Tag Archives: Sunday devotional

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!

How I’m Kinda Like Mitochondria

j0178844June was a rough month for me. I think I was beginning to get depressed due to the current status of our life. I was tired and angry and not sleeping well and just plain snippy about everything. When I went away for a week on my writing retreat at the end of June, I was able to – in fact, had to – leave all my problems behind so I could focus on writing my book.

By the end of the week, I felt much more myself. Of course, driving home back to my problems felt a little less great…which only underscored the possibility that I’d let things weigh on me far too much. So I’ve been thinking about how I can get through a stressful time without letting it destroy my peace and joy.

Earlier this week, I was thinking about what I’m on this earth to do. Like everyone, I’m sure there are dozens (hundreds? thousands?) of things God has planned for me to do before he brings me home. But I wanted to focus on what I’m doing for a living. Am I doing what I’m meant to do? Does not having much financial reward prove I’m doing the wrong thing or doing the right things wrong? Most business people would say yes.

Mother Theresa would likely disagree. But I’m not a good enough storyteller to concoct a believable comparison between my work and hers. 😉

But then a few days ago I was thinking about what Paul said about the parts of the body in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12.

Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully. – Romans 12:4-8

Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’ On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable. – 1 Corinthians 12:14-22

We all know we each have different gifts, but I suspect we don’t think about it consciously often enough. When I let myself get lost in a maelstrom of discontent, I’m not my usual Kitty self. The light and laughter and encouragement I normally bring to all my relationships, including my interactions with strangers, is lost, and so everyone around me loses out as well.

The same for you. When you’re temporarily lost from yourself, the gifts you normally give to the world – probably without thinking about it – also disappear. The people around you suffer from it, whether anyone realizes it or not.

So I was thinking about my writing and teaching, and I asked God if I was on the wrong path. I quickly got the distinct impression that I am not on the wrong path so much as I’m thinking about it all wrong.

Since times have been tough for us the last few years, especially financially, I started putting all of my focus into making money from my work. I have a business degree and a MA in creative writing, I’ve taken dozens of additional classes, both free and paid, and all around me I hear, “This is how you can make more money.”

I can’t speak for everyone else in the world, but when I put my focus on the money and not on the work, everything went wrong. Everything. Nothing worked for me. And I got real close to being depressed. Not good.

Structure mitochondrion diagram. mitochondrion organelle found in most eukaryotic cells

Structure mitochondrion diagram. mitochondrion organelle found in most eukaryotic cells

So I was sitting there last week talking to God and thinking – okay, maybe the hands and the eyes and the ears are super good at making money, but not, say, the bone marrow. Maybe I’m the bone marrow – indispensable, but all the work it does is invisible. Or maybe I’m a mitochondrion. When was the last time you saw and appreciated what mitochondria do? Haha!

That day – just a few days ago, remember – I tried to convince myself that I needed to focus on the work I knew I should be doing and not focus on money. I want to help people – encourage them, empower them, entertain them – and apparently I can’t do that when I’m focused on whether what I’m providing is of great enough value to pay the rent.

And you know what? Already, I’ve seen a huge increase in my creativity and joy. I’m back to being the real Kitty again! (Whew!)

Am I going to ignore money altogether? Will I put my head in the sand and try to pretend we don’t have financial problems? No. One of my teachers wrote in an email last week that he takes a day every other week to think about the big picture, come up with creative ideas, etc.

So I’m going to borrow a page from his playbook. Every other week I’m going to sit down for a couple hours and look at the money side of my work and try to come up with better ways to make a living from what I do. But for the other 13 days every fortnight, I’m going to focus on the gifts I know I’m supposed to use.

I’m going to help people, and that is going to make me so happy. Why? Because this mitochondrion will be doing the job it was meant to do, whether anyone sees it or not. 🙂

What about you? Do you feel you’re doing what you are meant to do? If not, leave a comment and tell me what you want to change. Maybe I can use my gifts to encourage you!

Receiving Helps You Grow

ribbonWe talk about “the gift of giving” in our society because people need to understand that giving to others and helping other people can benefit the giver as well. Once you experience the satisfaction and joy that comes with helping a person or organization in need, those feelings will often push you to give again and again until you find yourself looking for opportunities to help others.

When something good happens to you, like getting a raise at work, you may experience the desire to pass along a little of the good that came your way. Maybe you’ll take the family on vacation, tip your waiter more than normal, or hand some cash to the guy standing at the end of the freeway exit.

