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Archive for December, 2013

better connection

In my last post, I mentioned that I was working on my New Year’s resolutions. Drafting them up, they look something like this:

1.       Disconnect to Reconnect

In Colorado, I saw a neat little flyer. It stood out to me. It said, “There is no wi-fi in nature. But we’re sure you’ll find a better connection.”

As I’ve been praying about the New Year, I feel that I should to take a break from blogging and Facebooking. I’ve heard it takes about six weeks to build a new habit or to break an old one. So I’ll be going offline at the beginning of the year, for roughly 40 days, to disconnect from some things in order to connect (or reconnect) with others … and hopefully regain perspective of the most important things.

I’ll be available through email because I can’t go offline completely; my writing/editing work is all online. Just letting go of those “extras” for a while.

2.       Cultivate Real Communication

With Facebook and other social media, it is easy to maintain surface relationships, to see “what’s going on” but actually have no idea what is really happening in someone’s life or heart. Marjorie Holmes, in I’ve Got to Talk to Somebody, God, writes:

“Today there is so little genuine communication. The very push and pressure of living among so many people has driven us deeper inside ourselves. There, despite all the talk that swirls around us, we are locked in a lonely prison. It is a … place for our own protection, yet a place of anxieties and fears, where the loneliness can be intolerable, unless we find God there.”

I think it is a place, also, from which we need to reach out to others, not connecting on the surface, but listening, learning, and being there for each other through real communication.

That’s a resolution I have this year. Not sure exactly how to go about it, which is one of the reasons I’m disconnecting for a while, in hopes of reconnecting with a different perspective. Hopefully a more meaningful one.

3.       Find Direction in Writing

Another reason I don’t plan to post on my blogs for the next while is to figure out what it is I want to say … or more importantly, what God wants me to say. When I feel rushed or pressured to write, what comes out is often not the best of what there is to say or write, because the best of things take time.

I know this is going against advice from writing classes and connecting through social media. They say that to create a presence, you need to post regularly, at least once a week, and try to do it on the same day every week. I don’t know if I’ve ever kept up with that, and I don’t know if I ever will.

But right now, I know that I shouldn’t be even trying. Because if there is no heart and soul behind it, even the best and most tried-and-true technique will fall flat. I need to work a little more on the heart and soul right now.

4.       Make Progress in Long-term Goals

This probably starts with figuring out what some of those goals are. Mark Batterson, in his best-selling book The Circle Maker, discusses the importance of having life goals on a variety of themes – family, influence, experiential, physical. He writes:

“Setting a goal creates structural tension in your brain, which will seek to close the gap between where you are and where you want to be, who you are and who you want to become. If you don’t set goals, your mind will become stagnant. Goal setting is good stewardship of your right-brain imagination. It’s also great for your prayer life.”

I plan to make progress in figuring out some of those goals and mapping a way, perhaps through prayer, to reach them.

5.       Keep a Proper Balance in Life (especially in busy times)

I make time for the things I have to do. When I have classes, I wake up before six on the days I have to be on time for class. I stay up late the night before an assignment is due studying or writing in order to get a good grade in class.

But it’s so easy to neglect the things I don’t have to do, even though I know it’s a bad idea in the long run. Things like exercise, or prayer, or reading the Bible, or studying about writing, or spending time with my kids. Each one of those things gets relegated to back burner during busy times. Before I realize it, a season has gone by without exercise, or I can’t remember the last time I sat on the floor with the kids and played a board game.

I know this is a subjective and vague resolution, partly because I don’t yet have a plan, and partly because even if I did have a plan, I wouldn’t want to post it. Because … well, you know what they say about those “greatest plans of mice and men.” And also because things change; needs change according to the cycles of life and schedules of life.

6.       Create Space

I planned to have only five New Year’s resolutions, but I added this one last minute, after finishing a book titled Gift from the Sea.

