Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Proper Perspective

There should be some sort of alarm system when it comes to keeping perspective. But then, I guess there is. At least for me. For me, it's when I start to feel like an outsider looking in, living my life but not really in the moment. A little bit like watching myself as a character in a movie. It looks like me, talks like me, but doesn't really feel like me.

My descriptions are easy to relay here because I'm feeling this way right now. Once upon a time, not too long ago, I had a very clear list of priorities. Front and center on that list was my relationship with the Lord and that colored everything else with a nice shiny coat of plain old sense. And when everything makes sense, it's easy to keep a proper perspective.

There's no obsessing over things that don't matter, worrying about the future, or being afraid of failure. There's no sensitive feelings, holding on to bitterness, or worrying about my appearance. I'm tellin' you, there is absolutely nothing like letting the Lord interpret the world around us. It's a state of bliss, really. Not a state of perfection, but a state of bliss. Even the difficulties don't seem so bad, life doesn't seem overwhelming, people don't seem so frustrating. The Lord has a wonderful way of softening rough edges and reassuring us that everything will work out to the good.

When I finally obtained the title of published author, I warned myself to NOT fall into the trap of changing my focus. I knew all too well the joys of putting Christ first, and I'd also known very well the sadness of life without it. But I knew without hesitation that this new adventure would threaten my focus.

And it did. At first I really determined to let the Lord guide my steps when it came to promotion and publicity for my book. I asked Him to tell me what to do, where to go, who to speak to, and then I trusted Him to help me do it. But after a while, I got worried. What if it doesn't get out there enough? What if I don't measure up to my publisher's expectations? What if, what if, what if?

And suddenly the computer became an extension of my hands. We all know how many opportunities the internet holds, and I started searching through many of them, trying to figure out - without consulting the Lord, mind you - what might get my book noticed.

Now do I really think that's wrong, publicizing my work? No. But do I think it's wrong when I'm spending time on it that the Lord wanted me to spend doing other things? Yes! And is it wrong when that time spent mindlessly searching for new promotional outlets causes my relationship with the Lord to suffer? Most definitely!

So that's where I am now. I'm in realignment mode. It's time for me to get my priorities straight and remember that the Lord is in control. That every moment He blesses me with is meant for His glory, not my own. It's time for me to sit back, relax, and turn my gaze back on Him because when He does call me to do something I need to be ready. And I need to be listening.

After all, I don't think he'll be contacting me via Facebook!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Who Says It's Junk?

Once when I was young my mother allowed me to walk to a yard sale down the road with a small amount of money and the instructions to not buy any junk. And of course I didn't! Who did she think I was? I brought back a very tasteful, very useful item that consisted of colorful plastic butterflies bobbing about on wire. So not junk!

I think that's where my yard sale obsession took root, and so, now that spring seems to finally have graced our doorsteps here in Virginia, my Saturday writing will suffer. Not because I'm out getting some much-needed exercise or because I'm sleeping in, but because it's YARD SALE SEASON!! YAY!!

Yes, I'm a yard-sale-aholic which means I stop on a dime when I see homemade signs decorated with arrows and eat breakfast in the car. I carry a lot of one dollar bills and walk really, REALLY fast when I spot something I like that someone else is headed for. And I bring home a lot of stuff I hope I end up using someday.

But though I tease about it, it really is a great way to cut costs, and we all know what cutting costs is about these days. Just last weekend I came across a woman with salesman's samples, all new things that would make great gifts. And she had fantastic prices. Gift-giving just became a little easier! Those sorts of sales are rare, but most yard sales have some new items whether they're unused wedding gifts or just wayward purchases the owner didn't feel like returning.

Buying for kids at yard sales is another fantastic way to pinch pennies. Kids' clothes, toys, books... you name it. Those are things you can find in abundance, and since the little ones grow out of things so quickly, it's a huge boost to the pocketbook to find bargains on them.

You can also dress up a boring room with some second-hand pictures, frames, candle holders and other little touches. And if you've finished Fireflies In December and need a new read, you can find plenty of books. :)

The trick in all of it is to think before buying or else before you know it you'll have a house full of yard sale items you'll end up selling... at a yard sale. I usually plan ahead by taking only a certain amount of money I've allotted for the trip and then making a mental list of things I'd like to have. That keeps the wild spending at bay.

