What Scares You? (feel the fear, do it anyway)

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“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” Anaïs Nin

In the series mentioned in my last blog post, Finish Your Book in 2016, Jerry B. Jenkins said, “List your fears so you can move on.”

I’m fortunate that blogging is part of my moving on. Even when I’m writing about fear, I am getting my own life. That is, until I start throwing up scary roadblocks.

I’m afraid I may share too much and embarrass others and myself.

I’m afraid my blog posts will sound like I’m whining instead of sharing wisdom. I’m anxious that getting my own life will be interpreted as selfish instead of self-care. Anxious that sorrow will be misconstrued as self-pity and telling my story will sound melodramatic.

I’m afraid I’ll sound human instead of holy, which means my writing may fall short of helping you find the real source of comfort, which is God. However, I can’t help that I hear and share God most often by way of quotes, songs, and movies instead of religious writing. When Christian magazines published my articles, I was baffled until a fellow writer explained, “You don’t write Christianese (clichéd Christian terms, catchphrases and theological jargon), which is good because Christian publishers don’t want it.” I hope you don’t either.

I’m afraid in the throes of marital disagreements, I won’t be able to write. I can tell our stories when we’re in a good place, but I shut down when we’re arguing. When I’m hurting, I hide.

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I’m afraid people won’t like, agree with, or understand what and why I’m writing. In fact, I know some won’t. When I wrote about not wanting a granddaughter (Girls Aren’t Safe Here (the post I was afraid to write about the granddaughter I was afraid to have)), I received a comment within 30 minutes of hitting the publish button. The reader let me know she felt sorry for my daughter and granddaughter, that I should be ashamed of myself, and then ended with something like, “If you have time to write about your broken family, you have time to fix it.”

I’m afraid of having no readers. I am afraid of becoming popular. I’m afraid of not living up to expectations, not following through with commitments, and looking foolish. I’m afraid of reeling from people’s anger and judgment.

Even with my long list of fears and a few experiences that prove writing isn’t 100 percent safe, I told a friend, “I have to write because it’s too painful not to.”

What fears keep you from getting on with your life?

In this together,
Kim

Thank you to my talented friend and photographer, Joel Carter, for permission to use his pictures on my blog. The contrast of open flowers and a haunted house seemed fitting for this post. Joel’s also been a big supporter since my blog’s inception.

What Truly Matters to You? (finding your “why”)

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“People lose their way when they lose their why.” Gail Hyatt

 In the series, Finish Your Book in 2016, author Jerry B. Jenkins talks about finding our “why.” He asks, “What truly matters to you?”

It seems I’ve known since I was a little girl that relationships matter and we need each other.

Friends and I sit for hours in restaurants and coffee shops sharing stories about things we didn’t know about each other in high school, things we’ve been through since high school, and ways we wish we had been there for each other.

We stand in sweltering and freezing parking lots to catch up and confide with each other about the families we grew up in, the ones we couldn’t get along with, but we miss them terribly now that they’re gone.

We stay up past midnight to message back and forth about our marriages that never should have lasted, but they have and we’re grateful.

The more I tell the truth and listen to friends tell theirs, the more I realize how much we as women need to speak up. My “why,” the thing that truly matters to me, is living in relationships honestly and honestly telling my story.

[I’ll post a disclaimer here since I used to confide in the wrong people. Use discretion and discernment when you share since not everyone is a friend.]

Even though I knew I needed to write on this topic, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to open up about my life. It wasn’t until I read Lysa TerKeurst’s blog post on her site at Proverbs 31 Ministries, Jesus Loves Those in Messy Marriages, that I thought I may be able to tell anything. She starts her post, “I threw the cup of orange juice across the kitchen.”

