Category: Learning Curve

Removing the Yolk of Other’s Ideals

I’ve never really thought of myself as a people-pleaser. Though I don’t like to disappoint others and I have often felt burdened by what I think others think – especially when it comes to how I’ve behaved. I desire to be a good friend, competent employee, help to a stranger, a consistent parent, and a devoted wife. When life spins beyond my control I get frustrated and analyze my choices thinking if I’d just done something different, had more self-control or thought through a single moment before acting – then maybe, just maybe I wouldn’t be facing the trouble I have.

I want to believe there is a reason for everything. I do believe God has a purpose for my life and that He will work all things for good because I love Him.

A recurring theme has surfaced the past from various sources – the idol of other’s expectations. And it’s beckoned the question that I must ask when feeling condemned by my choices.

Is this conviction from the Holy Spirit and based on God’s Word, or is it someone else’s idea of how I should act because I’m a Christian?

Am I really so intent on fulfilling the ideals of what a Christian should do or say, that I’m losing focus of the greatest commandment of all?

Jesus died and rose again above all else for his LOVE for us! Yes, he died for our sins because he knew we would never be perfect – even if our deepest heart’s desire  was to live up to that ideal. But he also spoke of loving others, forgiving them, and set an example of looking beyond behavior and to the heart.

I wonder if somewhere in between the lines of scripture, the real reason behind encouraging godly behavior is that ungodly behavior leads to selfishness.

Honestly, how many of us become self-focused when we are eyeball deep in sin? We lose our confidence and in turn reach out less to others. Now, there are those who will go to the other extreme and attempt to take the attention away from them. Or try to make up for their wrong by doing good. But it all comes down to a heart issue. Are we isolating ourselves because we are ashamed? Are we serving others as penance?

Bottom line is that sin hurts us and hurts those around us. It affects our relationships and makes it more difficult to love ourselves and others as God intended. It’s not about what others think at all. And it’s not about their ideals (funny how close that word is to idols).

What I am coming to realize is that even when I fall short, I have to ask myself if that choice has prevented me from loving and serving others. Is it keeping me from fulfilling God’s purpose or having a desire to do so? For each of us, the choice will be different. And the answer will be too.

So, let’s be careful not to push our ideals on to others to the point of creating a yolk of burden. For that can be just as harmful as habitual, or more obvious sin.

Many of us have heard the instruction on not letting a brother stumble.

The true stumbling block here isn’t so much the specific behavior, but the perception of that behavior that can cause a problem. If that perception causes another to be weighed down with condemnation, then we are just as guilty as the person participating in that behavior. Yet, we can also ignore other behaviors that don’t bring us personal conviction, even if that behavior may cause someone around us to stumble.

I want to use an example here to make my point, but by no means want it to create a problem in either direction. It’s an example, yet an issue I will probably address through fiction at one point, instead of a blog post.

Alcohol vs Food

Although scripture uses the example of certain foods, people (teachers) in my experience tend to use alcohol as theirs.

Many Christians are taught that any consumption of alcohol is not okay. It sets a poor example and can cause another person who may have a problem to justify drinking. It can lead to drunkenness which can also lead to personal harm, harm to others, and sinful behavior one may otherwise abstain from.

All these things are true. Yet, not everyone who consumes alcohol gets drunk, has an addiction, or practices sinful behavior.

Stay with me here.

Now, on the topic of food. We live in a nation addicted to food – carbohydrates mostly. Food packed with flour and sugar that interestingly also gives people the same sense of euphoria that drinking alcohol does! Obesity, heart disease, diabetes, cancer and more are all food-related. Diet is a huge factor in prevention or management of these diseases that kill far more people and Christians every year than alcohol does.

Yet, from the pulpit time and again I’ve heard the announcement of church events along with the emphasis of the unhealthy food that will be there. Food that for many is their stumbling block.

Imagine the person sitting there struggling with the need to socialize with other Christians, yet when they hear:

“…and there will be plenty of pie for everyone!”

