Tag Archives: spiritual growth

Are You On a Desert Journey or a Dessert Journey?

j0149014It took me forever to learn to correctly spell desert and dessert. It wasn’t until a teacher in high school said, “Remember, dessert has two s’s like food has two o’s” that I finally got it. Then a few years later I moved to the desert. That’s when I really began to learn the difference.

There are millions of people who live in desert and semi-desert areas who love where they live. I was never one of them. I call our 7 1/2 years living in Phoenix, Arizona, “our desert experience” for a reason: it was a hard, hard life. I usually liken it to the Israelites’ desert experience – full of trials and tests, more enemies than friends, and not seeing until the end how much God helped us grow.

But sometimes life hands you a dessert experience. That was how we felt about most of our 3 1/2 years in Sydney, Australia. The first year was difficult because we lived paycheck-to-paycheck in a tiny cockroach-infested one-room apartment. But the second time we lived there was hands down the most blessed period of our lives!

Kitty birthday cheesecake from Jess SoCalRWA confWe lived in the most gorgeous apartment we’ve ever lived in, walking distance to the beach. We had dozens of friends and a great church, all within walking distance or a short bus ride. Financially we were in a place where we could eat out regularly and sometimes treat others, vacation once a year, go to concerts and other events, and generally enjoy life.

We could afford to enter half marathons and other races, and we lived walking distance from the most magnificent park – still our favorite place to run. We were in the best physical shape of our lives! We were able to share the joy of our new home with several friends who visited from the States. We decided I would go back to school and get my master’s degree. I had a wonderful writing group a train ride away. John enjoyed his job and liked his coworkers. And we both had wonderful friends almost too numerous to count.

We’ve never had a period in our lives like that before or since, when everything came together at the same time in such a magnificent way. It was humbling, and we were filled with gratitude most of the time.

But…life is cyclical. Ocean waves come and go. The tide goes in and out. The moon shines brightly and then disappears, only to shine again.

And now we’re back in a desert experience. If you’ve known us for a while, you’ve heard how the last four years have been – unemployment, multiple deaths of family and friends, medical problems, and so much more. Just when we think we’ve got our feet under us again, something knocks us down. Again. Just last week I was feeling like things were getting better, then the next day someone fraudulently emptied our checking account. These are the moments when you feel like the beatings will never end.

Karen, Jill, Kitty, and John after Easter services at the Hollywood Bowl

But there’s something different about this desert experience. I’m not sure if I can explain it but…even though we’ve been knocked down to the point where we have to live with a friend for a while and still can barely pay all our bills, we have some truly major blessings.

They say financial difficulties are one of the leading causes of divorce, but John and I are tighter than ever. I am spiritually stronger and more joyful than I’ve ever been in my life. We both got tangled up in depression-caused overeating and not exercising, but we’ve recently turned a corner there. I plan to be my healthiest in the next couple years. 🙂 And though we don’t see many friends very often, we are loved and supported by friends around the world.

Plus, despite innumerable setbacks and conversations about quitting, I am still writing and still teaching. My next self-publishing class will finally start in a couple weeks and it’s going to be the best class I’ve ever taught! I am cautiously optimistic about where my career is going and how quickly things may be about to change.

We’ve been through desert experiences, and we’ve been through dessert experiences. But I don’t know what to call where we’re at now. Oh! Just as I typed that, I thought – it’s an Oasis Experience! Yes! Haha!! That’s what we’re having! Oh, I just love that. Thanks, God, for giving us the cool description!

So what about you? Where are you – desert, dessert, or oasis? 😀 Do you feel like you’re growing, or are you hanging on with all you’ve got and praying for it to end? Whichever place you’re in now, I feel like I understand, at least in general. So here is my advice:

Remember, you are not alone.

TanzaniaIf you’re having a hard time, you’re not the only one. If you’re in a difficult place, there are people around you to help you through. There is always someone else having a tough time that you can encourage, too. (Think of it this way – you understand the hard times! Maybe their other friends don’t.)

If you’re experiencing a “I can’t believe I’m so blessed” period, thank God for it! Share your joy and gratitude with others. Invite people over and eat cake. 🙂 Think of ways to share your wealth, whether physically, financially, or by spreading joy and laughter in your wake.

We are not alone. If God is for us, who can be against us? Whoever it is, they won’t succeed. So take heart! And keep on keeping on!

My 6-Item Checklist for Positive Thinking

Emoticon with big toothy smile

Over the years, I’ve read a lot of material on self-help, building a business, and spirituality. At some point in each of those topics, there is talk about the power of positive thinking. If you know me or have ever met me, you know that in general I am a pretty positive kind of girl. So I haven’t spent too much time trying to learn more.