Lysa wrote that post four years ago. It’s taken me a while to follow her lead. Until I reread it last night, I didn’t remember anything aside from the juice. I’d also thrown orange juice, except I threw my glass across the dining room while screaming at my husband to get out. The juice glass broke a pane in the French door. My husband left, only to have me call him two minutes later and beg him to come home. Doubled over on my hands and knees, I alternated between sobbing and sopping up sticky juice and glass.

Why share a story like this one? My secrets kept me despondent and in bed. So did my unwillingness to talk and write about our messy marriage, my scary reactions, and the depression they led to. My husband and I recognized healing happened when I talked about things like the broken windowpane. I felt less broken every time he listened and tried to understand. He said, “It’ll be uncomfortable, but I want you to tell our story. It’ll help us and others.”

We both realized …

If one friend had told me what she threw across her kitchen and how crazy she acted and how isolated, dark, and afraid she felt, we both would have felt less isolated, dark, and afraid. That’s how this works.

If one friend had let me know her Facebook post about being best friends with her husband wasn’t always true, but they’re healing, then posts about husbands sending flowers and couples going on cruises would have been less painful.

If one friend had let me know her home life didn’t feel safe or sane, I would have told her mine didn’t either. We would have felt safer and saner.

I am telling my story so we can help each other. That’s what Lysa did for me.

In this together,
Kim

A big thank you to 16-year-old Abigail Sawyer for giving permission to use her drawing. Abby is a homeschooler and a self-taught artist whose family realized her talent when she took a painting class. She hopes to attend art school and draw for Disney. To see more of Abby’s artwork, check her out on Instagram @abigails_art13.

Who Am I Writing For? (every Woman who wants her own Life while Loving the People in It)

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“God gave us the gift of life; it is up to us to give ourselves the gift of living well.” Voltaire

Besides asking for qualifications, editors and publishers ask, “Who is your audience?” I figured out my readership when I figured out what I needed to write about.

I’m writing for friends like me who struggle to do what we want when those we love want something different. It’s okay to choose what we want. It’s okay to have our own lives. When I wrote this paragraph, I thought, I wish someone had written that for me.

Actually, someone did. My then 13-year-old daughter wrote it down and gave it to me for my 40th birthday. She decorated a gift box with puff paint and filled it with trinkets, glitter, and a purple piece of construction paper that she had written on and folded to fit inside. It said, “Life.”

I kept her gift all these years because I’ve longed for what was in it.

I’m writing for those of us who need permission. Many of us have been told the way to be valuable is to do what others want us to do. I want us to recognize that doing what others want is very different from serving others. 

When we get hold of our purpose and do what God intends (not what others intend), we’ll realize our true value. Until then, I’m concerned that feeling stuck in someone else’s expectations and judgment when we don’t live up to those expectations underlies our depression, anxiety, obesity, sickness, sleeping disorders, mental illness, addictions, and even suicide.

I’m writing for those of us who’ve already overdone it and, on top of exhaustion, we feel frustrated, confused, and guilty about why our good deeds aren’t fulfilling us like they do others. I believe it’s because we’re not living our own lives.

Are you doing too much of what others want and not enough of what you want? If so, I’d like for us to support each other in getting our own lives – the ones God has in mind for us.

In this together,
Kim

 

When’s It Going To Be My Turn? (Getting Your Own Life while Loving the People in It)

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“Healing is a small and ordinary and very burnt thing. And it’s one thing and one thing only: it’s doing what you have to do.” Cheryl Strayed

Cheryl Strayed, author of the memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, had to hike for months to get her own life. I have to write blog posts and a manuscript to get mine. It’s that simple and it’s that hard.

I blogged about my qualifications to write relationship posts in 2016 (What Qualifies Me? (writing about relationships)), knowing how unqualified I feel to write the second part of this year’s focus – getting your own life.

Mark Twain said, “Write what you know.” An unknown author said, “Teach what you want to learn.”

I’m combining the two quotes. I know I’d like to learn how to get my own life.

I also know my husband and kids want me to learn. However, they are three of my biggest distractors, but that’s because of me, not them.

