Reinventing Myself

breakfast2I have spent these last few weeks busy with graduation activities. My son just graduated from Early College High School which means that we had double ceremonies and more events than the average high school graduate. A Senior Honors breakfast, Senior Walk, High School Graduation Ceremony, College Graduation Ceremony, Church Youth Group Recognition Dinner, and a graduation party for family and friends that I planned and hosted, kept me very busy. This morning I accompanied our son to the second day of freshman orientation where he registered for his Fall classes and is officially a University student. I have barely had time to absorb the fact that my main priority for the last eighteen years, caring for my son and raising him to be a successful young adult, has taken a dramatic change. While hubby and I will always be there for love, support and encouragement, it is time for him to grow into his independence and to be his own person. If I had any illusions otherwise, the college freshman orientation experience makes it abundantly clear – while parents are welcome for the various informational sessions, they are not allowed to accompany their student to registration. My baby boy is now responsible for making his own decisions.

joshbuzz2I have had a lot of varied emotions about all of this. On one hand I must admit I am a little sad – it’s hard to let go of the little guy that I have spent so many years nurturing. It feels like just yesterday he was pretending to be Buzz Light Year, talking into his report recorder and using his laser. It seems I was just planning his “dinosaur dig” 6th birthday party, yet we just finished his high school graduation party. Precious memories are mixed up with anticipation for his future…but through all of that emotion comes another realization. I now have more time to devote to my own dreams – the ones that had to be put on the back burner while I took on the more important role of Mom. There is a freedom in my son’s graduation – not just for him but for me and hubby too. I feel like I am getting to reinvent myself. I spent most of my adult professional life as an engineer and I loved it. Engineering has it’s own kind of creativity but is also a very technical discipline. But what I really hope to do now that our son has graduated high school and is pursuing his academic career as a young adult, is to devote time to my creative side with much more focus.

shootingstarAs a teenager I wanted to be an actress or a songwriter – I had creative ideas bursting out of me in all directions. I wrote a book when I was in my early twenties. I took courses in film and photography. But life happened and I never was able to pursue any of those interests. I have been writing for years (mostly technical articles) and I have a story inside that I can’t wait to tell. It’s science fiction filled with action, adventure, humor, and universal themes that I hope have an emotional impact on my audience. It’s been in my head a long time but now, I am able to focus and let all those ideas out. Now – I get to reinvent myself. I have accomplished my task of raising my child and helping him to have the tools he needs to be successful (and I can’t wait to see where his journey takes him!) but I am starting a new journey too. I have come to understand the value of entertainment in a very personal way as I dealt with some losses in our family and I have realized that entertainment in all its different mediums is a gift, a way to relieve the stress and burdens of life at least for a little while – making them easier to endure. How wonderful to laugh out loud at a comedic moment in a television show or movie or to immerse ourselves in a book that captivates us to take a break from the troubles of life.

So today I am announcing to the world – I am reinventing myself. I will focus on my current work in progress as a daily endeavor, rather than just snatching bits of disjointed time blocks that hinder the creative process. I will continually study my craft, and I have an additional goal of learning how to write a screenplay. I will shoot for the stars. I will reinvent myself.

[Image courtesy of xedos4 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]

Forgiving Ourselves and Forgiving Others

I have been thinking about forgiveness a lot lately. I know many people who struggle with it, in that they are either unable to forgive themselves for something they have done or they are unable to forgive someone else for hurting them. When I think about God’s limitless grace and that it is through Christ’s sacrifice at the cross that we have received forgiveness for all of our transgressions – what is even more amazing is that God initiated it! We read in Romans 5:8, “For God demonstrates his great love for us in this; while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” He died for us knowing we were a mess, yet loving us anyway. His forgiveness heals us and if we are unable to forgive ourselves, or others, we are unable to fully experience the peace that comes from the healing power of Christ.

When we forgive others, we make a choice to humbly follow the example Christ set for us, and I believe God will use that step of faith to release healing in not only the person offering forgiveness and the person being forgiven, but also anyone else who has been affected by the broken relationship.

