Kismet

I have a confession to make. I’m a control freak. Not just the neat and tidy, either. More the type who gave my daughter a lecture when she rearranged some Christmas decorations and I told her she couldn’t because she wasn’t paying the mortgage.

Frauenhände sortieren Kettfäden am WebstuhlYes, that did happen. I could say that there were other things going on at the time stress-wise to cause such a reaction but . . . sigh.

So, now we’ve established I’m a bad mother and a control freak! And yes, I’m saving up for her future counseling sessions. As a person of faith, I do believe God has a plan for my life but my hands are clenched just as tightly as they can be around the steering wheel.

My nature lends itself to the job I do. Every day, I bring calm control to chaos as a pediatric ER nurse. It’s expected of me. However, as a Christian, I’m supposed to “Let go and let God.”

Easier said than done.

However, I have noticed that when I do surrender to His little nudges, things seem to work infinitely better. But I still have that cold-dead-hands grip on my life.

I’ve always loved to write. In high school, I wrote countless short stories, scenes, and even a couple of novellas. I didn’t always write things that were honoring to God. I did want to be published but my parents said I needed to go to college and get a real job.

So I went to nursing school. I really wanted to be a flight nurse and that became my sole drive for the next ten plus years. I stopped writing during pursuit of this one goal.

And that goal didn’t happen. Out of my frustration, I started putting pen to paper again. I sought input to see if anyone thought those words strung together were good or just the dismal musings of a person dissatisfied with her life.

I don’t believe God wastes anything. During pursuit of my unrealized dream, God used several interactions to speak to my heart about what I was writing. Now, I wasn’t a closet Fifty Shades of Grey writer, but by writing wouldn’t necessarily point people to God.

Maybe it would even pull them away.

I thought that if I put words out there, I’d be responsible for the effect they have on people. Did I want to explain to God why some people stopped believing because of something I wrote?

From then on I began to write with a Christian worldview in mind.

My stories partly reflect what I struggle with. Peril, my latest release, is about Morgan’s struggle with controlling her own life when everything is out of control. She’s suffered a horrible loss she feels she should have prevented, her health is in decline, and her marriage is breaking apart. This control freak is thrown into a hurricane. The novel is about her learning to relinquish the grip she has on the steering wheel.

My hope is if I write it enough, perhaps I can do the same.

What’s amazing is how God uses kismet or fate to weave these threads over the years, in order to reach one person at the right moment.

I got this note from a reader (the best thing as an author!) that Peril helped her realize she needed to “Let go and let God.” I shared my own struggle with her about being a control freak and this was her response:

“You see, before the foundations of the world began, God knew I’d be going through something on September 30, 2013 and He also knew He would give you the words to write and also give me the book and I would be reading just that passage at just this time. Wow. What an awesome God we serve.”

He truly is. Think about it. The years. The people. Those little moments that led up to that moment of inspiration for one person.

I think those moments are designed.

What about you? As we begin to turn our focus to the Christmas Season, consider the predictions made about Christ in the Bible. Were they designed, too?

This post first appeared at Everyone’s Story. Hope you’ll check out Elaine’s blog.

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Ambition, Aspirations, and Obsession: Part Two

Last time I posted to the Water Cooler, I discussed some of the ways that having dreams and aspirations can affect you in a positive way.

CliffWSThis post I’d like to look at some possible dangers of having ambition.

Dangers of Aspirations:

1. Assuming it’s God’s will.

I’ve had authors so single focused, so full of energy and passion, that they interpret this to mean “It’s God’s will that I write for publication.” I’m not the end-all expert on God’s will, but I don’t believe it is simply feeling passionate about something. Yes, feeling passionate about a cause or a new adventure makes you feel alive, but so does war. The men from Band of Brothers who have written books say, “Never have I felt so alive as when I was in battle.” An activity may get your heart moving and leave you with an adrenaline high, but that doesn’t mean it is necessarily God’s will.

