Category Archives: Encouragement

HOW, EXACTLY?

I read many “how to” books for writers: How to Start a Blog that People Will Read (Mike Omar), Effective Magazine Writing (Roger Palms), Devoted to Writing (Nancy Robinson Masters), Pray, Write, Grow (Ed Cyzewski), Unleash the Writer Within (Cecil Murphy), and many others.

Amazon was happy to help me amass my impressive libraries, the one on my bookshelf and the one on my Kindle.

Every author offers worthwhile advice.

I discovered one of the most helpful pieces of advice while reading Crafting the Personal Essay by Dinty W. Moore. (I know. I also thought immediately of beef stew.)

On page 151 Moore writes:

Most writers–beginning and accomplished–are just too hard on themselves. Be hard on your sentences, be hard on your paragraphs, be ceaseless and unrelenting in your revisions, but stop questioning your ability to be a writer. If you put pen to paper, or put electronic words on the page, you are a writer. Let go of that worry and focus on how good a writer you can become.

Many of us, both writers and nonwriters, are too hard on ourselves.

At some point around the age of 16, most of us said, “I’ll never learn to drive a car!” When we became adults, we used more self-defeating language. “I’ll never beat the smoking habit!” “I’ll never get this bedroom painted!”

Many of us have gone on to accomplish things we swore we would never master. Good for us!

But we didn’t accomplish those things by spending our time and energy beating ourselves up and predicting certain failure. We took a driving course; we found experts to help us quit smoking; we kept working on those bedroom walls, taking pleasure in each successful step toward completion.

Sometimes we convince ourselves we have failed at achieving a goal when we never set a goal in the first place.

When I decided I wanted to be a writer, I needed to nail down my own definition of a successful writer.

If I don’t know where I’m going, how will I know when I get there?

This is the way I defined success as a writer.

A successful writer takes pleasure in working with words. She enjoys developing ideas, writing about them, and revising her writing until it meets her standards.

 A successful writer finds outlets so others can read what she writes.

 A successful writer has an audience of readers who enjoy reading what she writes.

 By that definition, I am a successful writer.

Beating myself up and repeatedly telling myself I would never write anything worth reading did nothing toward helping me become a successful writer.

I became a successful writer by:

  • Sitting for many hours in a chair in front of my computer and writing, rewriting, revising, editing, proofreading, and rewriting more.
  • Doing what was necessary to start a blog and learn how to use it.
  • Listening to and observing people to learn what they want to read.

Alternatively, I could choose this definition of “a successful writer.”

A successful writer earns enough money from her work to support her family.

 A successful writer’s work is sought after by reputable publishers. 

 A successful writer gains renown and is recognized wherever she goes.

By that definition, I am not a successful writer.

I must decide which definition, or blending of definitions, satisfies my desire to succeed. No one else can define “success” for me.

If I am satisfied with the first definition, at which I am already successful, I will continue doing what I have been doing, always trying to become better at it.

If I am not satisfied with the first definition of success and want to work toward the second definition, I will need to do research, spend more hours at my computer, enroll in writing classes, hire a writing coach, and give up activities in which I now participate so I can devote that time and energy to writing.

What are you, my reader, telling yourself you will never accomplish? What does success  look like to you?

Be specific and reasonable. Don’t set a nebulous goal like, “I want to travel.” Ask yourself, “Where do I want to go? When do I want to go there? Whom would I like to take with me? How long do I want to stay? How will I pay for the trip?”

Make a written list of steps you must take in order to reach that goal. Then begin working through those steps.

Plan your work and work your plan.

As you make progress, you may need to tweak your goal. Maybe the person you want to go with you does not want to go. Invite someone else to go with you.

If I had set as a goal, “I want to be a successful writer,” but had not defined for myself what “being a successful writer” meant to me, if I had taken no steps toward reaching that goal, and if I had continually told myself I would never become a writer, you would not be reading this blog post today.

Much truth lies in this famous quote by Henry Ford: Whether you think you can, or think you can’t—you’re right.

 

Well?

Many people are sick. They are fighting cancer, heart disease, autoimmune conditions, mental illnesses and more. My heart breaks for these people who are suffering some of the worst kinds of Satan’s curses.

Even healthy people suffer occasional bouts of flu or other temporary ailments.

I know people who are not sick but behave as if they are. They milk minor headaches, stomach issues, and pains for all the sympathy they can get.

These people are the adult equivalents of kids who create ways to miss school.