It’s no wonder we sometimes struggle with forgiveness – it is such a universal struggle and that is why songs are written about it…For those of you who are battling with events from the past, it might help to remember what Paul writes in Philippians 3:12-14,

“12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Many people focus on verse 14 but notice what Paul says in verse 13: “Forgetting what is behind” is SO important before proceeding to verse 14 – We need to NOT allow our past to dictate our present or influence our future. It doesn’t mean we won’t have consequences from the past that we will have to deal with, but the past need NOT affect the choices we make today or determine what is yet to come. If you consider Paul’s past before he became a Christian, he crossed many lines in persecuting the church. This becomes very powerful because he put his transgressions behind him and by focusing on what lay ahead, he overcame his past to become a great pillar of the church whose influence through the Holy Spirit has guided Christians for thousands of years. Wow! He initially had to deal with a lot of unpleasantness because of what he had done previously, but he didn’t let that stop him – something you might want to share to encourage someone who may be struggling with their past. The example of Paul in Scripture reassures us that there are no lost causes and we can all have a new beginning. God forgives us when we ask, therefore we should be able to forgive ourselves and receive the peace and hope that comes with the grace He freely offers.

forgiveFor those of us who have trouble forgiving others, I don’t believe you will ever be truly at peace until you do. It doesn’t even matter how the other person responds (if they are even around to respond – offering forgiveness is an intentional action that flows out of your heart – while it is hoped that it blesses the person you are forgiving – their positive response is not a requirement). Scripture is clear on God’s desire for us to forgive one another. Paul writes in Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

I believe God gives us a great gift by teaching us to forgive one another and it is also for our own benefit – a heart weighed down by the bitterness of being unforgiving can never experience true joy. I love this video by Matthew West called “Forgiveness” because it speaks eloquently to both sides of forgiveness. If you have something weighing you down, I hope listening to this song will help you to take the steps God may be calling you to take, so that restoration can occur through the power of Jesus Christ and despair and disappointment can be replaced with healing and love.

Matthew West – Forgiveness

 

[image courtesy of markuso at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]

 

 

 

Shared Passion: Know Your Audience

I saw a pretty thorough rant as a blog post, regarding the superiority of the author’s work in comparison with other novels. This person pretty much lambasted the quality of other novels that were successful in getting published via the traditional route. Due to their inability to get published by a traditional publishing house, this person went the self-published route. According to the blog, due to their lack of expertise in marketing, this person was unable to market their book well, which resulted in poor sales.

I am being gender neutral to protect the identity of this person, because I believe they are writing purely out of bottled up emotion. Which is okay as a cathartic exercise, but not really appropriate on a public forum, especially when it criticizes an entire industry. While I felt this person’s angst, I think this kind of attitude is very dangerous. I can truly empathize with their frustration over the hard road it often takes to traditional publication, a journey I have only recently begun as I search for representation. However, one thing I have learned in both my academic and professional careers, is that writing is very subjective. What one person embraces as wonderful literature, another person may have absolutely no interest in. That to me, while frustrating at times, is actually one of the beautiful things about storytelling. It is about knowing your audience because you are also your audience, and then writing in such a way that you touch their hearts and if you are really good – stir their souls too. This is not something you can contrive, because as soon as you try, it will sound artificial. You must write what you are passionate to write about.

road

One of the best things you can do when traveling the road of traditional publishing, is to know your audience. This applies to both your targeted readership and to the professionals you are seeking to partner with as part of your publication journey. If your passion is their passion, you have found the right audience to present your work. For the person who posted their rant, I would respond by saying I feel your pain. But celebrating the successes of other authors rather than denigrating their work, is the better road. There is no need to insult other audiences, just because they are not your own. Nobody, and I mean nobody, ever claimed being a writer is easy. There are lots of times we are assaulted by self-doubt and frustration at rejection. In our chosen field, working hard does not guarantee success. But by working hard, we will grow. By being able to accept constructive criticism and apply it, we will grow. The road to publication may be long and difficult. We may receive multiple rejections. But that doesn’t mean we set aside our writing aspirations. We simply work harder to improve our work. Having people around that will pick us up when we are feeling down is always a good thing too.

