Category Archives: Writing

Why I am So Afraid of the Finish Line

Photo by infomatique (Creative Commons)

Photo by infomatique (Creative Commons)

I am just going to come out and say it – finishing scare me. To the core of my being. Whether it’s a project for work, writing a book, or hiking to the top of a mountain – it’s the end I am afraid of more than anything else.

This fear has risen to the top of my mind lately, because I have been in a season with a lot of finish lines. I just sent a short book on hope to my editor (details will be forthcoming). I have a presentation for a major client in two days, and a key milestone for another client two days after. My wife and I have decided to stop sitting on the sidelines at our new church and start serving.

Everywhere I look, there are finish lines. And I tremble a bit inside. I don’t think I am alone in this fear.

Why are we afraid to finish?

Our work becomes public. When we are in process, nobody sees what we do. How we operate. What our process looks like. Everything changes once we finish. We can no longer hide what we have toiled over. Our finished product is now available for all (or some) to see. This is the root of the fear.

Other will judge our efforts. Others will place value on what we have done. Good or bad, we will hear the commentary about our efforts and the end results of those efforts. We don’t want to be judged, so we stop before we cross the finish line. Or we crawl forward slowly. Inch by inch. When we have the stamina to sprint.

We assume the worst. Once we give audience to the voice of fear, we can become paralyzed. The worst case scenario suddenly becomes the most likely scenario. We actually start to believe publishing our book will result in the fall of the modern economic system worldwide.

My advice to you, and to myself:

Cross the finish line with bravado. Rejoice in the process. Be proud of your art. (You can tweet that)

Learn from your detractors, but don’t take them so seriously. The economic system will still be running tomorrow. You will still put your pants on one leg at a time tomorrow.

Then get back to creating. As my friend Tim Gallen once told me: Shut up and create!

Join TribeWriters

Hello readers —

I don’t normally post things like this, but I wan to share a great opportunity with all of you. If you are interested at all in honing your skills as a writer, you should seriously consider taking the TribeWriters course created by Jeff Goins.

TribeWriters Course

 

In this eight week course, you will learn to find your voice. You will learn to hone your writing to be more powerful. A community of writers will encourage, stretch, surprise and befriend you. A guide to the mystery of using social media will be given to you.

So is so much that can be learned through this course. No course is perfect – and I won’t pretend this course is any different. Here is what I can tell you though: I have learned to take risks, write from my heart, and jump into turning pro as a writer.

If this sounds like something you would be interested in, sign up here. This is an affiliate link, so if the course sounds good, I would love for you to click through from this blog.

If you are not sure if this is for you, shoot me a note or leave a comment. I would be more than happy to chat with you about this course.

Dori, Abe Lincoln and Jesus Rescue Me

Photo by bendus (Creative Commons)

Photo by bendus (Creative Commons)

What do Dori from Finding Nemo, Abraham Lincoln, and Jesus all have in common? Their words have become guiding principles in my life.

 Just keep swimming Dori

Finding Nemo is my daughter’s favorite movie, and this is her favorite part of the movie. Life is very hard for an epileptic, autistic, socially awkward ten year old girl. Whenever sadness begins to overtake her, I see a small smile cross her face. “I’m going to be like Dori and just keep swimming.”

Her perseverance inspires me. This quote exemplifies the strong spirit within Cynthia. When I come across hard times, I remember this quote and my daughter’s smile. Then I keep on swimming.

My concern is not whether God is on my side; my greatest concern is to be on Gods side, for God is always right Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln is probably my favorite president. His resilience in politics speaks to the passionate pursuit of a goal. His stirring Emancipation Proclamation changed the face of America. His courage to make the difficult decisions in the Civil War unified a divided nation. Abraham Lincoln always seemed to have the right approach to important questions.

But his words here remind us nobody is always right. Our arguments, assumptions, and beliefs should always be subject to correction and adjustment.  We must not forget our minds are busted and broken. Therefore, we should focus on knowing and aligning ourselves with the heart of God.

I will never leave you nor forsake you. Jesus

Sometimes life is lonely. We feel as if nobody understands what we are going through. Nobody cares. There is not even a shoulder to cry on. Jesus tells us these feelings are not the truth.

