Yes, It Matters

Hello! I’m still taking a break from the blog, but I wanted to pop in to tell you about an awesome book. Have you ever wanted to tell your story, but maybe you weren’t sure how to get started?

Your Story Matters: Finding, Writing, and Living the Truth of Your Life by Leslie Leyland Fields was not something I had planned on reading and working through. But somehow I found myself doing that very thing…and loving it. My paperback copy is dog-eared, highlighted, and underlined. I bought four more copies that I’ve given away to friends. I even have a Kindle version for when I want to lighten my load. I’ve also read the first three chapters aloud to my grandma over the phone, which always ends with me listening to her retell her own stories because she gets inspired. I’ve enjoyed this book that much, my friends!

I’m going to leave the information here for Your Story Matters, but if you’re interested in my thoughts about this book feel free to keep reading on. 🙂

When this book caught my eye, I paused in my scrolling on Facebook and glared at it.

Your Story Matters, I read. Hmmm…I don’t know about that, I thought.

At that point, I was pretty sure my story didn’t matter. I’d been writing (or at least trying to write), but it just didn’t seem like I was getting anywhere. So when I saw this book cover I looked into it a little more. Honestly, don’t many of us hide a little hope in our heart that our stories do matter? To someone? To anyone?

As I found more info, I saw that Leslie Leyland Fields is a writing teacher. Okay, this is good, I thought. I don’t really feel like writing about myself—that’s always a struggle—but maybe through this book I could learn how to be a better writer since she’s a writing teacher. After all, it said right there on the back cover that it’s a “practical guide” that will lead me “step by step”. Maybe if I learned to write better, I thought to myself, then more people might want to read what I write. I decided to buy the book.

While waiting for the book to arrive in the mail, I discovered that the author herself was going to offer a Zoom class for Your Story Matters. This was at the height of the COVID quarantine, so she would be “meeting” us from a small island in Alaska. Before I knew it, I found myself in that live Zoom class beginning in April. Each week, I excitedly tore myself away from my own online class that I taught for a lunch break session with Leslie along with nearly a thousand other participants.

From rookie writers to the more experienced, we all stared at the screen to see a petite, vibrant woman with a heart bigger than the ocean standing in her own home giving us not only her wisdom on writing stories, but her authentic self, as well. There were moments when we watched on the edge of our seats: when the call came in to update her regarding a joyous family event, the moment when we felt along with her the sting of technology woes, and always the beautiful show of respect and care that she gave to everyone who shared their stories. It was the best part of each week for me that doomy 2020 spring. It was one of the things that kept me going. A dash of joy in a season of darkness.

After the spring class ended, I signed up for the next Your Story Matters experience: a journey through the book’s companion DVD which features Leslie along with Ann Voskamp. It also included an opportunity to be part of a small private group on Facebook where we could share our “homework” and get feedback from Leslie. I never had a writing community before so that was scary but amazing, and what an encourager Leslie is! Her enthusiasm and gentle suggestions were just what this discouraged, perfectionist soul needed. So this summer, I’ve been diving in even more, trying to hone and work on the stories that have shaped my life. I’m pretty slow at it, trying to fit writing time in when I’m not exhausted and overwhelmed by my job, but I am ever so grateful for the experience.

Even before the first class, I was hooked by the Intro in the book. Passages like this one took my breath away because they reached parts of my heart that I thought no one else understood:

“No matter what country we live in, no matter our neighborhood, our politics, our religion, our age, no matter even our shared pursuit of God, we risk passing like strange ships in the long night. Time, busyness, the speed of life will keep us apart unless we braid word around word from our own passage, then toss it out, coiled, shimmering, toward the hands on the other deck open, waiting to catch, to coil, and secure the two ships together, hull to hull. Don’t we all sail the same turbulent waters? Aren’t we longing to stop for awhile, to not be alone on the high seas?….But we have this chance now to stop. We’re stopping to ask the questions we did not know to ask. We’re stopping to find the difficult and beautiful truths of our lives.”

I feel like I’m passing all kinds of ships in the night, every night. So busy we are. So busy. But it’s in taking the time to share our stories that we learn to be better people. To be more compassionate people. To be more understanding people who might be able to show a little more grace to each other.

I loved reading the stories that the people in my group wrote. There were many moments when I would read their stories and my reaction was “Oh yeah, I have felt that, too!” or “I’ve been through that, too!”. There were times when a story was shared that caused me to see things in a different light. There were times when a story broadened my lens to put less focus on myself and more on the lives and feelings of others. And the best thing was that none of us were professionals at this–just regular people diving in to share the worth we found from our memories no matter how messy they were.

I’ve been humbled by this experience, too. My writing goals have changed, and I still have a ways to go. Certainly I am no great writer, but I’m learning it is not so much about the writing…it’s about the story. I can’t let the anxiety of getting all the words right keep me from telling the story. Because of that, I feel like the pressure to produce some great thing has been lifted. So now, I’m just content in writing to remember, writing to try to understand…and most of all, praying that God will give me even just a little glimpse into His purpose behind each story I recall.

What I’ve discovered with Your Story Matters is that truly our stories do matter. They do! I believed that I was no one special. That what I had to say was so small in comparison to greater people who have accomplished greater things. But the truth is that each one of us is here, and each one of us has stories to tell that are important! They mean something. Even if there is no one to read my stories, even if I write them and do nothing with them, my soul is starting to feel so much lighter for telling it. Telling the story gives moments from our lives a place to heal, a place to share the joy, or a place to rest.

Maybe someday I’ll do something with the stories I write, but for now I’m content in experiencing the discovery that comes from the writing. Discoveries not just about myself, but about the people I love and the people who have influenced me. Discoveries such as remembering that God is truly present in every heartbeat, whether it’s slow and steady or racing with fear and anxiety. Discoveries that seem to allow me to understand better, to forgive big, and to love more.

