Got Writer’s Block?

pencil-918449_640It happens to all of us at one time or another. If you’re anything like me, you probably tend to experience “feast or famine” when it comes to putting words onto a page or screen. At times it is hard for my now middle-aged hands to keep up with my brain; and other times, it is frustrating to these same hands to have little, if any, words I can string into sentences that make sense.

If the season I’m in permits me to do so, I use the down times to invest in my own personal growth. I study. I read. I observe. I take notes. I connect with others. This helps me in several ways, but this one way is what motivates me most:

It allows my brain to rest and receive. As writers, we offer so much output that we need to be careful to prevent our own well from drying up. Without investing in our own personal growth and development through relational and educational resources, we minimize our own effectiveness in what we share through our writing.

Most of the time, though, I have some kind of deadline–whether for an event where I’ll be speaking, a blog post I’m writing, a class I’m teaching, or a book I’m authoring. It’s in these situations that I find this one tip helps me get over writer’s block.

The Power of Story

For me, it helps if I can quiet the noise in my inner world long enough to allow a story to come to my mind. It might be a story I’ve read or a story I’ve lived. Either way, there is much to be said about how story inspires.

Consider the following:

“We may live our lives in prose, but it is poetry that we live for. A compelling story can evolve into a narrative that inspires a shared sense of mission. That, in turn can lead to a long and great legacy. That’s the power of story…

As Geoff Colvin explains in his new book, Humans Are Underrated, we are wired for interpersonal connections and put more stock in ideas that result from personal contact than from hard data. Essentially, we internalize stories much better than we do facts.

As proof he points to research that examined expert testimony in a court case. The study found that jurors considered experts that had a personal clinical experience far more credible than those that merely offered an analysis of the relevant facts, even if they were shown that a data driven approach is more accurate. In other words, the jurors needed a story.

Stories are emotional and we are more likely to remember and react to them.”

(For the entire article, written by Greg Satell for Forbes.com, please click here.)

So, if you find yourself struggling with writer’s block, find a quiet place, or do something with your hands that you don’t have to think much through (chores around the house help me), and allow the story to inspire your writing.

As you share the story with your readers, there’s a good chance you’ll connect with them on a personal level in a way that facts alone–regardless of how powerful those facts may be–could never do.

Consider what Curt Thompson, MD has to say in his book, Anatomy of the Soul, in regard to story:

“When we tell our stories or listen to another person’s story, our left and right modes of processing integrate. This is why simply reading The Ten Commandments as a list of dos and don’ts has so little efficacy…Isolating commands for right living apart from their storied context is at best neurologically non-integrating and, at worst, disintegrating. This is why telling our stories is so important.”

Your story is powerful. Refuse to listen to the negative voices inside your own head that tell you differently. There are a whole ‘lotta someones out there who need what only you have the experience to offer. 

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What Breaks Your Heart?

broken heart dreamstimeAndy Stanley, in his teaching series entitled “Re:Solution” asked a powerful question when he asked, “What breaks your heart?”

The point of the question is this: You were designed by your Heavenly Father who has given you unique gifts, talents, experiences, etc. and when He did, He also designed you for the purpose He placed you here at this time in history to fulfill. (Sounds kind of like this book, On Purpose For a Purpose which you may have heard of. #ShamelessPlug)

What breaks your heart is tied directly to your calling.
Does human trafficking and slavery break your heart the most?

Does social injustice break your heart the most?

Does seeing children struggling in poverty break your heart the most?

Does the decline of healthy marriages and families break your heart the most?

Does domestic violence break your heart the most?

Does lack of medical care to those most in need break your heart?

Obviously, these are all tough, tough issues in our world today, and our hearts break with each one. We know that none of us can do everything. We also know that all of us can do something. So, what is it that breaks your heart the most? Perhaps it is something not even listed above.

As Andy asked this question, and as I considered the past decade of my life in full-time ministry, it became so clear to me that what breaks my heart the most is …

Seeing people remain in shackles that keep them from the abundant life Jesus came to offer. This enslavement shows up in the the following ways:

People striving so hard to experience freedom through their self effort to please God..

