Monday, September 16, 2013

Take Time to Regroup: Finding your Goals and Aspirations

I originally wrote this at the end of 2012 for the new year. But now that we are more than halfway through 2013, I thought it appropirate to take another look and see how we've been doing with our writing.

Take Time to Regroup: Finding your Goals and Aspirations for 2013

Discouragement. To authors this is a loaded word, heavy with feeling. Discouragement can last for weeks, sometimes months. It can start with something as simple as one bad book review or a book signing that ends in only a few sales. Discouragement can kick in when viewing royalty statements that show declining book sales. It can fester into more anguish when receiving simultaneous rejections. Discouragement can seep into the crevices of our minds and cause us to lack any zeal to write another book. Or plan a book event. Or praise God.



If God called me to write, then why is the path such a hard one? This is not the glamorous life I thought writers were entitled to!


As if the career aspect wasn’t daunting enough, there is more to the struggle. Writers have others lives besides trying to make their characters come alive. They have children to care for, children with problems, children with attitudes; many have marriages, and in-laws and water bills and ovens that conk out right before Christmas. They’re affected by rising health insurance costs, illness, spouses losing jobs, and relatives who don’t understand.

In our despair how easy it is to run off course. Pretty soon we forget who we are. We forget who loves us. We forget to look up and expect of God. Our world becomes small, consumed with how badly things are going for us. Perhaps you haven’t sunk into the dungeon or the feeling like you are swimming uphill. Or perhaps you are there right now.

What to do?

It’s time to call a meeting with your CEO. It’s time to regroup. And what an appropriate time to do this—right at the beginning of a new year!

WALK--- Pull away from your computer and take time to go to a place where there are no reminders of work. A walk at a nearby park always helps me. As the endorphins kick in, my mind clears. When I breathe in the scent of honeysuckle or see the black-eyed-Susans or feel the breeze and hear the rustle of the tree leaves, I am refreshed. I am reminded of who I am and of who God is.

Open your heart to God. Cry out to Him. Then spend some time focusing on your passions. Ask yourself: What led me to write? Recall past milestones that deemed as signs of God’s calling on your life. Have you perhaps gotten off track? Are you spreading yourself too thin? What are your priorities? Are you doing what you feel led to do?

The other day when consumed with family issues, writing woes and wondering if the world was going to end according to the Mayan calendar, I thought about who I really want to reach with my written words. As I walked over a path of crumpled brown leaves, I was aware of the types of people I have a deep concern for. Broken people. Those who like me, have had a child die. In the weeks to follow, I set out to do more with this part of my writing and created another online grief writing course. I sent letters to those in support groups about my new devotional, Getting Out of Bed in the Morning.

When you return home from your walk, write down what you learned during your time of reflection. Keep a journal; you know that writing out your questions, hopes and dreams is therapeutic. I confess that my reflections are currently not in journal format, but rather, written on slips of paper secured with a large paper clip. I keep these in a desk drawer. I also include the date. It helps to look over these pieces from my heart every so often and marvel how God met each need in His time.

SURRENDER --- There is a bench in the park where I walk that holds more meaning to me than slats of wood framed with metal. This is my Surrender to God Bench. On numerous occasions I’ve sat on it as a symbolic action that I am giving a particular struggle over to God. I like to walk, time myself and keep up my pace, but when I am hit with an “a-ha” moment during one of my meetings with my CEO, I have to sit down to show that I can slow down. The very act of resting at this spot and committing my burden to Him is a sign that I want to give every area of my life over to the One who loves and knows me best.

LEARN --- Although I write a lot of fiction, there are times when I need the guidance of a non-fiction book to encourage me. Authors need the valuable lessons recorded in books by Christians—from how to write better stories to how God teaches, loves and showers His grace and mercy upon us.

Read something new by an author new to you. Stretch your mind. If you always read fiction, try a little non-fiction and learn. Think. Be challenged to grow.

TRUST --- Take time to know that you belong to Him first and that He wants to teach you even in the midst of what looks to be bleak. He works in the winter when all appears dead to the human eyes. But the glorious spring shows us that He has not been silent; He has been creating all along and working behind the bare scenes.

As you get to know yourself better through your times of regrouping, get to know God better. Learn to listen to His voice more than you listen to your own fretting. Dive into scripture about how much He loves you, cares for you and is growing you. Increase your trust.

ASK --- Whenever I ask God for some encouragement, He provides. Don’t neglect to ask Him. The reply might not happen immediately, but wait for it. God will send you what you need.