They cringe as if the pastor just said:

“…and there will be plenty of wine for everyone!”

Because they are trying to lose weight or suffer from a food-related illness that makes consuming pie just as harmful if not more so than consuming alcohol.

Yet, not everyone who consumes pie is overweight, gets diabetes, or dies from cancer.

I would guess there are more people with food addiction sitting in church on any given Sunday than there are alcoholics.

Yet, due to ideals, it’s easier to focus on sins like drunkenness. We seem to forget that at one point in history, the “7 deadly sins” included gluttony. But we’ve swept that under the rug because we like to eat!

Back to the general topic at hand, my point here is simple. We each have our vices. And we can seek out others to hold us accountable and to ensure we don’t get stuck in a rut of sin. However, we need not allow other’s ideals of specific behavior dictate our daily lives. Yes, there are certain behaviors that scripture speaks against – and for good reason. Let’s not be so focused on one or two that we overlook the other ones that can be just as damaging to ourselves or others.

But above all else –

Let’s not allow our ideals to become a yolk of slavery to others who may be struggling with another issue entirely.

For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. If you serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God, and others will approve of you, too. So then, let’s aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up. Don’t tear apart the work of God over what you eat. Remember, all foods are acceptable, but it is wrong to eat something if it makes another person stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything else if it might cause another believer to stumble.

Romans 14:17-21 (emphasis mine)

Releasing Myself of Expectations

2 Corinthians 12:9 over large orange flower

I hit a breaking point yesterday. This past week I released myself from fulfilling the expectations of keeping my emotions under control. It can be exhausting at times – holding back my instincts due to some expectation of how I should act or respond in a certain situation.

Why should I exercise self-control when there are times other people don’t care to control their own reactions?

Why should I stop and consider where the other person is coming from when they don’t seem to consider my perspective?

It is utterly exhausting trying to live up to others’ expectations (real or perceived), putting up a guard to avoid coming off the wrong way, or scooting around certain phrases or not speaking my mind on a matter to avoid “offending” or making someone feel “judged”. Of course there is a time and place for these discretion but I’m talking about the moments when honesty is needed to resolve the matter.

Do I think I’m right all the time?

Do I think I’ve figured out how to overcome all the challenges in life?

Absolutely not.

But I do think I’ve earned some credibility and that those closest to me would respect that. I also think that the foundation of overcoming every major trial in my life should be recognized instead of ignored.

Am I diverting from my point? Or am I getting to the core of the matter?

Could it be that deep down, I have been EXPECTING recognition and because I am getting unsolicited advice instead, my frustration has built like a pressure boiler.

Why is it so hard for others to recognize my triumphs? To give me kudos instead of corrections?

Why do others feel the need to change me and mold me into who they think I should be or how they think I should act or react to a certain situation? And why are they rarely willing to be on the other end, to hear me out, or to attempt to see things from my perspective?

This past week, I’ve dug deeper trying to find the answers, but it seems impossible. No matter how I look at it it’s all a waste of time and energy. I will never live up to the expectations of others, and they will never live up to mine.

With all these thoughts brewing, several blog posts crossed my path that seemed to explain parts of my dilemma in various ways.

First, a Proverbs 31 Ministries post on the topic of Comparing, written by Renee Swope:

Renee Swope Quote on Completing and Competing

After reading this, I was compelled to share the post on my personal Facebook page, and made a comment I hoped would resonate with all the women in my life. It reveals a part of the problem and a simple solution we can all ask ourselves when we are feeling conflict brewing with another woman.

Are we making comparisons or embracing our differences?

If I examine each of my relationships and our typical conversations, they are almost all focused on comparing and not completing (or embracing our differences). And at the core, isn’t this also about expectations?

When we say to each other things like, “Well, I _________ in that situation.” Or “You should just _____,” in an attempt to resolve the problem, are we not both comparing ourselves as well as impressing our own expectations on the other person?