Have I enticed you yet? If you've never tried it, check out your local newspaper for sales. But if you're anywhere near me, don't follow my car too closely. I brake for yard sales!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Location Change For Books-A-Million Signing

Sorry to switch things around on everyone last-minute, but there's been a location mix-up with my April 28th Books-A-Million signing. I had originally posted it as being at the West Broad St. location in Richmond, VA. However, it's actually going to be at the store located at 9131 Midlothian Tnpk. So sorry for the inconvenience. Still hope to see you there at 7pm!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Just Along For The Ride

Amazingly, the first nice sunny day we had around here ushered in a cure for my writers block. Hopefully the cure is permanent... or at the very least lasts for more than a week. There really is something about surrounding and circumstance that affects creativity. But I'm learning that they impact more than just my creativity; they oftentimes determine my outlook on life in general.

Not such a great thing.

Life is so uncertain, like the fair ride with the crazy operator who just keeps letting it roll. Just when you think one topsy turvy loop is over, another one starts. Those loops aren't always life-threatening or world-altering. Much of the time they're just inconveniences, annoying little bumps in the road. (We've certainly talked about these things here before!)

The real test of it is, how do I handle them? Do I let them rule me or do I rule them? Discipline comes in handy in life in so many ways, so why not here? As a nanny I teach kids how to curb their reactions, to see the positives when the negatives are most obvious. If they fall, I try to make them smile. If they mess up, I try to make them laugh over it. Why cry over spilled milk? And trust me, I've seen a lot of spilled milk in my day. My goal with them is to train them to react thoughtfully not instinctively. Because instinctively, well, we humans tend to be a mess!

But do I follow my own advice in my life? Not always. Sadly, many times when life throws me a curveball I do just what I teach against - I react instinctively. I grit my teeth and mutter, walk around with a frown, pout, snip at someone, kick a shoe across the room... whatever.

So basically... I'm a hypocrite. In the nicest sort of way, of course! :) I make a living out of telling kids to do things I don't always do myself. So I suppose it's time for me to live the example I set at work, learning to be content in whatever circumstances I am (See Phillipians 4:11). Life may not be all I want it to be, but it's not about what I want it to be. It's about what the Lord wants it to be.

Whether it's writer's block, bad weather, illness, injury, low funds, rocky relationships, car troubles - you name it. It's time I started learning to be submissive enough before the Lord to accept what He brings into my life with a bit more grace and a lot more faith; to trust that He knows what He's doing and that "in all things God works for the good of those who love Him" (Romans 8:28).

Sometimes I may feel like I'm on that wild fair ride, but I'm not at the mercy of a nutty operator. I'm under the close watch of the Creator of the universe. Every bit of my life is seen and understood, and all I have to do is trust in His control, follow His lead and see what happens.

It's that perspective that makes the lemonade out of the lemons.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Where Have All The Plot Lines Gone?

There should be a store for plot lines. Or at the very least a rental place. If only I could get story ideas in the mail like my Netflix DVD's. Right now I'm working on the third book in my series (now called the "Calloway Summers" series, BTW), and I'm starting to have mild panic attacks that I'll never come up with the full plot line. I sat down with the computer for almost two hours today, and I think I managed about two usable pages. Not good.

That's been a trend the last few times I've focused on the book. (If you're from my publisher, you probably shouldn't be reading this!) I know I've mentioned that infernal blinking cursor here before, and I'm getting to know it well right now. Very well. We're on a first-name basis, me and the cursor. In fact I'm beginning to curse the invention of the cursor.

But then, this happens to me with every novel I write. There's always that moment when I cannot for the life of me figure out how to get from point A to point B. That's also the moment when I entertain the idea that I may never again be able to string together 100 usable words much less 80,000. But, of course, I always do in the end.

So what to do in the meantime? There are some things that I like to try to get my brain kicked into gear. I listen to music that fits the feel of the story I'm working on. I'll watch documentaries that focus on the applicable time period. I daydream, picturing the already written scenes in my head. Whatever helps at the time. But most of all, I just stick with it. I may hop up after 45 minutes of mindless tapping at the keyboard and find something else to do, but I'll be back at it again tomorrow. That's what we do with everything, isn't it? If at first you don't succeed try, try again. Eventually, Jessilyn and Gemma will help me find the story lines I need.

They're always getting into some sort of trouble!

What about you? Writer or not, you've probably felt creatively stifled in something. What are your tricks of the trade?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

A Day To Remember

Friday was a busy day what with errands, computer work, appointments, and it wasn't until afternoon that I even realized it was Good Friday. That's half a day gone by without stopping to think of what that day commemorates: Christ's ultimate sacrifice.

I don't tend to stop and think about these things often enough. I'm too busy doing... stuff. Most of the things I do with my time I won't remember an hour later much less a decade later. But the events that started with desperate prayers in a garden and ended with a stone rolled in front of a tomb will be remembered forever.

As will the events we celebrate today, Easter Sunday - the day we celebrate His resurrection and His victory over death. It's the day we celebrate the opportunity of new life in Christ. And it's a day I'm determined to take the time to stop and remember.