I know you have a story. And, yes…without a doubt your story matters, too.

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Robin

Photo by Negative Space

“Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.
And in Your book they all were written,
The days fashioned for me,
When as yet there were none of them.

-Psalm 139:16

Stay Tuned…

For awhile now, I’ve been thinking about how I can make this blog more focused and intentional. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to encourage, but my process has always been to just post something when I feel like it…or when a random thought runs through my mind. There is nothing wrong with that, but I want to think about it and pray about…and it may take several weeks. Meanwhile, I will take a break from posting.

Who knows, I may return with improvements…or I may return and continue to be random. LOL

Until the next post in a couple of months, feel free to check out the old posts via the Categories or Archives. I know we have some newcomers in just the last month, so it’s the perfect time to catch up! Thank you for choosing to come here to read and be encouraged. I hope when I get this sorted out you will continue to visit and read on.

Stay safe and be well. 🙂

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Photo by Jacki Drexler on Unsplash

Be True to Your Ambition…Don’t Foul Out

“What are you doing?” the blinking cursor on the white screen questioned me. “What are you hoping to accomplish with this writing stuff?”

At lightning speed, I bit my lip and tapped out my defiant response in Times New Roman:

“I don’t know, but I’m not going to quit.”

The slim black line of the cursor waited patiently next to the last period. Time was of no importance to it. It could blink all day and all night, waiting. I stared at my foolish sentence, feeling my bravado weakening. Nothing was happening. No words would come forth. I’ve been learning this often happens to writers. I wonder if they call it “writer’s block” to compare it to a block of ice, frozen and unyielding.

I could stop. No one would know if I didn’t write today. My eyes squinted with determination, and a memory of a day in 8th grade announced itself in my mind. A day I’ve regretted for decades.

Thinking back, I could see my 13-year-old self sitting on the bleachers in a school gym that smelled like a mixture of sweat and old basketballs. Every open door teamed up in silent resolve to get the stink out. Even though it was Fall, the Central Valley summer heat hadn’t left yet, which didn’t help matters.

The boys were in motion on the court, and the unfamiliar chorus of squeaky tennis shoes scraping against the gym floor was intimidating. Would I be able to move quick enough to make that sound with my Reeboks? I sat among a large group of girls while we waited for the boys to finish their turn. We were all there to try out for the junior high volleyball teams.

“Hey, Josh wanted me to give this to you.”

I looked up, surprised. A blond girl I didn’t know yet was walking toward me wearing the same P.E. clothes the rest of us had on—gray shorts and a cobalt blue T-shirt with the school’s name in bright yellow letters. Somehow an outfit that made me look frumpy turned out really cute on her. A matching ribbon was tied around her ponytail. It bounced up and down with each step. Her bright green gum peeked through her teeth as she smiled. Her blue eyes held excited secrets.

She held a tiny white bundle in her hand. I looked closer and saw it was lined notebook paper that had been folded a billion times over until it formed a small, thick triangle. It was the standard structure for passing notes in class. My heart sped up a bit.

By the time my eyes left the note in her hand to look up at her face again, she had already moved on to the girl sitting a few feet away from me. The beautiful one who had the long straight hair and the perfect shiny lip gloss. She was in my science class. I envied her Esprit backpack and the way she got along with all the boys so effortlessly. Back then, I was an expert at having crushes on boys from a distance, but I didn’t have a clue how to talk to them. Looking in the other direction, I pretended I never once thought that note was for me.

Trying not to be obvious, I pulled at the hem of my shorts, hoping to hide another inch or two of my chubbiness. Hoping to hide entirely. I was sure I’d never be like them. What was I doing here? I wasn’t very active. It took all my energy just to walk the two blocks to school each day. In the short time I’d been there, I’d seen these two girls all over the track working hard every day to train and stay fit. It took me sixteen minutes to run the mile last week. That was nearly twice the time they could run it. But I really enjoyed when we played volleyball in P.E. There was a certain satisfaction in serving the ball and watching it soar over the net.

If I made this team, it wouldn’t be like soccer in second grade…when I quit the team after the third practice because I hurt my ankle (which recovered in a week). And nobody in this town would know about my sixth grade year at my old school when I was written up in the newspaper as “the losing pitcher” for the softball team. I didn’t have to mention that we didn’t win a single game that season…did I? I mean, softball…volleyball….totally different, right?

An extra gaggle of girls entered the gym as the boys left for the locker room. Scores of girls. All there for try-outs. In that moment, I decided it was over. I didn’t stand a chance against all of them. Resigned, I stood up when the coach asked us to gather around and followed the crowd. But when it came time to play for a spot on the team, my effort was little to none. My ambition was put on the shelf. And not among the trophies.

At the end of the next day, when the new team list was posted in the locker room, I wasn’t surprised at all when my name wasn’t on it. Beneath my lashes, I watched the two girls from the day before jump up and down in a victorious hug, hair ribbons celebrating, too. The walk home was slow and full of sighs as I clutched my science books to my chest thinking of what went wrong. I was too this, too that. I was sure I wasn’t good enough, and well, technically, I wasn’t. I never tried out for any sport again.

It wasn’t until many years later that I realized what went wrong.

  1. I didn’t prepare.
  2. I didn’t practice.
  3. I gave up before I even started because I compared myself to others.

When it came to ambition, I fouled out. I just went in there on a whim, hoping to succeed without putting in the hard work. Those girls made the team, but they deserved it. They didn’t make it because of their pretty looks and their cute style. Now that I’m older, I realize they weren’t perfect–because none of us are–but the difference between them and myself was this: they worked for it.

Yeah, maybe they had opportunities I didn’t have. Maybe they had older siblings to help them learn or maybe they had lessons to improve. Maybe they played volleyball on the beach every summer on family vacations. But my adult self knows this: where there is a will to learn, there is a way to make it happen. It might not look the same as everyone else, but it’s possible in some form. Our choices are everything. It takes courage and some cleverness to figure out the way there. It’s also important to not compare ourselves with other people who are (or who have been) on the same path. Each of us is unique in great and small ways.

