Monday, October 29, 2012

Nothing to Say?

Sometimes I feel as if I have run out of words.  For those of you who know me fairly well, you would be quite surprised by that statement.  I seem to always have an opinion and there isn't really that much that stops me from stating it out loud.  Ok, I take that back.  I do try to temper my vocalizing of opinions based on how much it will change the situation (if it's not going to change anything and will probably make someone feel bad, I shut up) or the level of importance my opinion will hold in that situation.

There are days, however, when it seems as if there is nothing left in my brain to say.

I have spent the last five months restructuring how I spend my days.  It's been a wonderful exercise in understanding what it is that I want to do, what it is that I actually do and how to bring those two things together so that I can achieve some goals that I've had in front of me for what seems to be a lifetime.  I started out by creating a list of all the things I wanted to do in the next several years.  That list included everything, from crazy-dream goals to practical things that just need to happen.  Every time I think about that list, I come up with several more things to add to it.  It has become a very scary list.

Once the list was in place, I built a daily schedule out for two weeks.  I figured that I should be able to hit nearly everything in that list over a two week period.  I committed to writing one thousand words in a journal every day ... no matter what.  For the last 126 days, I've done exactly that.  I look forward to the time I spend writing and since technology is so amazing, I can tell how much more I need to write in order to achieve the minimum and I can tell when it is ok to finally stop writing.  I refuse to write one word less than one thousand words.  Just this last Friday, I lost control of the day and when I woke up on Saturday and realized I hadn't written in my journal, I realized I was going to have to write two entries ... one for Friday and one for Saturday.  I did it and felt great about it.

There are several random classes that I am taking online.  Everything from learning new techniques in Photoshop and Illustrator to learning Excel tips, Wordpress and then my favorite is an Ancient Greek History lecture series by an amazing Yale University professor. It's the course he teaches at Yale.  I've spaced these courses out across the two weeks so that I can keep learning.

Along with those courses, I've also committed to reading several motivational and encouraging books.  I don't read them through like I read other books; I take my time and work through creative exercises that are assigned to me.  I hope to be reading these books and others like them over the course of the next year.  Books such as: The Complete Artist's Way by Julia Cameron or Eat that Frog by Brian Tracy, The War of Art by Steven Pressfield or Writing Your Way by Julie Smith.  By slowing down while reading these, I allow myself to be continuously energized by their words, finding motivation each week that keeps me excited about meeting my goals.

There are several other little things that have to happen every day.  I write my Pour Out a Blessing blogpost each day and if I know there is a day coming when I won't have time to write, I ensure that it is written early and posted so that I stay consistent.  It is a commitment I have made to myself and to those who read the blog. Though there have been times when I've had to drop away from it for a period of time or days when I've missed and had to catch up; this is one thing I've really tried to stay committed to doing.  I almost ended that sentence by adding the words 'without fail,' but since I've obviously failed several times in the past couple of years with it, I won't be that bold.  Let's just say that this is one commitment I never forget and always try to accomplish.  There are plenty of days when I open my Bible, read the passage I've selected for the day and realize that I have nothing to say about it.  I stare at the verse or passage and wonder if it is worth it for me to continue.  Terrible moments of failure fly through my mind.  Then, I settle down, pray about it and after a while the words come.  The words always come.

Finally, it has become quite clear that for me to accomplish the massive writing goals I've set before me, I need to write in those areas much more regularly, so I've set a goal of three thousand words per day, at least four days a week.

I generally have a paper due for my class every Wednesday.  Those put me in a panic, so I won't expect myself to write for my goals on that day.  Weekends are nuts.  Since I stick my head in the computer all week, there is always something that has to be cleaned, washed, cooked, baked or straightened up.  If I travel, it happens on weekends.  So ... rather than feel like a failure, I refuse to set the three thousand word writing goal on one of those days.

The great thing is that if I can't write one of the other days of the week due to something going on, I can pick my word count back up on a weekend day.  Flexibility has to be primary or I'll go insane.

So ... every week, thousands of words pour out of my fingers onto the screen and some days I wonder if I'll be able to fill up the tank enough for more to come out the next day.  So far, they come and sometimes it is quite a struggle for me to find them.  I think they run away and hide when they know I'm looking.

There's always something to say, which means the title of this blog is a fallacy. I just need to get started.  Now that I've told you about it, I guess it's time to quit babbling and get started on today's next batch of words.  (Huh, this post has ended up being over eleven hundred words ... I hope I don't run out before I get started!)

