What Have You Learned Lately?

“So many things were impossible, until they weren’t.”
Jennifer Donnelly, Sea Spell

This weekend I’m attending a workshop, hosted by a friend and one of the things she asked us to come prepared to talk about is learning a new skill. Negative Nelly that I am, I thought, “I have not learned anything new.”

Until I thought about it. Just this past weekend, I attended writing workshops at a conference to learn about writing fiction. Fiction has always been off-limits for me. I love to read but the idea of writing a story that I created out of my imagination was terrifying.

Who would read it? Nobody. It would be terrible. I just don’t have that kind of creative magic. This is what I told myself and I believed me.

Writing fiction was an impossibility, a fairy tale. Something I’d dream about as a child. It wasn’t going to happen even though I’ve wanted to tell stories since I can remember.

 

As my book, Whole, was published, I began to think about new projects. A little voice kept whispering, “Fiction.”

It was tempting.  As the summer waned, I decided to try. I looked around at creative writing courses but decided I couldn’t go back to school at this time. Then the writing workshops showed up in my email and I excitedly said yes! I felt like God was saying Yes to me, too.  I am cautiously optimistic. I have a lot to learn. Nothing may come of it except personal satisfaction but at least I will have tried.

Am I learning something new? You bet! Why did I sell myself short? Why do you?

Stepping out into the unknown can be scary. I have made every excuse not to get started. Procrastination was a front for fear. I was afraid I couldn’t do it. I was afraid I’d be awful at it. I’d fail. I’d look stupid. We’ve all been there as we set out on a new adventure or journey.

What I’m starting to understand is I’d rather fail at something than regret not trying. It’s a lesson that’s been a long time learning.

I think as we get older we lose the muscle of trying new things. We are too afraid of failure or the consequences of even trying. We settle into our comfy couches and get complacent. How did this happen?

I look at my boys. The things they are passionate about, they act on. Shooting hoops relentlessly in the driveway. Writing and drawing just because they want to. Creating just because they can. Fear doesn’t seem to factor in or maybe it just isn’t allowed to dominate. As adults we need to start exercising those muscles of trying new things again. We need to say Yes! more and then get up and Do. Maybe if we let our desires and our passions have more sway, we’ll create more. We’ll be more content. We’ll learn not just a new skill or reinvigorate an old one but we’ll grow as people too.

We teach our kids these lessons but we stop applying them to ourselves. Why is that? Educating ourselves and creating beauty makes the world a better place. It makes a difference. When we try, it inspires others. I have friends who have gone back to school to get a teacher’s degree or a degree in a dream they put off. They make me want to try. It’s contagious.

What impossible dream sits in your heart, waiting to be released? To be attempted? What do you think you are too old to do? Or too young? What would you do if you had no limitations or obligations?

 

Maybe what seems an impossibility is really a matter of trying, of saying Yes! to God so He can say Yes! to you.

Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.” Matthew 19:26 NLT  

Do you believe it?

Asking for Directions

My scenery has changed this week. As I look out the windows, I see trees and cedars and I hear the waves crashing on the beach just beyond the front door. You can see the lake from the big front window.

IMG_3350

It’s a week to unwind, rejuvenate, and create. It’s a week I have begun to look forward to every spring. Last year I put the finishing touches on Whole here. Who knew then, what a year would bring!

This year I am in a different place on so many levels. I feel like I have ended, started and am in-between. Can you be in all those spaces at once? Do you ever feel like that?

I feel like I need to stop and ask for directions.

I’ve walked along the beach the last couple of mornings in the sunshine and wind. Watching and listening to the waves roll in is hypnotic, soothing. My shoes dig into the wet sand. (No I’m not a barefoot sand person!)

I see footprints (someone is a barefoot sand person!) shoe prints and dog paw prints in the sand. I notice the colour of the water – grey up close and a thin line of turquoise and cobalt blue along the horizon.

I beach comb by taking pictures of interesting things as I walk. Driftwood, rocks, little streams feeding into the Great Lake.

IMG_3360

As I reach the point where I’m going to turn around, I see a sailboat beached. It’s yellow and pretty. Reminds me of summer stories of fun, sea and romance.

IMG_3375

After taking a couple of pictures, I turn around and head back the way I came. I’m thinking about the boat. I liked it. I wonder about what it would feel like to sail it?

As I’m walking back, I spot another boat. A blue rowboat. It looks like it’s made of wood.  I hadn’t seen it on my way up the beach. I stop and take a few pictures. The beauty is in it’s rustic appearance.

How could I have missed it before? I had walked right by it.

Blind. How many times are we blind to things that are right in front of us? Like the rowboat, we pass by, absorbed in our thoughts, our worries, our stuff.

