Sifting and Winnowing

Photo/KatenJordanMy heart pounded as I braved my re-entry into my writing space. I simply did not want to work on another uninspired blog post. Why, I didn’t know. But I knew I needed to identify the source of my resistance to what I’m passionate about—writing.

From my office chair, I scribbled a few forced phrases—those anticipated first and necessary words. The ones I demanded myself to write. It was a painful hour.

Even though they were interesting, they weren’t satisfying. And I grieved once again for inspiration that would give me life—meaningful thoughts flowing from a grateful heart. But the words I produced were stale and stodgy. Would anyone be blessed by reading them? I thought not.

The next morning, I awoke to another day of blank pages. So I confessed to my husband, Dan, “I’m really struggling with the blog posts I should have already written.”

“Why? What’s the problem?”

“I routinely commit to writing about things others have requested, and I never get to work on things that really matter to me.”

“Like what? Give me an example,” he asked.

Dan listened carefully as I voiced a litany of excuses. Then, he responded, “Maybe you need to do some ‘winnowing.’”

“Tell me what you mean.” I knew what the word “winnowing” meant, but I wanted to hear his thoughts.

“Have you ever seen an illustration of someone threshing wheat?” He shared several photos after searching the Internet.

“You mean, like sifting?” I knew Dan was right, but I hadn’t figured out how to climb out of my writing rut.

He said, “All words are not equal. And like grain, where the husks have to be separated and discarded. To produce the best dialogue and story, the worthless ideas must be winnowed out.”

Sifting. I listened to the Daily Audio Bible during my morning walk. From the book of Judges, I listened how God gave Gideon instructions for choosing warriors to fight with him.

You have too many warriors for Me to allow you to defeat the Midianites. As it is now, the people of Israel would just deny Me the credit and claim they had won the victory on their own. So go out and tell your army, “Any of you who are afraid and trembling are free to leave Mount Gilead.” (Judges 7:2-3 VOICE)

The scripture reminded me of my earlier conversation with Dan.

After Gideon reduced his army, the Lord told him. “You still have too many warriors. Take them down to the water, and I will sift them for you. When I say, ‘This one will fight for you,’ he will go with you; but when I say, ‘This one will not fight for you,’ then he will not go’” (Judges 7:4 VOICE).

As I listened to the passage being read, the word “sift” took on new meaning for me. I knew the Lord was teaching me about “winnowing” and “sifting.” I also recognized I could take my notebook “down to the water” and ask the Lord to help me “sift” through all of my writing and speaking commitments. The neighborhood lake was the perfect place for solitude.

Winnowing. After lunch, I took a brisk walk to Lake Cortez with my pen and paper, with my heart prepared for “winnowing” my writing options, sifting and discarding those that didn’t seem right for me.

One-by-one, I reviewed my current writing commitments, praying what was most important would emerge as my next writing effort.

Recently, I read this encouraging word from the book of James:

If you don’t have all the wisdom needed for this journey, then all you have to do is ask God for it; and God will grant all that you need. He gives lavishly and never scolds you for asking.

The key is that your request be anchored by your single-minded commitment to God. Those who depend only on their own judgment are like those lost on the seas, carried away by any wave or picked up by any wind. (James 1:5-6 VOICE)

I’m so grateful when God gives me his guidance and help. Some days I make decisions and commitments without even considering Him. But as I listed all of my plans that day, it became clear which projects and events I needed to abandon and pursue.

I instinctively knew which stories mattered most. And I also understood what genre of writing I wanted to pursue. So, I had the courage to resign from writing about things and issues that undermine my creativity and leave out elements of my faith.

I’m not sure what I will write next. But for now, I will continue to ask the Lord to help me sift through all of my projects and plans and allow him to impress my soul about what choices to make.

How do you “winnow” through your life and work? What sifters do you use when choosing what matters most to you and is worthy of your time and energy?

Scripture taken from The Voice™. Copyright © 2008 by Ecclesia Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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How to Refill Your Writing Tank

Feeling empty after finishing a manuscript or spending weeks marketing your books? Has burn-out become your default mode?