We compare when we don’t accept the others struggles for what they are—a struggle and not a cry for advice or being told we are not putting in enough effort.

We compare when we think we can’t choose or react in the same way as the other person. Be it one who brushes off the problem as if it doesn’t matter, or another who insists I take a specific action to resolve it.

We compare when instead of truly listening, we wait for our first chance to share how we would approach the struggle.

We submit expectations at the same time, because if the “advice” is not heeded, then we collectively fall short in our own eyes while falling short in theirs.

I am willing to admit I’ve played a part in this negative cycle of reaching out to other women only to feel like a failure at the end of the conversation. But I’m tired of it!

When I’m struggling, I want to hear the words, “Sorry to hear you’re going through a rough time. Is there anything I can do to help?”

I want the option to just vent and let it out. I don’t want to feel like I’m not doing enough and that’s why I’m in the struggle to begin with.

I don’t want to hear what I need to do differently. I simply want to be heard.

This morning, I discovered a blog post written by Jan Kern. The connection between comparing and expectations becomes clearer.

In her post simply titled Expectations, she asks this question:

What if I live up to my expectations, my goals and dreams, my prayers and understanding of God’s love for me—instead of the expectations of others?

What if? This is such a loaded question I’m not sure the answer can even be put into words.

First, I need determine what those expectations are.

When I attempt to answer that, there are too many voices in competition—I can’t put aside the expectations of others to discover what actually belongs to me.

So, I’ll start at the end. What is my understanding of God’s love for me and how does that lead to what I think He expects of me?

After a few moments of contemplating what could be a very complicated answer, I recall the simple 5-finger mantra I learned back in 2004 while completing the Believing God Bible study taught by Beth Moore.

1. God is who He says He is.
2. God can do what He says He can do.
3. I am who God says I am.
4. I can do all things through Christ.
5. God’s Word is alive and active in me.

I’m Believing God!

I know God doesn’t expect perfection. If He did, he wouldn’t have sent Jesus to die for those imperfections on the cross.

I know God loves me deeply and looks beyond all my insecurities and doubts and unrealistic expectations of myself and the type of wife, mother, sister, daughter, and friend I think I’m supposed to be.

I know God has given me a desire to take my life experiences and present them as an offering to Him and the world through my writing.

I know He intends GOOD and not harm.

I know He sees my heart above all else, even when I speak, act, or react in ways that do not honor or glorify Him.

Finally, I know his mercies are new every morning. I need not dwell on the past but embrace today as a new opportunity to live by His grace, which more than overcomes my greatest weakness.

When I stand strong on these truths, I will be able to set all other expectations aside and have the confidence that I am acting and speaking according to God’s expectations alone.

Grace is Sufficient with border

When Failure is Part of God’s Plan

Failure according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

1a: omission of occurrence or performance; specifically: a failing to perform a duty or expected action

b (1) : a state of inability to perform a normal function

c: a fracturing or giving way under stress

2a: lack of success b: a failing in business

3a: a falling short (deterioration or decay)

4 : one that has failed

Is it just me, or is the concept of failure taboo these days? Why do we avoid failure like a contagious disease, afraid to admit it, quick to point fingers or blame, and often making excuses instead of acknowledging the obvious? Not even our president can admit failure and I think we are all selling ourselves short as a result.

Failure is not a bad thing! As quoted by Ben Gates in the movie National Treasure, “Thomas Edison said, ‘I didn’t fail, I found 2000 ways not to make a light bulb, and only one way to make it work.’”

Yet, even this quote carries with it a negative stigma regarding failure. But to me, Thomas Edison was pointing out the obvious: He needed to fail 2000 times in order to get it right! Now, what is wrong with that?

When I first started writing, something inside me said that I could not consider myself a “good writer” if I could not create an excellent work with my first draft. If you laughed out loud at this statement, share the Tweet below:

What if authors refused to publish anything except their first drafts? #Failure equals #Success. http://wp.me/p1nUAB-9n

Really, can a young writer be more naïve than I was?

