Do You Think I’m Insecure?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI usually feel pretty good about myself when I wake up—for the five minutes I refrain from looking in the mirror. That’s when the voices start: “Your thighs have more dimples than a Shirley Temple look-alike convention!” they say, or “What kind of eighties-wannabe haircut is that?”

Then I take my older son to school and notice the work-outside-the-home moms, all coiffed and stylish. The voices deride my writer’s wardrobe of jeans and T-shirts. Later, my fingers poised at the keyboard while my trusty cup of java grows cold beside me, I hear the little demons again: “That paragraph stinks. How are you ever going to keep getting published if you write stuff like that?”

When I pass through the living room and kitchen to go to the bathroom, the hisses continue: “The kitchen counter is filthy. And when was the last time you dusted?” By the time I grab a mid-morning snack, I’m already defeated, and it’s only 9:30 a.m.

Sigh.

I don’t know who said it, but I believe it’s true: Insecurity is the devil’s playground. Or maybe battleground is a better word. His weapons attack from every side and inevitably leave a wound.

file3991282945508Those of us who struggle with perfectionism find it especially difficult to remember that we are wholly loved by our infallible Heavenly Father. It’s a constant war to not let the “How do I measure up as a parent/writer/Christian?” questions run away with my emotions—and my peace.

Maybe you can relate. If my hunch is right, a lack of security is epidemic. And let’s face it: We have plenty to be concerned about. There are our figures, finances, future, and families—just to name a few.

Recently, while at the grocery checkout line, I noticed the headline on a women’s magazine: “Eat right, get fit, get organized, and relax.” Who are they kidding? I barely have time to take a decent shower each day, let alone have a perfect body or a spotless house. And relax while trying to keep it all together? Ha!

So I’ve decided to go on the offensive in this war on my thoughts and emotions. First, I’m going to stop letting the world’s standards rule my mind. With God’s help, I will tune into His Word and turn off the chatter from social media, print media, and television. I will bathe myself in His approval and love, knowing that while pursuing good health is wise, Jesus cares more about the size of my heart than the size of my jeans (can I get an AMEN?).

Second, I’m going to remind myself regularly that the career I have is God-given, and He controls the future. I don’t need to compulsively check my Amazon stats or fret about future book contracts. Instead, I must focus on fine-tuning my craft and being a good steward of the gift of words with which God has entrusted me.

Similarly, I can rest assured that God knows I am doing the best I can as a mother to two strong-willed, energetic boys. He’s the only perfect parent, and I can turn to Him in my frustrations and foibles. I can lean on Him and learn from Him, trusting that He will fill in the gaps my husband and I will ultimately leave.

The bottom line is this: when I focus on His kingdom, He takes care of the rest. 

Bit by bit, the whispers of doubt and defeat fade. Peace overtakes insecurity, and I can concentrate on living moment-by-moment in His grace. Microsoft Word - Grace_Race-v2.docx

You know what else? I’m betting that since Jesus was a carpenter, He doesn’t mind a little dust.

(This post was adapted from “Grace for the Race: Meditations for Busy Moms,” published by Patheos Press.)

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Ten (Plus) Tips on Humor Writing

file0001122505692I’ve had the pleasure of incorporating humor into several of my books, most notably Grace for the Race: Meditations for Busy Moms and Let the Crow’s Feet and Laugh Lines Come. Funny enough, humor is not easy to write. It was a learning process–one I’m still undergoing.

Humor writers James Watkins and Rhonda Rhea are two of the most genuinely hilarious authors I know. When I asked them for tips, they didn’t disappoint. (They’re also incredibly generous and insightful…and they didn’t even pay me to say that!) So, without further ado, I present their helpful comedic insights.

James’ Watkins’ top ten tips for ending up on welfare having a successful comedy career:

10. Eat cold pizza for breakfast. Wash it down with large quantities of Diet Coke. After three cans, I can type 470 words of side-splitting humor per minute but unfortuwythdly nonr ofit maks anv senze aftcher tke thirddddddd . . .

9. Travel. Some of my best columns have come from three weeks in India (“The Land Without Toilet Paper”) and being stuck in traffic in downtown Chicago, in August with a stick shift with no air-conditioning and two kids in the backseat waging a fight to the death.

8. Get married, have kids. Dave Barry provides positive proof that marriage and raising children is a source for hundreds of columns, thousands of dollars, and even a Pulitzer Prize. However, use discretion! He’s also on his third or fourth marriage and is buying baby diapers with his AARP discount card.

7. Read, read, read. Essential reads include Dave Barry, Erma Bombeck and, of course, my very funny friend, Rhonda Rhea! And every morning NewsMax.com provides transcripts of late night comics.

6. Pass a kidney stone. I keep reminding students at writers conferences, “Nothing terrible happens to authors. [It’s all] just terrific anecdotes.” The old adage is so true: Comedy is tragedy plus time.

5. Tackle a home-improvement project. This is always good for at least two or three columns and one visit to the ER.

4. Look at life from just a few degrees off normal. Successful humorists look at life through their twisted point of view. It doesn’t have to 360 degrees from normal, because that would put you right back at normal. Just a few degrees keeps it plausible yet humorous.

3. Don’t be afraid of people thinking you’re crazy. St. Francis, who is viewed as, well, saintly, said, “I am God’s clown. People look at me and laugh.” Humor is a brutal business, so if you’re thin-skinned, take up a less stressful occupation such as bomb technician, rodeo clown or drug runner.

2. Hang out with people who are even crazier than you. I enjoyed having lunch with a fellow columnist while working as a humor columnist at a local paper. Most of our brainstorms were not “fit for print,” such as low-tech terrorist “Amish bin Laden” who drives around Lancaster county with a buggy armed with kerosene-filled milk cans! However, my friend never ceased to get my brain cells firing on all neurons.

1. Read my book, Writing with Banana Peels. It’s required reading for a humor class I teach at Taylor University and contains principles, practices and pratfalls of writing humor. (And always, whenever you have the chance, shamelessly self-promote your work.)

file000111849428Rhonda says:

I’m going to have to agree with Jim—especially the part where he says to read my stuff. Brilliant. Instead of cold pizza and Diet Coke, however, I don’t know how any writing is ever fueled without coffee. I walk into Starbucks and almost always find my muse sitting in a hip leather chair in the corner. I can get at least three chapters from a couple of shots of espresso. They’re all one sentence with no punctuation, but still.

Exploiting every experience for its comedic value—family, friends, travel, projects—is also great counsel. They say nothing bad ever happens to writers; it’s all just material. Read Jim’s book. More great things to exploit there. Or plagiarize. Whichever.

I suggest keeping a running “funny file,” as well. Anytime something makes you laugh or you come up with something hilariously brilliant, take a little note. Then when you’re ready to start an article or chapter you can peruse your file for a kick-start.

It doesn’t hurt to test-drive a few lines as Facebook statuses, either. See what people like and then…milk those things for all they’re worth. Getting a handle on comedic timing in print is no easy task. Your friends can help you polish. They can also make fun of you, mercilessly. And that’s usually helpful too.

I’m proud to say I taught Jim Watkins everything he knows about being funny. And about the funny sound of the letter “C.” If my children let me name any of my grandchildren, I’m naming one Carl–after Jim.