So now, my ambition is simply to keep writing. I don’t really know where it will take me. I don’t necessarily need to write a book. But my main goal is to improve as a writer and connect with others through writing. It takes a lot of courage for most writers to show up each day and write what’s on their heart…to write about pieces of their lives. Or to overcome the perfectionist in them that shouts, “This isn’t good enough!”. There have been times when I’m tempted to throw in the towel. But that memory of those volleyball tryouts often crowds in when I’m so close to logging out of my blog or my Google Drive without getting words on the page. In this, I choose to not foul out on my ambition.

I’m thankful to have that tough memory to cheer me on. Because this time around, for however long it takes I hope to do what I can to prepare, practice, and not give up before I even begin. Now, if only I could transition this will power into my exercise and nutrition lifestyle, that would be fantastic. 😉

What are you hoping to achieve? Whatever it is, I truly wish you all the best. For so many of us, it’s not always easy to stick with it…but I believe with my whole heart that if you put your mind to it you will get there. We will get there.

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Photo by Nathan Shively on Unsplash

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” -Phillipians 4:13

We, Who Think “Too Much”

I’ve been thinking about overthinking. Over and over…because I’m an overthinker, too.

Yes, we feel like concrete statues stuck in our thinking while the swarm of immediate action-takers buzz on by us.

But the thing is, not every body and every mind was designed to be the same. You are you. I am me. That’s the beauty of our existence. Uniquely able to take action on a dream at our own pace and no one else’s.

So, hey, let’s think on this:

Our time is the right time when it’s God’s time.

There’s nothing wrong with a lot of thinking… unless it keeps us from the doing. And that won’t do at all. Keep on thinking, but lock up those doubts and worries and then throw away the key.

That dream is knocking loudly on your heart for a reason, my friend. Did you give up on it? I hope not. It’s time to get back in the groove. I’m rooting for you. And for me, too.

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Photo by Dick Scholten from Pexels

The Writer’s Climb

When I envision a writer starting a new project, I imagine it is similar to a mountain climber who begins a climb. They stand in the valley at the base of a tall, granite mountain, steep and rugged. The summit is barely in view, thousands of feet above them, mingling with the clouds, but visible enough to fuel the climber’s hope. Their goal, that accomplishment, waits eagerly at the pinnacle, and is promised to those who can endure.

It is not easy for many to get there, for while there may be amazing experiences along the way and incredible, joyous views, they must undergo a jagged, arduous journey. It takes time and patience. It takes thought and planning. Some are beginners, some are advanced. Many are somewhere in between. Even the advanced climbers need some motivation to get to the top. The same goes with writers.

It is difficult for one person to reach for a goal alone. There are some who do well on their own, their internal motivation and drive is enough to get them to accomplish what many others give up on. There are those, however, who don’t altogether give up, but they take longer to reach the end of their climb. It’s not that they don’t want to. They just find themselves encountering obstacles along the way.

Such as the falling rocks of criticism. Trying to break through the suffocating snow avalanches of doubt. Navigating through deep, dark crevasses of insecurity. Then, for some, there are inevitable slips because of excuses. These can sometimes cause them to lose their footing completely, and they have to find a way to renew their hold on the rope and climb onward and upward once more. Climbers and writers alike must persevere through tough elements in order to finish the journey.

They both know that once they reach the top, it will be worth the struggle. The sweat and the tears, the need to dig deep and muster all of their strength will pay off because the view from the top is worth the suffering. All the conditioning, all the practice, all the preparation was meant to help you through it.

With some writers, though—with special writers—reaching their goal is not about fame or fortune or pride. The swell of happiness that comes when they’ve finished what they’ve set out to do stems from this: that through their completed work, they may just have provided a way for others to be helped or encouraged by what they wrote. Even in fiction, this is possible, for through characters in story we can relate or are influenced.

As much as a writer may have researched and prepared for their piece, as talented with words as they may be, there is one extremely important element that is needed by so many who are trying to get through their projects word by word, and that is encouragement.

Writers need continuous encouragement, just as mountain climbers must keep looking up so that they can see how close they are to reaching the top. Many writers have such a hard time seeing the finish line. It is essential to have that boost of cheer and the knowledge that someone believes in them. The reminder from someone who cares that God is also in their corner, rooting for them with every word put onto the page, is often times what it takes to help them get it done.

Because sometimes writers lose sight of that along the way. They start to look down from where they are hanging precariously on the side of the mountain, and are dizzied by the distance they’ve climbed so far…so the what ifs and worries begin to accumulate, and their handle on the rope threatens to weaken. They may start to feel as if they aren’t good enough. They may start to lose their courage in sharing their heart.

So if you know a writer, please continue to encourage them. If that’s your kind of thing. 🙂 And if you are a writer, keep going! You’ve got this.

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Urgent Priorities of the Heart

Tonight, I will not write here.

There’ll be no posts for you.

Because an urgent matter has come up

That I must take the time to tend to.

 

There are twenty-three little people out there

That I used to see every week day,

But now, we meet in video conferencing—

Mostly “Mute” as they hear what I say.

 

We try to stay positive as best we can

With stars for improvement and smiles;

They use all their grit as they, too, work from home,

But it’s hard to learn across all the miles.

 

I’m noticing those smiles are drooping a bit—

They miss class, the playground, and friends;

It’s been over a month in Quarantineland…

And they wonder when all this will end.

 

So instead of writing to you tonight,

I’m taking a little blog rest

To pen them a letter for real “snail” mail,

And help put those worries to rest.

 

I’ll also include a good dose of cheer

For those sweet little 8-year-old minds—

A pep talk, I feel, is just what they need,

And inside will be kindness, they’ll find.

