Wednesday, March 26, 2014

On Writing

Writing for this blog is hard work.  And I've been wondering why.

When I set out to do this, I imagined that writing a blog post would be something like writing in my private journal.  And journaling has never been difficult for me.  I think about something, emotions surface, ideas form, and the words come to the page without too much intervention.  It flows.  But blogging has been a different animal.  I write.  Stop.  Think a long time.  Write some more.  Change what I wrote and start over.  Try to find the right word to convey my thought.  Write.  Attempt to conclude.  It takes a loooong time, especially with the normal interruptions of my daily life.  It reminds me of my college days, where writing was painstaking but necessary (I wrote lots of papers as an English major).  And I dreaded it then.  I don't want to dread it now.  But I haven't hit a stride like I thought I would and that leaves me feeling discouraged.

Why is my blogging different from my journaling?   I was prompted in two conversations today to think that the main differentiator is the fact that I have an audience here.  I want my writing to be meaningful for readers.  So I am still writing for the crowd, still not fully vulnerable in the way I would like to be.  It feels uncomfortable to be in the awkward teenage years of writing a blog.   And to know that others see my awkwardness.  I tell myself that surely all the writing practice of my college years should put me further down the road of experience.


I think writing - or any act of creating - must take lots and lots of practice.  I'm not sure why that revelation surprises me.  I certainly didn't learn to play the piano without spending many hours on the piano bench.  But it seems un-artistic, somehow, to put creativity and work in the same sentence.   I've always pictured the great artists painting or writing with ease.  Maybe my inability to think of those things as two parts of the same whole is part of my problem.

Work has never conjured up pleasant thoughts for me.  I don't like to think of it as drudgery, because having activity for my hands and mind and heart is a concept I want to embrace.  My husband, wise man that he is, has often told me that I need a paradigm shift when it comes to the subject of work.

In some ways, this is where I see what I'm made of.  Where the good feelings end but I keep going and push through the awkwardness because I know this is something I need to do.  Even if it doesn't come together or flow as I thought it would or should.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Other Side of Frustration

The other day, I happened to read a blog post that had some words of wisdom for me.

"I believe that when we're frustrated, it doesn't have to be for nought.  It doesn't have to stop short. . . .  Frustration can be the first burning sparks of holy desire."  (from The, January 21, 2014)

 I've always been frustrated by frustration.  The very emotion of it gets under my skin and becomes an itch that I can't seem to scratch.  Perhaps part of my irritation with frustration is that I have never really believed it was leading me anywhere.

Until I read that blog post.

I was actually frustrated on the day I read the blog (about what, I can't remember).  But I DO remember having an instantaneous shift in my thinking when I read that part about burning sparks. Suddenly, my frustration wasn't just a meaningless exercise in itchy irritation.  It was the spark of a holy desire.  And when I saw it that way, the frustrated emotions began to retreat and grace entered the scene.  It was a powerful moment. Because, see, my frustration is often rooted in powerlessness - by my feeling powerless to change something, ensnared by my own indecision or by someone else's choices.  Grace lifts my feet out of the frustration muck and gives me a bird's-eye-view of the situation.  So maybe my frustration with my husband's attitude has a holy desire behind it - a desire to see him come to a place of rest.  Or maybe my frustration with my neglect of this blog last week can open my eyes to an unhealthy need for approval (and a very healthy need for grace).

I think this post is about more than the emotions of frustration.  I think this post is also about the power of a shift in perspective and what that can do for a person's soul.  So keep your eyes open for a holy spark - it could show up in an unlikely place.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Gift of Order

I have a particular character trait that I am learning to appreciate.  I'm not entirely sure what to call it - the best word I can think of is "orderliness" (dictionary definition: observant of or governed by system or method).  On the surface, it doesn't seem to be an exciting trait.  Much more rigid-sounding than "free-spirited" or "creative."  So in my twenties, I resigned myself to my personality fate.  I couldn't doubt my penchant for order.  And I couldn't, I reasoned, have the more exciting traits if I happened to be an orderly and organized person.

Or could I?

I am beginning to uncover a gratifying connection between orderliness and freedom:  order provides a framework where freedom can flourish. 

Freedom, in my thinking, is the ability to dwell fully in the present without regret for the past or impatience for the future.  It is understanding that there is, as the writer of Ecclesiastes so beautifully put it, a "time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens."  And orderliness is the vessel that arranges a time and a place for the people and stuff and events that make up my little world.  When I bring order to my day, I provide a place for my priorities to dwell, which in turn leaves room for the unplanned events and spontaneous whims of the day.

