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Devotional Faith Writing

Six Important Questions About That Dream On Your Heart

January 19, 2017

I placed the lens close to the dark, dry, rutted skin. Focus, shutter, snap. I came in near from another angle, focus, shutter, snap. Repeat. I set the camera down, and gently rearranged the avocados; placed the onion in a new position; picked the camera back up. I had no idea what I was doing.

Slipping the camera card into the card reader, I downloaded the photos, and acquainted my fingers with the laptop keyboard. It felt foreign, despite its daily use. This was new territory, and it felt strange. I was uncertain at that point what I would do with this. And I had no idea that day when I sat down at the computer that I was chasing a dream.

It was a dream that would take seven years to take seed, root down, unearth many parts of me, sprout, and flourish. Seven years comes next spring, when a book I never could have anticipated on that day that I created a tiny little food blog, will sit on bookstore shelves.

Dreams are funny like that, they seem to take on a whole new life apart from us; melding and twisting and transforming and becoming their fullest nature, but only when we show up. Everyday. Often unaware of what we are doing, or what we will become.

Maybe you feel a little bit of that today. There is this thing on your heart that you just cannot let go. It’s constantly on your mind, and when it resurfaces, your heart beats a little bit faster. It brings with it a vision; perhaps of people being helped, of words moving others toward good, of products thoughtfully composed and sent out into the world marked with your name.

And maybe you are wondering, at the dawn of this new year, if now is the time to chase that dream.

Mine took two and a half years for me to realize what was taking place; that this dream was much bigger than I am; much larger than what I could have ever known back when it was in its seedling stage. But when I saw it, I knew. And that, right there, changed everything. There was no hemming and hawing. There was just clear evidence, set up in advance, waiting for me to arrive at its threshold and see that it was time.

Maybe you are looking for that kind of evidence today, that “Go ahead, it’s time”. Maybe you have been waiting a long while for it. And it feels like a desert land, dry and endless and wanting. The waiting can be excruciating, when you have such a dream on your hands.

Perhaps with the days passing by at merciless speed, and half of January gone, one twenty-fourth of our year, you hear that familiar taunting. This is not the time. This is not the year to chase that dream.

But maybe it is.

And maybe you need some clear-cut guidelines for figuring out if that “Go ahead” is now. Perhaps you have prayed and kept silent and ran numbers and dreamed your dream at a low volume where no one can hear or see or poke fun or question. And now is the time to measure it up to some real conditions. Perhaps now is the time to sit down with a pen and paper, and ask the hard questions, the ones that sift out dreams and sort them into “Ready” or “Wait” categories. Questions like these:

  • Have you been in God’s Word lately, exposing yourself to His truth, which sheds light on the way we should go? Does your dream contradict anything you see in God’s Word? “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalm 119:105)
  • If you are married, have you sat down and discussed all of the details of this dream with your spouse? Have you chased it down to its end, talked of its worst-case-scenarios, and shared with them your passion behind it? Are they on board? Your dreams are part of their story too. “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh.” (Mark 10:6-8)
  • Have you talked of this dream with someone you admire, who shares the same beliefs as you? A mentor or sister or dear friend, who you know will tell you as it is, and help you discern the validity of this dream? “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” (Proverbs 15:22)
  • If this dream is one that will produce an income, have you decided how much, and to what cause, you will give a portion of that income to? “A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.” (Proverbs 11:25)
  • If you have a family, have you thought through the impact it will have on them? How much time will it take, and where will that time come from? Our time is one of our most limited, valuable resources. Is this dream a good investment of it? “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12)
  • Are there 3 Red Flags? Each of the above questions can raise red flags that need to be heeded and addressed before moving forward. However, smaller red flags, that often go unseen or overlooked if we are not paying attention, can also serve as a compass when we are deciding whether to pursue a certain dream. My husband has a “3 Red Flag” rule. If three smaller red flags arise during the decision process, that is enough for us to step back and put the idea on hold until we can gain more clarity on it with a spirit of discernment. “For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.” (Colossians 1:9-10)

Answering these questions might take you a couple of hours at the coffee shop, or months of revising your answers as you dig deeper into your own heart. Give them the time they are due. The thing that I have learned about dream chasing is that these dreams take time to develop. Even when we do not realize it, these ideas and aspirations and passions are rooting themselves down, and preparing to bloom—when the time and conditions are right. There have been several times that, when my husband and I have decided it was time to pursue a dream, we could look back and see how God had been preparing us for that decision; equipping us with certain skills and knowledge and friendships that we would need.