How do you walk? Do you walk with your head down? Where are you looking? I often walk looking at the ground, intent on where my feet are taking me. Do you do this too? We miss a lot because we are not looking up, don’t we?

I had caught myself a couple of times staring at the sand rather than the beautiful water and trees and sky around me. I was missing the good stuff because I was looking down instead of up.

Look up.

Wake up.

Get up.

It’s starting to become my mantra. Perhaps it’s the directions I’ve wanted to ask for.

Looking up instantly engages us in our surroundings. We see who’s there, what’s happening. We are free to enjoy the scenery. We become aware of where we are and our place in it.

Waking up frees us from our blindness. Sometimes we are so involved in our heads, in what we are doing, in just trying to keep up with everything, that we fall asleep to everything else. We miss the boat so to speak. We don’t see the offer of something else, something new, something different. We bypass the beauty because we are engrossed in our small worlds.

Getting up is action. Don’t just sit there but go investigate that invitation, that beauty. Get up close to the boat. Touch it. Get in it. Take the next step.

If we don’t start to look up, wake up and get up, what are we missing? I think we miss not only things in this world but also in the spiritual world. As we look up, wake up and get up we become engaged not just physically but emotionally, and spiritually. We become more in tune with what is going on in both the physical and spiritual realms. We are ready to receive the next directive.

We become available. “Here I am Lord send me.”

I’m not sure about you but I want to be that person who doesn’t just see the boat, but gets in the boat and heads out to sea, following the One who does know the way.

IMG_3378.JPG

The Inadequate Lie

Inadequate. The word keeps rolling around my brain. I ask myself, “Does anyone ever get to the point where you ever feel adequate?”

I’m not sure to tell you the truth. We feel inadequate in so many areas of life at different times. We feel inadequate as parents when our children struggle or have issues. We feel inadequate when we don’t get the promotion at work. We feel inadequate even when we have no control over the situation.

15220118_10153854602076626_6728932325892703896_n

I was diagnosed with diabetes this past year. The doctor just looked at me, puzzled. I should not have diabetes. I have no precursors except one. It’s in the genes so to speak. I felt inadequate sitting there in her office, because for no apparent reason, my body was letting me down.

The Inadequate Lie. That’s what I’m calling it.  Because it’s a lie that you are inadequate. That I am. 
I have been dancing around this word, trying to write this out for probably a month now. Because not only have I felt inadequate with my health but that word has been shouting at me for the better part of the last five months. Probably longer but it became all CAPS IN THE LAST FIVE MONTHS.

Ironically, just as my book has been published, I have struggled with feeling inadequate as a pastor’s wife, as a writer, as a Christian. This does not make me ungrateful. I am so thankful for the opportunity that God has provided to get His message out there. It is so badly needed. I believe in the message. But I have to wonder about the messenger. Which makes me feel like a bigger fraud because this is the precise message of the book; being called to a role or a place and you feel like the biggest, ugliest square peg in a very delicate round hole.

It can be anything or any role, not just a pastor’s wife. Maybe you feel inadequate as a parent, as daughter or son, as a caretaker, or whatever job you may be working in right now. Maybe you feel like you’ve been called to a city or town that feels so alien you’d think you were on a different planet. We all feel it sometimes. Like there is no way we will ever measure up.

The Inadequate Lie manifests itself in times of both success and failure. It doesn’t matter how many accolades, songs of praise we’ve heard, we still feel less than. Or we know failure is knocking because we’ve done it so many times before. The Inadequate Lie has power because we continue to be sucked into these cycles of lies. We fall for the whispers every time and as long as we believe them, we will feel inadequate regardless. The lie will win even if reality says otherwise.

I read a memoir, Atlas Girl by Emily Wierenga. We had a lot of the same dreams for our lives. Yet she said when her name was on a book, it wasn’t enough. I’ve never forgotten that line. She still felt inadequate. What’s the dream that you had that in the end, wasn’t enough?

IMG_0621

It is at this point that God stands waiting. He’s waiting for us to turn to Him. We’ve reached the pinnacle of what we define as success. Or we’ve sunk so low, there’s no place else to go. We have come to the ends of ourselves. We know it. So does He. And He waits for us.

If we want to get beyond the narcissism or the pride or whatever it is, there’s only one place to turn. He created us in His image. He is the embodiment of truth. If we turn to Him in all our feelings of inadequacy he can take those things and refine them until they are bright and shiny, turning lies to truth.