But what about when your life takes a turn the other direction? Depending on your personality, you are likely to tell your friends, “No, I’m fine, thanks” when they ask if you need anything. Despite tough times, you may not allow your friends to treat you to lunch let alone help you in a bigger way. It might be your pride that keeps you from accepting help, or it might be the feeling that everyone has hard times and you can get through it without adding a burden to your friends.

That’s perhaps a healthy (read: non-leech-like) attitude for a little while. No one wants a friend or a relative who is likely to ask for a loan at the least inconvenience. But some tough times are more than an inconvenience. Someone gets sick or loses their job, and it can quickly escalate to a huge problem. Then what do you do?

Keep in mind how you felt when you were able to do something nice for someone – treat a friend to lunch, give or loan someone the money to fix their car, give a friend a gift card so they can have a little fun in the midst of hard times. It felt good, didn’t it, like you’d made a small difference in the life of someone you cared about.

That’s the feeling you need to remember when someone offers to do something nice for you. That person is going to feel a little bit of joy and satisfaction when you accept their gift. If you say no, no, and no again, you’re denying them the good feeling of helping someone else. It may be hard – it probably will be hard – but as the arguments come to mind (and as they pass over your lips at first), you need to stop and take a breath, and smile, and say, “Thank you.”

And this is where receiving helps you grow.

Now you know what it feels like. Now you know how hard it is to smile and say thank you and accept the gift, no matter how big or small. Remember that feeling.

Because your life is going to turn around. You’re going to be able to start giving again, helping out a friend, treating someone to lunch, overtipping a single mom waitress. And it’s important that you learn to give with as much humility as you had to have to receive. You need to know how hard it can be to accept other people’s generosity so that you can give with an attitude that helps people accept your gifts.

Life is cyclical. The good times come and go. The bad times come and go. John and I have been in both places, and in all the places in between. We’ve had opportunities and circumstances that have allowed us to be enormously generous, and we have learned to love those times. It is so fun to help people once you get started! We’ve also had opportunities and circumstances where we had to take a deep breath, smile, and say thank you to other people’s enormous generosity, even though it was gut-wrenchingly difficult and we really wanted to say no.

Being on the receiving end of help is difficult. There are some people we will never be able to pay back. All we can do is promise everyone that we will pay it forward. But our circumstances have taught us once again how we need to act when we can start giving again. And we’ve begun to understand what Jesus meant when he said about giving, Don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.

Giving in humility makes receiving in humility easier. And both will help you grow into a better person.

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. 🙂

Starting Something That You Know Won’t Work

j0182826In general, my personality is such that it is difficult for me to start something I don’t think I’ll be good at, and nearly impossible for me to begin if I’m “sure” it won’t work. It seems like a waste of time and effort.

So the new Bible study topic our group just started is particularly interesting to me. It’s about finding the Messiah in the Old Testament. We all have a pretty good idea of the Messiah in the New Testament – Jesus was born a man even though he was also God, so that he could take the death penalty for sin for all people, and we could once more be reunited with our God and Creator. We know He did that because He loves us and doesn’t want us to be separated from Him.

I knew the Old Testament is full of prophecies of the coming Messiah, Jesus. But when we started at the beginning, we found the first prophecy that there would be a Savior coming to redeem us in the third chapter of the Bible. Hardly anything had happened yet in terms of the history of mankind, and already God made mention of His plan to deliver us from our sin. In fact, as our Bible study leader Doug pointed out, after Adam and Eve sinned God explained how we would be redeemed before he even told Adam and Eve what their punishment would be!

While we can’t be sure if Lucifer defied God and was kicked out of heaven before or after God created the world and mankind, we do know Lucifer had already fallen at some point after Adam and Eve were living in peace and without sin in the Garden of Eden. And that’s another piece of the story most of us know – Lucifer, as a serpent in the Garden, encouraged Eve to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the only tree God told Adam and Eve not to eat from. So mankind, as well and Lucifer and some of the angels, also fell from God’s grace.

Now here is the part that has my head spinning. God is all-knowing, so He knew what was going to happen, knew we would disobey Him and knew He had to have a plan of redemption ready, and He went through with the whole thing anyway! He created us in His image, loved us from day one, knew we would turn our backs on Him and break His heart, but he created us anyway!

j0178844John and I chose not to have children for a lot of reasons, but one of them was that we weren’t sure we would be good parents, and one was that we didn’t want the heartbreak that having children seems to bring. God knew long before we all did what heartbreak children can bring and He chose to have children anyway. That’s just shocking and amazing to me. I can’t see myself ever starting something I knew wouldn’t work.