Trust that the Lord is working in the details of your life, behind the scenes, even now. Trust that He has great plans for you. And trust that He will lead you in those plans and purposes, when you are attuning your heart to His. And then, when the time is right, walk forward confidently in this command and promise: “Commit your works to the Lord, and your plans will be established.” (Proverbs 16:3)

Life Seasons Writing

Will We Bring The Wildflowers With Us?

September 27, 2016

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If I have learned one thing through the process of writing a book, it is the value of time and seasons. This morning I walked through a nature preserve that my boys and I visit often. We spend many mornings here counting frogs among the pond reeds, catching grasshoppers, and watching the bees collect pollen from wild sunflowers. But this morning, I walked along the dirt path alone, winding my way slowly between ponds framed by late summer wildflowers.

As I walked, I thought back to the first time we came here, to that first walk we took along this path, collecting wildflowers of every shade of the rainbow. Months later, those flowers sit dried in a jar that hangs above my desk at home, and these yellow grass fields are dotted by only a few last flowers holding on to summer. The bees busy themselves traveling from bloom to bloom collecting the last of the pollen.

I think back to when the book was a hatchling idea, new and fresh. In the thrill of it all I wanted to sit down and punch the entire thing out in one mega burst of creativity, but I quickly learned that these things don’t work that way. Not well, at least.

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Today as I walked around those glowing fields, watching blades of wheat dance in the gentle breeze, I thought about the seasons that have sown this book together. Without them, the seams of it would lay open and wanting; an unraveled list of ideas and lessons, without the stories and experience to bind them together.

This story needed to see spring’s cultivation, and then the planting, sprouting, budding, blooming, dying, falling, and repeat. It needed to see the cyclical process of rebirth and regeneration, of failure, victory, and harvest. It needed to push through the dark and cold of winter, and witness the mercies that come with each rising of the sun.

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I’m tempted at times to hasten the work. This morning I sat with an agenda, and prayed for the focus to put my head down and get the work done. And I did, until I found myself exhausted of words. That’s when I knew that I needed to come here, and listen to the cadence of gravel crunching beneath my shoes until more words came.

The richest of experiences can be found in the waiting, it seems. At least, that’s what I have found in both book writing and boy raising. The passing of time is an essential ingredient to every story. Stories unfold when we take notice of the seasons, and their transitions from one to the next.

As I walk, I see the bench that the boys sat on a few months back, and the dock that they ran out to as they chattered to one another about fishing. I walk past their favorite spot to stop and watch the dragonflies, and the bridge they lean over to spot the crayfish under the water’s surface. And I see the thread that ties these memories together, the seasons in which they’ve found their place in our story.

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Every one of our stories, they require these seasons. And we get to choose, as we step out of one season and into the next, whether our stories will sour as like milk, or age and mature as like a fine wine. We get to choose, as those wildflowers lose their petals and shrivel up, whether we’ll preserve them in a jar to carry on with us into our next season. We get to choose what we leave behind, and what becomes a part of us.

Seasons are the framework in which our stories exist, and where life’s questions find their answers. What in a previous season seemed terribly obscure, confusing, and frightening, may reveal itself in striking clarity as we walk into a new season.

Our job is this:  in our current season, we must walk slowly enough to notice the right-here right-now lessons; ones that will give us greater understanding for navigating what comes next. Our task is to walk these paths with great attention, collecting wildflowers and time’s gifts– the memories that will serve as an anchor to us wherever we find ourselves next.

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Our job is to stop lingering in a past season, and not to fret the season coming next. Instead, let’s savor the season that we’re standing in right now. Let’s saturate it in joy, attention, laughter, rest, and purpose. Let’s weigh it down with all of our consideration for the small things that are really the big things.

Whatever your season looks like right now—it is yours for the making. Let’s mark it with such extravagant beauty that will impact us, and those closest to us, for every season to come.

936Pennies Faith Writing

My Impromptu Speech Before A Room Full Of Strangers {And Author Lisa-Jo Baker}

August 1, 2015

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Before she even began giving the instructions, I had a story on my mind. It was one I had not thought of in quite some time.

When she gave the prompt, it fit perfectly. Surely it was meant to be. Before she even finished giving her final directions, my hand was moving vigorously across my notebook.