 

As their teacher, I hope you will please excuse

My absence for just this one night,

Because I won’t sleep a single wink

‘Til my heart gets that priority right.

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Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels

Reflections on a 30-Day Writing Challenge: Part III

At last, we’ve reached the final round of 30 things I learned during a recent 30-Day Writing Challenge. It was started over in the Facebook group, Higher Purpose Writers last month and led by Mick Silva. If you are a writer in need of encouragement, check it out. It’s a great place for thinkers, too. There’s also a Higher Purpose Writers blog, which I’ve found very useful since starting this writing journey.  Thanks again, Mick. 🙂 This challenge was awesome.

My overall confidence in sharing these 30 things with all of you is like a wild roller coaster. I suspect it may feel like that for awhile. For example, I did not like writing Part II, but I felt it was important to be honest and try to give a reflection that covered all the bases. Overall, it has been fun to share with you these bits of insight that I had while forming a new habit.

Essentially, I don’t have a group of writers in my town that I’m a part of so it’s just me here typing away, and I imagine there are a lot of you writers who are also on your own…especially during the quarantine. So I thought it would be nice to share my writing thoughts in case you go through similar struggles and joys in writing.

I’ve saved my top ten favorites for my final ten, and I thank you for taking the time to stop by and take a look. 🙂

30 Things I Learned While Writing for 30 Days (continued)

#21) I’ve learned that ideas come to me at the most inconvenient times. Okay, I already knew that. 🙂 Doing dishes (hands are busy). On a walk (no paper). Driving (Danger, Robin!). In the shower (Can I get a whiteboard in there?). During a conversation with someone (don’t tell anyone I said that). Yikes! 

#22) I’ve learned that music is necessary for setting the mood, and it is a source of inspiration when I am stuck. At least, it is for me. Oh, my imagination when I hear music. Of any kind. Once I press “Play” , I am in another world altogether. It evokes such feelings and ideas and scenarios. It could be encouraging, sad, angry, romantic, grumpy, strengthening….you name it. When I can’t think of a thing to write, like the walking, it’s the music that will stir in me ideas for writing. In my deep, dark mysterious heart the music is what liberates the dreary. It’s what nourishes my soul in the best of ways, so I can’t see at all how I would ever write without it.

#23) I’ve learned that nature also helps me tune in to my thoughts and imagination. Oh, I love this one, too. Few things are better, right? Dust meets dust. We are all connected. I love how being outside magnifies all of my senses, and I find myself wondering about why that noisy, wild animal chose that house to squall near every evening at dusk. Is it a peacock, is it a bobcat, is it a sick rooster? Then my mind wonders about the family who lives near by and what is their life like and do they like the noisy animal? Are they friends with it? Where did they come from? It’s super fun. Sometimes, just the simplicity of the breeze on the leaves of the trees brings back memories or daydreams.

Today when I walked, the essence of sun-warmed blossoms drifted under my nose, and I couldn’t rightly tell if it was jasmine or honeysuckle or a shy gardenia bush, but I was instantly taken back to college summer nights in the Central Valley. Later, a woodpecker gave a glorious show while drilling into the telephone pole. I stopped in my tracks and laughed out loud. I’m currently reading Charlotte’s Web to my class, so I suppose the animals make me think of stories more than ever these days. 

#24) I’ve learned that I crave connection through my writing, and I consider my readers as my friends. The more frequently I’ve written, I’ve been noticing that I’m starting to write as if I am speaking to a friend. And the thing is, I really feel that I am. Several of my readers I know personally, and they are often on my mind when I write. Sometimes, I find myself writing something intended for just one person, yet it feels universal. When I am writing really super late at night, I imagine I am writing to that other soul out there across the continent who also can’t sleep because their mind is also troubled, like mine…or maybe other times they are bursting with joy, like me. It’s a neat thing, that. An invisible bond of fellowship.

#25) I’ve learned that my husband doesn’t feel neglected when I disappear to another room to write for long periods of time. Maybe I am lucky with this guy? How do I know he doesn’t feel neglected? I straight up asked him yesterday, and he straight up said no. Good to know! I also don’t have kids, so that is probably helpful for when it comes time to sit down and write. No distractions. My yellow Lab doesn’t like being neglected, though. That is for certain!

#26) I’ve learned that writing might be part of my legacy.  I’ve always felt that since I will not have a generation after me, a book may be what I leave behind. I teach, I am a teacher, and I know many amazing teachers that students will remember forever. But me? Not so sure. My students are super young and…I don’t know. This is a tough one for me to talk about. Because of schedules, curriculum, and pressure to get things done in time, I seldom have time to really talk with my students. They know my heart, but I’m not sure they really know my story.

It dawned on me with the new distance learning this month that now we have even less time to talk. It’s inspired me to perhaps try my hand at my story. Or some kind of story that will remain long after I’m gone. When I leave this earth someday, my blog will eventually expire. Most people have stories they pass on to their children and grandchildren…maybe I have one that other people’s children and grandchildren would enjoy or find helpful once they’re grown up. That would be really…nice.

#27) I’ve learned that during the times when I don’t feel like writing, God will lead me through it. In the last 30 days, there have been times when I have stared at the blank white screen late into the night because I’m exhausted from learning all about distance learning or from trying to help families navigate paper packets and figure out video conferencing. Other times, I’m trying to not fall asleep as I think, “Well, Robin, what are you going to write about tonight?”. But the coolest thing happens: I pray, then I think and I pray a little more…and I remember God is rooting for me, and eventually it gets done. I’m so thankful for that.