But one thing I very much dislike about some of the more spiritual theories is the idea that if you don’t get what you want, you didn’t pray hard enough or you have a secret sin that God is holding against you. Either of those things may be true (God always forgives but wants you to acknowledge what you’ve done wrong), but sometimes God’s answer is “no” for reasons we don’t understand at the time. Complete repentance, Spirit-filled faith, and hours of prayer don’t always result in the answer we want. Don’t believe me? Read about the heroes of the faith in the Bible. There are numerous miracles, but there are also instances of faithful prayer resulting in “no.”

Additionally, I don’t believe a theory is true if it can’t be applied in all circumstances. If a positive thinking theory works in most Western cultures, which are more affluent than many other cultures, but it won’t work for a poor woman in a third-world country, I doubt its validity.

So when I listened to a podcast last week about positive thinking applied to building your business, I was interested but wary. I’ve been praying for weeks about positive thinking in business because I wanted to get God’s take on some things people had been telling me that I didn’t fully believe.

When I was listening to this speaker, I suddenly remembered two Bible verses. I looked them up and laughed in relief! God had answered my prayers to show me His way of positive thinking. Even though I’ve memorized these sections in the past, and thought I knew them well, I hadn’t applied them to this problem before. Read them and see what you think.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:4-9, Paul’s letter to the believers in Philippi)

And…

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23, Paul’s letter to the believers in Galatia)

Depositphotos_7310221_originalMy new 6-item to-do list: Rejoice. Don’t worry. Be grateful. Talk to God. Focus on the good. Look to see if “the fruit of the Spirit” is growing in my life.

I know from experience that those things work. God has transformed my heart and mind over and over when I allow myself to focus on what’s not working in my life, what I don’t have, what I’m afraid of. (He’s doing it right now as I type this post.) This is the kind of positive thinking power that I can believe in.

It’s Biblical, straight from the source, without unintentional mangling by human teachers. Don’t trust me. Go look it up, read the surrounding verses for context, read several translations. (You can read from over a dozen translations at http://www.biblegateway.net.)

I’ve been searching and learning a lot in the Bible about how to build a great life and a great business. I’ve read a lot of books and articles on neuroscience – the science of the brain – and much of it underscores what God tells us in simpler terms in the Bible. Focus on the positive, be grateful, bring everything to God, and you’ll find peace. Or in more worldly terms, what you focus on is what you will find more of.

I’m super excited that this all came together for me. Finally! 😀 Now I have a much better idea of how to move forward in growing my business. I’ll work on being grateful and joyful regardless of whether God answers specific prayers with “yes” or “no.” I’ll focus on the positive, on what’s working, and take the problems to God without worrying about them. (That will be hard, but I’m going to keep trying!)

This will even work for decision-making. Not sure if you should buy that new item for your business? When you think about buying it do you have peace, or is there some doubt that today is not the right time? Is it true that you need it today, or can you wait? Which is the more admirable choice?

Trying to filter a decision through the above, I decided to wait a month before deciding if I’m going to sign up for a comic book convention I really want to go to. Yes, I’ll sell books and promote my work, but it will cost more money than I’ll make. Much as I want to go, I feel more peaceful about putting off the decision for a month, even though it’s possible all the tables will be gone by then.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying I’m right and other teachers are wrong. (Well, I’m not saying all of them are wrong.) But I can’t just blindly believe things because someone else says it. I don’t think you should either. Give this some more consideration. Think about what you believe and why.

I hope you find a way to move forward into a happier, more peaceful life. And perhaps both of us will find greater success in business because of it.

7 Steps to Building a Great Business and a Great Life

Where is my life going?I think about my purpose in life with some regularity, but particularly when I’m starting something new. “Am I doing the right thing, going the right direction?” is a question that comes up regularly when I’m on a new path. I think about those questions on my own, ask God to give me guidance and wisdom, and ask other people questions about purpose and direction to get their thoughts.

I was having some of those conversations last week. The question came up “Can you be great in the world if you’re not trying to be, if you’re not focused on trying to do great things?” On the one hand was the valid argument that your thoughts do a huge amount to guide what actually happens in your life, positively or negatively. On the other hand were all the stories of great men and women from a variety of circumstances across time who ended up doing something amazing without trying to BE amazing.

My question became: do I have to visualize being a great teacher and speaker and writer in order to be one, or might I find when my life is over that God used me in amazing ways that I couldn’t have orchestrated on my own anyway?

The answer to both questions – to a degree – is yes. Visualizing the accomplishment of concrete goals often opens up your subconscious to seeing things you hadn’t seen before that will get you to your goal faster with better results. Researchers have found that the brain uses muscle memory as much as any other muscle in the body.

But we all can think of times in our lives when things worked out in a way we didn’t expect and couldn’t have forced to happen by force of our will and actions. Sometimes it’s absolutely divine intervention. Sometimes the unexpected happens because of dozens of tiny actions (driven by your beliefs) over the course of time. If you hadn’t been visualizing your goal, you wouldn’t have noticed the opportunity that led you to the circumstance that suddenly gave way unexpectedly to something amazing.

