Last month, I attended the Oregon Christian Writer’s (OCW) Summer Conference. It is currently the only conference I go to, as it is relatively close to where I live—if five hours counts as close!
The conference is three and a half days of workshops, keynotes, coaching classes, appointments with industry professionals, and the Cascade Awards ceremony, which is always fun. It is a busy week and one I enjoy.
My favorite part of the OCW conference is the morning coaching classes. We get three days of instruction from authors, speakers, editors, or agents on a single topic. My class was Melanie Dobson’s class on writing historical fiction. This class was simply delightful. Ms. Dobson clearly presented her information in a helpful, inspiring, and humorous manner. I learned so many new ideas to incorporate into my writing life to see if they work for my writing process.
Having the same instructor every day brings cohesion to what we’re learning and that is more helpful than you’d think! Getting to know the other people in my coaching class is also a great experience. And when the classes are over, I only want to stay and learn even more!
Leaving the conference is sad and an emotional high. I am pumped and inspired and ready to settle in and get to work.
But reality comes back quickly. I get to my “real” writer’s life, and don’t know what to do with all this information I’ve learned.
And now most of the energy and hope from the conference is gone after I settled in real life.
And how can I get it back?
If only there was a process where all this information could immediately settle in my brain and tell me which tools and ideas work for me. Instead, I am left with trial and error to see what will make my writing life more efficient, rewarding, and productive.
I’m sure if I turn to Google, that wonder of the internet, I will find moderately helpful listicles with advice, all of which I’ve heard before. The difficult part of “how to” listicles isn’t the reading—it’s the doing. If I don’t apply the tips, then reading them is a waste of my time. And I don’t need help with that!
I can go over my notes from the workshops, coaching classes, and the excellent keynote presentations. There’s so much to sort through! But again, this information is only useful if I apply it.
And that is where the trouble begins.
I’ve never been that great at figuring out how to apply new ideas. I absorb knowledge quickly and can easily recall facts and information, but applying it and figuring out how it can work for me is always the problem.
So can I use what I’ve learned? Is it even possible? Or am I destined only to be an information gatherer forever, hoarding knowledge until my brain is so full it explodes?
I know that’s not how the brain works. Let’s allow a little hyperbole here, shall we?
Now that the conference high is ebbing, I need to be more disciplined than ever. And sometimes—okay, pretty much all the time—discipline is something I struggle with.
How can I apply what I learned? How can I stay on track and get my work done? I could use some tips.
Maybe I’ll read another listicle.
“After all, tomorrow is another day.”
We all know where this quote is from, don’t we? It’s from the novel turned cinematic classic Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell.
And yet, the quote itself has a purpose beyond a book quote. It is an important reminder that tomorrow is just around the corner. We can’t prevent it from coming and all we can do is try our best to make it through
Don’t worry about tomorrow, everyone says. Today is difficult enough for most of us and worrying about what may happen can sap our energy, strength, and joy in living.
However, we can’t help but worry. Worry is sadly a foundation of human nature and one that we all endure. We worry if our families are getting enough food, if our friends need us, and how we can meet the requests of those who want our help.
I have a perpetual calendar and one of my favorite quotes on it is “Worry is like a rocking chair. It keeps you occupied but doesn’t get you anywhere.” I say this to people frequently and it always makes them laugh. And they all agree.
Then the person ignores the quote and continues worrying.
I’m not saying I never worry. I have PTSD, anxiety, and depression, and worrying is second nature when my symptoms are fierce. But I try to live my life in such a way that I do not become frightened of what tomorrow may bring.
That is, after all, what worry does to us. It makes us unable to appreciate our life now because we are anxiously awaiting tomorrow. And we’re convinced in the middle of it that tomorrow will always be worse than today.
We know this isn’t the case. Tomorrow is often better than today. I’ve had bad days followed by good days, and vice versa. And having that hope that tomorrow will be an improvement can override our worries and get us through the bad days.
But the worry itself is debilitating. And learning to embrace each day instead is one of the most difficult things we as humans must do.