2. Overly ambitious writers won’t always listen to counsel.

So many authors have come my way and said, “God told me to write this.” Or, “This will sell millions of copies because these are God’s words.” Too many to count. The danger in this approach is that writers begin to feel their manuscript is so divinely inspired that it would be almost a sin for an agent or editor to suggest changes to it.

Having aspirations without seeking and listening to wise counsel will often lead to a big waste of weeks, months, even years. So if you’re a writer, you must temper your aspirations with the reality of counsel. If everyone who isn’t a family member says your baby is ugly, it likely is.

The best writers are the ones who seek out critique groups, writing partners, and then when they strike gold (they finally get a professional writer or agent to look at their work) they listen. And when they hit the mother lode by finding a publisher, they should realize how much God can use these professional partners to make their work even better.

3. Overwhelm those not sharing the train you are on, going in your direction.

People with writing aspirations can be overwhelming in their single-mindedness. They feel they somehow need this to accomplish something of value. If you’re one who says, “I have to write. I cannot NOT write,” be careful of those around you. They don’t understand. (Unless they are writers, too!)

Aspirations that lead to the neglect of people you love most (for more than a few weeks when you’re on a deadline) are probably not from God. They are more likely from your own need to find significance in having published something with your name on it.

I became an agent because I was faced with a choice. I had written 15 books, had a big platform in youth ministry, and came to a crossroads: Do I write and speak and try to be more famous? Or do I stay involved in the process of books (which I loved) and be able to hang out with my own two young sons instead of other people’s kids? I made the right choice and never looked back.

If aspirations aren’t in balance with your family goals, then I’d question if they are God’s will for you.

To keep ambitions and aspirations from turning into obsessions, they need to be:

• Tempered with counsel, prayer, balance.
• Put up against the harvest of fruit.

If something you’re pursuing doesn’t seem to be yielding the desired results, then there is a good chance that this aspiration may be a stepping stone to a bigger aspiration God has in mind for you. I’ve discovered that most of our lives have a building block-like history to them that makes sense as you reach the middle or near the end of your story.

My biggest revelation on aspirations is that they must be tied to a soul, especially the souls of those you love.

Aspire to feed your family. Writing for money isn’t a bad thing. If publishers hadn’t paid C.S. Lewis to write Chronicles of Narnia, who knows if he would have written it.

Aspire to make a dent for God’s Kingdom. Great. We all want to live our lives for something that will outlast us.

But make sure your ambitions and aspirations are always tied closely to the souls of those whom God has put into your life. In other words, how is your calling to write also blessing those nearest to you?

What about you? What have you done to keep your aspirations from becoming an obsession?

Ambition, Aspirations, and Obsession: Part One

Are you in a season of fresh aspirations?

WomanCliffWSSeveral years ago I had aspirations. (Or, perhaps it is more accurate to say, they had me.) I was obsessed. I’d stay up late at night, sadly, on my computer, surfing…dead relatives. That’s right, I had an Ancestry.com obsession. I aspired to know everything about all of the branches of my family tree. Soon I had more than 4000 strangers (and a few hundred names I actually knew) attached to my electronic tree, many with pictures and whole histories about their life. Fun and time consuming, but now it’s done.

After 20 years as an agent, I’ve seen literally thousands who have writing aspirations. It starts with an ambition, “Gee, I think I could write a book.” They give it legs by feeding their aspiration, “Wow, I really need to write this book, so I’d better learn how to do it—and then spend weeks doing it.” But oftentimes a good desire to write turns into an obsession, “I have to get this book done and in print if it’s the last thing I do.”

And oftentimes they throw God in the mix as Supreme Instigator.

“I’m so excited about this manuscript, it must be God’s will that I become a famous novelist. Therefore, I will do everything possible to make this God-given dream come true.”

Ambitions and aspirations can certainly be clues to God’s will for us, though ambition alone is not enough to discern God’s calling. My own history of aspirations has had mixed results, with joys and dangers along the way.