Husbands and wives trying so hard to make marriage work in their own power…

Parents living with shame and guilt over what their children choose…

Children grasping to find acceptance from parents who never can never be pleased…

Family members estranged from one another over past offenses…

Pastors or other Christian leaders using shame and guilt to motivate change from those sitting in their services, reading their books, or attending their conferences…

Men, women, adolescents and even children in bondage to addictive behaviors, substances or acts.

When it all comes down to it, I realize what breaks my heart the most is seeing people live with the heavy shackles of legalism disguised as “Sold-Out” New Testament Christianity. That’s what breaks my heart.

But what gives me HOPE in the heartbreak is the awareness that through Christ in Shelley, I can be a carrier of light and life into the world. I can be a voice of grace and truth to my generation. I can be a teachable student on a journey who invites others to join me.

Being self-aware enough to know what breaks our hearts can help us when we’re trying to determine our next step, our next move, our next project, or perhaps the next blog post. 

Becoming aware of what truly breaks our hearts can also lead us to the hope we can offer others whose hearts are broken as they live through the experiences that break yours. 

I encourage you to take some time to reflect on this question and articulate what breaks your heart the most, but don’t stop there! Once you’ve written these down, consider the hope you can now offer through your life–vocationally and relationally–to those who need you and are waiting for you to show up in their lives.

You’re In My Heart, You’re In My Soul

water droplet pixabayAs the hart (deer) pants and longs for the water brooks, so I pant and long for You, O God.

Psalm 42:1 AMP

When deadlines loom, relationships are challenged, and we get weary in the work to which we are called to perform, our souls can feel like dry, brittle sponges in desperate need of the touch of clear, cold water for refreshment.

Most of us reading this give more than we take or receive. For many of us, our Christian beliefs compel us to give, give, give and then give some more without taking the necessary breaks from performing in order to be nourished and replenished ourselves. Because of this, far too many believers in Jesus are operating out of our fumes, running on an empty tank, rather than out of the overflow of what Christ has for us in His fullness.

When we read the above passage of Scripture, we can easily imagine a deer panting for a drink of water. It isn’t hard to visualize and empathize with a deer who has been chased by dogs in the heat of summer, striving for survival – longing, even crying out, for just a drop of water. While the majority of folks reading this haven’t been in those exact circumstances, it doesn’t take much imagination to know what it feels like to be chased down by the ugly experiences in life like unpleasant financial woes, devastating diagnoses, irritating interruptions, hurtful behaviors by loved ones, and even our own struggles with sin and temptation…just to name a few!

Undealt with Weariness Leads to Unhealed Woundedness

What a refreshing drink of cool water it is to remember that we are no longer like David. We are no longer in need of searching for a place to get a drink of cool water when our throats are parched. While we may need to find a place for our minds and bodies to get necessary rest, our souls are no longer separated from the place of our greatest refreshment!

Here is how I know this: when Jesus came onto the scene and into our humanity, He offered a new way of living, a new way of relating to God and others, and a new way to experience God!

He explained this when he met the Samaritan woman at the well. Take a peek with me into their conversation,

“Jesus answered her, ‘All who drink of this water will be thirsty again. But whoever takes a drink of the water that I will give him shall never, no never, be thirsty any more. But the water that I will give him shall become a spring of water welling up (flowing, bubbling) [continually] within him unto (into, for) eternal life.’” John 4:13-14 AMP

Do you see the difference between David’s experience when he couldn’t get to the temple to worship and what Jesus said He alone could provide to the thirsty woman who had been searching everywhere for love, acceptance, validation, and relationship and never ever experience satisfaction, much less a “continually flowing, bubbling up” source of life?

Read the rest of John 4 and I Corinthians 6:19 (as well as so much of the New Testament) and be reminded that we can now experience God’s refreshment and renewal anytime, anywhere because His very Spirit now resides within us and He has made us one with Him!

niagara-218591_640 pixabay
Our place of quiet refreshment now resides within us!