But then I think about all the books and stories I write. The whole point of a great piece of genre fiction is showing how seriously messed up things can get, and how it can work out in the end. A person can start out lonely and alone and be a large chunk of their own problem, but they can find love in the end. They can start out cut off from their family and hiding from the world and discover that they have super powers that can help make the world a better place. They can be kidnapped, forced to denounce everything that’s important, and still beat the devil in the end.

So many stories reflect the Big Picture Story of Mankind – life seems to start out well for the protagonists, then something trips them up and/or all hell breaks loose, and suddenly it’s hard to believe life can ever be good again. It’s hard to believe the protagonists will even survive, let alone find peace and happiness again. But there is always a plan that includes a satisfying and happy ending.

And like any good author, God figured out the plan to bring about a happy ending before he even started bringing the story to life.

Wow.

Writing SmileyStill wrapping my mind around that. But in addition to the hope this kind of grand design gives us all, I feel more hopeful as a writer of stories. I’m going to go start a new story that I “know” won’t work. The protagonist’s life is all messed up and I’m not sure yet how I’m going to help her fix it. Characters are going to die. Readers might not even like the story. The book may not be bought by a publisher. It may not work.

But I have a new burst of courage to try.

The Enormous Fragility of Life

Double Delight roses in Lauraine's garden

I’ve always been one of those people who wanted to learn from other people’s mistakes, see the road signs others had left behind, and attempt to walk a smoother path. I took it to heart when my mother quoted from the poem Warning by Jenny Joseph when I was a teenager: “When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple.” It was the first time I realized that growing old can come with regrets.

I read and re-read Erma Bombeck’s column “If I Had My Life to Live Over” when I was in high school. Her urging to light the candle shaped like a rose before it melts in storage got me to thinking even more – what can I do now to live my life with the fewest regrets?

One of my favorite movies is Jennifer Garner’s “13 Going on 30.” It’s fun and funny and shows a girl/woman learning important life lessons in a funny way. But I really, really disagree with how the writers wrote the key scene. When Jennifer’s character asks her mother about mistakes and regrets, her mother says she doesn’t regret her mistakes because she learned from them. I absolutely regret every time I’ve hurt someone, intentionally or unintentionally, no matter what lesson I learned from the experience.

I  hate hurting people, whether they’re friends, family, acquaintances, or strangers. But sometimes I feel like I’m all sharp edges, constantly hurting someone no matter which way I turn. I often feel like I think of others and their pain too little, doing too little to help; and too often I feel overwhelmed by the amount of pain in the world. It’s everywhere, in everyone, sometimes like an iceberg so that you don’t see how much the people around you ache.

But then I’ll read something like the beginning of 2 Corinthians:

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.”

Life is fragile, so easily broken or destroyed. We, too, are an odd combination of strong and fragile. I think it’s interesting that during the fragile times when we rely on others’ strength through their compassion, our inner strength is being galvanized so that we can pass it on to the next person, supporting them in our compassion when they feel fragile.

Forgiveness is a form of compassion. And I think that is the one thing that keeps me from feeling completely isolated and alone – knowing that most people whom I have hurt have long ago forgiven me. I hope all the people who have hurt me and regretted it believe that I have forgiven them as well. Then we can all continue to participate in the compassion of Christ, giving and receiving comfort together.

Perhaps this is one way we can live our lives with the fewest regrets.

Restart: The Most Important Thing

Have you ever seen the movie City Slickers? Billy Crystal, Jack Palance, city guys go to a dude ranch. I haven’t seen it all the way through for a long time, but I liked it when it came out. And my absolute most favorite part is when Jack Palance gives Billy Crystal life advice on how to be happy. Take a look.

When I first saw the movie, I loved that line the most because I was 23, had been married for a year, and was thinking about what I wanted to do my life. It helped me to remember that focus on the most important things in life is the only way to have balance.

For me, the most important focus in my life is why am I here? Odd as it sounds when compared to people who save lives, I think I’m here to write things that encourage or help or entertain people. I feel like that’s the one thing God for sure planned for me to do. (Of course, not including the most important ways to live – loving God and loving others.)

Do you think about this question much? What is your “one thing”?