During the past six months, I have tried and failed at many things. I am one to admit failure from the start and see it as a learning opportunity. In addition, I often see failure as a form of direction from God. If and when I fail, I have come to embrace it as God’s way of guiding me toward a success I may not see or understand at the present moment. I do not see failure as a negative thing, but if I confess I have failed, others rarely “fail” in trying to help me to turn around my perspective into a positive light.

In 2008, I failed at obtaining a publishing contract for a novel I wrote. Six rejections and one expensive “acceptance” by a vanity publishing company later, I set the book project in a box and turned to other things. I didn’t know at the time if I was ever meant to have that book published. But I had learned a lot about storytelling and writing in the process and believed that eventually God would reveal when it was time to pursue publication—if at all.

Then in 2012, after an amazing experience at a women’s retreat in the Northern California foothills, the women’s ministry leader told me that God said my book would be published one day. I was working on a non-fiction project at that time, but knew she was referring to my fiction novel. I remembering feeling a sense of peace and patience about all of it, and willing to let God guide me every step.

Several months later, the leader of a writer’s group that took place at our church was seated in the row in front of me. Something stirred in me and I made an effort to speak to him after service and asked him if the group was still meeting. My plan was to present my novel, one chapter a week, seeking feedback and gradually begin to work on a revised edition. My intentions were not to publish at that time, but to look at my manuscript with fresh eyes, improve it as much as I could, and increase the content so that it was at full-length (the original draft was only about 40k words and written as a young adult novel.)

After receiving feedback the first week, I was slightly discouraged. I had failed at creating an understandable introductory chapter—leaving the readers more confused than curious. A couple of the members of the group even thought my historical novel was science fiction until halfway through the chapter!

However, there were also many compliments. They enjoyed my characters and scene-setting descriptions. They commented on my “professional” style and could tell I had a formal education.

So, I decided to stay the course, take their comments, and re-write the first several chapters to create a clear context while still hooking the reader with the mystery surrounding the protagonist’s isolated upbringing.

A little over a year after that first meeting, I was signing a publishing contract that had turned into at least a two-book series!

I wish I could say I have arrived and will no longer fail as a writer or as any other role I play in this life—mother, wife, homemaker, employee, sister, friend, or daughter. I wish I could say that I have learned to avoid discouragement and pick myself up my own bootstraps whenever I miss the mark, but I can’t.

Actually, in recent months, I have felt more discouraged than ever. I have questioned God’s plan and my faith has faltered. I lost my day job back in September and have not managed to acquire adequate supplemental income.

I have failed at getting another job.

I have failed to follow through on numerous commitments due to limited resources of time, energy, and money.

I have failed to plan for my children’s birthdays, holiday celebrations, and even the meals for the day.

I have failed at recognizing all the blessings in my life as they are blurred by what I can’t do.

Failure can give us new perspectives on life. It has helped me see that what I think I want or need may not be the best for my family or me. It can also provide a stark contrast that makes us more aware of the places we have succeeded.

I may not have found another job, but I have written a draft of the entire second novel in my series, made amazing connections with online writer communities, and been able to examine my truest traits and skills.

I have learned to minimize commitments and realized that those depending on me are, for the most part, very understanding and forgiving people. They have lives and commitments as well, and I have put undue stress on myself thinking their expectations of me were more than I could achieve.

My children adjust in miraculous ways, and although it seems they demand a lot at times, they are also easily content with simple solutions. For Christmas, they hardly blinked when we said their wish list needed to be small and simple. My sixteen year old just wanted to have more than one friend spend the night on his birthday. My thirteen year old also just wanted a sleepover and to have the freedom to hang out with his friends all day. They all like hanging out with me and their dad, smiling and goofing off as a symbol of how content they are despite lacking certain luxuries of the suburban lifestyle.