Lots of events happen to bring us to the point of willingness. One of those things for me was a friend’s question, “When’s it going to be my turn?”

Anytime her husband, her three adult children, or her extended family and friends need something or they have anything go wrong, she’s on their speed dial. She said, “I feel overwhelmed by their needs and confused about when to help and when to say, ‘No.’ There’s plenty I’d like to do, but when would I ever have time or energy after dealing with them and their lives.”

I understood.

I would let the mailman derail my plans if he decided to tell me about his bad day. I’m not sure it’s because I’m compassionate. I think it’s more because I’m a coward. I am afraid to live my life.

I hated understanding. 

I wanted to scream at her, “Why don’t you stop enabling everyone you know and get on with your life? That’s what would be most helpful to you and to your family and friends … seeing you live your life.”

Like Carl Gustav Jung said, “Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment and especially on their children than the unlived life of the parent.”

Women tend to attend to others. It’s our maternal instinct whether we have children or not. Sometimes we want to help. Sometimes we’re expected to help. Sometimes we don’t know better; we don’t know we have choices.

I lived up to my title that I was voted in high school as “Most Dependable.” It’s not dependable, though, to throw up in the parking lot outside the door to my kindergarten classroom because I’m concerned about letting down my students. I ended up driving back home that morning feeling dizzier and weaker than on my way to school.

I lived this way for years. Stopping the insanity of being overly responsible for others was an initial step to getting my own life, but it wasn’t the end-all. Just because I stayed home when I was sick didn’t mean I was living my life.

Since the start of my writing career, I’ve watched myself like I imagine you’d watch yourself during an out-of-body experience. If my behavior weren’t so maddening, it’d be comical because of all the ways I distract myself from writing my manuscript.

After my daughter got engaged, I misinterpreted her busyness and fewer phone calls as meaning she wanted to plan her wedding without me. I felt left out. Who can write through these kinds of emotions?

When we straightened out our misunderstanding, we had a lot of wedding planning to catch up on. Who can write when overwhelmed with details?

When she got pregnant, she lived four and a half hours away. We agreed that I’d try to be there when the baby was born. When she got pregnant again, it was good that she had moved closer because my job this time around was taking care of their little one while she and her husband were at the birthing center. Who can write with deadlines more important than their own?

Our son’s wedding was the same year as our second grandchild’s birth. Who can write with this much going on?

My husband had two health scares the same year. He’s fine, but there were months of tests and stress. Who can write under this kind of pressure?

As significant as was each of these events, an abundant number of women live their lives and live out their purposes under circumstances as special, busy, and weighty. Being distracted from our lives doesn’t mean we love and honor others more. It means we love and honor ourselves less than we should.

Making my way back to my blog to write about distractions is an attempt at getting my own life and being more qualified to help others do the same.

What are you distracted by? What are you distracted from? What’s the first step you can take to getting your own life?

In this together,
Kim

Image from Pixabay.com.

What Qualifies Me? (writing about Relationships)

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“Try, try, try, and keep on trying is the rule that must be followed to become an expert in anything.” W. Clement Stone

When a writer friend said I should focus my blog on relationships, it wasn’t the first time I’d heard the idea. It was, however, the first time I thought about it seriously. I knew she was on target about my blog needing to be single-minded. Relationships have been my most passionate topic and the most popular among readers.

Besides passion, though, I wondered what qualified me.

Editors and publishers ask that same question anytime a writer proposes a new idea. I figured readers would wonder also. I recognized that until I answered it for myself, I’d keep asking, “Who are you to be writing about relationships?”

Experience is typically the first thing an employer asks about.

I’ve been in relationships with thousands of people for more than 58 years. If this were any other career, I’d be retired by now and have a gold watch.

One of those people has been my husband for 37 years. We’re still together because we loved each other the best we knew how, because God loved us a whole lot more, and because I think He wants me writing about our lives.