Like truant students, these people pretend to be sick or exaggerate the severity of their ailments to gain something they want: an excuse to miss work or to get out of washing dishes or to shirk their responsibility in a group project. They are deceivers.

No, I am not  qualified to assess people’s health. But I know what I know. I have observed obvious attempts to gain release from fulfilling responsibilities by feigning sickness. I won’t say I have never done it. Shame on me.

Something is not right if I can go for a mani-pedi, shop for clothes or show up for my bowling league, but I am too impaired to go to work, to church, to the school event I agreed to supervise or to the kitchen to bake the pan of lasagna I agreed to provide for the deacons’ luncheon.

God did not call me to manipulate people or situations for my benefit.

Good health is a wonderful blessing, but it comes with obligations.  Healthy people perform the jobs assigned to them.  They get up, dress up and show up every time.

In chapter five of John, Jesus asked an infirm man if he wanted to be well. That seemed at first to be a silly question. But maybe it wasn’t.

Photo by  elizabeth lies on Unsplash 

Photo by  Antonika Chanel on Unsplash

 

YOU’RE WELCOME

Have you ever inserted yourself into a group without an invitation?

At the end of my junior year in college, I needed a roommate for the next year. My current roommate had decided not to return, and my other friends had roommates.

Two girls I knew casually lived on my dorm floor in a room with three beds.

I asked if I could share their room.

These girls were Pam and Patti Sanders, cousins from Paducah, Kentucky.

If they were unhappy getting a new roommate, they didn’t let me know.

Their welcome was a blessed relief.

Forty-plus years later, I remember their kindness.

Compare Patti and Pam’s welcome to this one.

I accepted a medical transcriptionist position at a hospital. On my first day, I faced an unwelcoming committee of one.

As I settled into my new work area, the transcriptionist sitting nearest me said, “You can call that your chair if you want to, but that will always be Jackie’s chair.”

Jackie, the former chair occupant, had left her position to move to another state.

My new coworker’s comment stung.

Entrances are hard. Walking into a party solo is awkward for single people. A student enters a new school with dread. New hires to a workplace crave acceptance. Visitors to a church fear rejection.

One Sunday our minister interviewed, in front of the congregation, four people who attend church nowhere. He asked them why they stay away from church.

One turnoff, they said, was the cool reception they received when they visited a church.

That motivated me, after the service, to approach a couple sitting in front of me. I introduced myself and asked if they were visitors.

“No,” one of them said. “We have been members for 20 years.”

(We attend a large church.)

They didn’t need a welcome, but our conversation was pleasant and embarrassed no one.

Relaxed partygoers do not intentionally shun uncomfortable guests. They eat, drink and mix with friends and assume everyone else is doing the same.

Students established in a school do not intend to avoid new students. They are focused on passing calculus or having a date to the prom.

The unwelcoming woman at my new job didn’t make the chair remark because she wanted to hurt me. She spoke out of her sadness over losing her friend.

Church members who fail to interact with visitors are not unkind people. They are busy people. Distractions keep them from showing visitors a warm reception.

Offering welcomes can be costly.

Patti and Pam’s welcome cost them one-third of their living space.

For relaxed partygoers, students, coworkers, and church members, the cost is less tangible.

It may require them to leave their comfort zones, endure mild inconvenience, and risk rejection.

They must take their focus off themselves and place it on someone else.

Those who master this graceful art leave blessed people in their wake.

One partygoer, one student, one coworker, or one church member can make a difference.

Look for opportunities to be that person.

IT IS WHAT IT IS

Two tough days for me each year are the days I go to the dentist for cleanings.

I’ve gone to the dentist since I was a child. I know the dentist and her staff are my friends. I like them. I just don’t like what they do.

At the dentist’s office last Monday, I said with confidence to the hygienist, “You should find less plaque buildup on this exam. I have a new toothbrush with a built-in timer. I now brush for two full minutes twice a day.”

I waited for a bit of praise, but I didn’t get it.

I got this instead.

“Four minutes,” said the hygienist.

“What?” I asked.

“Brush for four minutes at bedtime, two minutes on top and two minutes on bottom. Two minutes in the morning is good, though.”

Just when I think I’ve adhered to the rules, the rules get tougher.

I realize that I pay my dental professionals to care about and care for my teeth.

If I am unhappy, I can stop visiting them any time I choose. But I won’t  do that.

My teeth are important to me.

But today, so many experts (paid and unpaid) tell me how to take care of myself that I am overwhelmed with “good” advice.