Then it’s past time for you to indulge in some writerly self-care. Here’s how I refill my tank:

  1. Eat ice cream. Lots of ice cream. It freezes all the synapses in your brain so you can’t think about writing, even if you wanted to. The idea is to give your brain a break, and ice cream does it every time for me.
  2. Read a lousy book. In fact, read two. It will remind you that anyone can write a book, but YOU can write a GOOD book. Pat yourself on the back. (Gratuitous self-praise is one of a writer’s most potent secret weapons when it comes to longevity in the writing business.)
  3. Go cliff-diving. (No, wait. That’s too much like writing – throwing yourself into a project not knowing where you’ll land. I guess that’s why I’ve never gone cliff-diving in real life since I do it all the time with writing. True confession: I just included it in the list to catch your attention…)
  4. 4. Take up a new hobby. Not cliff-diving (see #3 above). I’ve recently started weeding the yard, lopping off dead branches and building rustic furniture. Physical activity is good for the body, soul, and brain. (Hmmm… I just realized that my new hobbies all involve aggressive behavior: I get a visceral thrill from yanking out weeds, cutting off limbs and I absolutely LOVE drilling and pounding in nails. Let’s move right along…)
  5. Make something from Pinterest. Admit it, you’ve wasted time on Pinterest along with the rest of the world, oohing and aahing over charming hand-crafted items or exotic destinations or delightful food presentations. I took the plunge and here’s my result:(Hey, I didn’t promise it’s always pretty to refill my tank. I just offered to tell you what works for me. Sometimes, the most motivating thing I can do is fail miserably at something else and tell myself “Well, I can always write…”)
  6. Be a language vigilante. I love this one. I’ll make a point of reading every sign I see in a day and point out to anyone who’s within hearing the grammar/spelling mistakes. Big favorites are the ever-present “Your” instead of “You’re” as in “Your our most valuable customer” or “Thanks for you’re support!” I have to make a conscious effort not to carry a big fat red magic marker with me everywhere and circle the errors. By the end of the day, I once again feel like I have a firm grip on the English language, and it’s my duty to enlighten others how to properly use the written word.
  7. Thank God for writing. It’s a lot more fun than standing all day with a stop/slow sign directing traffic in a one-lane construction zone. Truly, I am blessed!
  8. Laugh! After all, God made you a writer, of all things! Talk about a great (make that OMNIPOTENT) sense of humor…

7 Tips about the Basic Needs and Stressors of Introverts

Image/karenjordan.netThank you, Jesus—I’m home again!

A few weeks ago, I found myself surrounded by extroverts, enjoying their confidence as they absorbed energy from all who surrounded them at a publishing event for Christian writers.

And all the activity almost sucked the life out of this introvert! I’m still exhausted.

Thankfully, my extrovert travel companion understood the strengths and weaknesses of an introvert, even though I’m sure she tired from dragging me out of my comfort zone.

Ever wondered what makes an introvert tick? I don’t have to look beyond my own mirror to answer that question. So, I hope the following tips help you understand some of the basic needs and stressors of introverts.

1. Personal space energizes introverts. And when we get stressed out, we need to be left alone. Being in crowds drains us, so we often need to find some alone time to recharge our batteries.

2. Extroverts often misunderstand the need for personal space, and introverts tend to be more withdrawn at times. So, they might need to come out of their caves and share their perspective with those who might misinterpret their need for solitude. And sometimes, they might need a little motivation to abandon their comfort zone.

3. Social situations routinely cause grief for introverts, as they struggle with small talk with strangers. They appreciate friends who understand and encourage them in stressful social settings.

4. Networking can frustrate introverts who aren’t prepared for that kind of interaction. Pitching new projects to a publisher at large events can be an overwhelming task for introvert writers. So, practicing their pitches with other writers can boost their confidence.

5. Focus can also challenge introverts since they tend to be distracted in intense environments. They may need to consider taking a few tips about planning schedules and sticking to deadlines from their more organized friends.

6. REST is a basic need for everyone. Facing my own weaknesses proved to be another opportunity to utilize my prayer strategy of REST: Remember, Exalt, Surrender, and Trust, based on Philippians 4:5-7.

