamott offers this advice: “Write the books you really wished were out there in the world.”

During a crisis, I look for resources to help me find solutions for my current needs. Encouraging words heal my soul when I’m desperate for answers. And I’m grateful for the writers who have poured their lives into helpful devotionals and books for those troubling days.

So, “… even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you” (Phil. 2:17 NIV).

As you plan your projects for the New Year, consider offering some words that could help meet the needs of others.

“… Words are powerful; take them seriously” (Matt. 12:36 MSG).

Can you think of a book that helped you through a crisis?

What Matters Most During the Holidays?

During the holidays, my writing projects, ideas, and dreams don’t always fit into my everyday life. So, I’m forced to decide what matters most.

Photo/KarenJordan

As I prepared to lead a session on holiday traditions for a “Countdown to Christmas” workshop a few weeks ago, I asked myself, What holiday traditions mean the most to me?

I found myself resisting the idea to plan for Christmas before Thanksgiving. I knew I didn’t have the time and energy to accomplish everything that I wanted to do, much less the things that others expected of me. And the burden of planning holiday events and activities overwhelmed me. I knew I had to be honest with myself about my expectations.

Traditions. As I listed my family’s holiday traditions, I decided to find a new way to prioritize them. I chose three basic categories to help me sort through the chaos. I posed three questions.

  1. Which traditions are treasured most by my family? I brainstormed about our holiday activities, noting some old and new favorites—recipes, gifts, parties, and other family activities.
  2. Which traditions are the most practical for my family? I listed the most difficult traditions to maintain, since our children live in different cities with children of their own now—and since climbing on the roof and hanging Christmas lights are no longer options for me.
  3. Which traditions help me to communicate the “real” meaning of the holidays to those who matter most to me? As I examined my traditions, I wanted to be sure to include those that best expressed my faith. As a writer, I know the importance of showing, not just telling. So I scratched off some things that might distract us from the main “reason for the season.”

Realization. This process helped me to begin planning for my holiday celebration and relieved a bit of my holiday stress. How?

  1. Expectations. It helped me release my expectations of myself and of others. I won’t be avoiding certain family members who might not have the same values and beliefs.
  2. Stress. It enabled me to avoid unneeded expenses and the exhaustion of time-wasting commitments.
  3. Focus. I refocused on what matters most and the “real” meaning of the holiday and not on the frustrating and unnecessary aspects of the season.
  4. Pattern. It established a new pattern for approaching my life and work. Instead of thinking that I have to do everything that might be expected of me, I can choose a different response.

Questions. Now, I ask myself three questions before accepting any new challenge.

  1. Passion. Am I really passionate about this?
  2. Practical. Do I have the skills, talent, or knowledge to do this? If not, do I have the time or resources to pursue it?
  3. Purpose. Does it meet an important need?

If not, I’m saying, “NO!”

Celebration. I’m granting myself permission to let go, enjoy life, and celebrate. And I believe this holiday season and the upcoming year will be the best ever.

How do you determine what matters most to you and your family?