Nevertheless, in my experience pursuing greatness as a goal will almost never lead you there. Pursuing money seems to be the same. And if that worked for you – great. But I have tried pursuing both and ended up farther away from them than when I started. Who knows? Maybe that’s divine intervention, too, so I won’t get distracted my actual purpose for my life. 🙂

What I do know is this. I talked to several people in the last week or two about whether you have to believe you’ll have an amazing impact for good on the world, or if just focusing on doing what you believe you should be doing is enough to end up at the same place. In the end last Sunday, I decided I would bring the conversation back to God and ask him to help me figure out how/where to focus.

Bible 1 Peter 5 picThe next morning the Bible app on my phone blinked the verse of the day. This time I felt like opening my actual Bible rather than the app. And I got my answer.

In 1 Peter 5, I had highlighted verses 2-4 and written in the margin, “My writing career! 🙂 Nov 12, 2010.” In 2012, I’d underlined part of verse 2 and wrote “June 12, 2012” in the margin.

I read and re-read the first eleven verses. With a little bit of thought, and without taking things out of context but trying to apply the intention to my own situation, I saw a prescription for building a great business there.

1. Serve not because you must but because you are willing.

2. Don’t be greedy for money, but be eager to serve.

3. Listen to those with more life experience.

4. Be humble before God and men, and God will reward you in time.

5. Cast all your anxiety on God to free yourself from that wasted negative energy.

6. Be self-controlled and alert.

7. Understand there will be hard times, but God will give you strength.

I could go into each of those steps in greater detail, showing you how exactly I’m implementing them in my business. But I don’t want this post to be longer than you want to read. 🙂 And you might get more out of it by thinking about how you can use these steps to build your life and business.

This passage in my Bible now has a new notation in the margin. “Reiterated Aug 3, 15.” I can’t wait to see what great things happen next!

What About Me? Searching Outside Myself

woman typing on keyboardMy entire life seems to revolve around my career.

Vacations are planned around conferences. Movies and dinners are delayed because I’m not done working yet. Calendars are filled almost entirely with writing or teaching related events and deadlines. Podcasts and writing workshops fill the space between my ears when walking, driving, or doing laundry.

And there, with strangers giving me advice on how to be more successful, I hear again that I need to get more involved with “other” communities, online or in person, and talk about something else. Because people want to get to know you as a person, not as a writer trying to sell them a book. Not as a real estate agent trying to sell them a house. Not as an Internet marketer trying to sell them “the next thing.”

And it finally occurred to me…what do I like to talk about besides writing and stories? Movies? (Those are stories.) Books? (Those are stories, even the nonfiction ones to some degree.) The practical effects of a life based on faith in Jesus Christ? (We kind of talk about that in Bible study and church.)

Have I forgotten what interests me outside of writing?

After a little thinking, I realize the answer is no. But in the struggle the last few years to just keep up with bills (and sometimes fall under that weight), a lot of what I do is less and less for love and more to just keep our heads above the water line.

And that’s not horrible.

But it is something to be aware of. Much as I wish I had time to get back to playing guitar and piano, that’s going to have to continue to wait a bit longer. Much as I enjoyed spending a couple hours a month building scrapbooks with friends, that is not in the cards right now. I’m trying to get back into running, but that isn’t a topic for extended and interesting conversations – you are running or you aren’t.

What about you? Have you gotten ensnared by your day-to-day responsibilities to the point where you don’t remember when was the last time you talked about something really interesting? If you’ve been able to keep up with a forum or blog on something you’re really interested in – that doesn’t revolve around your career – let me know. Every Facebook group I’m a part of has to do with my career. I don’t even know anymore how to find places to go online to chat with like-minded people about things that interest me that have nothing to do with writing or teaching.

But I’d like to find a couple places. Much as I love superheroes, I am woefully ignorant about the broad universe of comic books. Is there a good place people are chatting about it where I won’t be outcast as a newb? (This is pressing entirely too close to being about my career, but I really am interested in learning more because it’s cool.)

Is there a place where people are talking about Christian theology and philosophy in an interesting way that hits on ways to make it practical?

Question mark imageIf you’ve talked to me about topics that I seem to have found interesting, let me know! I seem to be hitting a wall when it comes to remembering what I’m interested in enough to chat with strangers about it.

And if you’ve started to notice this about yourself as well, that you are so engrossed in daily life that you don’t even remember what else you’re interested in, let me know in the comments what you’re going to do about it.

I don’t have a lot of time to spend outside of working and the things I already do. (My first priority after work is hanging out with John, which is where all the TV and movie watching comes in. 🙂 ) But maybe I do need to add a little more balance to my life. I have no idea where I’m going to find the time, but it seems like I need to at least try.

Ideas?

P.S. Let me know if you’ve enjoyed these “Sunday Devotionals” the last few weeks. I’m trying something new on my blog – writing every Sunday about things that interest me from a spiritual growth standpoint. 🙂