I love the quote by Winston Churchill, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

Most importantly, if you are getting a lot of rejections, you shouldn’t be so inflexible that you can’t rethink your project. A definition of insanity that is often quoted is “Doing the same thing over and over, each time expecting different results.” A few rejections may simply be a matter of taste, but being rejected over and over by industry professionals is probably a sign that you are either submitting to the wrong audience or that some major revision is needed. Think of revision not as a negative activity – but as an opportunity to make your work even better. Don’t stop writing, revise that project. You can also start another project, being assured that you have grown in your craft through your previous labor. A writer must write, after all. But when it comes time to submit, know your audience.

[image courtesy of khunaspix at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]

I Write, Therefore I Am.

writingdeskI was thinking about why I write this morning. Writing, for one with a passion to express themselves through the written word, defines a good portion of who we are. Reading does not equate to writing, but without reading, writing for some seems almost pointless. Some of the greatest praises from a beta reader for me are, “I couldn’t put it down, I wanted to find out what happens” or “It really tugged at my heart” or “It gave me a whole new perspective.” Those phrases are what really get me going as a writer.

While it is perfectly okay to write simply for the act of writing, which can be a very private matter and can be very cathartic, sometimes revealing what one has written in those moments can touch people in a way that even our best efforts at creative writing can’t capture. I think for the writer, part of who one is must enter the story, if the story is to resonate with others, even if it is only a reaction to the writing rather than personal revelation. Does the story you are typing make you pause and think about what you just wrote in a way that evokes emotion? Does it make you stop and laugh out loud, or cause your eyes to water unexpectedly? Do you find yourself smiling while reading a scene you wrote, or empathizing with a character you have developed? Does it make you want to keep writing so that you can share the story with others? Do you wake up at night with an idea you hastily scribble down on the notepad you keep by the bed for that purpose? Do you hear someone say something and think, “That would be a great line to use in my story?” I think people write for many reasons. For me – I write because it is a part of who I am. It is a natural response to the thoughts rolling around inside of my head, having the potential to become a story that could touch the lives of others in a positive way. There are other reasons but for me, that is one of the most compelling. Why do you write?

[image courtesy of surasakiStock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]

 

 

Start With A Smile

Here is an interesting premise to write about. Imagine that you are going to live in a foreign country. Your company has transferred you there, and you are expected to adjust to your new surroundings and begin work immediately. You have learned the language in a classroom, but have had very little, if any, conversational practice. Your physical needs of food, shelter and transportation are provided through your employment. But when you venture out, it is into completely unfamiliar territory. And while your co-workers are very nice, they don’t have a lot of time to provide guidance. If you are going to explore your new home, you must be brave.

I have recently been hired to help three young adults from Japan, here for one year, to learn Business English, while they work for their company and interact with American clients. When I spend time with them, it amazes me at how courageous they are. They have been living and working here for only about two months, and are driving our highways, shopping in our grocery stores, and venturing out on their own to experience American culture, which in so many ways is very different from their own. Something we take for granted like going to an American grocery store is very bewildering since it is much different from grocery shopping in Japan. I can be brave in my writing by exploring new places on paper, but these young adults are doing it for real.

StudentGroup1.jpg

One of the great things about being their teacher is that while they are learning from me, I get to learn from them. That opens up new ideas and ways of thinking, enriching my own experience as I enrich theirs. Just because I have been hired to teach them Business English doesn’t mean it has to stop there. Conversation and cultural immersion will greatly facilitate their success in their goal of becoming proficient at conducting business in the United States and promote understanding between our two countries. We took them to ride my horse this weekend, and what a blessing it was to introduce them to this part of American culture. Their smiles were priceless. Lunch at a local country cafe with real Texas chicken fried steak and mashed taters topped off the day. It was fun to see the waitresses equally fascinated with my students and smiling – they were showing each other the signatures on their master cards which were in Japanese. The great thing about smiles are that they are universal, they transcend any language.

If you are wondering what you can do to get inspiration to write about something new, just look around you. You don’t have to be a teacher to befriend someone who recently immigrated here or is working here for an extended period of time. Sometimes it takes bravery on both sides to reach out to someone different from us, but the blessings you’ll receive by doing so can turn into lifelong friendships and may even turn into a great story for you to write about someday. And it really is not all that hard – all you have to do is start with a smile.