While I am grateful beyond expression for places like the beach, the mountains, a city park or even a library or local spa to enjoy body/mind refreshment, I am in awe of the reality that those places and those experiences cannot come close to providing my soul what it really needs: a holy moment with the One who created my soul for Himself and is always, always, always available to me in full measure.
(This might be a good time for a “Selah” – i.e. a pause-and-think-about-that moment.)

Dearest Lord Jesus, my friend and Savior, thank you for this new way of relating to you, in the Spirit; this new way that allows me to be with you always; to know I’m never alone, I’m never depleted, I’m never lacking what I truly need and desire. Show me in clearer ways how to tap into this truth for my own life so that I grow and mature in this area of soul refreshment, drinking from the Living Water you’ve placed within me in abundance – and may my life reflect this beautiful reality to others out of the overflow of this ever-fresh spring that is operating in my life.

Assets Versus Liabilities

photo by Shelley Hendrix

photo by Shelley Hendrix

After months of working my way through the maze of confusion regarding a giant leap of faith into the world of writing and public speaking, I confided this unexpected journey to a trusted friend and mentor. In addition to wise counsel and prayer, as well as encouragement to pursue this dream, Jim said that I needed to write a bio.

*Gulp*

I don’t know about you, but this project was the hardest writing project I think I had ever been given up to that point in my life. (Truth be told, I still don’t like to write my own bio.) For one thing, I hadn’t really done much of anything at that point. I was a shy, behind-the-scenes, let others decide, kind of gal until I went through what I call “God’s Merciful Unveiling” in my life: a season of deep pain, but tremendous spiritual renewal and personal growth. It was through that experience that I began to sense a call on my life to share truth with others that would set their hearts free, too.

I decided to research the bios of other authors and speakers to see what kind of information they included – kind of a template to help me start my own.

Big Mistake.  Or maybe not. It sure felt like one in 2004! The bios I found online were so impressive. These authors and speakers had done so much with their educations, lives, ministries, writing, and families that I began to question whether or not I had actually sensed God’s call on my own life correctly. Who am I to jump into this field when there are so many more qualified and capable people already doing this?

Who would want to hire a mostly-stay-at-home mother of three just because she believed God had called her to step out in faith to share grace and truth with others? I began to feel sick to my stomach as I spent several days wrestling with the seemingly small task of writing my bio. If I have trouble writing my own bio, how in the world am I going to write something people want to read?

I put a rough draft together and apprehensively showed it to a close friend for her honest feedback. I left a copy with her at her house and left before she had a chance to read it in front of me. I imagined her being too kind to tell me what she really thought, which would be, “Who in the world does she think she is?”

It wasn’t too long before she called me. In fact, she called me on my cell phone before I had gotten back home. She told me that soon after I left, her mom called. Her sweet mother was struggling with an unwanted divorce and the painful ripple effects of her former husband’s decision to move into a new relationship after 30+ years of marriage.

My friend said she told her mom that God wasn’t done with her just because a man was. And then she shared my bio with her! My unimpressive, rough draft of a bio. I was perplexed; it seemed like an odd thing to do in such a situation. And she said she told her mother, “Mom, if God can give Shelley new dreams to pursue after what she’s been through, I know God has new dreams for you as well.”

Jaw. Drop. 

I was nearly in tears. She told me this and we chatted briefly and then we hung up. I sat in my car completely overwhelmed with the idea that God could use even my feeble attempt at writing a bio to encourage and strengthen someone else. I thought about Paul’s words in Philippians when he wrote:

“But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord…” Philippians 3:7-8

And, then, in ways only the Holy Spirit can do, I realized:

If I give God and others my absolute best qualities and go after it with all my gusto and all my energy, those very assets can turn into my greatest liabilities. But, if I entrust God with everything–and especially what I see as liabilities (like a lack of experience, for example) — and allow Him to live His life through me, He will use them in such a way as to turn them into my greatest assets for Kingdom work. 

I can say now, after over a decade of writing and speaking that I have seen Him do just that – so many, many times!