Finally, it is a daily battle to focus on the things that I can control, and learn to give the rest to God and trust that He knows best despite my failures and shortcomings. He has accounted for those as well as my strengths! His mercies are new every morning, and I am more than grateful that He has allowed me to fail time and again in order to recognize the grace and miracles present in my life today.

What about you? How has failing opened your eyes to more important things? How can admitting failure help you to grow and understand your purpose in this life?

WCCW Conference 2015 Reflections

Time to Be Brave and Embrace the Call to Write!


Attending a writer’s conference is one of those things difficult to transfer onto paper (or screen.) You really have to be there to understand the full experience. From making face-to-face connections with writers and mentors you only known via social media to making new contacts with fellow writers or published, yet unfamiliar authors—there are many benefits beyond simply listening to the keynote speaker and attending workshops.

For one, there are those “Divine appointments”. The random introduction or impromptu volunteer opportunity that connects you with someone you may not have otherwise met. After arriving early to volunteer, yet unable to help with heavy lifting due to my back acting up, I was assigned the duty of door “bouncer” in order to prevent attendees from saving seats prior to the completion of setting up the auditorium. The job came with the added bonus of meeting a published children’s book author, Janet Ann Collins. After a few moments of light pleasantries, I found out Janet lived in Grass Valley. I then shared a bit about my current historical fiction series—which takes place between the Grass Valley area and San Francisco.

This prompted her to share that her parents had lived in San Francisco in the late 1800s and early 1900s and that her father had not only told her dozens of stories of his life there, but had even made her memorize the details as a child! Over the next hour, she shared tidbits of the stories and invited me to visit her at her home the next time I was in the area doing research. I thought we would have more time to visit in between conference events, but we never did. This was indeed the one moment we had to connect during the entire weekend. I look forward to hearing her stories and using the relevant facts to bring more life to the No Eye Has Seen series.

Regardless of the other information and inspiration I received over the weekend, this moment confirmed that God had a purpose for me being there. Not that I ever doubted this, but I had not really considered my expectations at that point.

Expectations.

This brings me to a deeper reflection and the theme of the conference. When we choose to write, to move beyond our fears of rejection or being labeled as “different”—our expectations do not necessarily need to be specific. We only need to expect that God will deliver on His promise that if we “show up”, he will bless our efforts beyond any expectations we would see as reasonable.

The keynote speaker, Kathi Lipp, was not only entertaining, but also authentic in her message. The moment she had my full attention was not when she shared about her simple success (she didn’t), but when she realized her family was not perfect. Was she still worthy of writing a book on Christian parenting even when her children were not making the best choices?

Wow, this resonated big time! There have been times where I doubted my call to write due to the imperfect lives of my children or the state of flux within my marriage. I mean—who am I to try to help and encourage people when I am still figuring it out?

Won’t people call me a hypocrite or think my faith doesn’t work? <—Click to Tweet

What if others don’t actually struggle with the same things that I do? Will I be opening a door to temptation or leading others to think they can stray and that God will bring them back on the path in due time?

Whether I share my real life struggles or convert them into fictional people facing similar feelings even if the circumstances are different—my goal is the same. I want people to relate, but even more, I want to give them hope.

Then, during a “lightning talk”, Jeannette Hanscome put this concept into a simple phrase—that like a picture—is really worth a thousand words:

“What do you have to say to free someone else to say, ‘me too!’

Looking back through my life at all the challenges, the utter chaos, the messes and the catastrophes that left me discouraged, hopeless, and questioning everything—I ask “What if?”

What if I had gone to college instead of becoming a teen mom at 17?

What if my two youngest babies had not been in and out of hospitals the first few years of their lives?

What if my husband and I had decided on getting divorced at one of three points in our 21-year marriage where that seemed like the only option?

What if I had not experienced the symptoms of fibromyalgia or chronic pain/depression three years ago and as a result, we never moved to California for a fresh start?