#28) I’ve learned that when I quiet myself enough, God urges me to seek Him in my writing. Honestly, until this last month I never prayed before I sat down to write. But I’ve found myself doing so more and more. I think COVID-19 is what started that. I feel less worried now, but at the beginning of the crisis there came a time when I couldn’t even watch the news because it would put me in a tailspin of fret. All the people who were getting sick and dying was shocking and heartbreaking. So I began to pray before I wrote in order to quiet my mind and find stillness. I wanted God with me when I wrote because I knew that faith in Him and belief that He has got this covered—this pandemic—would win out over fear. He commands us not to be afraid. In the stillness, in the prayer, His presence is a warm comforting blanket of love even on the coldest most fearful night. That new practice of prayer before my fingers hit the keyboard is probably one of the most important things I’ve learned to do when it comes to my writing. 

#29) I’ve learned that I want more than ever to please the Lord with what I write, rather than please people with what I write. Through all that I’ve learned while writing for the last 30 days, a truth was confirmed in my heart. I want to forget the blog stats. I know with everything in me that I will continue to write how Jesus loves us. I will continue to write about coming back to the heart of worship. I will never stop writing about how the Lord, and not myself, has carried me through storm after storm. Like when He carried me through the near decade of being gripped with anxiety. Like when He carried me through a childhood that was lonely and confusing and sometimes I felt forsaken, but time and time again He rescued me from the loneliness. Like when He carried me through the ache and misery of hoping for a child, but blessed me with a strong spirit to come out the other side of that, still without children, yet full of joy and spunk in spite of it. Like how He carries me now as I battle what other people think of my decisions and actions and words. I will not compromise writing about how He is with me…with us

#30) I’ve learned that, as long as I am able, I want to keep writing. Good writer or bad writer, there’s something I’m supposed to do with it. I just don’t know what yet. It might just be this blog.. If that’s the Plan, that’s the plan. God knows where I’m going…and I’ll try my best to listen to His direction along the way. The 30 day challenge is over, but the writing doesn’t stop here. It’s only just begun. 

**************

Isn’t it amazing? All of these wonderful things learned from a new habit. I imagine each one of these as a strong piece of vibrantly colored glass, each one it’s own brilliant hue—a stained glass garden of emeralds, rubies, sapphires—and when you put them all together, they form a unique picture framed with inspiration which will be imprinted in my brain so that I will remember these things for years to come…a scene of hope and help and the makings of a writer’s heart.

Before you go, I have to tell you something. If you’re a writer, don’t give up. If it’s on your heart to keep writing, you keep at it. It doesn’t matter how old you are or how new you are, you just hang in there. And when you find yourself plugging along and good things start to come of it, celebrate! God gave you a gift and it’s okay to rejoice with Him that you have done this thing for Him. Jesus was the master storyteller. He wants you in His writing club if that’s what brings you joy. He wants you to tell your story if that’s what relieves your pain. He wants you to inform and inspire people if your expertise, the gift He’s given you, will help them through this life that is so unpredictable and often just plain hard. You can do this thing. Believe it.

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Reflections on a 30-Day Writing Challenge: Part II

Welcome back to the second part of this three part series on what I learned about writing (and myself as a writer) after taking part in a 30-Day Writing Challenge, which was encouraged over at the Higher Purpose Writers Facebook page. In Part I, I shared the first of 30 things I learned from my experience with this challenge.

This was a new accomplishment for me. Never before had I focused on my writing on a daily, consistent basis for such a long period of time. Cheers to that!

As a blogger, it would be hard not to learn some things through this experience that are related to my blog itself. Some of my list has to do with that, and the other part of my list has to do with what I’ve learned about people in this last month. What do they like to read? How have they encouraged me? How does the reader, like you, inspire me or challenge me?

But first, let’s start with diving in to more about…me. LOL Hope you don’t mind! 🙂

This is torture. Why did I do this?

30 Things I Learned While Writing for 30 Days (continued)

#11) I’ve learned that it’s about me, but it’s not about me. Since I’m not writing fiction and I don’t want to write about others without their permission, much of what I have to go on is my own life experience. This is torture for me. Who wants to show up each day and share painful or embarrassing parts of their lives? The hardest part for me in writing is having to share about myself. But my hope is that through my stories someone else may feel more accepted or understood or less alone, and little by little that hope in me is becoming greater than my fear. And anyway, it’s ultimately about the One who created us.

#12) I’ve learned that the more I write, the less I fear publishing my posts. I hold back. I constantly hem and haw over what I share. Should I share this? No, that is too deep…Um, I can’t talk about so and so…There is no way I’m sharing that. Even with the content I’ve put on this blog since the day it came to be, I worry about what gets put “out there”. And what I’ve put out there so far is just the tip of the iceberg. But the more I’ve been writing, and the more feedback I’m getting, the more I realize that there are people who relate to what I share. Blogging consistently keeps that knowledge alive and helps gain confidence, so I’ve been feeling a little braver each time.

#13) I’ve learned that I need help to become a better writer. I want feedback on my writing like a hummingbird wants a big fat mosquito covered in nectar. It’s not that I want someone to come along and tell me I’m doing a great job. Okay, that would be lovely, but let’s be real. I want constructive criticism. I want to learn. I want my words to be ripped up and tossed out and mixed up, and then I ache to learn how to put them all back together again in such a way that will truly touch my readers’ hearts. There’s something I want them to know and, if I don’t write well, I fear I’ll miss the mark completely. We’re never too old to learn!

#14) I’ve learned to stop looking at my blog stats as a measure of success and, instead, use them as feedback to gain more insight into the interests of my readers. For me, blog stats are like that awful cough syrup my mom forced me to take as a kid whenever I was sick. Remember those plastic tubular medicine spoons? Ugh. There are a lot of ways I can keep track of the traffic on the blog through the stats. Typically, I avoid it whenever possible, like I have for the last year. But in this last month I’ve been paying attention because I’ve been curious. What are readers out there looking for? Am I providing it? What I have discovered so far perplexes me: the posts I’ve written that I don’t like so much, the readers seem to like those the most. The ones I love, they don’t respond to. At all. I’m still puzzling that out, and I’m probably not going to like the answer.