Monday, October 22, 2012

Who Do You Admire?

Last week I worked through a creative exercise from Julia Cameron's "The Complete Artist's Way."  I was to list five people I admired, then five people I secretly admired, then finally to identify the traits these people have which I could cultivate further in myself.

Next, I was to list five people who were dead that I wish I had met and then, five people who are dead whom I'd like to hang out with for a while in eternity.  From them, I was to identify traits I could look for in my friends.

This was a fun exercise and gave me a lot to think about it.

I won't give you the names of the people I admire, but I will tell you about some of the traits (in no particular order) that leaped off the list.

Independence.  The people I admire the most are independent in what they do, think and how they respond to the world.  They have made choices that others would question because those choices are risky and might disrupt the status quo.

Intelligence / Brilliance.  I am addicted to brilliant and intelligent people.  My life is filled with them. Not only my friends and family, but those whom I admire are absolutely brilliant.  They love to be exposed to new and fascinating information and find creative ways to make that into something that is their very own.

Courage. Those independent, brilliant souls whom I admire have the courage to stand up for what they believe, while never crossing the line into negative behavior.  They also have courage to step out and try new things, make decisions that will set them apart from others, embrace the different and take on new challenges.

Compassion.  One thing that really stood out was how this was so ingrained in the lives of those I admire.  There might be independence and courage, but at the same time these people are concerned for those whom they encounter and they actively live so as to ensure others are cared for, whether emotionally, physically, spiritually or mentally.

Transparency.  This is a rare trait and one that tends to get most people into a great deal of trouble, because the world simply can't be trusted.  Once you expose yourself, you set yourself up in so many ways.  I don't trust the world for the most part because people try so hard to find your weakness and then stomp on you.  This is a very courageous trait.

Tenacity.  One of the things my father taught the three of us was perseverance.  He never gave up ... on people, on ideas, on projects, on churches, on anything!  Those people I admire have stuck to their beliefs, their ideas, their dreams ... no matter the struggle that faces them.

I learned a little bit about myself and about what it is that I find to be so wonderful in other people.

Now, as for the people I wish I'd met who are dead, my list becomes a little odd.  I'm just going to toss it out there with no explanation for now.

Freddie Mercury
Katherine Hepburn
Isaac Asimov
J.R.R. Tolkien

Who would I like to hang out with for a while in eternity?

My grandfather, Mac (James McFarlane) and his brother Gene.  Together, because they loved being together and were quite entertaining.

C.S. Lewis
Louisa May Alcott
Lawrence of Arabia
Peter, Jesus' disciple

What qualities do I see when I look at that list?  I see courage, independence and tenacity.  But, I also see immense minds - open to so many possibilities.  These people saw beyond the obvious and found ways to live outside the world's expectations.  They enjoyed life.

The other thing I saw after I finished my lists was that I love story-tellers.  You know ... I grew up with parents who told our stories over and over.  I loved hearing them ... it didn't matter how often. My grandfather, Mac, was an extraordinary story teller and I didn't get the chance to experience the best part of who he was. I re-read books all the time.  If a story intrigues me, I want to read it again and again, just for the joy of the story.

What would your responses be to these questions?

Monday, October 15, 2012

Security in Adventure, Change as Life

Last week, I began a new class called "Leading Through Crisis, Conflict, and Change."  This is the kind of stuff I simply thrive on.  The first thing we talked about was this quote:

It takes a lot of courage to release the familiar and seemingly secure, to embrace the new. But there is no real security in what is no longer meaningful. There is more security in the adventurous and exciting, for in movement there is life, and in change there is power (Alan Cohen).

There has been a lot of conversation around these words.  What do you think?  Some people disagree heartily with the last sentence.  They don't find security in the adventurous and exciting because they have a different idea of what security looks like.  For them, security looks like a big, soft sofa with pillows and comfortable blankets. Or maybe it looks like a fortress where nothing that is unknown can enter.  Maybe security looks like the same routine every single day. Wake up, go to work. Come home, eat supper, watch television, go to bed. Next day, same as the first.  Cohen says when things are no longer meaningful, security doesn't really exist.  It's an illusion.

God, as Creator, made us in His image. If we, like Him, are continually creating ... we can't be stuck in the same place.  He gave us imaginations and creativity so we wouldn't continue to do things the same way over and over so that they become meaningless.  There is no security in the meaningless.