Sometimes the best we can do is figure out where we’re going and what we’re meant to do here and now. Next month or next year might bring a whole different slew of responsibilities or requirements.

But I want to get it right. I don’t want to feel like I’m missing something important or leaving something behind, or going too fast that I end up forgetting the most important things. I want to create space in my life (and our lives are just so busy these days). In Gift from the Sea, Anne Morrow Lindbergh writes:

“It is only framed in space that beauty blooms. Only in space are events and objects and people unique and significant—and therefore beautiful. … My life … lacks this quality of significance and therefore of beauty, because there is so little empty space. The space is scribbled on; the time has been filled. There are so few empty pages in my engagement pad, or empty hours in the day, or empty rooms in my life in which to stand alone and find myself.”

I saw myself in those words. So little empty space. I don’t want that. I don’t want to miss the significance in moments and people because I am going too fast to stop and notice them. My final resolution is to create those spaces on a regular basis. I’m not sure exactly how just yet.

Maybe by going slower. Or stopping completely at times. Minimizing the “extras” in my life. Or just being conscious of the need to have that space. I just placed a shell on my writing desk, my own “gift from the sea” to help me remember the need for space.

This is going to be my last post for a while. But I look forward to connecting with you again soon, and would love to hear from you … your resolutions and your hopes for the New Year. Your prayers and wishes.

Happy New Year!

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It has been a busy year.

It was a rare day in January. My husband was actually home for the day. He was sick and resting in bed when I got an email. After reading it, I told my husband sadly that my one of my favorite authors – Ken Gire, who I consider a sort of writing mentor – would be attending the Colorado Christian Writer’s Conference in May. I had been blessed with a scholarship to attend the previous year, and knew there wasn’t a chance I could do that again.

“Why don’t we make a family trip out of it?” Dan suggested in his spontaneous way. I jumped at the idea. We discussed the details and within an hour I had reserved our stay (for four months down the line) and determined that I needed to finish at least one novel to present to prospective agents/publishers by the time the conference rolled around.

It took two months to complete the draft – 77,777 words – which my husband read as I was writing as my first novel critique. Over the next month, another five people critiqued it and I completed the third draft at two in the morning, May 14. The week leading up to that time had been busy with college finals, packing for the journey, and constructing a poorly written book proposal – but finally, fours hours after I printed out that proposal, our family of five (and my dad too) were on the road, headed to Colorado.

In mid-March, Dan had another inspiration: figure out the logistics of moving into a house. We had spend our first year after moving to California with my parents – September 2010 to August 2011 – and then moved into a two-bedroom apartment, which though cozy was splitting at some of its seams, and my temperament at the close quarters during the winter was fraying around the edges. A house sounded like quite a plan indeed.

It seemed, however, as we began the search for a house, that everyone else had the same idea we did. As soon as a house appeared on the market, it was snatched up, and each one was more expensive than the one before. Interest rates were at an all-time low, but housing prices were starting to rise, and fast. We looked at house after house and made a few offers, none of which came through.

Then, in early May, we saw the house. You know, when you get that feeling? That says, “This is just right” but you don’t want to get your hopes up because you know it’s impossible for it to come through? Especially when houses that were less expensive (and needed a whole lot of TLC) were beyond our reach. But we prayed about it and decided to make an offer. It was funny because, as we left that house after seeing it for the first time, I felt like we were leaving something important behind and I just kept praying, “Lord, keep it for us if it’s Your will; if not, we know You have something better.” But this one definitely felt different than the ones before. For some reason, it already felt like home. An empty, newly painted and carpeted, waiting-for-us-to-claim-it home.

We had to wait for a few things before we would hear back on our offer. So with that up in the air, we made the trip to Colorado. And it was awesome! Days filled with workshops and general sessions, with meeting writers and aspiring authors, with feeling God’s Spirit moving in the lives of people He had called to write … and of course enjoying time with my husband and the kids and my dad – hiking around the Rockies, experiencing nature up close and personal and being amazed by its sheer magnificence.