After marrying, I spent time and money on counseling, as well as dozens of workshops and conferences to restore our marriage, rethink my other relationships, and rebirth my inner child. The latter is not like being born again in a Baptist church, which I also had happen. Instead, it’s like coming out of a cocoon of blankets while participants confirm you’re a good and lovable person. I would’ve tried almost anything to fix them and me.

We have a 33-year-old son and a 31-year-old daughter. Both are married. Our daughter and her husband have a two-and-a-half-year-old daughter and a nine-month-old son. Between our three families, we have five dogs. Anyone who says getting together with that many people and pups doesn’t offer plenty of challenges and experience for writing about relationships is either lying or healthy. I’m neither.

I have several groups of friends I get together with every month. One of them is the same group of girls who used to eat lunch together on the front lawn of our high school. There are seven or eight of us who still live close by and make it point to stay in touch. Plus, I have all of you – my online friends who sustained me not so long ago during my toughest bout with depression.

Education is next on a job application.

Growing up in my family of origin was like being home schooled for a writing career. I witnessed the destruction of dysfunctional family patterns, the sickness behind keeping secrets, and the pain caused by addictions. Our home and relationships were messy, to say the least. Siddalee Walker from “Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood” said it best when being interviewed about her writing, “If I’d had an easy childhood, I’d have absolutely nothing to write about.”

My formal education included attending a local college. I chose my major so I could find out what was wrong with me. I ended up with no answers and a Bachelor of Science in Psychology. While teaching early childhood classes for eight years, I earned a Master of Arts in Counseling and an Educational Specialist in Counselor Education. These degrees landed me in internships working with alcoholics and homeless young adults trying to get their lives on track. I got job offers from both internships, but since my own life wasn’t on track, I took a job as a middle school guidance counselor (the lesser of the three evils). Later on, a trusted friend suggested I shy away from a career in counseling because I had enough issues of my own.

When I embarked on a writing career in 2007, I trained by way of classes, conferences, and a mentor. At first glance, the work seemed all about submissions and rejections. As it turns out, it’s as much about relationships as any career I’ve worked, however, it feels emotionally safer since I’m airing dirty laundry on a computer screen. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself so I’ll keep typing.

References usually finalize the decision to hire a candidate or not.

Several of my high school friends can offer references from a half-century back, depending on their hearing and their memories that day. We’re getting older, you know.

If I liken my relational experiences and education (and all the trying that went into both) to standards set by W. Clement Stone in his quote about becoming an expert, I’m qualified.

To move forward, is there a question you need to answer? If so, I hope you’ll answer it soon.

In this together,
Kim

My Word for 2016 – Love

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“Love yourself first and everything else falls into line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world.” Lucille Ball

Every year since 2012, instead of resolutions I don’t keep, I’ve chosen a word for the year to help reach goals that I may or may not have written down. Sometimes what I want to accomplish is just a thought. I’ve found help making these wishes come true by focusing on my word for the year. Other times, what I wanted to accomplish was a longtime goal written years ago that finally came to pass because of practicing that year’s word.

My words so far have been:
2012   Incremental
2013   Ponder
2014   Content (meaning both satisfied and subject matter)
2015   Revise and Momentum (I chose two words, but it took all year to revise.)

A couple of years in a row, I said my word chose me. This year, my word was chosen for me. For fun, I clicked on en.nametests.com: What is your word for 2016?, not intending to stick with it.

I never would have chosen “Love.” After being assigned it like a school child, I reasoned with a friend why I needed to change my word, “It’s kind of generic. I mean, we all love. I was hoping for a word more meaningful to what’s going on in my life or a word more focused on my writing.”

I hoped for the same thing in 2013 when I ended up with “ponder.” I tried to come up with a more active word, but nothing stuck, so I ended up sitting around all year and thinking. As you probably already guessed, pondering is exactly how that year needed to spent.