Just recently I received a letter from a reader that came out of the blue. Here is some of what Blake wrote after reading my novel, Still Life in Shadows:

“Dear Alice,
Just to write to say I loved the book about the mechanic and the little autistic girl.

It was real to me.

I’ve tried to read other novels, but most of them aren’t real. I felt yours was real through and through.
The book helped me deal with my dad. He’s been long, long gone; but bitterness lives. Your book helped me to talk it out, cry it out, let it go. I can only say thank you.

Perhaps I can help my kids see a better dad than I saw. They say they love me. I generally hated and despised my father. He was rough. Thanks for writing.”

This letter came with a twenty dollar bill (I love unique fans) and boosted my spirits. Once more, I was reminded of how readers play an important role when they take the time to reach out to an author. And yes, I certainly was grateful for that enclosed bill—another blessing! The monetary gift also served as a reminder that God does take care of all my needs and to stop wasting time worrying. (“Do not worry about tomorrow.” Matthew 6:34. “I tell you, do not worry about your life.” Matthew 6:1)

BE THANKFUL --- When you are filled with zeal and ambition, you’re a fun person to be around. When you’re gloomy, you most likely won’t exhibit that happiness. Don’t deny your feelings, but know that during this season of aggravation, you need to be around others who can lift you up. Hang out with positive people. Other Christian authors who know the industry might be able to supply you with resources as well as the affirmation you covet. They also can be instrumental in praying for you. Let these people know that they have made a difference in your life. Many of my writing friends have stepped beside me to offer the words I have needed to hear during my season of despair. I treasure their positive messages of love. They are like a cool cup of water for this parched woman walking in the desert.

BELIEVE --- “You are a work of art in progress,” I wrote in my new devotional and like to sign copies of my book with this phrase. The other day I asked myself if I believed what I tell others to grasp. It is easy to toss out hopeful lines to those around us or to write them. Sometimes we need to read our very words about how valuable we are to God and believe that they are true.

It’s a new year! Make sure you aren’t just recycling your old writing goals or your old discouragement. Look up! God send manna from the sky; lift your head so that you won’t miss what He has in store for you in 2013. Let this be the year that you walk, surrender, learn, trust, ask, are thankful, and believe!

[First published in Book Fun magazine.]

Friday, September 13, 2013

Don't Give Up!

"I can't take it anymore. I just want to give up."

Sound familiar?

It sounds much too familiar to me. Life can be overwhelming. Whether you are in pain over the death of a loved one, or suffering from a breach in a relationship, angry over the loss of a career, or brought to your knees from financial woes, there are days when fighting to put one foot in front of the other gets weary. You have tried and tried with that relationship. Nothing seems to work. You want to feel human again after a break-up. Or you want so much to love yourself after you've been abused, rejected or betrayed. Your heart may be barely beating after you've had to tell a loved one good-bye. You may be wondering where God is. You may think you will never see the sunlight like you once used to.

When we are in the throes of sorrow or fear, it's easy to tell ourselves negative statements. Soon our minds are a receptacle for untruths. We doubt. We fear and we live out of our doubts and fears. We waver and can't seem to stand. We dismiss all the truths we once knew about God and His love for us.

We become liars.

Today, as I thought about my current financial deficit, a butterfly on a bush caught my attention and I stopped to view her work as she fluttered around each flower. I was about to do my usual begging and pleading to God when instead I thought, I am rich. And as I continued my walk, I said, I am rich because I get to walk on this beautiful morning.

The bank doesn't think I'm rich. The world might not. But we know that richness is more than numbers in a bank account. I began to come up with statements using the first words, "I am rich".

I am rich because I get to watch the sun rise over the Carolina pines.
I am rich because I have felt the ocean on a summer day.
I am rich because I have seen forgiveness.
I am rich because I know the Giver of Life.
I am rich because I know without God I will fall and fail.

I hope you'll give this exercise a try!

Spend some time listing the ways in which you have been blessed by God. In spite of your current sadness, look up. Even if it all seems hopeless, know that you are priceless to God.

The Apostle Paul stresses to keep our thoughts on things that are praiseworthy, pure, true.

Draw near to Him and He will draw near to you. (James 4:8)

There are days when you might feel that you are not only drawing near to God, you are counting on Him for your every breath.

Negative thoughts damage, make us feel unworthy and before long, we forget that we were bought with a price. Negative statements are not life-giving.

Do this instead: Tell yourself words that heal, that encourage, that bless you and help you to remember that He who gave you life, is your life. And when you live each day with the words He has meant for you, you can walk with hope.

Don't give up!