. . . The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (NIV). (Phil. 4:5-7 NIV)

7. Prayer. During my worst moments under the stress of over-stimulating social situations and networking challenges, I searched for some personal space, and put this prayer strategy from Lamentations 3:28-29 into practice: “When life is heavy and hard to take, go off by yourself. Enter the silence. Bow in prayer. Don’t ask questions: Wait for hope to appear” (The Message).

Remembering and focusing on the presence of God enables me to exalt his Word over my circumstances, surrender my weaknesses and burdens to him, and trust him to guard my heart and my mind with his peace.

Are you an introvert, living in an extrovert’s world? What strategies help you when the energy of others is zapping the strength out of you?

Learning to Listen

Have you ever noticed that there is a deep inner peace that descends when you truly listen to someone? Think about it. You focus on what they are saying, sifting through the verbal noise to the subtext that is being laid bare. You take a back seat, allowing them to drive the conversation so that you can lovingly respond. There is a strength in this passivity, a calm in conceding control.

Isn’t that exactly what we are called to do with the Lord?

My world is loud. My email constantly demands my attention – four different accounts for four different reasons. My job revolves around communication and social media, the deadly noise of an electronic culture.

We’ve forgotten the value of letters and phone calls, the connection that comes with face to face. We’ve forgotten how to have a conversation longer than 140 characters, and we sure don’t remember the bond developed by vocally sharing the depth of our thoughts, our hearts. As writer’s we get to connect the gap, to share vulnerability on the page and communicate with the world around us. All too often, I fight that vulnerability. I fight to speak without letting people see the depths of my heart. But as much as I have been called to use my voice in some form or fashion, I must first be willing to listen to my audience of One.

Kariss Lynch oceanI remember a crowded beach in California. Surfers rode the waves, entertainers lined up around the boardwalk, and this misplaced Texas girl walked with my group enjoying the show. About sunset, I found myself alone near the water, the waves roaring in to kiss the shore over and over. All other noise dissipated, and I truly listened.

I see and hear my Creator in the waves and the ocean – His power, His gentle nature, His vastness, His beauty. And I can hear His still small voice in the waves that lap the sand, asking me to drown out the other noise and just listen. He speaks in the quiet moments. He answers when I truly surrender.

Shadowed Kariss LynchWe can’t discern His voice and direction until we give up our need to control and sit back as He shares His heart and mind. I love the childlike faith of Samuel in the Old Testament and the way he simply answers the Lord with “Here am I.” Then He listens and obeys. I want to be defined as a person who delights to do what God desires, who uses my gifts for His glory, who writes without fear. But my surrender comes first. As I finish up my third book, enter a season in between contracts, and pray through what’s next, I want to make sure I am listening more than I am telling the Lord what I want. I want this in between season to be marked by a quietness of spirit as I rest, dream, pray, and enjoy where the Lord currently has me.

With no beach nearby, I’m learning to find my ocean moments in the roar of the big city. He speaks most when I commit to listen. And I’m tired of the noise. I’m sitting on the shore, listening to His voice whisper in the waves.

Facing a Change?

Photo/KarenJordan“Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed … ” (1 Corinthians 15:51 TNIV).

I first noticed this scripture many years ago displayed on a wall mural in our church nursery. I laughed at the clever inference to the care of the babies. But the verse prompted me to research its biblical context.

I discovered differing opinions about the end times. But I also found Someone who never changes: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8 NIV).

Possibilities. Change is inevitable. And many times it arrives when least expected—like an illness, untimely death, or even an opportunity you never dreamed possible.

“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future” (John F. Kennedy).

Politics. Politicians also promise us change. But their promises often prove to be just as empty and meaningless as their rhetoric no matter how well intended.

Such shallow commitments remind us of what the Bible says about keeping our word:

And since you know that (God) cares, let your language show it. Don’t add words like “I swear to God” to your own words. Don’t show your impatience by concocting oaths to hurry up God. Just say yes or no. Just say what is true. That way, your language can’t be used against you. (James 5:12 MSG)

Projects. I embrace change at times, especially with my writing projects. The writing process requires many revisions. Some people believe writing is just a three-step process—pre-writing, writing, and re-writing. But most writers agree that each of these steps involves much more.