Anyhow, I returned six times to the en.nametests.com link, trying to come up with something more fitting than Love, all the while suspecting my word for 2016 had been decided. I’m not sure why I fight my words, but it’s gotten to be a New Year’s tradition.

My husband and I have already begun working towards making our home life emotionally safer, more accepting, and kinder. In other words, we want our home and our relationship to feel more loving. Of course, we love each other, but sometimes in the midst of past hurts and resentments, stress in our daily lives, and the fact that it’s easy to take out frustrations on each other, love isn’t as evident as we’d like it to be.

What is evident, though, is that I don’t love my own life. Most of my frustration comes from starting one of the 11 projects I convince myself has to be done before doing what I want to do and what I think God wants me to do, which is to write about relationships. It’s anything but love (even if it’s a project for someone else) when I put aside my passion and disregard God’s purpose for my life.

All the other relationships in my life, the ones beyond my marriage, would also benefit from me learning how to love while getting on with my own life. This has been a recurring predicament over the years, one that I’m finally making my blog’s focus – how to love and write about it.

The more I think about what a writer friend recently told me about focusing my blog on relationships, the more I recognize Love perfectly fits my life and my writing for 2016. She said, “I’ve noticed you get the most comments on your relationship posts. They are also the ones you write about most passionately.”

So, the fight is over. Love is my word for 2016. I’m looking forward to learning how to love the people around me while writing about us.

I’d like to hear from you about your Word for 2016 – what it is and how you chose it (or how it chose you). For more info on the concept and on choosing a word, check out MyOneWord.org.

In Joy,
Kim

Saved By Criticism (in writing and in relationships)

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“The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.” Norman Vincent Peale

Below is a link to one of the best blog posts I’ve read about the value of criticism. I believe it applies to healthier daily living and enriched relationships the same as it applies to improved writing. Dan Balow writes about family and friends who, though well meaning when they praise our writing, actually turn out to be misleading culprits who tell us our work is far better than it is.

This reminds me of a friend who asked my opinion about a book she planned to self publish. Since I’m in the business, I thought she wanted the truth, although I wasn’t comfortable telling her all I thought. It crossed my mind that maybe she only wanted a pat on the back, but I really wanted to help her improve the book. I gave a couple of ideas to see if she was okay with my feedback. Unfortunately, she wasn’t, even though my review was cautious. Her book didn’t sell like she hoped and our relationship never was the same – all a lesson to me about graciously accepting criticism.

When I began my writing career in 2007, I surprised my husband and myself by handling critiques and rejections better than either of us expected. I’m sensitive, so we wondered if a career full of this sort of thing was a good idea. I guess I recognized my writing wasn’t going to improve without some level of support and honesty. It probably helped that my first editor who I respect and like said more than once, “Writing is rewriting” and “There are two kinds of writers: ones who are still learning and bad ones.”

That brings me around to my critique group that meets an hour and a half from where I live. I haven’t always appreciated the long commute, but I have valued the distance. When I first attended, I was grateful I only knew the members as fellow writers since we didn’t live in the same town. That way, our feedback to each other wasn’t influenced by friendship. We are now friends, but since we started on the “write” foot, foremost in our relationship with each other is still the honesty (and, yes, criticism) we share during our meetings.

I’m not suggesting we stand by and be criticized by anyone who has an opinion. However, if I trust that you care about me and I trust that you know what you’re talking about, I’ll listen and then try to put your suggestions into print and practice. Like Winston Churchill said, “Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.”

Heaven help those who have no one to tell him or her the truth or those who won’t listen to anyone who tries. I’m fortunate to be encircled by people who care enough to criticize me and I’m grateful I can hear them. For me, speaking the critical truth takes more courage than hearing it, but I want to care enough to share that responsibility as well.

At least in part (I repeat, in part), criticism is what critique groups are about, criticism is what friendships are about, and criticism is what marriage and parenting are about.

Do you have people you trust to tell you what you need to hear? Do you listen? Are you honest with others?