What is the truth? The truth is He is I AM. And always will be forever and ever. I AM is greater than all our successes, our failures, our measuring sticks. Even though He is bigger than anything out there, He grabs our hand and pulls us into the adventure, allowing us a glimpse of Him. It isn’t about our inadequacies. It isn’t about publishing books. It isn’t about being the perfect parent or child. It isn’t about the latest promotion. It’s only about Him. Those things are of this world, although we may be called to them, they will never be enough. Only He is enough. Like a blanket, I AM covers everything else.

And the good news? The Inadequate Lie loses. We are not inadequate. I AM gives us the power to do what He’s called us to do. We are ENABLED by His Spirit to move mountains, write books, sing songs, parent children and prodigals, and become who we were created to be. It is the Enabled Truth.

The Whole Story

Do you have a childhood dream that still sits in your heart and mind? That you go back to when you daydream?  Since I can remember, I have wanted to tell stories. Then it morphed into writing and then into writing articles and books.

I fulfilled part of that dream recently. I wrote a book and it’s being published next month. I wrote it with pastors’ wives in mind but it’s for anyone who ever felt they didn’t fit the role they were in. Pastor’s wife, ministry leader, mother…

whole_social-media

I set out to write a guide because I felt so lost as to what it was I was supposed to be doing as the spouse of a pastor. (Seriously, seminaries need to offer courses for the spouses! But I digress.) The book did not turn out to be a guide.  I never really figured out what I was doing so how could I instruct others?! Instead, it’s about how God can use each one of us, even when we think He’s made a mistake in choosing us because….you fill in the blank.

It took over ten years to write it. I began the project when my boys were teeny tiny. On Mark’s day off, I would head to his office for a couple of hours to write. On the way, I’d grab a Tim’s (that’s Canada speak for coffee), a bagel and cream cheese (those were the days I could eat cream cheese). Then I’d sit, savouring the food, the coffee and the quiet. Then I’d get to work.

IMG_1461

I didn’t own a laptop so I’d write old school or I’d borrow Mark’s laptop and then email my document to myself. I lost a whole chapter once. It wasn’t always easy or convenient but it was important that I carve out that time.

Many of those years were tumultuous and the writing was a cathartic exercise. It provided a way to put a voice on the last few years of ministry, marriage and motherhood. It provided me an outlet to vent my frustrations, anger and sadness. It opened a door to look for God in it all. It maintained my sanity.

I have a gem of a husband who not only encouraged me to go on his day off but insisted on it if I tried to get out of it. He knew I was a better mom and wife when I had time to myself, to do the things I loved. I realize that not everyone has this. I am so grateful.

img_0557

I tried to walk away from this book, this message, so many times. I didn’t always want to be the messenger.

I finished most of the writing a couple of years ago. I tried unsuccessfully to pitch the book with publishers but they felt it was too much of a niche book.

Last spring I heard about a Canada wide contest for non-fiction faith manuscripts by women. I decided to enter.

I didn’t win but I placed as one of the four finalists. It opened the door to publishing. And here I am. Scared out of my wits and crazy excited at the same time.

It’s been a lesson in perseverance. We want what we want right now. We are impatient. I am one of the worst. I am surprised that God stuck with me because honestly, I’ve been a bit of a brat over the years. But then, that’s grace, right? We are given what we don’t deserve. That’s love. That’s God, I Am.

If you have a dream, a vision, something laid upon your heart and you think there’s an expiry date, stop. As long as you breathe, there is no expiry date on your dream. Keep taking the next step.

The end result is worth it, but it’s the journey there, that gives it value. It’s in the journey that the message on your heart gets it’s first student. (You.) It’s the path there, that teaches the lessons, sustains growth and prunes the rot. In the end, you reach your destination (book, dream, etc.) which is totally awesome, but really, you are the prize.

Because along the journey, you have matured, deepened your relationship with God and are that much closer to being who you were created to be.

img_3123

It’s an awesome experience to see a dream fulfilled. It is humbling to put something you created out there for people to read, dissect and judge. They may love it or they may hate it. I have freaked out at both aspects. It’s taking me way out of my comfort zone.

In the bigger picture, beyond my comfort,  I am excited to see what God is going to do. This is not my book. It’s not my message. It’s His and I’m anxious to see where He’s going with it. I want to see Him do what He does best.  Work the impossible.

I’m going to enjoy this gift while it lasts, but I’m also looking to Him for the future, for the next adventure.

The Art of Rest

I recently had the opportunity to go away on a retreat for five whole days. It was a week away with some fellow writer friends. The plan was to get away to a cottage and write. No distractions. No other people to worry about and care for. Just us and our writing projects. I had never done anything like it. I was excited for it. The timing was perfect.