For instance, the beginning of the composing process includes things like brainstorming, asking questions, researching, outlining, and other pre-writing strategies. Even the simplest blog post requires multiple revisions. The first draft of this post needed a lot of editing and changes.

Promises. The Bible also reminds us, “… in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye … we will be changed” (15:52).

But even though God’s Word promises change, it also encourages us to “… stand firm. Let nothing move you … ” in our faith (15:58).

So when you face change or resist it, remember, “Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (15:58b).

What changes are you facing right now?

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?

Three Lessons From The Abyss

We hear people say that true faith stands regardless of circumstances. It’s easy to love God when life is going well, but what about sustained faith when life is hard? Really hard. What does faith look like when our child is out of control, a parent is dying, we receive a difficult medical diagnosis, or experience betrayal by someone we trust? How do we move forward?

When my daughter fell into active drug addiction, and lived on the streets of our community as a meth addict, I was furious with God. Everything I held dear, and had come to believe in, came into question. The daily uncertainty, not to mention gigantic hole in my heart, were almost more than I could bear.

It was a painful time, and this journey of suffering taught me more than I ever wanted to learn. I’d like to share three key discoveries that helped me cope: Image, woman on beach

1. Seeking God

Even though I was angry with God, I knew I was hopeless without him. James tells us to “draw nigh to God and he will draw nigh to you.” (James 4:8) My drawing nigh became angry, desperate wails in the garage. I all but dared God to account for himself! But I soon discovered he could take it… so I kept wailing.

In desperate times we often think, when is God gonna show up and handle this? We wait for this to happen. But maybe he’s already here and just waiting for us? I discovered that drawing nigh was about me showing up… wails and all.

It was in my garage, at the end of myself and at the point of true surrender, when it became clear to me that God was already there. He spoke into my spirit and said, “Give her to me.” I frankly had to think about that for a while. I found surrender to God’s will a terrifying prospect. Yet it was freeing at the same time. Turning my daughter over to the will of God meant the outcome would not be up to me. But the truth of the matter is, it never was up to me.

2. Choosing joy

Joy is something we often think of as happening to us. You know, a passive event, some blissful occurrence or special blessing. We also sometimes think of joy, or happiness, as something we can attain when “x” happens. I’ll be happy when my child gets her act together, when my spouse shows me more attention, when the front door gets painted or that leaky faucet is fixed… when my book sales soar. I’ll be happy when.

In the darkest time of my life, I discovered I could actually choose joy. Joy came when I took my focus off of problems, off trying to change my daughter, and I set my sights on blessings. It came when I realized my life was so much bigger than any one problem in it. There is a Power, and a purpose, at work in the world that is greater than I am. It’s bigger than my pain, and bigger than my own wants and needs.

I may experience loss, grief, I may even experience suffering. But I always have God, which means I always have hope. For that I can choose joy.

3. Taking care of myself

My pastor’s wife shared not long ago in our women’s Bible study, that she has a wooden plaque in her kitchen which says, “I am here to serve with joy.” I jokingly screeched, “Get rid of that thing!”

Like I said earlier, I’m all for joy. And we are indeed called to serve. But what is often left out of the equation is self-care.

Women, especially Christian women, are notorious for poor self-care. And that was certainly true for me. We are the chief “fixer,” organizer and problem solver, prayer warrior, food preparer, and angel-to-others. Yet we often lose ourselves in the process. Therapist’s offices are filled with well-intentioned women like us who are simply overwhelmed trying to hold up the world.

Most mothers are codependent to at least some extent, and I was no exception. I was motivated by the belief that if I could just try hard enough, I could control everything and everyone, force outcomes, and then life would be ship-shape. I sometimes became so enmeshed in other people’s problems, and in “doing,” that I nearly lost myself.

I learned that self-care begins with solid boundaries, asking for help when needed, and allowing others to be responsible for their own stuff. It means saying “yes” when I want to, and probably saying “no” more often. It means my life is as important as the ones I serve.

Please share how you seek God, choose joy, and care for yourself during tough times.