Click here to read Bad Reviews by Dan Balow (from The Steve Laube Agency Blog).

That’s a Shame About Parenting

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11233000_10204465972546533_1083546834132125790_n“Ironically, parenting is a shame and judgment minefield precisely because most of us are wading through uncertainty and self-doubt when it comes to raising our children.” Brene Brown

I was at dinner one evening with a group of friends who I’ve hung out with since elementary school. While talking about our grown children, one of them said, “I’m a mom, so I’m used to being blamed.” She laughed, but I wasn’t convinced she thought it was funny.

The next week, while catching up with a friend in the middle of an aisle at HomeGoods, our conversation, as usual, came around to our children. She halfheartedly joked about spending time with her adult children and having them again and again bring up her shortcomings in conversation. She said, “I always get thrown under the bus.”

During a long lunch, another friend talked about her son, “I had to finally tell him, ‘I’ll love you no matter what, but don’t call me again until you’re ready to apologize for how you talk to me.’”

My heart ached. I’ve watched these three moms cherish their children, yet they sounded disheartened. I felt a little that way myself. Instead of encouragement, I shared that sometimes I didn’t think I could get it right as a mom either. If I hadn’t reverted to clichés like “We did our best,” I may have ended up crying in the middle of HomeGoods because I’m sorely aware of making plenty of mistakes. I know my friends are also.

After these conversations, I felt kind of desperate for a solution to the shame, blame, and judgment that comes alongside not parenting perfectly whether our children are five or 35. I’ve apologized more than once to my children for being immature and ill equipped as a mother. I’ve changed behaviors that haven’t been healthy in our relationships. I’ve prayed for guidance as a mom of young children, and now as a mom of adult children.

Still, I haven’t felt off the hook. I’ve emotionally beaten myself up for not doing a better job and sometimes my kids join in. I understand their frustration (I wasn’t happy about having imperfect parents either), but it still hurts. For a while now, I’ve wanted out from under the shame of parenting, but never as much as after talking with my friends. I want them out from under it too. I thought about a rally to free moms, a bra burning of sorts except we’d burn, oh, I don’t know, our kids’ stuffed animals or something, but a blog post is closer to my comfort zone.

I’ve also wanted something to share with my daughter who is a relatively new mom of a two-year-old daughter and a four-month-old son. Her mothering is far beyond anything I offered my children, but she still stumbles from the pedestal, that unrealistic place most of us crawl on top of when we begin our parenting journey. Up there, we decide we’re never going to hurt our children like our parents hurt us. It’s a hard fall.

All of these realizations made last week’s conversation that much sweeter. I talked for an hour in a sweltering parking lot with a dad about one of his sons. His oldest boy had recently said, “Yesterday’s conversation was the best we’ve ever had because I feel like you really heard me. You listened instead of giving advice.”

Their conversation brought my friend to tears. Our conversation brought me to tears. I could tell he was forgiving himself and I wanted what he had. That’s when he shared what he’d figured out. He stated it so passionately, I couldn’t help but be changed by it.

“I gave my kids all I had to give. That means they got the best of me and they got the worst of me. That’s the deal.”

I got in my car and, then and there, made a deal with myself. I’m thru shaming myself as a parent. Instead of making excuses for being human (like saying “I did my best”), I’m coming to terms like my friend with my imperfect love, the only kind I have to offer this side of heaven.

I gave my kids all I had to give, the best of me and the worst. That’s the deal. And that’s love.

If you’re floundering as a parent (or in any relationship), I hope what my friend shared helps you as much as it’s helping me. I appreciate your comments.

Credit: Thanks to Kristen Hawley Dutka for the photo of my daughter and her son, truly a portrait of a mom’s love.

Don’t Stop Short of Success (a blog post about persistence)  

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he-ones-who-win-600x600When I heard author Sue Monk Kidd speak in Greenville, SC at Furman University, she answered this question at the end of her presentation, “Do you have any advice for someone who wants to get published?”