There are a million more examples, but these ones in particular symbolize major turning points in my life that delayed my call to be a writer. Yet, the experiences have given me the opportunity to transfer the doubt, pain, and fear I felt into stories. My goal is to share them and provide hope while allowing readers to see they are not alone as they face similar situations.

But sometimes I am afraid—I doubt that I will make a difference. Don’t people just want warm and fuzzy fiction? Will readers be turned off by the drama, and the fact my characters don’t always make the right choice first?

These are the thoughts spinning in my mind as I scribble notes from the conference. Then, during the final session, Kathi Lipp reminds us of Three Truths Brave Writers Always Remember:

  1. The brave writer doesn’t fear feedback (meaning seeking correction during the writing process).

  2. Brave authors don’t fear “free” (as in giving stuff away to readers, reviewers, etc).

  3. Brave writers remember what God has already accomplished.

The first two are points I have come to accept in the past two years since joining a writer’s critique group and learning the process of book marketing.

However, the third one is a daily battle. I must make a conscious choice to remember what God has already done in my life—and that it is all for a purpose. He has me here for a reason, and he has a definite purpose for my current book series. My expectations are only in His purpose alone. Whether it is to reach 10 readers or 10,000—all that matters is that I am faithful and BRAVE in accepting the call to write.

He will make a way for others to read my work and say “Me too!” <—Click to Tweet

My part is to show up, be myself, and to tell my stories to the world.

What about you? Even if you are not a writer, is there something you feel led to accomplish, but fear is holding you back? Are there people who need to hear your story in order to feel they are not alone? Do you feel that perfection is a requirement before you can help others?

What has God already brought you through? How can you remember what He has accomplished in order to be brave enough to take the next step?

Finding the Story by Finding the Reason

How my analysis of daily life helps me to discover plot and character traits.

Lately, my own personality quirks have afflicted me. How can I be the practical, rational, and organized working woman/mother/friend/wife  while also being the creative, expressive, unique writer? I have stewed for weeks about how I will ever find a rhythm between my daily life and my writing journey. How and when can I express myself accordingly. Who cares? Who is my audience really?

To some people, my life is a fascinating journey of perseverance and overcoming the odds. To others, they appear to care less. The more I dive into writing fiction, the more I see how my personal life is often hard to digest. I often joke that I will never write an autobiography because it would be too difficult to take in how one person has faced so many differing and challenging obstacles. I’d rather write a dozen fiction novels, each reflecting a bit of a single experience.

Unlike other writers or artists, I tend to avoid isolation. I want to interact and talk with others. I want to understand their perspectives, what drives them or slows them down, how they view their lives. However, hardly a social situation passes where I am not urged to tell at least a part of my personal story.

Some people don’t seem interested in talking about themselves, and will ask questions instead of giving answers. Yet, others seem to want to talk a lot, but of nothing with substance. Is it weird that I actually want to talk about something meaningful, something that could induce action or change in an effort to improve ourselves or take a stand on something important?

On the other hand, I can see how my insistence on a “productive” conversation can become exhausting at times. Trust me, it exhausts me too! I used to think what I was really looking for was making a connection, finding common ground. And you just can’t do that talking about the weather, or shopping, or the latest reality television series.

Which brings me back to my role as a writer and that I am realizing my analytic tendencies have more to do with storytelling than I give myself credit for. In this odd mixture of my personality traits, the writer within desires to look at my interactions with others from a practical, rational, and organized fashion because somewhere deep in my brain this will help me transfer the experience into a story. In a sense, this is my ‘storytelling method’. I pick apart a person, a circumstance, a movie, a politician’s speech–in an effort to tell the story. After all, without a reason and a motivation, there is no story.

Maybe this epiphany will only serve myself and publicly announcing it will just make me appear more abnormal to the masses. But for me, as I battle with what I thought to be conflicting personally traits, I am encouraged to finally see a way to combine all the things that make me who I am. And this will help me to become a grander storyteller for an audience that is authentically interested in what I have to say.