Instead, our God is fully committed to being there for us. When life falls apart. In our victories. When we’re scared. When we are literally on a roller coaster screaming and having the time of our life. God is with us. Always.

If God is for us, who can be against us? Apostle Paul

This verse in Romans 8 led to my salvation and the beginning of my faith walk with Jesus. I will never forget Doug Fox, the youth pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Hemet, California.

He read this verse, and talked about the amazing Creator. Doug said that God invented the idea of art with His sunsets. Indeed, He created the sun, the sky we see it in, and the Earth we stand upon to view the sunsets. And God creates a new masterpiece every single day. It is this God who is for us when we are in Christ.

I was sold. I talked with Doug and accepted Christ as my savior later that very day. When times are low, I remember this verse. God is FOR me.

We cannot become what we need by remaining what we are. John Maxwell

There is a part of me that is incredibly lazy. This same corner of my heart is entitled. I want and even expect success to come my way with minimal effort. “What do you mean I have to earn it?” cries the selfishness. “Don’t you know who I am?”

This arrogance will get me nowhere. As a writer, I’m no Steven King. John Grisham and I am not equally known. And here’s a sad reality check — the TV author turned detective Richard Castle has sold more books than me. If I am content with this, then I can continue my current path. If I want success (which may or may not include a bestseller), I MUST CHANGE. I MUST GROW.

Punch fear in the face. Jon Acuff

Stepping into something new is terrifying. Fear whispers in our ear:

You are not good enough.

You know you are going to fail. Why try?

Nobody cares what you think. Just shut your mouth!

Fear can be very convincing. It will stifle our vision and creativity if we allow it space. This is where Jon’s advice comes into play. We should never cower when fear speaks to us. Instead we should move forward with intention and aggression. Come out swinging. Punch fear in the face and move forward.

If we succeed, what a win! If we fall flat on our face, so what? Either way we have already won. We conquered fear. We put ourselves out there for the world to see, as we pursue our dream.

What quotes inspire you to move forward, no matter what comes your way?

When Encouragement Saved a Marriage

As my wife and I walked in Dairy Queen, we smelled trouble. Not from the food, but from the couple we were meeting to mentor in their marriage. Let’s call them Suzie and Tim. Suzie was scowling at her husband, and Tim was texting on his phone, clearly irritated.

Our fears were soon realized. Three minutes into our time together, Suzie got a phone call from her mom. Her end of the conversation set the stage for what she expected from our time together:

Heavy sigh. “Mom, I am meeting with the marriage mentors. I know you told me to do this but I just don’t see the point. Tim will NEVER change.” Sideways glare at both of us.

“Sure, I will call when we are done. This won’t take long.”

Tim and Suzie were separated. She was staying at her sister’s house. He seemed almost happy she was not at home. Both agreed life was simpler without each other.

This couple didn’t need mentoring, they needed a miracle. My wife and I pushed through our hesitation and finished the meet-and-greet, knowing we were called to minister to married couples in trouble.

At the end of our time, we gave Suzie and Tim some simple homework. Three compliments each day to your spouse. Even if it is, “You take out the trash like a champ.” Anything kind, three times every day for two weeks until we met again. Each time we met with them, we continued this assignment.

I told them encouragement would change their marriage. I believed this statement, but I almost doubted if it would apply here. This couple seemed lost. I am happy to say I was wrong.

A couple months later, Tim and Suzie came to our house for our mentoring session. They didn’t even seem like the same couple. Joking and poking each other, then hugging after their playful war. Sitting close on our couch, holding hands. I asked how they were doing.

“This has been the best time of our marriage!” Suzie exclaimed. “I didn’t believe Tim when he was complimenting me for the first few weeks. I told myself he was just doing his homework. I asked him one day if he meant what he said. He told me…

Tim interrupted with a broad smile. He wanted to tell this part of the story.

“I love you. I want our marriage to last. If three compliments a day will make a difference, I’ll do it. Whatever it takes. You’re the most important thing in my life.”

As a tear rolled down her face, Suzie confided in us that she never believed she was important to Tim. She always felt like the extra baggage in his life, but no more. Now she knew she was loved.

Tim gave us a similar story. He felt like he never measured up to Suzie’s expectations. He assumed he was a failure of a husband, and she never said otherwise. Through her encouraging words, she showered him with acceptance and love. He knew he not only measured up, but made her proud.

