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


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)  


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) 

“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.

Write Along Beside Me (a long post about getting started)

(Image from Edie Melson)

(Image from Edie Melson)

“How’d you get started with your writing? And how’d you get published?”

I finally decided to blog about my writing detour since I’ve been asked these questions so many times.

A lot of people write, so I’m not unusual in that regard. A lot of people get published, so I’m not unusual there either. I am a little unusual, however, in that I’ve been published sans a degree in English or journalism and without initially knowing anyone in the writing industry.

Getting published is challenging enough with a degree and with connections, so, without either one, how’d it come about?

God’s been all over it, of course, but that’s not what people are asking about. Most of us know we don’t accomplish anything without him by our side. The fact is, though, for writing and publication to happen, we have to be all over it too.

I never intended to be a writer. I intended to open my own counseling practice. It wasn’t until a friend talked me out of my plan that I changed direction. She said, “I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to sit all day in an office and listen to others’ problems.”

Here’s what she didn’t say, but probably wanted to, “You have enough problems of your own. Don’t be a counselor.”

Around that same time, two things were going on.

The first: I was studying Experiencing God, a Bible study about paying attention to where God’s working in our lives.

The second: It didn’t matter where I was, who I was talking with, or what we were talking about, family, friends, and strangers would out-of-the-blue say, “You should write about that.”

So, I did.

I wrote a book about raising teenagers. I was sure readers wanted to get their hands on a poorly written account of drama, bragging, and preaching. I didn’t get ahold of my writing or myself until a neighbor volunteered to read the 100-page manuscript. She returned it with tire marks on the pages because the day she picked it up, she drove off with it on the back of her car and it blew all over the highway. She handed it to me, apologized about the dirty pages, and said, “I let a writer friend look over it. She said you might want to swim in a pool before you try the ocean. You know, maybe write for magazines and newspapers before you try for a book, but I really like the quotes you included.”

In that moment, I felt determined to learn the craft of writing. I thought, “I’ll show her.”

The problem is, it’s a long, laborious process to proving someone wrong when it comes to writing right. Or should that read “writing well”? Anyway, it took time, but I eventually progressed from misguided motivation and showed up to do what I thought God had in mind all along. He flung open the doors. I’ve written hundreds of articles and blog posts that have been published in dozens of local, regional, and national publications. I’ve also had the opportunity to ghostwrite for local, regional, and international personalities.

Your story will be different, but all writing requires much of the same footwork. Hopefully this encourages you to show up and do the hard (and very rewarding) work of writing for yourself, for God, and for readers who need to hear your stories.

Here’s a little about my story and some bullet points to go along with it.

I drove to Greenville, S.C. to attend my first writing workshop about writing and illustrating children’s books. I had written a book for children some years earlier as part of an assignment for a counseling class. Since a friend took the time to forward the information about the event, I imagined it was a sign that the book would arouse attention. Instead of a book contract, I ended up with a flyer about classes on newspaper and magazine writing (you know, poolside writing before the ocean). The instructor was an editor in Greenville who had written for major publications like the New York Times.

For six weeks, I drove four and a half hours one-way to learn how to write right. The editor/instructor announced she needed freelance writers for three regional newspapers. When she didn’t publish me before Christmas, I signed up for six more classes. The second time around, not only did she publish my first article, she assigned me a column in all three papers, and hooked me up with other publications in Upstate S.C.

“There are two kinds of writers – writers who are bad and writers who keep learning,” she said. Here’s a list of things I do to avoid falling prey to “bad writer.”

  • Attend classes, conferences, and workshops. Last year, I returned to Greenville for another six-week class.
  • Find a mentor. I paid for critiques, as well as insider tips about being accepted by publications like LifeWay, from a well-known writer who presented at a conference I attended.
  • Blog regularly. Okay, so I blog irregularly, but do as I say.
  • Sign up for writing sites that post jobs daily. Continue to submit writing samples and clips for assignments that fit my writing style and my interests.
  • Familiarize myself with magazines and submit writing samples for publication.
  • Read inspirational books like The Artist’s Way and informational ones like The Associated Press Stylebook. Read blogs about writing, social networking, marketing, and sound business practices by people like Michael Hyatt, Rachelle Gardner, Steve Laube, and Edie Melson.
  • Connect with other writers, mostly online and in critique groups, but also in local networking groups, workshops, and at conferences.
  • Drive to Wilmington, N.C. to meet with a critique group for information, improvement, and encouragement. I cherish, instead of challenge, their feedback, then I return home and edit. My editor/instructor reminded us again and again, “Writing is rewriting.”
  • Write and submit stories. Sounds obvious, right? I can’t tell you how many writer friends I talk with who either aren’t writing or have never submitted a story. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said I was a writer when I wasn’t writing.
  • I sometimes drag myself out of my comfort zone and write something that makes me uncomfortable.