IMG_1432

It’s been a couple of busy months. I had had a couple of speaking engagements which was new for me. It was fun but tiring. My creativity was tapped out. My brain tired. I needed a rest with no guilt attached to it. Ever feel that way? We try to rest but our houses need cleaning, laundry is waiting to be folded or dinner time is fast approaching. No rest for the weary or maybe it’s the wicked. Perhaps both.

Whatever, rest is put off or if we do take a few minutes, any enjoyment is strangled by the nagging guilt of something else that needs our attention. So a getaway to a cottage with a couple other writer friends sounded like heaven.

It was. If you are creative, you will appreciate how important it is to give your mind the space to just let it wander and think, imagine. Staring off into space can get you some weird stares sometimes. Not at our little retreat. It was perfectly normal.
It was also a time to engage other creative outlets.

I read. Drank coffee – yes it’s an art form too, especially brewing that perfect cup!  Sketched.

IMG_1461

Went for walks and read cooking mags and PEOPLE. We watched movies at night and I read some more. I sat by the water even though it was a tad chilly. Walked along the beach. Watched the sunset. Took a plethora of photos.

IMG_1529IMG_1423

The one thing I did not do, which I previously would have, was force myself to write the first couple of days. Or feel guilty about it. Was I not at a writing retreat? Why didn’t I write? I’m learning you can’t force it. At least for me the process requires a time to sit. I call it “baking”, it needs to bake in my brain. And sometimes I need to talk it out with someone, which my fellow writers helped me with mid-week. They asked a few key questions and I was able to get back at it. Focused.

In the recent past I would have fretted over the fact I wasn’t writing and felt guilty and basically killed any creativity that was left or was on the verge of returning. Not this time. I let it go. I took the opportunity provided to not just write but rest and give my mind and spirit what it needed. To fill the creative bank with fun things I love. It was highly restorative. And surprise! I did meet my writing goals for the week. This idea that if we work ourselves to the bone we will be more productive is a lie. I took time and rest to rejuvenate and unwind and I still produced and got done what I wanted.

Perhaps the key really is balance. Work, play and rest. Monday-Saturday and then Sabbath. Work all the time certainly does make us dull. It dulls our senses and we forget to engage in life. We miss the signs of love, beauty, and kindness all around us, whether it’s from God or our families and friends. If we give ourselves time to rest, to play, suddenly the world becomes a much livelier place. A more beautiful place. More peaceful.

IMG_1485

We all know this but still, we get sucked into the “we need to work or the world will fall apart” vortex. In reality, if we stop working every once in a while, it actually helps to pull our world together not apart.  Because work, play and rest work together to make us stronger.  When one dominates, it makes us weaker.  What area do you need to work on to have more balance and enjoy life?

The Obscurity Lists

Have you ever read through the Old Testament?  I decided I wanted to read it recently because honestly, I’ve never read it cover to cover. I’m not done yet, not even close.  I feel like the Israelites wandering through the desert only I’m wandering through some of these books, thinking to myself, “Why do I need to know this? Why is this important?

I believe if it’s in the Word of God, then it’s important.  I may never know why.  Like the family lines and who led what tribe.  Really?  My eyes drift over the page, skimming.  My mind wandering.  I’m one of those people who have to read every word or I consider it not read.  I breathe a sigh of relief when I get to the end of the lists.  “Do I really need to know, not just the names of these people but who their fathers were and what tribe they are from?

Like the names on those lists, most of us will live lives of obscurity.  I mean that in the best way possible.  These people were important to their generations and families.  They were leaders but we don’t know them.  We have a list of their names but that’s it.  They are not a Moses, Joshua or Caleb.  We may not know who they are but God does.  He knows all about them, their jobs and families.  What was in their hearts.  He listed them in His Word.  That’s pretty big in my books.

They may just be an endless list to us but to God, they are living, breathing people.  His people.  People who He called to do a job and they did.  Not to applause or fame and recognition.  Not to success or money.  To Him.  And they were faithful to their calling.

I think we get caught up in the hype of the Name Fame Game.  I know I do.  You gotta go out there and make a name for yourself.  That’s what we tell our graduates from high school and university.  No pressure there by the way.

We think that to be important to God, we have to have a name for ourselves.  We have to be out there, spinning our platforms and selling ourselves, our brands, our product or our churches.  I think we have it all wrong.  I think I have it all wrong.  I’m not even going to try and pretend this isn’t an issue for me as a writer.  I mean, I didn’t pick journalism as a career choice because it’s a behind the scenes job!  I struggle with this.  I’ve had to think about this.  A. Lot.