Things were still hard for Suzie and Tim. Years of bad habits had to change. They had to relearn to trust one another. Wounds needed to heal. This took time. They stumbled along the way.

But a new foundation had been laid. One of encouragement. Tim and Suzie are still together. Working through the tough times that come in every marriage. Loving each other. Believing the best of each other. Working through the tough times that come in every marriage. All because of encouragement.

My friend James Prescott has written a new book on this topic you need to read, 5 Steps to Encouragement: A Manifesto for Changing the World.

5 Steps to Encouragement

5 Steps to Encouragement

Here are a few snapshots of his powerful message:

  • We were made to encourage. Every single one of us.
  • Encouragement is truth presented to others in the exact way it needs to be heard, at the precise moment a person needs to hear it.
  • You are an amazing work of art. You were designed and created by the divine, to fulfill a unique role in the world.

There is much more where this came from. Click here to get your free copy of James’ book. You won’t regret it.

Not Always Hope, Not Never Hope, But Sometimes Hope

Photo Credit: blmurch (Creative Commons)

Photo Credit: blmurch (Creative Commons)

I have had a few people ask me why the name of this blog is Sometimes Hope. “If we are called to trust God all the time,” the question starts, “why isn’t your title Always Hope or maybe Keeping the Hope?” I even struggled with this a bit myself. After some thought, here are three reasons I can only Sometimes Hope.

Sometimes I Fall Down the Stairs

Recently I was going upstairs to get my oldest son. I wanted him to clean up the kitchen. I was about halfway up, and then I had a seizure. Not that I remember the seizure. I recall walking up the stairs, then a second later being on my back with intense pain on my shoulder and back.

Having a seizure in such a dangerous place was bad enough. My kids’ response was even more difficult for me to handle. They all apologized to me like it was somehow their fault I had my seizure. As if they could have prevented my pain somehow.

To know that my children feel guilt about any seizures I have makes me sick to my stomach. My kids have enough pressures in their lives. They don’t need to feel responsible for me having seizures. But they do.

In moments like this, I want to curse God and die, like Job’s wife suggested. Questions of His faithfulness rage in my soul, like Asaph in Psalm 73:1 – 2:

Truly God is good to Israel,
to those whose hearts are pure.
But as for me, I almost lost my footing.
My feet were slipping, and I was almost gone.

In this moment, I have a choice: to trust the past faithfulness of God, or to view my current circumstances as evidence of His character. 

Sometimes I Let Myself Slip

There are days when I choose anger and resentment. Once in a while, that choice lasts a week or longer. I just let go of my kind thoughts toward God. I rage and allow my hatred to fester.

If this is how God is going to treat me, screw it! I may as well live my life away from Him. It’s so much easier to just walk my own path. No worries about this Getcha-God bringing sorrow into my life for some unknown reason!

My anger fuels this desire to step away from the God I have known for over twenty years now. Because my life is not working the way I think it should work. Because I have pain and my children have guilt. So I walk away and make my own path, in small ways.

I go through the motions of my faith without allowing any connection to my spirit. I don’t sing the worship songs. I don’t pay attention to the sermons. I let my Bible gather dust. I refuse to pray to God for any reason, even if it’s just to thank Him for our dinner. Slowly, I slip away from God and reassert myself as the master of my own domain.

What I eventually discover terrifies me though. I was not created to walk the Never Hope life. It is a land of confusion with no signposts to guide the way. Some may call this weakness, but I am not able to make my own path without the guidance of my God. Put differently, the antagonist from The Avengers movie Loki had it right:

You were made to be ruled. In the end, you will always kneel.

I Remember Whose I am

The moment always comes. Like Samson, who shook himself and realized he was without strength because his hair was cut. Like Peter, who heard the rooster crow and realized Jesus knew the denial would come. Like Asaph in Psalm 73:23-26, I realize what a fool I’ve been:

Yet I still belong to you;
you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
leading me to a glorious destiny.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
I desire you more than anything on earth.
My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak,
but God remains the strength of my heart;
he is mine forever.