I'll remember that God gave His only Son to die for the sins of the world. I'll remember that Christ left paradise to humble Himself with humanity, to pay my penalty, to endure hatred, to be beaten and scorned and hung on a cross. There are no time limits to the memory of His suffering, His humility, His grace, His forgiveness.

These things are timeless.

May we all stop today to remember the greatest of all sacrifices, the greatest of all miracles, the greatest of all love.

Happy Easter!

But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed.

Isaiah 53:5

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Accentuating The Positives

Since we've been on the subject of monotony lately, I've mostly been thinking about things that really annoy me. But today I'm going to try a radical new idea... brace yourself... I'm going to turn my attention to things that make me happy. Gasp! I know it's a revolutionary idea, but when it comes down to it, there really are a lot of everyday things that make me smile.

Like... time with the Lord, reading His word, moments with family, kid hugs, phone calls from friends, beautiful weather, pudding cups, comfy socks, writing, music, family pictures, a good hockey game, a hot shower, sleep, summer thunderstorms, chocolate, an afternoon out with friends, coupons, favorite TV shows...

Hold on, I'm taking a breath...

Hearing "I love you", saying "I love you", interesting mail, candy, a good hair day, someone holding the door open for me, an easy commute, beautiful scenery, sales, smiling at someone, being smiled at, afternoon naps, snack time, watching classic movies, a good book.

I could go on. But I won't. That would become monotonous.

The point is, I'm trying to realign my thinking. For all the annoying in life there's plenty of enjoying. I just need to peer around the negatives to see all the positives. I'll add one last thing to my list before I'm through: you, the lovely people who wander over here to look at my odd meanderings. Thanks for sticking with me!

Now, excuse me... I'm going to go have a pudding cup. :)

What about you? What everyday stuff makes you smile?

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Crying Over Spilled Milk... or Juice

So since I wrote my last post about how the little annoyances of life can be valuable lessons, I've been... umm... learning lessons! My computer has been slow, my brain has been slow, and my ability to complete projects has been... slow. And this morning I managed to spill cranberry juice all over the fresh tablecloth. Things just are NOT working properly.

I should have expected it, really. That's the way the Lord always teaches me, by taking the things that are related to the lessons I need to learn and making them very apparent. I've been keenly aware of late that I needed to be more patient, more submissive; and when I'm needing to mature in a particular area, He uses life to make an impression on me. After all, it really is what we experience that teaches us so much.

And anyway, it could be worse, right? If spilling juice and waiting five minutes for my computer to load a page is as bad as it gets right now, I'm good to go. I just need to find some extra patience.

And some good stain remover!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Life In The Slow Lane

I really don't care for monotony.

That day in, day out grind that seems so perpetual, you eventually come to the conclusion that NOTHING will ever change - it's sometimes overwhelming. In fact, it often feels like I could write my schedule down before it happens:
  • Get up
  • Get ready
  • Stub toe
  • Check e-mail
  • Stub toe again
  • Do some work
  • Eat lunch
  • Do some work
  • Bang into doorjamb when turning corner
  • Eat dinner
  • Cut self shaving
  • Go to bed

So the next day goes, and the next day. Oh, maybe there's a change or two. I might substitute smacking my head on a shelf for the second toe stub. Who knows? But ultimately, it really does seem so run-of-the-mill at times, it all just meshes together. Is this Friday? Or is it Monday? I oftentimes figure that out by what show I'm watching that night.

But now I'm realizing that I'm interpreting this whole thing the wrong way. Because the Lord doesn't do things just for the sake of doing things. There's a purpose and a plan for every aspect of our lives. What seems like monotony may really be repeated chances to learn. To learn patience, obedience, submission, humility, appreciation, a positive attitude... whatever.

Ultimately His will for our lives is that we grow; that we learn to be the best people that we can be so we can live the most fulfilled, productive lives possible according to His perfect plan for each of us. He doesn't want us to merely exist, He wants us to live... with a capital L.

We may not think it at the time, but even those times we bill as monotonous are times when the Lord is working, when He is chipping away at our rough edges. I don't know about you, but the idea that there's a purpose to my stubbed toes and recycled lunches makes life better. If we look at every challenge, every repeated function as a chance to learn, we at least give them purpose. They're no longer meaningless moments, but a means to a great end.

So now I'm trying to remember that each difficulty, each pain, each frustration, each dull moment can teach me. They can teach me to resist temptation, to hold my temper, to pray when I'd rather scream, to praise instead of complain.

Mind you, I said I'm trying! It's a work in progress.

But then, so are we!