I’ve come to the conclusion, that there is a place for some of that, some of the time.  It is how the world works but don’t you get sick of it after a while?  Even I do.  It starts to become lame.  The other thing I’m learning is this; what it doesn’t mean is that my life is determined by it or hangs in the balance because of it.  I serve a much bigger God than any platform on any given day.

Some of us will be called to public ministry and may God grant us heaping does of humility.  May He have our hearts so close to Him that we never even want to take a look to the left or the right.

For the rest of us, we live life in the lane of obscurity.  According to the world.  According to platform.  According to success.  But what do they know anyway?  Like the list of obscure names in the bible, God knows our names.  He knows our hearts and He knows what He’s purposed for us in our lives.

I was asked on the weekend who was a hero of mine.  It wasn’t anyone famous.  Who had made a name for himself or herself.  It was a grade two teacher who taught my child not just academics but about life.  He taught him intelligence is a gift, run with it because their are no limits to what you can do.  He exemplified that doing your job well every day matters because the people who you encounter in it, are worth it.  He is my hero because he made a difference in an entire class of grade two and three kids.  Nobodies in the world’s eyes.  Yet. His impact upon their lives could make the difference and he taught like it.

Our obscure lives as moms and dads, friends, community leaders may never garner us fame or wealth or anything other than the satisfaction of knowing we were faithful to our calling.  That we made a difference to someone.  In the grand scheme of things, it’s an obscure act but to the One who sees everything, it’s noted.  Maybe added to a heavenly list.

 

 

Being Called Out of the Cave

IMG_0309

After a fifteen year absence, I went back to a writing conference this past weekend.  People asked me what I’d been doing in those fifteen years.  Mmmm.  We moved three times.  Major moves.  Once across two provinces.  My children were born.  I was too tired when they were really little to write much more than the alphabet.  Ten years of severe sleep deprivation is not conducive to a writing career.  I usually didn’t even have to get past saying I had kids and the person was already nodding.  They understood.

These are the excuses I hid behind this past weekend.  It’s the truth just not full disclosure.  Fear held me back.  Fear of not being good enough.  I had already failed once attempting to be a writer, a journalist.  I let it define me as a failure.  I would never be a writer.

Ann Voskamp in her bible study, One Thousand Gifts, talks about how fear makes us live small lives.  Stops and makes you think, doesn’t it?  I have lived small for fifteen years.  What about you?  Is there any area where you live small?

In the past year, my fog cleared.  I’ve been running from a writing project for a long time.  It’s not that I wasn’t passionate about it or felt called to write it.  I just didn’t feel good enough to pen it.  I worked on it when it fit into my schedule.

Circumstances this past year, dictated I get it done.  Hemmed in, with only one option out, I sat down and clicked away on the computer keys.  A sense of purpose filled me and the final goal was attending Write Canada.

Don’t you love conferences?  It’s one of the best ways to learn because there are so few distractions!  It’s awesome when a theme becomes an echo for the entire weekend.  Totally unplanned by the speakers.  That’s when you know you’ve discovered something special.  Both Mark Buchanan and Ted Dekker, the keynote speakers, spoke about the pitfalls of success.  Publishing, the pinnacle of success in the writing world, means nothing, if you aren’t engaged in a relationship with God.  If that relationship is right then the rest falls into place.  Whether you’re a writer, accountant, teacher, whatever you do, this applies to all of us.  It’s a key to life.  All the money in the world, success as the world says it must be, is zero.  It will leave you empty if you do not have a relationship with the One who created you and gave you the desires to create, crunch numbers or whatever.

The conference was also a calling out for me.  A summons out of the cave, where I’ve hid for fifteen years.  Confirmation that the call to be a writer was not my imagination.  A gift, not to be hid, buried in the dirt like the talent in the parable of the Ten Talents, but used and multiplied. (Matthew 25)  It doesn’t just apply to writing.  I’ve been stomping down a number of things over the years.  Fear to be, to do.  Life in the small lane.

This doesn’t mean I’m going to become some mega extrovert overnight.  Say yes to every request.  Not at all.  It’s not a call to go be “busy for God.”  He doesn’t need that.  It’s an adjustment of attitude.  As Mark Buchanan reminded us this past weekend, are we available when God calls?  He’s looking for someone who is ready and willing to go.  I want to be able to raise my hand. “Here I am Lord, send me.” (Isaiah 6:8)  Maybe I’m not the most talented but He’s more than able to fill in the gaps.

What about you?  Where have you been the last fifteen years?  Have you been hiding?  What’s your cave?  I’d encourage you to listen for God calling you out of that cave.  He needs workers who are willing and ready.  He knows you.  He’s calling you by name.  Won’t you join me as we ditch life in the small lane?