#15) I’ve learned that right now people don’t want melancholia. They are searching for hope, joy, and honest tips on how to get through this COVID-19 crisis. Here’s an example: Fifteen days ago I wrote a post called Struggling, then a few days later I posted one called What Are You Missing?. The titles don’t sound all that cheerful, do they? I’ve been finding that I tend to write about something I’m having a hard time with, and by the end of my post I’ll reveal how I look for the triumph that comes from the struggle. A couple of days after those, I posted one that was nothing but happy. It was called Some Good Stuff. My blog views that day quadrupled. As soon as I started writing about the struggles again, the stats went so low they were less than what they started out to be. That was enlightening. Oh, and here’s the kicker—Some Good Stuff didn’t even have any of my writing. I was just super excited to share a new video series, Some Good News, to help cheer people up. 🙂

#16) I’ve learned that even though people are searching for “happy”, there are still times when readers crave comfort and encouragement.  I think it’s important to recognize that life will bring us hard times, but we have the ability to seek beyond our troubles and face our burdens head on with courage. In the last month, one of the most popular posts was What Will Tomorrow Bring? In it, I wrote about what I was choosing to look forward to despite the world being in a very scary state. I still remember the night I wrote that. I had to dig very deep to think of what I could look forward to the next day. It’s my hope it encouraged people to do the same.

#17) I’ve learned that the more I mention Jesus, the lower the stats are. I can’t wrap my head around that. That’s the part that hurts the most for me. Jesus, well, He’s my friend. He saved my life. Sure, it’s a little painful when viewers reject me and my thoughts, but if they reject them because Jesus has been mentioned it’s a dagger through the heart. I’ve been told my writing is too preachy. I don’t really know how to fix that. I think the answer might be to tell more of a story instead of whatever it is I do now.

#18) I’ve learned that I have no desire to market myself. If I ever do finish a book and it comes time to do that kind of stuff, I think I need to hire a friend to do it. I am not comfortable with that at all. I cringe when it comes to sharing a new post on Facebook. I go through the strangest experience with that every time. So I’m getting braver at posting on the blog, but posting a blog post on Facebook is even worse for me. I put it on Facebook, then I’ll take it off a few minutes later! LOL Then I’ll pray for courage and then put it back on Facebook. Does anyone else go through this?? It’s awful. Can we just skip it?

#19) I’ve learned that my peeps haven’t given up on me. We all need cheerleaders, don’t we? I have this amazing small group of bible study friends who, when I first told them two years ago that I wanted to write a book, they nodded their heads eagerly and exclaimed with excitement. As if, like, I would actually do it. I told them this because I’d heard if you say something out loud to people, then you’re more likely to actually accomplish it. When I said it, I don’t know if they noticed, but my face was flushed and my voice shook and my knees were knocking. I didn’t actually believe I would do this thing. I’m still not sure I do. But those ladies, some of them actually read my blog! And I love them even more for it because it always seems like just when I think about taking it down, when I’m thinking to myself, What are you doing? No one cares about what you write! , all of a sudden a comment will pop up or a text or an email from one of my people—these awesome bible study friends—and they’ll tell me how much they enjoyed one of the posts. So then I think, Well, I can’t stop then can I…if it brings them joy?  In writing almost daily over the last couple of weeks, many of them have contacted me with that sweet encouragement, and it has meant so much.

#20) I’ve learned that I want to do less blogging and write a story. How do I know this? It keeps coming back to me. There was a quote shared on the Higher Purpose Writers page during the challenge that my mind will not be freed of. After reading it, I kept thinking on it for days because, at the time, the words didn’t make sense to me. I kept thinking…what does that mean? On my walks, I’d wonder about it and the words would flash in my mind, without ceasing. Like that oil change light that comes on in your car when you keep thinking I don’t have time for this, so you put it off for as long as you can…but in the back of your mind you know that the motor will seize up, and you won’t be able to move forward until you deal with it. A story, write a story. But what story? All I know is that I’m all over the place with this blog, Encourage Your Heart. In writing more this last month, I find that I’m starting to long for a Beginning, Middle, and End.

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Thank you for joining me again! Tomorrow I’ll have the last of my list of 30. I’ve left my favorites for the end. Hope to see you there!

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Reflections on a 30-Day Writing Challenge: Part I

Warning: This post is about writing (and so are the two posts that will follow this one). If that’s not for you, I understand. I guess this one’s for me. 😉 I wanted to document all the cool connections I’ve made this month in relation to the writing process. Okay, maybe it’s for you, too. You be the judge.

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We were told to leave work. To go home and wait for directions on how we would teach from a distance. “Shelter in place,” they said. Everything turned upside down because of the arrival of COVID-19. However, not long after that crazy first week, I saw a post on the Higher Purpose Writers Facebook page that read, “There are 4 weeks until April 20. Every day, can we check in and write at least a little?”.  It was just what I needed to shake me out of my shock. It gave me something to do when, at the time, everything seemed out of my control. It sounded like something fun.

Being able to check in nearly every day just to say, “I’m writing! Are you writing?” was so helpful, and honestly I would not have been so unusually committed without that continuity of encouragement. Many thanks to Mick Silva, who is the encourager extraordinaire behind the posts on the Higher Purpose Writers page.  It is a thoughtful place, where one can find insight on the mind of a writer and be reminded of why we write.

Now here we are on Day 30! I can hardly believe it. I don’t want to forget this last month of writing, and I’m actually sad that the challenge has come to an end. It has been one of the few bright spots in a COVID-19-ruled world. It’s not like I will stop writing on Day 31, but I have enjoyed the check-ins, the countdowns, and the daily reflections shared which helped me know I wasn’t alone in the struggles and joys of writing.