On the 20-hour drive home – which we split up into two days – I got the idea of starting a new blog, on purpose and meaning, which I launched in the first week of June. I think I have been more consistent in posting for this, my fourth blog, than the others, especially since it has a different theme each day. But overall, blogging has been a big focus for me this past year and I’ve probably done more blogging than long-term writing (well, except for nanowrimo, which is another story altogether).

During our week-long journey, the prospect of coming home to a new home was exciting. Well, by the joining of events that all together are nothing short of miraculous, we got the house. As soon as we unpacked from the trip, we began packing for the move. One month after making it home from Colorado was our big “move day” – June 22. We spent the next couple weeks between the two places, setting up the house and cleaning up the apartment.

In the first week of August, my sister and her three kids moved in with us. A week later, my fall semester began, with a full class load. A week after that, Jessica and Allen started school, along with their cousin, Jenna. Tuesdays and Thursdays, I attended college and picked the kids up from school on my way home. Wednesdays and Fridays, I taught Aiden and Keira – his cousin – at home, as neither of them are old enough for school yet.  My sister took care of them on Tuesdays and Thursdays. On Mondays, everyone was home and the activity and energy level rose exponentially for every family member present.

During November, I attempted nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) for the first time. The goal is to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. I didn’t reach that goal, but enjoyed the experience and believe I learned some things from it, but have yet to reflect on those things.

The semester ended on December 12th, and the kids’ Christmas break began midday on December 17th. I had one Tuesday and half a Thursday without classes and without kids. I didn’t know what to do with myself.

The fact is it’s been a busy year. I feel like the number of moments I’ve had to just stop and reflect and think … and be … could be counted on one hand.

It has been no less busy for Daniel. He has been juggling two jobs in the midst of setting up sprinkler systems and building garage shelves and laying cement in the back yard and planting trees … and doing all those things that have turned this house into a home (it really has been a lot).

We celebrated our tenth anniversary in September with a weekend trip to the hills. It was awesome to get away for a couple days while my sister and parents looked after the kids. And even more awesome to have been married for ten years. Every year is getting better.

Also in September, Jessica turned nine. She is halfway through fifth grade, and taking piano classes. She loves to read and beat me in a summertime contest of number-of-pages read.

The month before that, Allen turned seven. He is in third grade and also taking piano. His artwork amazes me and it is astounding what he can come up with.

Aiden, the youngest, will be five in March. His fascination is still anything to do with a motor and wheels. The bigger and louder the better (as long as it’s not a vacuum cleaner). He loves to learn and do new things, as long as it doesn’t become tedious.

And here we stand, on the verge of the New Year, or as I prayed last night, “with the New Year around the corner,” to which Aiden responded, “I didn’t know that we were on a bus” and Jessica checked around the corner of the hallway just to make sure.

Reflecting on the events of this past year, I am amazed at all God has done. At this time last year, taking a family trip across a few states had not even been a consideration. Moving into a three-bedroom house with a covered patio was a nice idea, but definitely not something we had been planning for. But God had, and I guess that’s what really makes the difference.

Since the semester ended a couple weeks back, I have been trying to take time just to think and pray. I’ve also picked up some books on personal, spiritual growth, as well as some books on writing and publishing. I know the New Year is not going to give me or anyone in my family a bunch of time in which to take our breaths and regain focus.

But one thing I know is that I don’t want to lose sight of the things that are most important in the midst of the myriad of things that are, yes, important, but perhaps not most important. With that in mind, I’ve been thinking about a few New Year’s resolutions … coming soon.

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Blue Piggy Bank

Today my kids made me proud … and they put me to shame.