“I’ve never known a writer who wanted to be published who didn’t eventually meet their goal as long as they kept writing, as long as they persisted,” said Kidd.

While reading Michael Hyatt’s blog post about persistence, How to Develop the One Trait Essential for Success, I thought about sharing his information along with what I heard at Furman with the group Women in Networking. I sometimes present the thought for the day at our meetings like I did in June. After the presentation, a member and friend encouraged me to blog about it, so here it is.

Even though persistence is easy to suggest and maybe even cliché like “hang in there,” there are plenty of “messy middles” when tasks get hard, what’s at hand seems overwhelming, and giving up makes more sense than keeping on.

Hyatt’s six tricks to persisting through messy middles are below. I included personal insights.

  1. Set goals. Hyatt says to break down BIG projects into small chunks. For me, this means I don’t set out to write a book by next year. Instead, I set a much smaller and more manageable goal like writing 2,000 words today. He typically reminds us to write down our goals.
  1. Keep the end in mind. I read somewhere on Hyatt’s blog that while writing his seventh book, he wanted to give up – the same temptation he had during the messy middle of every book. He’d learned by then, though, to look at the bigger picture, to reassess the bigger goal. This sounds contradictory to number one, but it’s not. The idea is to accomplish a big dream (keep the end in mind), one small chunk at a time.
  1. Improve your pace and renew your enthusiasm. Now, that’s an easy trick to follow when you’re smack dab in a messy middle, and feeling overwhelmed and discouraged, right? (Imagine this typed in sarcasm font.) How do you turn the urge to give up into an improved pace, much less enthusiasm? In another post, Hyatt said something like, “Reconnect with your why.”

In a workshop presented this week, friend and colleague Summer Turner said, “Figure out who your customer is, what they need, and what you have to offer them. This purpose renews your enthusiasm.”

During today’s meeting of Women in Networking, our president Anjana Duff suggested something like this, “Gratitude, though not a natural response during messy middles, helps us refocus on inspired action and regain enthusiasm.”

Hopefully one of these ideas will prod us along and refuel our enthusiasm.

  1. Run and walk. This trick is about pacing ourselves. I can attest that running hard and fast lands us in a place of reacting (like saying “yes” to opportunities we don’t want) rather than taking action toward our goals. It’s best sometimes to rest, to make time for recreation, and to reevaluate our direction.

For nearly two years, I wrote at least seven articles a week, often more. I took every assignment offered including a how-to blog post about starting a lawn mower after it sits idle throughout the winter, one about the best mousetraps on the market (don’t ask, I don’t remember), and another about eliminating squirrels from the attic. Speaking of squirrels …

  1. Kill the distractions. Distractions run rampant like squirrels … oh, look, a tree. Oh, a nut. Oh, a car to run in front of. Oh, the same car to run back in front of since it didn’t hit me the first time. It’s easier to avoid being distracted when we’re clear about our purpose. To say no to small distractions, we have to be committed to a bigger yes.
  1. Change your self image. Hyatt says, “The most important trick for getting more persistent is to see ourselves as persistent people.” Norman Vincent Peale said something similar, “Change your thoughts and you change your world.”

I appreciate comments and your insights about persistence. I ended the presentation with this quote by John Maxwell.

“You will never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret to success is found in your daily routine.”

A Fairy Tale Can Take A Long Time (a blog post about 37 years of marriage) 

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“A perfect marriage is just two imperfect people who refuse to give up on each other.” Unknown

“A perfect marriage is just two imperfect people who refuse to give up on each other.” Unknown

It’s a bit unromantic, I guess, to write about our messy marriage on the same day we eloped 37 years ago, but messy is the only story we’ve got.