It’s Not About the Candy…

Yesterday I was thinking about Valentine’s Day. I usually don’t think too much about it, because it doesn’t hold that much importance to me anymore. I must admit that before I was married to Phil, Valentine’s Day used to mean a lot more. It was with much anticipation I awaited its arrival during those times that I was in a relationship, as an opportunity for the person who professed love for me to show it in tangible ways such as with flowers and candy. The irony is that because those relationships weren’t that great,  I needed them to prove their love by remembering me on the holiday that is a celebration of love. (No ruffled feathers here please – for those of you in great relationships that still love Valentine’s Day – enjoy!)

But for me, as the years have gone by, its importance has grown less and less. Phil works hard to support our family and spends his free time doing things with us and for us. So on those occasions when he forgets to get a card or pick up a present, it seems ludicrous to me and unfair to him to get upset. Rather, I am grateful because I am incredibly blessed with a loving husband whose actions show me his love for me every day, not just on holidays.

candy

So when Phil came home from Walmart today – not with a big candy heart, flowers and a card, but instead with Hershey’s Special Dark Chocolate and Peppermint Altoids (which he knows are my favorite treats), it made me want to cry (and I did a little). Not because he gave me the candy (although I’m glad he did – Yum!) but because of the heart-spoken message behind it. In those packages of chocolates and Altoids was a message that said “I love you so much, that I know what your favorite things are and I want you to have them.” No, it’s not about the candy, but it is all about the love behind it. And if he didn’t have time to do anything or he forgot, it would have been just fine. Because it really is not about the candy…

Called to Write

pensunsetI read a blog post the other day with the compelling title One Thing Every Writer Needs, by Janet Kobobel Grant of Books & Such Literary Management. Ms. Grant talks about the importance of “belief” as an essential component for any writer and she defined belief in the context of believing in oneself, having others who believe in you, and writing as a calling.

That got me to thinking about calling. What is my calling? That can be tough to figure out sometimes. We may have many different things in life that we are passionate about. For me, I absolutely love being a wife and mom. Those are and always will be at the top of my priority list, but what about other areas of my life? How do I determine what I should be doing when I love to do so many things and those things are so different from one another? For me, the challenge is how do I reconcile my different interests which all touch on my professional career, but in vastly different ways. Merriam Webster defines calling as a “strong desire to spend your life doing a certain kind of work.” Ms. Grant writes regarding writing as a calling, “The ones who thrive best under the heat lamp of the publishing industry are those who believe they are called to write, that they must write, that life would be so much less if they stopped writing.” According to that definition, writing is my calling. But what about everything else?

I think that is one of the best things about being a writer: writing can go across many interests. I have always been a writer and in each of my jobs having that skill has always helped me to be successful. As a teacher I could develop my own course curriculum, as well as develop course curriculum for courses within my areas of expertise for others. In my small business, Golden Cross Ranch, I wrote all of the text for both our website and for all of the extensive instructions that come with our trail obstacle plans. As a test engineer, I also did the documentation for the test sets I built and created. I was a Certified Testpoint Application Specialist and taught a seminar on the use of Testpoint test and measurement software. I created the book that we used in those seminars. Currently I am a contributing writer to Design News, where I use my writing gift to write about my experiences as a test engineer. On a whole different level, I have been able to use my writing abilities to create a ministry book for starting an ESL ministry for local churches that many churches in our area have utilized. I have also used my writing gift to write inspirational messages that comfort and encourage. Upcoming writing projects include both a sci-fi novel and a nonfiction book to help couples understand and successfully cope with the effects of prostatectomy.

Ms. Grant also writes, “You know that writing is an expensive task: It requires all of your heart, soul and mind.” While I may be called to many different things in my life either out of passion for an activity, a need to minister to a hurting friend, or taking care of family, I am grateful that every experience I have adds to the richness of my knowledge. Perhaps by using my pen to record those experiences I can be a blessing to others, just as writers across the ages have blessed all of us with their unique interpretations of the human condition in all its many forms. It does indeed require all of your “heart, soul and mind,” to write, but I believe that is what any calling is all about. On the flip side, when you are living your calling, you are living who God created you to be and there is no greater joy than that! It was very exciting for me to realize that writing is a calling that encompasses all of the areas of my life. You may want to take some time to reflect on your own calling and see where it fits within your present activities and the things you are passionate about. You might just find that you have much to say on some topics that it had not occurred to you to write about previously, but would be a great way to respond to your own call to write!

[image courtesy of surasakiStock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]