I watched a lecture on Ancient Greek History yesterday. The speaker talked about the Spartans.  These people did nothing all day long except train for the next battle.  They had massive amounts of slaves who took care of their every need.  They had differing levels of these slaves as well.  Some managed the business of the city, trading and farming; others managed the households, taking care of every need.  Now, these slaves were furious. They did not like the lives they were forced to lead.  The speaker then compared this to the antebellum South and slavery that was in place there.  Why am I telling you about this?  Because every single moment of the lives of both the Spartans and the Plantation owners involved, at some level, fear of an uprising by the slaves.  Their security was based in slavery and yet that security was an illusion.  There was no real freedom, even though they acted as if they had everything they wanted.

This is the same stranglehold I believe a false sense of security has over us.  We are enslaved to the status quo, to the sameness of our lives.  We live in pain because it is familiar. Anything that might be unfamiliar is set aside and ignored because we might have to do something about it.

Yesterday's leap from the stratosphere by Felix Baumgartner thrilled me.  Even though he experiences claustrophobia and was scared to do that jump, he took the risk.  He crawled into a capsule that carried him 128,000 feet into the sky.  For him, the sky was no longer the limit.  For us, the sky is no longer the limit.  He changed the way we look at the skies. He did something so completely different than nearly everyone else on the earth.  His security is in the adventurous and the exciting.

I will never leap out of a capsule at 128,000 feet, but I will find my own adventure.

So, I've been thinking about what I believed security felt like.  For a long time, I would have said that it looked like my Father.  He took me / us on some risky adventures, but because He was there, I was secure in knowing I was safe and he could take care of anything.  As I grew older and understood my relationship with God more, I transferred a lot of that sensation of security to Him, knowing that He was taking me on some risky adventures ... things that stretched me, caused me to live a bigger life than I probably would have preferred, taught me to look at challenges through His eyes ... on and on.  All of the time, though, I counted on the fact that if I followed him, I was secure.

You see, It is His plan in my life and it will never be safe as long as I'm prepared to be fully alive.  Security doesn't look like safety.  Security looks like adventure ... it is exciting, there is movement and life, there is change and there is power.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Puzzles and Life

This afternoon I suffered through a Lego model for you.  It was a sacrifice.  Max knows how much I love Star Wars and Lego, so I tend to get some fun models from him for birthdays and Christmas.

I also love puzzles.  When I was still at home, one thing we would do was to open a large puzzle on Christmas afternoon and spread it out on our large eight-foot dining room table.  Dad was a little obsessive and taught me to be the same, I suppose.  The first order of business was to flip all of the pieces so they were right side up and while we were doing that, pull out the edge pieces.  The edge was assembled and the picture on the box set up so we could know what our goal was.  Dad and I would argue about how to lay out the rest of the pieces, bringing colors together in a cluster, or aligning all the same shaped pieces.  But, from the moment the box was open, the family spent time pulling those pieces into order, creating a beautiful picture.

All of the pieces seem random and inconsequential until they are joined to another piece.  As each piece gets joined with those surrounding it, the picture is uncovered.  My Lego Star Wars model is much the same and one day, as I thought about it, so are the relationships in my life.

When we are born, all of the relationships that are to come are loose and out there; creating their own links to the world (they probably don't have a big cat trying to scatter them, though).  But, from the moment we begin interacting with people, those pieces begin coming together.  First, it is just our immediate family.  For me, I was the first child, so all I had in my life were my parents.  But, since Dad was a pastor, I began building relationships pretty early.  Mom always kidded me, telling me that even when I was in my playpen, I flirted with the Boy Scouts whose troop met in our home.

When I went to school, I started creating more relationships, so more pieces of the puzzle of my life began filling in.  I remember only a few from the first two years of school. We moved just before my second grade year and I had an entirely new pile of pieces to sort out and shuffle into place.

What has been so fascinating is that the pieces of this puzzle are so adaptable as long as I am.  We moved again, just before I entered Junior High.  One of the biggest blessings of all those moves was that I learned how to meet new people; how to allow different puzzle pieces to sort themselves into my pile.  I'd turn them right side up and figure out where they belonged on the table. Then, as the relationships were built; they all worked together to make my life into something very interesting.

I had friends, I had teachers. There were piano teachers and band directors, voice coaches and more piano teachers.  My parents' friends became my friends; their children and I grew up together.  I went to college and met more friends, then transferred to another college and met even more.  I had more piano and voice coaches, more choir directors and professor.  Each relationship became a glorious piece of the puzzle.

Pieces on one side of the puzzle don't necessarily touch each other, and that's alright, even though I really think that my friends would love each other.  How could they not? I absolutely adore them!