Are you up for an encounter with writing?

WRite wHere I’m supposed to be – If so, get ready for a beautiful, frustrating, gratifying, scary, procrastinating, delightful, angering, exhilarating, disheartening, uplifting, and life-changing experience that I wouldn’t trade for any other career. I’d love to hear about your experience on paper.

On the side: A great read about writing right, The Difference Between Good Writers and Bad Writers by Jeff Goins.

Afraid of Africa (a post about callings, a post about courage)

“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.” Joseph Campbell

“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.” Joseph Campbell

Lis and her husband relocated two weeks ago to Tanzania, Africa. She asked for prayer to lighten her sadness about leaving behind belongings, friends, and family including her three-year-old granddaughter who calls her Lolly. She asked for prayer to calm anxieties about things like plane crashes and Ebola. And she asked for prayer because it’s scary to move to Africa.

She’s now settling into a routine, but not like one we have. Her luggage hasn’t arrived, the toilet and sink overflowed into her new-to-them home, and both the refrigerator and washer stopped working last week. Despite all this, Lis committed to Africa because she’s committed to God.

Her faith was evident when she returned home to say goodbye to her parents before leaving for two years. It was evident when she got vaccinations that threatened to make her sick. And it was evident when she packed the bare minimum because that’s all she was allowed to take.

Her faith was most evident when she posted photos of her final goodbyes with her daughter and granddaughter.

“If she can leave behind the life she loves and physically relocate to Africa, surely I can sit in the comfort of my own home and tackle my own “Africa” (writing a book). What am I so afraid of?”

I thought it might help to share –

  • I’m afraid of being judged. I’m pretty sure some of my feelings aren’t theologically sound, but they’re part of my story.
  • I’m afraid of being misunderstood.
  • I’m afraid there won’t be enough time for relationships while I’m writing and editing.
  • I’m afraid my story will come across as pathetic rather than powerful.
  • I’m afraid I’ll sound like I’m blaming (especially my parents) because sometimes I am. There’s a fine line between telling what happened and whining.

So, why write the book?

Because I think God is calling me to this “Africa,” and because I saw for myself (in photos) how Lis came alive holding one of the children she’s now ministering to.

I want to be that kind of alive.

What’s your “Africa”? What’s stopping you from starting?

WRite wHere I’m supposed to be – Dear God, I’ve started and stopped, started and stopped … until now. I’m finally convinced the book is our project and now is our time.

On the side: Thanks for the photo and the inspiration, Lis. I love you.

Giving Voice to a Silent Killer (a blog post about suicide)

“Writing is a struggle against silence.” Carlos Fuentes (Image from iStock)

“A diagnosis is burden enough without being burdened by secrecy and shame.” Jane Pauley  (Image from iStock)

Our phone conversation left me teary. Our daughter said the news about Robin Williams’ suicide scared her. It made her think of me. Her comparison was disturbing, and oddly comforting. If I could choose an actor to be like, it’d be him.

In the aftermath of his death, Robin’s family, friends, and colleagues confirmed his kindness over and over by posting on Twitter things like, “A gentle spirit,” “Nicest guy I’ve ever worked with,” and “Robin had time for everyone.”

His roles in movies like Mrs. Doubtfire and Dead Poets Society were too convincing to be called “acting.” So was his performance during Good Will Hunting when he compellingly repeated to Matt Damon, “It’s not your fault.” (It’s a powerful clip if you can get past the language. I could.)

I went back several times to the theater with a handful of tissue to hear him tell me that same thing, “It’s not your fault.” I’d sit alone on the back row during afternoon matinees and sob. I’ve since watched the scene on my laptop hundreds of times.

Even though I knew why my daughter was afraid (she knows I mask pain with humor), Robin Williams’ death isn’t the one that terrified me. It was Harriet Deison’s suicide that kept me awake at nights.

After reading every article I could find on her, I’d imagine talking her out of driving across town in her Lexus to a gun shop where she shot herself inside her car. I’d imagine our conversations about hiding how we felt so others would think we were okay because we wanted desperately to be okay. I’d imagine helping each other step outside our depression and into the Light. I still wonder why this beautiful 65-year-old woman, a preacher’s wife at a prominent church in Texas, committed suicide four days after Christmas. I wonder why her husband, her daughters, and her grandchildren weren’t enough to help her choose life.

But, then, I think maybe I know.