We only had five minutes. A room full of strangers; women from all walks of life, each of us with five minutes to write a completely impromptu and unedited story from this peculiar prompt:  “Stranger.”

I was surrounded by them, and now I was to write a story concerning one. I had chosen one from years ago; a stranger who had only crossed paths with me for five minutes. Now I would write about her for the same duration of time, nearly a decade later.

 

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Before me stood one of my favorite authors, a woman I greatly admire and had prayed all weekend for an opportunity to meet, and that opportunity was about to present itself.

Our time ended, and she asked for volunteers. All around the room hands shot up. She turned and pointed to me; one of three who would share their unedited stories.

When my turn came I rose confidently, but any poise painted across my face wavered when I began to read my wild scrawl of a story. That morning as I had donned my makeup and curled my hair, I had not anticipated giving a speech to a room full of strangers, especially a story of this delicate nature.

Five minutes is hardly enough time to set up a context, yet it would appear that it is just the perfect amount of time to confine a story to its raw vulnerability. Five minutes produces a rather naked story.

 

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Earlier that morning had found me sitting before the Associate Publisher & Executive Editor of Zondervan Publishing, a woman who has worked thirty years in the publishing industry. During a ten minute meeting I would unpack my heart, overflowing with a passionate message that I can hardly pin to words.

My body buzzed with coffee, a meager effort to battle the fatigue from a night of sleep interrupted by our hungry infant, and an evacuation from the hotel after the fire alarm sounded at four in the morning.

 

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I had arduously prepared over the past six months for this ten minutes I would spend with her. I had written, rewritten, prayed, cried, gathered a team to help, prepared proposal drafts, prayed more, bought some non-maternity outfits, and even gotten my nails done. The only other time I have gotten my nails done in my life was six years ago—on my wedding day. Up until recently I kind of thought “Mani-Pedi” was a breed of dog, the kind that get their own nails done.

 

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On that weekend I had a meeting not only with the Associate Publisher of Zondervan, but also with Harvest House Publishing. Some of you have asked me how those meetings went.

They grounded me. They humbled me. They confirmed my passion for this message on intentional parenting that God has called us to.

“I love the concept for this book.” I heard it twice. Both publishers confirmed that there is something profound woven into this message. I also heard, “You’re not well enough known yet.” I had seen it coming. It’s an unfortunate shift in the publishing world that in order to be published, you must first be known. Yet they took my proposal, and both are passing it on to the next step!

 

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Part of me expects the outcome I have heard from so many other writers that have walked before me, that the publishers will come back with my proposal and tell me to “Grow my platform”– to become better known, then this book can happen. Or maybe God has bigger plans than the publishers. For now we wait. Wondering. Praying. And writing.

Because this is what I came away with from my meetings with those publishers, and the other divine conversations I had over the weekend with authors, writers, and speakers—We are simply called to continue on in obedience to what God has called us to.

 

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And God has not called me to make my name known; He has called me to make His name known. So that’s just what I’ll do. And I am confident that if I keep on showing up at the laptop, or with a piece of paper and pen, then He will make it happen. I am learning that when we simply show up and take a step of faith, He will show us great things.

Last weekend I stood before a room full of strangers and one of my favorite authors. My heart pounded within my chest, which is a notable occurrence for me, considering my rare disease which renders my body incapable of producing adrenaline. The unfamiliar sound of my own heartbeat echoed within my eardrums.

 

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I willed my hand to stop shaking as I neared the microphone to my mouth. My voice trailed as I began to timidly speak my unedited story.

“She walked in in her designer clothes clinging tightly to her sun-bronzed skin. She stood near the counter, confident, but perhaps not. I suddenly felt uncomfortable in my bland green apron, and childish in those pigtails poking out from beneath my uniform hat. I took her order, and as I did, I began my game.

My gaze fell to her protruding hip bones, chiseled and taunting. Her white top allowing them to peak out. Her wrists were dainty, a trophy. Her collar bones, pristine.

‘For here or to go?’ I asked. She answered and walked on. She had won.

My break approached, and I pushed aside any previous thoughts of what I myself would order for lunch. Indeed, she had won.

I determined that tomorrow she would not. And so I went another day without eating.”

 

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I prepared for six months for those ten minute meetings with book publishers last weekend, and I had entered into this experience with my focus being predominantly on those opportunities. But it ends up that a five-minute writing exercise, an impromptu speech drenched in vulnerability, and a “That was wonderful.” along with a hug from one of your favorite authors—that ended up being an even richer opportunity than those publisher meetings.