At my sister's celebration party this summer, I sat down with two other couples whose only connection was that they knew me, but then one said to the other.  "I saw you at an ice cream shop a few weeks ago. I wanted to yell and say hello, but figured you might not know me.  I know you mostly through Diane's Facebook page."  They'd met a couple of other times at parties Carol and I hosted, but never enough to become friends.  However, from that moment ... those two pieces were connected and it made my puzzle even more interesting.  From a two-dimensional image, a three-dimensional relationship had formed and I could only smile.

Some of the pieces are dark, they've been difficult times, but they are as much a part of the picture as those who bring flowers and sunshine, and vibrant colors. My life isn't always easy and some of the relationships I've built over the years weren't all that healthy, so I have to accept that they don't bring me joy, but they do bring me another dimension of life.  Some of these pieces have gone dark as people I've loved have died.  Some of those pieces representing people who have died, though have remained vibrant and filled with emotion as I recognize how much of my life they touched and how the changes that continue to occur in my life are because of their influence.

I finished the Lego model.  Ewoks and stormtroopers and trees, oh my.  Once I got all the pieces together, it was a pretty wonderful representation of a life puzzle.  Everything is just a little bit different.  When it started out, all of the pieces were chaotic and wild and differently shaped.  As they came together, something beautiful happened ... a unified piece that makes sense.  My life makes sense because of those relationships ... those that include you.

P.S.  the reason it was a Lego model and not an actual puzzle?  Can you imagine my frustration if a puzzle sat out on the table and TB decided that pieces were his to play with?  Oh yes ... it would be a very bad day.

Monday, October 01, 2012


There are a group of people who plan to start reading The Hobbit today as part of the Nammynools Book Club.  You can join us if you'd like.  The book is great fun.

One of the first questions that comes up when reading about Bilbo Baggins is that of adventuring.  Tolkien says that the Baggins' were respectable not only because they were rich, but because they weren't the adventuring type of hobbits. Gandalf thrust the adventure of a lifetime on the poor hobbit.  Bilbo wasn't ready for it, he hadn't prepared for it, in fact he was a little upset by the whole thing.

I began looking back over my life and thinking about some of the adventures I've been on. Honestly, even though I haven't done crazy things like scale Mount Everest or swim the English Channel, I've had some pretty incredible adventures.

In another conversation, a friend asked me about the difference between adventuresome and adventurous.  They are synonyms, but most people understand that there is risk involved and sometimes even danger.  Merriam-Webster says that adventuresome entails more danger, others believe that adventurous is the more dangerous word.  Whatever the reality is, risk and a hint of danger go along with adventure.

My father believed in adventures.  He took his youth groups on adventure trips, sometimes on week-long canoe trips through the Canadian and Minnesota lakes, portaging, paddling and camping our way through beautiful scenery.  He took a few canoe trips on white water rivers.  He took adults on fly-in fishing trips.  He took many, many groups of people to Kentucky and Tennessee on work camps to live in strange places for a week while helping people rebuild their homes.  Building our cabin was an adventure for he and mom ... and for the three of us kids.  Starting a printing business was an adventure for us.  Maintaining it after Mom died continued the adventure.

It never occurred to me that going to college was an adventure because it was something everyone expected me to do.  But, as I look back on it, that's exactly what it was. I was faced with the unknown at every turn. Some of it was awful, some of it was extraordinary, much of it was wonderful.  I started another adventure a few years ago when I began the process of getting my Master's Degree and considered a life that was different from what everyone expected from me.

Bilbo was respectable.  He liked the ease of his life. He liked not drawing attention to himself. He liked waking up every morning, knowing exactly what was going to happen that day. While I fully agree that type of life makes things infinitely easier, I believe it makes things that much more boring as well.  While I may never desire to fall out of airplanes strapped to a big piece of nylon or dive the depths of the ocean, I do enjoy waking up in the morning knowing that something new might come my way.

A friend decided she wanted to live the rest of her life as an author, rather than as a public relations executive at a small college. She put everything on the line; quit her job, maxed out her credit cards and allowed a publishing company to critique the work that was closest to her heart. Another friend knew she wanted nothing more than to teach children.  She started a second degree so she could do that. In her mid-40s, everything changed. Her adventure had begun. Yet another friend knew that music and children would somehow combine to fulfill her life. The first part of her adventure took her to Africa.

We can sit in our hobbit hole, hoping for nothing greater than a beautiful day outside or we can ...

What about you? Are you ready for adventure?