My husband and I call it “The Dark Place.” It’s where I’m convinced family and friends don’t want to hear about my despair, but I’m desperate to talk about it. It’s where I beg God to show up, but he’s quiet, almost like he was never there at all. It’s the place where I’m overcome by pain, yet the pain of suicide seems practical and peaceful. The dark place is not just my closet where I curl up, it’s the thoughts I curl up with … the ones that say, “It is your fault.”

Until the movie Good Will Hunting, I couldn’t put into words what was wrong. The “it” (that I didn’t want to be my fault) was not being able to fix or fit into my family of origin. The “it” was not feeling safe and protected because I wasn’t. The “it” was having emotions that overwhelmed my family and me because none of us wanted to face what had happened and what was still happening.

The scariest part, even when it hurt, was I couldn’t stop living up to my title from high school as “Most Dependable.” I took responsibility for my family’s insanity because they wouldn’t. I also kept it a secret because maybe they were right, maybe it was my fault.

After Mom threatened me with boarding school because “all you do is cry,” I tried to stop feeling and talking about my depression and fear. I tried to stop making a big deal out of nothing (like sexual abuse) and taking things personally (like Dad staying away nine months out of the year). I tried to convince myself it was safe to love and lighten up even when my uncle who abused me ended up in a padded room at a mental hospital. But I couldn’t do it. Death sounded safer than life and suicide seemed the only way out since I told myself I was too unstable to leave.

Get over it. Yeah, I tried that too.

Here’s where I’m supposed to neaten up my blog post, let you know God’s the answer (he is, but I’m not preaching because talking-tos didn’t help me), and tell how I stopped wanting to kill myself. Like my daughter says about solutions, “I’m not quite there yet, but I’m working on it.”

I can offer some hope, though. Robin Williams and Harriet Deison saved me a little bit. My kids, my husband, my friends, and even my family of origin saved me a little bit. Most importantly, I’m saving myself a little bit by writing blog posts like this one. I hope if you’re in a scary place, this blog post saves you a little bit.

“Writing is a struggle against silence.” Carlos Fuentes

Is there something you need to share or something you need to do to save yourself? If so, it may save others a little bit as well.

WRite wHere I’m supposed to be – To heal, we must allow ourselves to feel. And some of us also need to talk about the feelings even if others don’t want to hear them. And this, my reader friends, is why I write. Thanks for letting me talk.

Click the link for an inspiring article and video sent by my daughter right after Robin Williams’ suicide. Going Public with Depression is by CNN’s Kat Kinsman.

Click the link to read the obituary of Harriet Deison.

Click the link to read a compassionate account by Steve Blow of Harriet Deison’s life and death: For Harriet Deison, a life to admire gave way to a death beyond understanding

Too Good for My Own Good (more about suffering, more about acceptance)


He must become greater; I must become less.  John 3:30 (Image from iStock)

He must become greater; I must become less.
John 3:30
(Image from iStock)

Although suffering is inevitable, Sunday’s sermon shed light on how often we suffer unnecessarily. Our stubborn will is the cause. We put something other than God in the place that he set aside for himself.

Our will goes something like this –

We worship intelligence only to end up feeling stupid.

We worship beauty only to end up feeling ugly.

We worship success only to end up feeling like a failure.

I knew before the sermon’s end what I worshipped – being a good person. It never crossed my mind (until now) that being good was anything but admirable.

The sermon put an end to my asking why I’ve felt unlovable no matter how many times I’m told “I love you.”

It put an end to my asking why I’ve felt ashamed, never mind all my attempts at being perfect.

It put an end to my asking why I’ve felt unkind even though my husband says over and over, “You’re the most caring person I know.”

How did trying to be good turn out so bad?

It’s pretty simple when I apply the sermon’s formula – I worshipped my own goodness only to end up feeling anything but good.

I put my goodness before his Godness, and nothing good comes from that.

What’s getting in the way (no matter how admirable you deem it) of your relationship with God?

WRite wHere I’m supposed to be – I’ve wanted to get out of my own way for some time now. Thank you, Iain, for the sermon. Thank you, God, for the shove.

On the side: I’m posting next about Robin Williams and suicide – a man and a topic that deserve to be talked about.

What Died? (more about suffering, more about acceptance)

“There’s nothing more depressing than having it all and still feeling sad.” Unknown  (Image from iStock)

“There’s nothing more depressing than having it all and still feeling sad.” Unknown 
(Image from iStock)

I’ve spent nearly a decade grappling with Dad’s death and with the death of thoughts that I had control over my now 36-year marriage. Both losses left me feeling lifeless.

When friends said grief takes time, I nodded. However, I knew this was more than being sad that Dad was gone. It was also more than letting go of the control I tried to have over my husband. Something else died and it scared me that I didn’t know what it was or how to revive it.