Startlingly, I’ve written more in the last 30 days than I’ve written in the last two years. Even though there were days this last month when my writing made me feel like a lost kitten stranded on a remote island, overall I found a steady joy begin to grow inside of me like no other. Just as the reliable daily watering of a plant, along with necessary sunshine, will cause it to reach toward the sky as it flourishes due to routine care, I believe that I’ve grown in much the same way because of the frequency of the writing. Before, I just wrote when I felt like it. Now, I’ve been writing consistently. It has really made a big difference for me in such a relatively short time.

As each day passed, I slowly discovered an eager anticipation when arriving at the keyboard, even when I had no idea what I would produce that day. I found myself feeling satisfied instead of petrified when I accomplished either a blog post or a brainstorming session or—something I’d seldom ever done–an attempt to edit something I wrote. So the more I wrote, the more of that enthusiasm and fulfillment I experienced…even when what I wrote wasn’t that great.

So for the next three days, to commemorate Day 30 of the 30-Day Writing Challenge inspired by Higher Purpose Writers, I’m sharing 30 things I learned about writing during that time…and, more so, what I learned about myself in the process. Yes, 30. I know…it’s a lot. I’m breaking all the rules. This should be a series or something. Okay, actually, it will be. I’ll break it up into three parts for you.

Here we go:

30 Things I Learned While Writing for 30 Days (Part I)

#1) I’ve learned that I’m a night writer and that will probably never change, no matter how hard I try. Yep. For this lady, mornings are for slow wake-ups. The brain just isn’t ready for writing when the sun makes her daily debut. Unless it’s a Saturday and there is a cappuccino involved. In a real mug. With a chocolate croissant.

#2) I’ve learned that when I’m going through deep emotions, those are the days I am too numb to write. These past 30 days have been tough. I’ve experienced loss on many levels. Loss of my proximity to my students and colleagues, whom I enjoy. Loss of my ability to go wherever I choose. Loss of scheduled events I was so looking forward to. Loss of hearing my friends’ laughter as we gather in the same room. Add to that the increased technology, which is a blessing and a curse. Unfortunately, I happened to see something this week that I never ever thought I would see…because of evil people lurking the internet. I was wrecked by it. I couldn’t write for two days. I just couldn’t. When we have days like that, when our hearts are troubled more than we can bear…when we need some time to recover…it’s okay to step back from the writing and take a break.

#3) I’ve learned that I can separate work time from writing time. I write at night, so it doesn’t interfere with my work. I used to tell myself that I was too exhausted after work to write. That there was no way by the time dinner was done and darkness had come that I would ever have the stamina to switch my brain from work mode to writing mode. But I see now, that is an excuse. During the quarantine, I’ve been just as exhausted (if not more, because of the added emotional stress) and just as busy. The difference has been that, in writing each evening, I’ve been so desperate to get my mind off of the news and the worry and the heartbreak that writing has actually become my getaway from it all. Now that it’s been established as such, it’s something I believe I will continue to look forward to. 

#4) I’ve learned that physical movement is a catalyst for inspiration. I cannot even begin to tell you what walking each day has done for me in regards to writing. It is the most amazing thing. Before a walk I will feel stuck and stagnant, my thoughts a three-day-old broken washing machine with water still in the drum. But once I get to walking, my mind starts to get moving, too, and my imagination kicks back into the spin cycle. It is the coolest phenomenon.

#5) I’ve learned that it’s okay if I don’t write every single day at the same time. I used to think that if I were to write every day, then I would have to write at the same time each day. If I didn’t do that, then forget it. It’s all over. I’m not sure where I got that in my head, but it stuck. Maybe it’s the perfectionism. I have also realized that it is likely impossible to write every single day without missing one or two days (or even three or four) here and there. Life happens, emotions happen. Missing days are just….going to happen! We need to give ourselves some grace and just get back to it ASAP. But the key IS getting back to it…ASAP!

#6) I’ve learned that when I walk away from my writing, it will still be there when I return to it. As you can guess from #5, I used to be all or nothing. I’d start writing a blog post and spend hours at a time on it. I would make myself finish and publish it in one sitting. Because I am a forgetful person, I would have a terrible fear that if I were to stop and go do something else or—heaven forbid, wait until the next day to continue—then I would lose all my momentum and flow and it just wouldn’t be the same the next time I returned to it. I’ve been playing around with that this month and to my relief that just hasn’t happened the way I thought it would. I think I’ve found that sometimes, because I’ve taken time to let my thoughts simmer, it’s actually a good thing to wait or stretch the process out.

 #7) I’ve learned that I’m starting to be more open-minded when it comes to editing. Ugh, this part. I hate this part. I’ve been so stubborn, just wanting to leave sentences and paragraphs as they are. I think I’m just being a) lazy or b) overwhelmed because I start thinking, Just how much change are we talking about here? But since I am walking away more from it and giving things time, I find myself cutting sentences or rearranging words with more relish when I do revisit what I’ve left undone. Even in this post series, which I’ve been working on for a few days. Shocking, I know. You’d probably never guess I’d edited any of it. It’s as long as Les Miserables. Yet my printed pages bleed with my earnest little editing attempts.

#8) All that to say, I’ve learned that less is more. As writing becomes a part of my regular daily routine, I’ve been realizing a lot of things in regard to this such as 1) most people don’t have time to sift through a bunch of sentences that could be left out in order to get to the heart of the topic, 2) I sometimes go off on tangents and need to reign them in, and 3) I’m wanting to play with fewer words rather than long wordy sentences to see if that makes more of an impact. 

#9) I’ve learned to start letting go of perfection when it comes to writing. Well, almost. The actual writing part and wanting the page to be perfect is something I definitely still struggle with. Perfectionism strikes in other areas of writing, too. For example, I was afraid to hire a writing coach in the past, thinking I wasn’t good enough or hadn’t written enough. Hello! The very definition of a coach is “to train or instruct”.  In writing more consistently, I’ve realized that I don’t want to let perfectionism derail me from my writing goals.