From computer, television, and smartphone screens, from billboards, and from literally tons of unsolicited mail I pull from my mailbox, professionals offer me their advice.

Medical doctors say I should spend several hours each week exercising.

Opticians urge me to wear sunglasses when I am outside and safety glasses when I mow.

Dermatologists tell me to wear SPF 30 sunscreen.

Naturalists tout the benefits of drinking apple cider vinegar.

Audiologists say I should wear ear protection.

Personal trainers insist that I wear weights on my wrists and ankles.

Therapists whisper, “Go to your happy place.”

Psychiatrists tell me to take antidepressants and practice cognitive behavioral therapy.

Herbalists tell me to drink green tea.

Nutritionists tell me to stop eating salt, sugar, fat, wheat, gluten, dairy products, eggs, soy, artificial colors or flavors; meats from animals treated with antibiotics, steroids, or hormones; fish bred and grown in dirty water; and plants that have been exposed to herbicides or pesticides.

Apparently, Mark Twain got it right when he wrote, “The only way to keep your health is to eat what you don’t want, drink what you don’t like, and do what you’d rather not.”

I am all for being as healthy, comfortable, attractive, and active as I can be. But this overload of “healthful advice” is oppressive.

As a good friend said to me this week, “Facts are facts. It is what it is. I am getting older.”

We all are. No one has yet developed a product, activity, or mindset that will stop the aging process.

In 2 Corinthians 4:16, the Apostle Paul acknowledged that our outer selves are wasting away. He encouraged us to be focused upon being renewed inwardly day by day.

Inspired advice.

I throw away 99% of the advertisements I find in my mailbox.

I did recently, however, save a brochure urging me to make my final arrangements now so when I die, my grieving family will be spared that task.

That, I deemed to be advice worth heeding.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

GRACED

Living in a harmonious relationship with God is the greatest goal to which we can aspire.

And here is the good news.

God offers us that relationship, and He offers it as a gift.

We do not earn gifts, nor do we offer to pay for them.

In fact, the relationship God and I share will be skewed if I am determined to earn His gift of grace.

When I became a Christian, God ascribed to me the merit Jesus earned by living a perfect life and dying a perfect death in my place.

At that point, the transaction was done.

I love to sing the song that declares: I owed a debt I could not pay. He paid a debt He did not owe.

Sadly, some Christians, especially those who grew up in critical and judgmental environments, live in fear that God will withdraw that gift the instant they sin.

My friend Jan calls this “windshield wiper salvation.” You’re in. You’re out. You’re in. You’re out.

As a child, even I, raised in a loving, nurturing home, virtually trembled in the pew when we sang the old hymn: There’s an All-Seeing Eye Watching You.

 But today, I put my trust in the words of 1 John 1:7: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

My relationship with God is a walk, not a performance.

During this walk, I will stumble sometimes and even fall. But, if I am walking in the light, God will never desert me.

God calls us to enjoy a rich, full life, free from guilt and confident of our salvation.

I hang on to the words of Romans 8:1: Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

To new Christians and to unnecessarily guilt-ridden, long-time Christians, I offer the following words.

Live as if you have been forgiven, pardoned, redeemed, and saved because you have been.

When you pray, do not re-confess sins that were forgiven years ago. God is convinced of your sorrow over the lie you told or the sexual indiscretion you indulged in or the disrespectful attitude you showed toward your parents.

When God forgives you, forgive yourself. In doing this, you honor Him by showing you trust His grace to be enough.

Instead of spending your time in prayer bringing up past, forgiven sins, thank God for the wonderful new life He has given you in Christ.

Tell Him specifically what is going on inside your head and your heart. Talk to Him about everything.

If your heart is filled with sorrow, pour out that sadness to God.

If you are mad at someone, tell God the details.

Do you think He doesn’t already know about these things?

Acknowledge your agreement that His ways are right, His laws are for your protection, and it is your intention to stay on the path He laid out for you.

As you walk with God, speak every secret of your life into His listening ear with confidence that He will understand, forgive, and bless.

Make your life a celebration of the unity you enjoy with God through Christ.

 

 

 

A GOOD DAY?

I often ponder what I should do on any day to make it the best day possible.

It seems that people want that for me because I hear a dozen times a week, “Have a nice day.”

Many of the things we experience every day are beyond our control. You know what those things are: bad news, interruptions, and disappointments; and even good things like finding a good parking space and being given a McAlister’s chocolate chip cookie.