And we must learn how to embrace the new day. It makes life more enjoyable to embrace instead of worry. But we are fools, and slow to learn, and so we worry.
And the cycle is repeated endlessly until worry is second nature, and the next day is something to be afraid of. But we have time to change it. Time to learn and grow and give up on worrying over things we cannot control.
After all, tomorrow is another day.
“They went with songs to the battle, they were young.
Straight of limb, true of eyes, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.”
”Ode of Remembrance” from “For the Fallen” by Robert Laurence Binyon
I want to preface my post by saying this is only my opinion, as other Veterans may feel differently and I do not speak for them. However, I am confident in my assertion you will find that some Veterans in your own life agree with my thoughts.
Memorial Day is coming up. We all know this! We can’t go anywhere on the internet without seeing posts and articles and pictures.
For those who don’t know, Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day and was adopted after the Civil War as a day to decorate graves of those who died during that war. It eventually morphed into its current form and is now a federal holiday, as well as the unofficial "start" of the summer season.
I am a Veteran. My time in the military shaped my life profoundly and I value the experience. However, please do not thank me for my service on Memorial Day. That’s not what this day is about.
Memorial Day, even in it's earliest form, has always been a day of remembrance.
And “remembrance” is the point that needs to be emphasized here.
As Memorial Day is a day to remember and thank those who died for their country while serving in the military, I do not want to be thanked for my own service.
It is not my day. It is not a day for those who survived. Those of us who survived have our own day, and I appreciate it. I enjoy spending that day with other Veterans, who understand how the military affects our lives even after we've left service.
This day, Memorial Day, belongs to those who died. To our friends and brothers and sisters in arms who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. To those who did not come home, or came home in a flag-draped coffin.
Remember that those service members who died knew it was a possibility when they signed up, and did it anyway. Remember that they had families who loved them, who mourn them, and who wish every day they were safe, and home.
Do not thank me for my service this weekend. Thank the soldiers my unit said goodbye to at over twenty memorial services during the deployment. Thank the service members who gave up their lives for this country. Thank those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
But do not thank me. I don’t want it and I won’t accept it on this day.
It’s not my day.
It belongs to those who are gone. The ones we miss and mourn. The ones who sacrificed their lives.
Thank them. Remember them.
I’m not sure why the people who work with my mom thought this would be an interesting topic to write about. But, the rules of the Journal Jar stipulate the topic drawn at random must be written, so here goes.
Grocery shopping. It can be awful. When you go to the store and it’s payday, and it’s so crowded you have to wait for someone to walk by so you can continue on the aisle, I never want to go again. Sadly, it is a necessity and one that we all must do.
Though I do not find grocery shopping fun, I do find it entertaining if I am not stressed myself. It’s an excellent way to study human nature and how people react to mildly stressful situations.
Grocery shopping for most of us is a mindless activity that doesn’t require much brainpower. We use our lists and put the items on it in our cart, and then we go to the front of the story and check out, chatting with the cashier about the weather, how our day is, etc. See? I’ve completed hundreds of grocery shopping trips like the one I just mentioned.
However, I’ve also completed the other kind. Where money is so tight you have a calculator out and as many coupons as a store will let you use, the bare minimum of items on your list. When that shopping trip happens, a simple requirement of living can turn into a delicate balancing act.
Those of us who live on strict and tight budgets do not generally look forward to shopping. Prices can vary widely and we always worry we will not have enough money to afford what we need to buy. There is no room for “fun” groceries on strict budgets, and so we go without. We eat peanut butter and jelly, grilled cheese, and tons of macaroni and cheese. Cheap meals without any frills, and without any nutritional value.
But we often have no choice. Hopefully, for most of us, it is only temporary. But millions of people across the world struggle to find food every day and don’t always know where their next meal is coming from. I’ve never had that struggle in my life, and I am grateful for it. But we must do what we can to help those in need, and make sure they have affordable food options, though I cannot claim to know how to begin. For now, I donate food to local food banks and other food drives.
And I hope and pray for the day that we won’t need these options at all.