I belong to God, and He is mine forever. Even when I fall down the stairs and curse God, I am still His treasure. When I consciously avoid any smidgen of goodness dropped down from heaven like rain in my life, I am still His chosen one.

So I hope again. Not always, because I slip and lose my way. Not never, because I am my Beloveds and He is mine. But sometimes hope.

Drawing for an Ebook Full of Beauty

This is a busy night for my Tribewriter friends! Fellow artist/writer Christa Sterken has just completed a gorgeous book combining gifted photography and wonderful calligraphy overlays and Scripture. Many of these images would be beautiful as full framed prints. I would buy several as gifts for my wife, and she would be thrilled. My favorite print is below, but understand how difficult choosing a favorite was – every print is amazing.

Visually Speaking 22

Because these are so amazing, I want to give a copy of the whole book away to one of you. All you have to do is comment on this post, and you will be entered into the contest. You have until February 16, 2013 to comment. I will pick a winner the next day.

You should also head over to Christa’s site and subscribe to her blog. She has a way with words, and captures meaningful images in a startling way.

Free Gift from One of my Fellow Tribewriters

I am excited to take an opportunity to share the art of one of my fellow Tribewriters Audrey Chin. She is a wonderful poet with a beautiful voice. She gives insight into all the seasons and events of life.

Audrey is sharing a free book of poetry on the feelings and times of love just in time for Valentine’s Day.

Visit her site here and get your copy, along with regular updates from this beautiful voice.

The Reason I Write

Photo by emagic (Creative Commons)

Photo by emagic (Creative Commons)

Why do I write? I get up at 5 am most days and spend an hour pecking away at my keyboard, so that maybe 100 people will read it. Why not sleep in, enjoying the body warmth from my beautiful wife? I have to start with why I DON’T write.

I don’t write to be famous. Fame is a fickle mistress – adored for a moment, and then yesterday’s news. I am not interested in being the ice cream of the month.

I don’t write because I feel better than others. If you read my blog regularly, you already know this. I share my weaknesses and my shameful moments as much as my triumphs. I have no artistic arrogance that leads me to believe my blogging makes me a better human being.

I am not writing to get a book deal. If am ever able to write full-time for my career, that would be amazing. Truly, my dream job. I would not say no if I had the opportunity to walk away from my CPA license to be a Creative all day. But this isn’t why I write.

 

I write to find myself. When I write, I learn more of who I am and why I think how I think. When I write, I force the busyness of life to slow to a simple rhythm, the sound of letters on a keyboard. CLICK-CLACK-CLICK. There is peace and clarity from the simplicity of the moment.

I write to connect with others. My greatest hope is my words will extend beyond me and touch another person. It makes my day when my words inspire someone to be creative, or live courageously. Not because I am great, but because I have been the one crying out for help. Some days, I still am.

I write because I am called by God. This is no mystical experience, but rather a deep knowing in my soul. When I write I am aware of being in the center of God’s will for my life. I don’t have a good sense of where this journey will take me, but I am walking the path God has laid out for me.

Why do you create art in your life?

Not Safe But Good

Photo Credit: Nels_P_Olson (Creative Commons)

Photo Credit: Nels_P_Olson (Creative Commons)

If you read my post yesterday, you saw that I was struggling with some things that occurred in a writing group I am involved with. I am a better writer because of the teaching and community in this group, but I felt constricted over certain events.

So I did what any writer does – I wrote about it. Sometimes I don’t know how I feel until I write about it. In part, this was my way of trying to process through the difficult emotions I was feeling.

If I’m honest though, I was also looking for some encouragement and direction from friends and fellow writers. The responses overwhelmed me and drew me to this recognition:

Of course community isn’t safe. But it’s good.

If that sounds familiar, it is because I hijacked this quote from C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. Lewis was talking about the great lion Aslan, but it is equally true of any good community.

Not Safe

I wanted my writing community to be completely safe. I thought I deserved a safe environment to practice my art. Until one of my fellow writers Lauren Huss asked me this:

 If there was a completely safe environment to share our hearts, would we receive the same satisfaction?

Her question brought me up short. Like an open-handed slap to the face. I realized I was not entitled to a completely safe environment.

Indeed, a cocoon of safety would limit my growth. Part of writing is risk. If risk is removed, then the process of hitting publish on your work is somehow lessened. I lost sight of this reality because I let fear have too large a place in my heart.