But I do have control over some of the things that make for a good day. I can choose to get up, clean up, and show up for the day ahead. I can try to accomplish some worthwhile things during the day, but not so many that the day becomes exhausting and disappointing.

I can get out in the sunshine on sunny days. I can read good books, think pleasant thoughts, and count my blessings in any kind of weather.

A day is generally about as good as my attitude toward the day.

Charles Swindoll was right when he wrote, “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.”

I have learned that my day is better if it includes exercise, preferably a nice, long walk; reading the Bible, praying, and contemplating God’s purpose for me; conversing with family members and friends; and maintaining a healthy balance of work and play.

A good day includes some time spent in creative pursuits. For me, this need is filled when I spend time writing.

A good day is made better when it brings with it unexpected pleasures, like a card from a friend or a visit with my grandchildren.

Addressing this issue from the opposite direction, I also know some things that will almost certainly guarantee a bad day. Allowing myself to indulge in bitterness, anger, and other negative feelings like jealousy and self-pity will ensure a bad day.

Staying in my pajamas and sinking down into my recliner to watch television nonstop, as enticing as those activities may sound, usually will not make for a good day.

Neglecting to take care of tasks that are my responsibility will contribute toward making a bad day.

Even more important, I will have a bad day if I fail to fulfill my responsibility to treat all people with respect and to nurture deeply the people I love most.

I read a story once about an old gentleman who had to move out of his house into a care facility. The administrator of the facility met the old man at the main entrance.

“I hope you will enjoy your new room,” she said.

“I already do enjoy it,” said the man.

“You can’t know if you will enjoy the room or not,” said the administrator, “since you haven’t even seen it.”

“Yes, I can know,” said the man. “The room itself will not determine whether or not I enjoy being there. I will determine that.”

Determine to enjoy this day, and you almost certainly will.

DAILY

I try every day to spend some time in the Word.

Typing that sentence makes me feel like a lame believer, a lazy Christian.

Why would one of God’s elect have to “try to spend some time in the Word” everyday? Why isn’t that priority number one?

Because we are busy. We are pulled in many different directions at once by people and situations.

We are distracted. Books, newspapers, television shows, newsfeeds, etc. are all vying for our attention.

We have legitimate obligations like going to work and taking care of our kids.

We are caught up in the trivial. Today I absolutely must do A, B, and C. Tomorrow I will read my Bible.

We follow the course of least resistance. It is easier to do a thousand other things than it is to sit down with a Bible. Studying the Word requires our minds to engage. It is intentional. We won’t stumble into reading Scripture the way we stumble into a casual phone conversation.

We know the goal, daily Bible study, and we know the hinderances to achieving that goal.

We’ve done the head work needed to reach our goal. We need now to do the legwork.

The legwork for me looks like this.

  • I choose my study materials.
  • I select a place to do my study.
  • I dedicate time to spend in the study.

I know myself well and have been at this Bible study thing long enough to know what doesn’t work for me.

Dutifully reading one chapter of the Bible per day does not work for me (Acts, chapter one today; Acts, chapter two tomorrow, etc.). There is little continuity of thought from one day to the next. I read that chapter mostly because I feel that as a Christian, it is my duty.

“Read through the Bible in one year” programs do not work for me. Like determining to read one chapter of the Bible each night before going to bed, reading the assigned passages each day becomes just one more thing on my to-do list.

Attacking a portion of Scripture as if I am writing a doctoral thesis on it also does not work. I have begun Bible studies equipped with several different versions of the Word, a concordance, a Bible dictionary, several commentaries, and a determination to complete a world-class study worthy of the topic at hand. But I soon wear out and wish I had not been quite so ambitious.

Currently, I read each day from a book of devotions. Each devotion includes a passage of Scripture. It focuses upon that scripture and is one-page long. Every devotion is well written and encouraging. This is what I call my “light” reading.

I read one selection from Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest. If you are familiar with this scholar, you already know his writings are anything but light. Chambers’ pieces are Scripture-based and challenging.

I then write in a notebook one thought from my day’s reading. Somehow, I don’t feel I’ve really studied if I don’t write anything down.

Is this the best way to spend time in the Word each day? Probably not. Could I do more? Probably.

But this study is doable, and it helps me in my daily walk.

Do you want to develop a daily Bible study habit?

You can accomplish that goal. Design a plan that works for you and then make it happen.

 

Thank you to Jan Thompson for buying this devotional book for me. Consider buying something similar for you and one for a friend.

P.S. It is okay to begin reading mid-year.