I posted this on my Facebook wall today, as I’m trying to post something I’m thankful for each day leading up to Christmas:

I’m thankful for my kids’ generosity. It actually astounds me. They have been saving up coins for over a year. Nearly two years, actually. Faithfully dropping pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters into their blue piggy bank.
Then, when the typhoon tore through the Philippines, I suggested sending something to them. Since then, they have been trying even harder to save up, putting every coin in the piggy bank. Even Aiden kept talking about how full it was getting and how we would need to send it to the Philippines soon.
Today we went to a store to get the money counted. The kids saved up $44.40 and not a single one asked to keep any of it for themselves.

I was at first feeling good about my kids … and myself. Raising them to be aware of people in need. About time to pat myself on the back.

But then I thought, “Hold on. They’re not following my example.” I don’t know that I’ve ever given up a year’s worth of savings for the cause of missions.

I’m actually not a very generous individual. Money, perhaps, is not such a big issue for me. God will always supply in some way.

But I’m selfish with me. With my time. I consider time very important … probably more important than it should be. I hate wasting time. More than once, I’ve gotten on my kids’ cases for “making me waste time.” I’ve also gotten on their cases for wasting their time.

But seeing them today, so freely giving away something that has taken them time to earn and save humbles me. Makes me want to be a little more generous … a lot more, in fact. With my time, with my money, with anything that could make a difference for the better in someone’s life.

To be a living example to my kids. As well as let their living example change my heart and life.

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Following a Star

Lately I have been thinking about the wise men, their journey and search for a newborn king. It fascinates me, these foreigners journeying such a long way, so sure that their search would end in a discovery of this king. Amazing, too, that the star led them to the very place that this king – the baby Jesus – was born. 

Their gifts, though, are the most telling. How much did they know, these wise men? How much did they see written in the stars to give this baby such prophetic gifts? The following article, by Robert J Morgan, shows just how fitting those gifts were:

      Gold is one of the noble metals. No single acid can destroy it, nor will it rust away, like iron or tin. … No one can successfully imitate or fake gold, so heavy and incorruptible it is. … Pure, supple, almost indestructible, gold is indeed a royal metal. … In the ancient world into which Christianity was born, gold was far rarer than now.

      Incense was made from an expensive and elaborate formula, containing 16 different ingredients, with only priests allowed to concoct it. And the chief element in this holy recipe was frankincense, the second gift of the wise men to the Child.

      Frankincense is a resin, from a kind of tree held so sacred of old that in southern Arabia and Ethiopia, where it grew, only a few particularly pure persons were allowed even to approach it…. To obtain the precious frankincense itself, an Arab cuts a slash in the trunk, and then strips off a narrow piece of bark, about five inches long, below the cut. The sap slowly oozes out and is allowed to harden for about three months. At last it is collected in lumps, … yellow or colorless, dusty-looking, with a bitter taste. But they burn with a bright white flame, and then there arises to heaven that sweet, heavy perfume of mystery that the Wise Men thought pleasing to God.

      Myrrh is a shrub related to frankincense … The sap of myrrh is extracted in the same way … But its symbolism is more somber. The word myrrh comes from the Hebrew “mar,” meaning “bitter.” The ancient Egyptians used this resin in embalming, and hence its connection with solemn occasions.

I began to write the words that came to mind as I thought about these wise men and their search for a king. It doesn’t have a set meter. It’s more wandering, maybe even stumbling, than anything. Like a search that ended with bittersweet gifts placed at the feet of a baby. 

The stars shone bright that holy night

Brighter than ever before

But what did it mean to have Your name

Written among the stars?

The wise men must have had a clue

For with the gifts they gave to You

Was myrrh, the bittersweet perfume,

That told the tale of a waiting tomb

“Where is the King,” some heard them say

You came not for glory, fame

Unrecognized, yet still Your name

Was written among the stars

Were You born on a starlit night?

Did any wonder at the sight?