Because really, when you feel God calling you to something, the most rewarding and confirming thing you can do is simply to show up for the task, let Him handle the details, and watch in wonder as He orchestrates something far bigger than yourself and your name.

 

Faith Writing

Where Sharing Your Story Begins

July 30, 2015

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The lights are already dim as I weave between tables in search of an empty space. Music floats overhead, an undercurrent of melody carrying the excited chatter of 800 women.

I tug self-consciously at my clothes. Moments ago I felt so confident strolling into this room, but walking amongst hundreds of strangers has a way of making you fully aware of yourself and your insecurities. I find an empty seat and set down my things. The woman settled in to my left compliments me on my teal leather bag, I laugh as I eye her bag, an identical twin to my own. I begin to relax.

 

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Insecurities fade into oblivion as we get to know one another around the table. The same purpose has called us all to this place. And as we will become keenly aware of over the next couple of days, not only is the playing field level, but there really isn’t a playing field at all, because we are all on the same side. We will hear it in song and speech and the written word–“There is no competition in the Kingdom of God.”

We all claim the same mission—to know God and make Him known–we are simply carrying out that mission through our unique stories and perspectives. That is what this weekend is about—stories, and how God composes each one with such intricacy and grace. We gather around a joint calling to share those stories in such a way to help others see their own journey more clearly, and to understand what God wants to do with those stories.

 

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Stories wind their way around every microscopic piece of life and history. There is a story behind every discovery, built into every sand castle, woven into every bird’s nest, and painted across the portrait of each sun-kissed horizon. Underneath all that has ever been seen, touched, tasted, heard, or experienced–there is a story to unearth from beneath the surface of the obvious.

I sit around that table with six women, just strangers a moment ago. We eye with curiosity the small scrolls laid at each table setting. They are tied delicately together with thin twine. I begin to reach for mine, and then think otherwise and draw my hand back to my side. I suppress my curiosity and will myself to wait as we rise to worship together.

 

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Later that evening, when our time of worship and study in the Word is through, we’ll receive an explanation for the scrolls.

“Each scroll has a verse on it that has been prayed over for you.” Volume rises around the room as women reach to unravel the small beige papers. I finger the twine and slip it gently off; unraveling truth within my hands, I read:

“Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and He will establish your plans.” {Proverbs 16:3}

I read and reread, beckoning the truth to settle deep within my soul. I read them once more as salt stings my eyes and slips softly down my cheek. I slip the scroll into my bag. Throughout the weekend I will pull it back out time and time again. I will clutch that verse in shaking hands, praying over the words before I meet with book publishers to share my story with them. I will read it when I am overwhelmed with a wealth of new knowledge and ideas for this ministry the Lord has called us to. I will recite it to myself as I share sandwiches, coffee, fears, and life stories with new friends.

 

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When at first I had unraveled that scroll with its simple yet weighty message, the words had seemed so familiar. I would not realize why until three days later, as I sit alone in a hotel room processing all that took place over the last few days. I set my Bible down on the coffee table, pull myself into an Indian-sit on the red chaise lounge, and set my journal on my lap. I flip through the pages, not quite sure what I am in search of– not until I find it. The page opens to an entry from five months ago.

“Yes,” My script looked determined and confident. “Yes, I would like to meet with a publisher.” 

I recorded the brave step that had led me on the journey to this whole weekend and its vast opportunities. Yet the only real confidence laid in the words that preceded this statement in my journal. And there they were:

“Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and He will establish your plans.” {Proverbs 16:3}

His truth sank deep down five months ago, setting into motion the telling of the story He is etching into my soul, and they remain just as true now, typed out on that little scroll tucked within my Bible.

This weekend was about stories, and I heard so many of them painted in the Savior’s blood. Stories of struggle, triumph, heartache, and hope, all of them wrapped up in words of grace bestowed by a sovereign God.

 

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You have a story too, we all do, and the world is much richer when we share those journeys with one another. Whether through pen on a page, fingers on a keyboard, voice to a microphone, or over a cup of coffee in a corner booth–stories beg to be told.

But first, before we share them, let us find ourselves kneeling before the cross with these words wetting our lips and forever aligning our hearts with His purpose, “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and He will establish your plans.” Because once we commit our stories to His way of writing, that is when our narrative rises from the depths of despair to the heights of a tale greater than we could ever have imagined.