Order for the sake of order is stifling (otherwise known as control).  But order for the sake of freedom...well, THAT'S something I can get excited about.

NOTE TO THE READER:  Take heart if you don't count orderliness among your personality traits.  Perhaps I am doing you a disservice by attaching it to personality because, frankly, I think orderliness is learned more than felt.  Take heart, too, if you are in crisis or survival mode.  There is a time for everything, and sometimes just getting by is enough.

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Secret Place

My husband and I went to a conference in December.  We listened to a speaker named Banning Liebscher, who had some really insightful things to say about John 15:16 where Jesus says, "I appointed you to bear fruit that will last." Fruit that will last.  That kind of fruit, as Mr. Liebscher pointed out, can only come about from a good root system.  Fruit is seen, but roots . . . well, they only grow in the dark, hidden places.  And thus his insight that has stayed with me:  "We want God to develop our life on stage.  God develops us in the hidden, secret place."

I've thought about that quote many times over the last two months.  And the coinciding realization that has come to me is this:  motherhood is my secret place.

It seems easier to have your character developed when you have some glory to go along with the guts.  Like a title or at least a few glowing reviews.  But this season of my life as a stay-at-home mom has felt like a lot of guts and relatively no glory.  It requires more of a personal investment than any paid job I've ever had.  And it can get mundane and ordinary very quickly if I don't inject some life into it and remember that this is want I want to be doing.  The environment is, without question, an ideal place to develop my root system.  No one knows what goes on at home all day between me and my two children.  And when it's just me, I find it easy to justify my impatience and unkindness and lack of self control.  Sometimes I don't remember that they are only 3 and 1 and finding their way just like me.  However, in those moments a really good thing has been happening.  In those moments, a little prick of conscience is reminding me of my root system.  That what comes out of me in secret in the privacy of my small surroundings is what will come out of me on stage when my children are older and my circle is wider than the confines of my home.

It humbles me.

So right now I'm making a concerted effort to put down good roots and bear lasting fruit on my little plot of ground called home.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Fear and Priorities

I realized something yesterday as I wrote my first post and touched on the topic of fear.  Fear can be a mis-prioritizer.  (I don't think that's a word, but it made such sense to me that I'm including it here.)  In my life, fear so often gives priority to the unimportant, effectively masking the thought or action that should take precedence.  This "mis-prioritizing" just happened yesterday.  Thanks to the endless questions of my son - who isn't afraid to ask a complete stranger about something that has aroused his curiosity - I was in a conversation with someone I didn't know, someone who was clearly troubled.  I wanted to extend compassion to that person in a tangible way, but instead I prioritized the voice that said I would stand out or look weird if I acted.  So my heart's desire was stifled for a moment.  But there have been other moments when my heart won the day, and remembering those moments encourages me to keep at the work of prioritizing.

Fear, by the way, might get mentioned often in these posts.  Not because I like fear, but because it has been an enemy of my authenticity for so many years.  It took me a long time to realize that the voice which so often negated my ideas and dreams was the voice of fear.  That the voice which said "But what if..." or "But then again..." or other reasonable sounding phrases wasn't really the voice of reason or good thinking.  It was the voice of fear.

Is courage the opposite of fear?  Or love?  I'd like more of both, please.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Beginning

Today my writing for Lent begins.  It feels momentous, but I don't think it really is.  In my household, I have a bit of a reputation as a reluctant beginner.  I'm not generally quick to start new things.  I think perhaps that's because I have made too big a deal of beginning.  Beginning doesn't mean I can never end.  Beginning doesn't mean I have to enjoy every moment, always be grateful I did this, always have my ducks in a row.  Beginning is only the first part - page one - of a story that isn't yet clear to me.

The emotion that surprised me when I finally drew my line in the sand and decided that I would start a blog today:  FEAR.  I didn't realize how vulnerable I would need to be to write in a forum like this.  And not to write about what I had for dinner or what I did with my husband on our last date or what my children did or said today (the sorts of things I post on Facebook), but to write what is in my heart.  What will people think?  Will they think I'm a good writer?  Will they want to keep reading?  Will they understand me?  At one time, I wanted to know the answers to those questions before I would start.  Now I think the answers to those questions aren't nearly as important as being obedient to the prompts God puts in front of me.

Here's to beginning.