Like Donald Miller says, “We impress with strength, but we connect at weakness.” It’s almost always those things we view as weaknesses, or liabilities, that God’s light beautifully shines through to brighten another person’s life.

What about you?

What has been the greatest obstacle you’ve faced in your career/calling as a writer?

What helps you overcome insecurities in your calling to be a writer?

How can you help others overcome their fears by sharing your story?

Troubles, Many and Bitter

sail-boat-508183_640 troubles many and bitter post pixabay“Your righteousness, God, reaches to the heavens, You who have done great things. Who is like You, God? Though You have made me see troubles, many and bitter, You will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth You will again bring me up. You will increase my honor and comfort me once more.” Psalm 71:19-21

When the world mourned the passing of Princess Diana, I heard a pastor say, “There is no earthly sorrow that Heaven cannot heal.” In the midst of the darkest days – or even the ones that just don’t measure up to our expectations or hopes – we can be absolutely certain that our Heavenly Father is already, right now in fact, restoring everything.

Everything.

Troubles, though many and bitter, come into our lives; yet these circumstances cannot touch or change the beauty God is already weaving through it all. When you’re walking an unfamiliar pathway, and there doesn’t seem to be any hope in sight, remember that God often does His best work behind the scenes. A better day is coming. Hang onto the promises in His word; remember His faithfulness in the past; and simply breathe in His grace while you exhale whatever prayers you can. Your Heavenly Father has you and He isn’t about to let go of you.

And then, to add grace upon His already extravagant grace, God increases the honor of the one who chooses to praise Him anyway -through the storms and challenges of life. May He find us trusting Him and relying upon Him more and more, regardless of the storm clouds blocking our view of the sun.

Marketing: To Do and Not To Do

Light a Fire with Your Marketing Plan

“It isn’t there. I looked,” I told my mother so many times I lost count.

I also lost count of how many times she looked in the same place I did and said to me, with frustration in her voice, “Shelley, it’s right here!”

Ugh. I hated when that happened. I felt stupid, embarrassed, and defective.

Why could SHE see it, but I couldn’t?

It took a few years, but finally, by the time I was 10 or 11 years old, I learned to instead say, whenever I couldn’t find whatever she said to look for or retrieve for her, “I don’t see it.” I’m 40 years old now, and I still use those same words in that situation.

What does this have to do with marketing? I’m certainly no expert in this field, but I have learned this: just because folks don’t see our books, products, services, or goods, it doesn’t mean they aren’t there. It also doesn’t mean they don’t have value. It just means that sometimes people need help to see the good stuff right in front of them.

So, how do we do this in an already saturated market where everyone (and sometimes their pets!) are on social media, have a blog, and publish their work? (I kid you not about pets, either.)

I asked around, and want to share with you what other authors shared with me. I am confident these tips will help you (and me!) in the challenging world of marketing our writing in addition to creating the content we’re trying to market.

  • Pay attention to social media: Don’t discount the value of sharing some freebies with folks right where they are. Find out where your audience hangs out most on social media and focus the majority of your social media time and attention there. For example, my readers tend to be on Facebook more than Twitter, so while I am in both places, I don’t kill myself in the Twitterverse when more engagement happens on Facebook (and increasingly on Instagram and Pinterest).

Remember, as you engage in today’s world of technology, these words from Marketing guru Rob Eagar:

“In a fast-paced world where Facebook, Twitter, and the 24/7 news media allow everyone to have a voice, it’s more important than ever to cut through all the noise. Use power-bites to punch through the cacophony, gain people’s attention, and spread your message like wildfire.” – See more good stuff from Rob here!

And this, from marketing expert Lori Twichell:

“The key to good marketing is making a connection with your audience. It’s got to be genuine. People can see through selfish motives. If you are only there to promote your book or product, people can sense that.” The more you get to know your audience and really make that honest contact, the more you’ll end up with a loyal audience that will follow not just this book, but future endeavors as well. That’s a key part of social media that is lacking in so many. We all love making new friends and connections, but no one wants to be spammed!