There is no such thing as completely safe. This is true of any community, writers or otherwise. There is always risk in bearing our hearts and sharing our stories. We must all make a choice. Keep our story to ourselves and stay safe. Or share our story and risk rejection.

But Good

If the community is comprised of like-minded individuals, the risk is worth it. We will be challenged to not stay the same. Forced to grow up. There is always the chance that our risk will result in pain, but we can grow from that as well.

So many people responded to this post, here and in other forums, reminding me of how good our group of writer is, for me and for them. They encouraged me to stay the course, and keep risking.

Jeff Goins is the fearless leader of our community. He told me this:

You can’t really be a friend with someone until you have a fight.Conflict creates friction, which causes us to grow.

This friction is good, though it will likely hurt. Think back to when you were a kid, playing carefree on a playground. All was bliss and happiness, until you went down the twisty slide in your shorts.

Halfway down the slide, this horrible screeching noise started. As you began to wonder what the sound was, you realized it was coming from YOU. At the same time, you felt pain on your legs. Your legs didn’t agree to going down the slide apparently.

Conflict between your legs and the slide created friction. Then came the pain, immediately followed by questions.

Why did that hurt? What happened? I wasn’t expected that at all!

Then came the learning. Whether you asked your parents why it hurt or not, you learned not to do it again. So it is with community. Friction can cause momentary pain, but we can grow from it. Or, we can avoid the twisty slides for the rest of our lives.

So I choose to reject fear. I choose community. I like twisty slides. Even in shorts. Even when it hurts.

How Safe Begins to Feel Unsafe

Photo Credit: evokilla (Creative Commons)

Photo Credit: evokilla (Creative Commons)

I belong to a writers’ group. This group is filled with people from a variety of places, backgrounds, faiths, family structures, and ages. We all focus our writing around different themes, but we have one thing in common. We share the burning desire to write and to improve each day.

We give and receive feedback on our writing from each other. Oftentimes it is complimentary, but sometimes thoughtfully constructive. I have grown very fond of this group. I am inspired by the risk my fellow writers take each day, by bearing their hearts to their readers.

I find courage to do the same by their examples. When I grow up as a writer, I want to be like them.

The most beautiful aspect of this group is the sense of community. I had the opportunity to spend 90 minutes on a Skype call with another member of this group. Even though we had never talked face to face before this call, we both walked away from the conversation feeling as though we chatted with an old friend. Such is the power of true kinship.

But an unexpected event occurred in the broader writing group which has given me pause, and caused me to reevaluate this community. A newer member of our group was offended over the spiritual content of some of the writers in the group, and excluded himself from us.

I have a myriad of emotions over this. I feel a sense of sadness because this person walked away from such a great and diverse group of friends and fellow writers. I have disappointment, because there was some level of unwillingness on his part to allow for others to write on topics that are uninteresting or offensive to him.

I am concerned that it was my approach to writing – which is fundamentally faith centered – which drove him away. At the same time, my resolve to continue the walk into my voice has been strengthened. I know that not everyone will find resonance in my writing. If everyone agrees, then my message is likely not worth writing.

Beyond these reactions, I am worried on a deeper level whether this community that I have so enjoyed is a place I should continue to share my art. If the group is not open to faith-based writing, then most of what I share becomes inappropriate for this audience.

The unfortunate result is that I may gravitate away from this wonderful community. Right now, I feel stifled in my creativity each time I consider further involvement with the group. I feel the suffocation as I consider whether to share my writing with these folks who have quickly become so valuable and encouraging to my growth as a writer.

At the same time, part of what makes meaningful relationships so important is the ability to disagree on topics, even important topics. If everyone has the same opinion on everything, there is no sharpening of skills. No growth. No challenge. No pushing each other to get better. To write stronger.

I am still in process on whether to step away from this group right now. The benefits to me as a young writer have been overwhelmingly positive. But the constriction on my art might overwhelm the goodness I would gain moving forward.

There are several individuals in particular who have given me strength to keep writing, keep pushing, keep risking. I hope I do not lose these mentors if I pull away from this writing group. But I value my momentum as a writer, my creative push, more than anything else. Even if it may cost me community.