Or had so many closed their eyes

To wonder, glory, in the skies

So only shepherds heard the glad cry

Of one whose name

Was written among the stars

 

And on a night so silent, clear

I step outside, and I hear

And I sit as one entranced

To think the one who called them to dance

The stars in their celestial place

Telling their stories with silent grace

Wrote His name among the stars

He knew where the stars would be at His birth

The tales they would tell

Of Heaven’s hope upon this earth

Salvation from sorrow and hell

The stars that told in silent word

The birthday of the King

Spoke too of the time

When His heart would be pierced

When salvation He would bring

 

So what does it mean

To have your name

Written among the stars?

A destiny of love

The love of a Lord

Who bore beating and scars

He bled and died

But it was not the end

He rose to untold glory

He who made Heaven and earth

And draws us to know our worth

Authored life’s deepest, greatest story

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This might sound like a strange thing to be thankful for, but today, as I drove to pick up my kids, I noticed something going on across the street from their school. A city bus had pulled over to the side of the road. Behind the bus were two police cars, lights flashing. In front of the bus was another police car and a white crime-scene van. People were milling around and obviously, the incident (whatever it was) had passed and things appeared to be okay.

As I pulled into the school’s parking lot, I thanked God that all those vehicles were not parked in front of the school, that nothing bad had happened to my kids or their classmates. With the world taking the path it is taking, and violent incidents happening more frequently at schools and to children, with the sanctity of human life not seen as the sacred gift from God that it is, I do sometimes fear for my kids.

They’re so young. Their whole lives are ahead of them. And sometimes, when they are out of my sight, I get concerned. Even when they’re safe and asleep in bed, fears cloud my mind about them and the future.

But I know that, like today, they’re in the hallow of God’s hands, and He cares for His children. All of them. They have a special place in His heart. And I am thankful for that today.

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Yesterday I posted about being thankful for teachers I have been blessed to have over the years.

Today, I want to express how grateful I am for my kids’ teachers, past and present. Without exception, each of my kids have been taught from a young age by amazing, talented, and inspired individuals who have made a huge difference in their lives.

It’s a wonderful feeling to know that during the times that the kids are not with me, they are being cared for and educated by people who share the same values as I do and feel a calling to raise up the next generation of young people to make a difference for the better in the world.

So today (and every day) I am thankful for Jessica, Allen, and Aiden’s awesome teachers. And for every teacher who interacts with children every day (not an easy task) for the purpose of helping them grow up to know that they are loved by God and created for a purpose.

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Raw but Precious

I had a couple of exceptional professors this semester. They were clearly interested in each student and expressed their desire, numerous times, to see their students succeed. It was interesting to see how their encouragement and confidence played out in the classroom. Compared to other classes I’ve taken at this college over the past couple of years, there was a very low drop rate in these classes and students seemed more engaged than in some other classes.

It got me thinking how blessed I am to have had some pretty awesome teachers in my life, starting with my parents.

My mom home schooled six of us … no small feat in itself. She made learning fun. She taught me to read at a very young age and instilled in each of us, I think, a love for learning. She capitalized on “teachable moments” and was always full of interesting facts (which she called useless information, but you never know when such things come in handy). Most of all, she was there and I always felt her unconditional love.

My dad, who continued his education after years of missionary work overseas, and obtained his Bachelor’s degree at the age of 40, taught me by his example that you’re never too old to keep learning, or to finish what you’ve started. And when I was in my teens, I remember him telling me time and again that no matter what path in life I chose to take, he knew God would be with me and that he and mom would support me.

After I left home as a teenager, I was blessed to encounter many people who acted as teachers for me in some way. When you think of it, actually, everyone can be a teacher, if our minds and hearts are open to learning. Not just people, but things as well, can teach us deep and meaningful truths. About life. About love. About purpose.

So today I’m thankful for teachers. Of every kind. Especially those who took the time and cared enough about me to help make me what I am today. (Hopefully someone who will continue to learn and grow and change for the rest of my life.)

I love what Mitch Albom says about teachers. Those ones who see you “as a raw but precious thing.” Such teachers can change a life. Have changed many lives. I hope one day to do the same.

[Why so many “Thanksgiving Posts”?]

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