I prayed every single day for more than three fourths of those years.

I prayed for energy and motivation to write and exercise and live life as it came. I prayed to focus on myself instead of staring at what others had done to me. I prayed to know what died so I could begin accepting it was gone and move beyond days that were dark and heavy.

Prayer didn’t work (meaning it didn’t make the pain go away). 

Neither did gratitude lists that included seeing my first article published, celebrating our children’s wedding and engagement, and sharing a precious granddaughter with the world. The more good that happened, the darker and heavier I felt for not feeling grateful.

Neither did advice about my attitude, attempts to diminish my pain in the light of others’ more devastating pain, or my own self-contempt for not being able to shake depression.

And neither did attending church, reading positive passages, or talking to family and friends who looked sympathetic, but confused. Their expressions said, “Now, tell me one more time why you’re feeling sad and lost?”

I almost stopped trying to explain because I didn’t know myself what was happening. That was, until I tried one more time.

“Nothing’s motivated me like trying to get it right with you and Dad,” I said to my husband. “Sick as it sounds, struggling for your attention and Dad’s approval got me out of bed every morning.”

He heard me. 

I heard myself.

Since burying my dad and my marriage (as I knew it), I’ve been missing my sickness. I wrote in my last post that suffering serves a purpose, but suffering is a means to an end, not an end in itself.

Instead of learning and being changed by suffering, then moving on, I’ve tried to revive it by staggering too often into the past, flirting with fear and self-doubt, and throwing pity parties. Not that I’m saying this party girl is finished, but I’m over-the-top relieved to know what died – my suffering that masqueraded as purpose. When I’m ready, life is waiting.

And so is more suffering and I’m okay with that.

Are you smack dab in the middle of your sickness, your struggles, and your suffering? Are you feeling more dead than alive? I hope this post offers some answers, some optimism, or at least lets you know you’re not alone.

WRite wHere I’m supposed to be – It takes what it takes for each of us. I’m grateful to be at another crossroad where I have insight and hope and choices, and, yes, awareness that there will be more suffering.

On the side: In hindsight, some of the things I listed – prayer, gratitude, church, reading, and sharing with family and friends – did work (meaning they made my days feel gentler, they moved me forward, they grew me up), just not as quickly or as dramatically as I wanted.

Here’s additional reading about suffering from A Holy Experience, “The 1 Unlikely Secret to Hold Onto When You’re Sad.” 

Too Much Suffering, Not Enough Fluff (about suffering and about acceptance)

"Your greatest ministry will likely come from your deepest pain." Rick Warren (Image from iStock)

“Your greatest ministry will likely come from your deepest pain.” Rick Warren
(Image from iStock)

“God is more concerned about our spirituality than our comfort” came to mind during Sunday’s message about the purpose of our struggles. At first, I wasn’t anymore thrilled about the sermon than I had been the quote. After all, I just want to be happy.

I contemplated only writing light-hearted, fluffy posts. You know, so I’d be known as the happy-go-lucky blogger, but, then, I didn’t have much to say about that.

Next, I contemplated asking for prayer so I’d be more happy-go-lucky, but God didn’t have much to say about that.

Finally, I contemplated what God did have to say and it wasn’t about happy-go-lucky, although I’m sure he has nothing against our happiness. It’s just that, from what I keep hearing, our priorities are often times not his priorities.

The sermon and the quote offered insight into our suffering and an explanation as to why we don’t need to run from it or pray it away, even though I continue to try both. We’re supposed to be changed by it.

God’s obvious concern about my changing over the past nine years has left me wondering if he had concerns for anyone else’s spirituality, but of course he does. He has big plans for us all, even though I’ve been focused on the pain that I equate with God’s punishment. Painful events have led to painful thinking.

Suffering, however, is not about punishment, although it is sometimes a consequence as the result of our behavior. Suffering is a mirror into which we catch a glimpse of what’s inside of us. No, Facebook doesn’t cut it.

Suffering is for our own good and for a higher purpose. Our time here is designed to help us stop edging God out (ego) and, instead, start edifying him. Unfortunately, most of us are hard headed and some of us are hard hearted.

What gushes out during the tough times is what’s been inside all along. Usually it’s a combination of love and fear, grace and griping, humility and entitlement, meaning we all need the changing power of suffering.

What are you suffering through? How is it changing you?

WRite wHere I’m supposed to be – Here’s to graciously walking through our suffering and being changed from fluffy-seeking to faith-finding.

On the side: Beth Vogt also wrote a blog post this week about suffering. Click here to read In Others’ Words: Wrestling Match.