The Joys of Aspirations:

1. They Bring Energy.

I’ve got some aspirations about a new project/business I’m working on that will help my authors and, hopefully, help the Kingdom for years to come. As my wife Becky would attest, it’s brought me more energy and motivation about work than she’s seen in a long time. I love being an agent, but with the changes happening in publishing, I’ve been restless. I’ve seen too many great books go unpublished because some publishers are concerned about the lack of social networking tribes in an author’s portfolio. I aspire to do something about that (more on that in a later post).

2. They Bring Focus.

The Apostle Paul had ambitions and aspirations. “…This one thing I do, forgetting what is in the past, I press ahead to the goal of the upward call…”. He wanted to live in the moment and not be hamstrung by his past: a helpful goal that brought focus to his day-to-day life. One of his other aspirations was “…to see Rome…”. He eventually did, and was able to preach the Gospel to likely hundreds.

3. They Bring Fruit.

Aspirations to write books gave me hope that perhaps my life could count for something; that my words on paper could outlive me. That’s what books do. They allow God to use our stories and life lessons in ways that bless others. And with digital books, our stories could live forever on Amazon and other platforms. Granted, they might be ranked at four million, but at least our books are there!

4. They Bring Passion.

About 20 years ago when I was writing as a hobby and working a day job, my routines were to get up at 5 a.m. and write for two hours before work. Then after the kids were in bed, I’d write for another hour or two. That’s what aspirations do; they give us so much passion that we’d rather not sleep.

Next time I’ll discuss some of the dangers of aspirations. What about you? How does having dreams and aspirations affect you in a positive way?

Hands and Knees Navigation

“Perhaps the greatest achievement of writing is to become less sure of oneself.”
~ Brian Doyle

The aged rarely hurry. Time and use and strain deplete muscle and bone and marrow of youth’s vigor, suffusing the void with a dichotomy of uncertainty and wisdom which beg measured steps.

Writing likewise begs an unhurried pace. My fingers manage about 70 words per minute when I transcribe the exact words of someone else. My own thoughts might read in my mind with equal clarity and run toward a clear destination, but they’ll crowd over one another and onto a page at a somewhat slower WPM.

What’s more likely is a meeting between a sheet of white before my eyes, strands of understanding and feelings in my mind and heart, and a gripping compulsion in my soul to bring concrete shape to the altogether abstract. My fingers then wander and grasp for each word as they crawl across the page.

For fiction and non-fiction alike, whether my outline and components are defined with precise or rough edges, the navigation of crawling requires the use of both hands and knees. Whatever gift I have, however developed my writing craft, no amount of raw talent and polished skill can bridge the spiritual and mortal without divine empowerment.

“I am like a little pencil in God’s hand. He does the writing. The pencil has nothing to do with it.”
~ Mother Teresa

Do I believe I can present some worthy work that originates with me? Or do I simply offer myself to God, asking Him to use me for His work?

If our writing is His means of conveying stories and ideas and a purpose bigger than the entertainment or information transfer we’d otherwise compose, then allowance must be made for God to be actively engaged in our writing.

The suggestion to pray throughout the process of writing may be stating the obvious to you, or it may be a great new idea. Either way, this reminder comes with a few practical pointers:

• Before sitting down to write, check with the Lord for other priorities.
• If writer’s block strikes, be still and wait for the Lord’s leading.
• Allow God to take an idea in another direction than you had in mind.
• Edit with a spiritual eye, asking God’s Spirit what is pleasing to Him.
• Work toward deadlines with intentional room for chats with the Lord.
• Seek God to resolve conflict (with schedule, editor, outline, etc.).
• Prioritize time with God’s Word to sharpen your power with words.
• Shelve preconceived ideas of God’s intent and timing for the end product.
• Recognize, thank, and praise the Lord for every blessing along the way.
• Before considering a work complete, ask God if you missed anything.

[May God] make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever.
Amen.
~ Hebrews 13:21 (NKJV)

What other specific elements bring the Lord into your writing?
Do you have a testimony of God at work through your words?