We’ve been messy from the beginning. John and I married in Mr. Coyle’s living room the day after the justice of the peace buried his wife. That could have served as a forewarning, but we were in love and blind. We shared our condolences, then our vows. A neighbor came over to act as our witness. We consummated our marriage at Tremont Inn in Columbia, S.C. I like to think it’s one of God’s favors that the motel still stands. We rode through its parking lot several months ago and reminisced.

The day after our wedding, I returned to my parent’s home in Conway, S.C. to finish my next-to-the-last semester at what was then a campus of the University of South Carolina. No one found out we were married for six months.

What happened over the next 36 years belongs in a novel, but I prefer Facebook and fairy tales.

Weird, I know, but I’m grateful for the role social networking played in our marriage. Facebook’s the place where, in the middle of arguments, loneliness, and depression, I made up how I wanted our relationship to be. I think a lot of us do that. And who knows? Maybe it helped. In front of my online friends, I shared our best memories, showcased our best moments, and wrote about us like we were living happily ever after – not to be misleading, but because that’s what I wanted more than anything.

Even weirder (since John’s only been on Facebook maybe a dozen times to my two million), this morning he posted a sweet and much appreciated sentiment, which I’ve actually contemplated doing for him since I have his password. I’m thankful I waited on him.

Friends left the kindest notes to congratulate us and even said we set a good example of marriage for our son and daughter. I’m not so sure about that. I am sure, though, there’s little I’d change since recognizing the beauty in our battles. Oh, sure, I often say, “If I had known this, I would have done that.” And John says the same. But we didn’t know this and we couldn’t do that, not until we had some life-changing experiences under our belts. In our case, quick learners that we are, it’s taken 37 years.

But like I said, there’s not much I’d do differently. If we hadn’t entered into holy matrimony while fighting our personal battles, we never would have grown up like we have, we never would have wrestled so hard to get better like we have, and we never would have begged God like we have – begged him to take first place in our lives because our marriage came up short.

Our marriage’s battleground transformed into our personal sacred grounds even though we’re not quite sure when it happened.

This may not sound sentimental and affectionate and gratitudinous, but, let me tell you, I’m feeling all these things and more. This is our most significant year yet and our most special. We’re living our happily-ever-after because we’re asking for God’s help, we’re accepting our brokenness, and we’re healing in spite of our mistakes. Best of all, we’re doing it together. That’s new for us and it feels like a fairy tale.

We have words for weathering the storms for anyone who wants to read on, and especially for our kids if they ever tune into my blog:

  • Love each other. Obvious, right? That is, until you realize you don’t know what love is or you don’t like what the other person’s doing. My friend Betty shared the best definition (it’s one of acceptance) I’ve ever heard, “Love is the act of me letting you be who you are and you letting me be who I am.”
  • Forgive each other. This is easier said than done when we are always right, but maybe we’re not always right.
  • Forgive God. It’s not his fault when we abuse and suffer consequences as the result of our free will. Okay, so maybe it’s partly his fault because he designed our world this way, but we choose.
  • Change what we can. Blame, bad habits, and distractions are easy, but they get us nowhere. Change is hard and it takes us wherever we want to go.
  • Stop staring at each other. Dr. Orlo Strunk, a marriage counselor who taught counseling classes at Webster University, said, “I wouldn’t have a job if everyone looked at their own part in a marriage, then did something about it.”
  • Look at each other right. When we do watch one another, make sure it’s with the admiration I saw in her father’s eyes and the love I saw in her soon-to-be husband’s eyes when our daughter walked down the aisle on her wedding day.PicMonkey Collage1
  • Pray together. I kind of cringe typing this one because it sounds preachy and self-righteous and cliché, but it’s anything but these things. We’re finally humble. We’ve been on our knees at bedtime for about a year now. Remember I said it’s been our best year so far – it’s a little bit because of our willingness to do what’s uncomfortable and a lot because of God’s grace.

To John ~ I couldn’t find the perfect gift for our day, so I wrote it. I’ll love you forever. For us, Broken Together by Casting Crowns.