#10) I’ve learned that I still have so much on my heart to share in the hopes of helping others find light out of darkness.  I pray that I will become more equipped to do so. It’s such a risk to share your whole heart…especially the broken parts. I love my life. But no matter how “good” a person’s life may seem, we all have a little bit of broken in there, don’t we? Or a lot. It depends on who we are. Sharing that helps others. But we have to be brave. I want the best for everyone. I’m a fixer. I can’t help it. I just need to remember there is a Fixer who is better at that than I will ever be.

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So that’s my first ten! Come back next time for the next ten…and then the next! The best is yet to come.

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10 Things to Do to Pass the Time

I’m so excited! I have gifts for you today—some links to things that will help you pass the time while you’re sheltering in place. I don’t know about you, but we’re in Week 4 of staying at home and it’s time to change the scenery here a bit.

It’s raining today, so most of us are staying inside. We’re supposed to be inside anyway, but I believe it’s still important to get out and take a walk or a drive to nowhere to get out of the walls of your home at least once a day. A walk around the neighborhood while being mindful of keeping your distance from others is good for the body and for the soul.

When it rains, however, our outdoor time is dashed. So what do you do when the clouds are releasing their burdens? It can be especially quiet around the house if you are an empty nester or don’t have children, like me. Also, I’m typically working from home now during the day, but we are currently on Spring Break.

Scrolling through Facebook for a limited time is good for connecting with others, but it’s probably not a good idea to stay on it all day long. Certainly, it’s nice turn off the TV now and then, too. I rarely turn that box on at all.

There are lots of things you can do without leaving your home. The thing is, you just might need to be brave and try something new. So here’s my list, just for you:

10 Things You Can Do At Home To Pass the Time

  1. Read a book—My all time number one fave thing to do. No explanation needed. 🙂 Click here for a current list of the New York Times Best Sellers. Most of my reading time this year has been devoted to children’s books. Therefore, my current read (technically reread) is Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, which is a gem of a book. I am sad to say I have not read any of the Top 5 in any of the categories on The NY Times Best Seller list YET, except for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling. Teacher life. *Sigh*.
  2. Work on a puzzle—This is not one of my favorite things to do, but I thought I’d list it because I’m seeing a lot of my friends’ finished puzzles pop up on their news feeds, and they are beautiful. Trivia is more my thing, and recently I discovered Trivia Plaza which has tons of online trivia questions with a lot of different categories. That’s another option if you don’t have a puzzle handy. Riddles are fun, too. In fact, I’ve been working out a riddle on Facebook recently. Trying to find connections with mystery is fun. Playbuzz has a page with 13 fun riddles that aren’t too hard, yet will still make you think.
  3. Reorganize something in your home—Last week, I created some office space of my own in the guest room since I’ll be working from home for the next several weeks. It was fun to get creative and find some things in the garage that I could use for my home office since I couldn’t go purchase a small desk. That is, until the little table I was typing on yesterday collapsed and caused my head to ram into the wall. But that’s another story. Stay safe in your house, friends! Or get LifeAlert. I might need that, myself. Anyway, if you don’t need some office space, maybe cleaning out your closet is just the thing (I love StitchFix, by the way…and no I’m not getting paid to say that). Or reorganize your garage or pantry.
  4. Call someone—At least every few days I like to make some phone calls or texts and check in on some people to make sure they are doing okay. It’s nice to hear their voice. The human connection is truly important, and unless you’re involved in a battle with someone, talking with someone always lifts your spirits and reminds you that you’re not alone in this strange event. If you make each other laugh, you get bonus points. If you’re kind of shy when on the phone, click here for 3 Ways to Make Your Phone Call Less Awkward. This has always been a struggle for me. Again, you’re not alone!
  5. Sing along to karaoke songs on YouTube—Did you know that you can search for pretty much any song title on YouTube and add the word “karaoke” after it to find a sing along version of the song? One of my current favorites to sing to is Memories by Maroon 5…the melody reminds me of a fast relative of Pachelbel’s Canon in D.
  6. Dance…it’s exercise!—-Speaking of music, turn your living room or kitchen into a dance studio. Push back the furniture, turn up the volume, and shake it. Meghan Trainor’s I’m A Lady always gets my feet moving.
  7. Play solitaire—If you have a deck of cards and you’re by yourself, solitaire is a great game to play. It will really help the time pass by. Never played before? For the rules of the game, click here. Or you can play a digital version here if you don’t have cards at home.
  8. Write a letter—If you’ve been too busy before to sit down and write a letter like back in the old days, now’s the time. Grab a pen and paper and surprise someone with snail mail. My best friend from college, Rosie, did this for me just a couple of weeks ago. She used to write me when I studied abroad in England, and said she thought she’d surprise me for old time’s sake. It really brightened my day.
  9. Try a new recipe—-Well, because we were out of it and I want to avoid the store as much as possible, I found a recipe to make my own BBQ sauce for our pulled pork nachos tonight. It was fab! Loved it so much, I don’t think I’ll ever buy bottled BBQ sauce again (although the sugar content is quite high). And it was super easy. For the recipe, click here.
  10. Write your story—Last, but not least, having extra time is a blessing for writing. Is there a story on your mind you’ve been wanting to put onto paper? Is there a time in your life you’d love to share with readers? Have you always wanted to document your life and the many lessons you’ve learned along the way? Any struggles that have turned into triumph? Or maybe you want to teach people how to do or make something. The words are your oyster. Hee hee. Seriously, though, to quote other writers out there, “your story matters”. Connect with others through writing yours.

BONUS ACTIVITY—-Think of something kind you can do for someone. Here’s a list of 58 Random Acts of Kindness, many of which you and I could still do even during the shelter in place.

Have fun, and please drop a comment if there is something you love from the list, OR if there is something that is not on the list that you’d like to share.

Stay safe and have a great week!

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