  • Newsletters: Emailing your subscribers is the best way to get content in front of your readers on a consistent basis. When they subscribe or give you their contact info, they’ve invited you to connect with them. Make sure to add value to your subscribers’ lives, inviting them to open, read, and engage—be aware of what can feel “spammy” to your subscribers. In other words, don’t just send emails to send emails. And make sure you give more than you request.

Here’s another tip from Lori Twichell: “Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday are the best days to send newsletters. On Fridays people are eager to go home and clean out their inbox more quickly and on Mondays, they’re buried in the weekend’s email pile up.” (Connect with Lori for more good stuff at http://www.beyondthebuzzmarketing.com)

  • Giveaways: Take advantage of what God has made available to you. What message has He entrusted to you to share with others? Offer some freebies along the way that build your credibility as one to listen and learn from in this over-saturated market.

As writers, we long to have readers find value in what we have to say, right? It can be so difficult to balance the discipline of learning and expressing with the necessity to also market what we write. Ultimately God is our greatest promoter. If we can remember that our social media numbers, our book sales, and our greatest accomplishments do not come close to God’s power to promote us in due season, we’ll remain at peace and loving life on the way to where we’re going.

Have you discovered a marketing to-do or not to-do?

Struggling with Surrender?

I have finished the work which You have given Me to do. – John 17:4

Property of Shelley Hendrix

Property of Shelley Hendrix

Recently, while on a trip out west, (I’m a Southern Girl), my husband shared his experience with “surrendering to the ministry.” We didn’t realize when he shared this phrase that it was unusual to ministry friends in another part of the country. They jokingly said things like, “You surrendered?!” and put their arms up above their heads–revealing the idea that this made being a minister sound like the death of the good life. How awful, right?

We all got a good laugh. I mean, they were right. We had just never thought about it that way before.

Stephen and I still laugh about it. The friends who kidded us are some of the most trusted, sacred, and wonderful people we’ve ever known. It reminded us, though, that our words matter. We often become so accustomed to certain phrases, slang, and lingo that we forget how these same words or phrases land with others. We had heard “surrender to the ministry” our whole lives in the walls of our churches, so it sounded totally normal to us.

Surrender? 

When I was growing up, one of my biggest pet peeves came to me courtesy of my own mom. Anytime I wanted to know what any word meant, she refused to tell me. She always said the same thing: “Look it up.” I don’t know why I asked her after the third or fourth time she answered me in this same way. What I once resented, I now genuinely appreciate: a love of words and their deepest meanings. (I also appreciate the convenience of carrying a dictionary with me wherever I go, thanks to today’s technology!)

With this in mind, I looked up the word “surrender” for us.

Surrender, according to Dictionary.com, means:

1. to yield (something) to the possession or power of another; deliver up possession on demand or under duress.
2. to give (oneself) up, as to the police.
3. to give (oneself) up to some influence, course, emotion, etc.: He surrendered himself to a life of hardship.
4. to give up, abandon, or relinquish (comfort, hope, etc.).
5. to yield or resign (an office, privilege, etc.) in favor of another.
6. to give oneself up, as into the power of another; submit or yield.

The choice to surrender continues to be a part of my own journey. I’ve learned as a follower of Jesus that surrender is not a one-time-call-it-done experience.

Surrender is only a “bad” thing when I forget (or don’t understand) its purpose within the context of relationship to God.

Sometimes I think I need to know WHAT I’m surrendering to: the ministry, my vocation, financial status, size of platform as a writer, role in the body of Christ, etc. But the truth is, I only need to know to WHOM I surrender. When I get this right, everything else falls peacefully into place. I can then live with purpose, and without all the pressure!

You are reading this, most likely, because words matter to you, too. I want to encourage you to pause today, and perhaps from time to time throughout the week, to write down and reflect upon the attributes of the One to whom you have chosen to surrender. Rather than focusing on our platforms, or even the next project, let’s take time to engage fully with the One to whom we choose, once again, to surrender.