I was going to write a Christmas post, but wasn’t sure I could get my thoughts properly in order. Christmas, after all, is a time when a lot of people are thinking about Jesus and the “spirit of the season” means they may be more interested in learning about Christianity. But this post is also about politics, life, and Christianity. And what I hope this post conveys, even beyond all of that, is what I have had on my heart the last few months. As Christians, we are called to love our neighbors and I believe that has been missing for a long time in the modern church and in our country.
One of the best songs that I’ve heard over the past few years is by one of my favorite artists, Casting Crowns. I only discovered Casting Crowns about four years ago, when I began to listen almost exclusively to Contemporary Christian Music (CCM). This song is entitled “Jesus, Friend of Sinners” and can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rJXIugwiN7Q on YouTube. I want you to listen to this song and think about how you treat someone who does not believe in the same things you do.
I am not speaking solely of my religious beliefs, but also my political stance and the ability to treat others with respect and without judgement.
This country is divided.
That is not a secret and on every Facebook page I visit there are comments blaming the other side for all the problems in our country—from both liberals and conservatives, from Christians and non-Christians—and it has almost made me want to quit social media. I will admit that I have blocked or unfriended some people because my core beliefs do not match theirs. I do not unfriend or block people who simply have different opinions, but for my own self-care it is sometimes necessary to get toxic people out of my life.
As a Christian, I am often confused on how to approach those who may not know anything about God or Jesus. I can admit that I am also sometimes reluctant to do so. Yet we must try. We are, in fact, called to do so, and to not even attempt to tell others what we know of Jesus means we are not truly doing God’s will.
But how can we approach people who are not receptive or who believe that all Christians are closed-minded, judgmental people who are trying to coerce them into a way of life they have no interest in?
That’s where the above song comes in. My favorite line in the song goes “No one knows what we’re for only what we’re against when we judge the wounded” and it is this verse I keep in mind when I am struggling with sharing my faith. We cannot judge the wounded because we are also wounded. It can be hard to show love instead of judgement to others who seem mired in sin. But when we realize that everyone, including ourselves, is standing in the muck, it makes that judgement hypocritical.
I’m a Christian. And I’m a sinner. These are both true statements, and ones that do not change regardless of how much I try to follow God’s teachings. And when we allow our “Christian” side to override the “sinner” side, we create people who think they are superior to non-Christians because we are believers and we have been saved.
We must do our best to remember that we are ALL sinners. One sin isn’t worse than another—they are all the same in God’s eyes. And we’ll be judged, one day. Not by each other, but by God. And not loving people that God loves is a sin.
We as Christians are called to love one another. It can be hard to do so when everything around you is divided and ugly and full of hatred. Like our country. Like our church. We must love each other and pull our country, and church, back together.
And what better time to begin than a new year? I am determined to make 2017 the year I began living without judging others. I hope you join me.
Happy New Year.
I’ve heard about this word a lot over the last month. And I’m sure most of you have, too. But what does it actually mean? Not the dictionary definition, but personally, what does it mean to be thankful? What things should I be thankful for? When someone asks me that question, I’m not always sure how to answer.
Should I answer truthfully and say that I’m thankful I’m alive? That seems selfish and tends to defeat the feeling of thanksgiving and gratitude that we’re supposed to show in November. Or do I say “family” or “friends” or one of the other words that people say to stop myself from telling the truth? To keep the situation comfortable and familiar?
Of course I am thankful for my family and friends. I love them and they love me. But I feel that not sharing what we are actually thankful and grateful for—what we’re humbled by because it is such a blessing for us—we are paying lip service to the idea of being thankful.
So, yes, I am thankful for the fact that I am still alive. I wasn’t always. I’ve fought hard to be in this place I am in and I appreciate the struggles that I had to make it through to get here. It’s the best place I’ve been in a long time, emotionally. And I’m thankful and grateful that I am able to focus fully on writing and editing, which for the last fifteen years has been a side enterprise to my full-time working life.
But I still hesitate to share my biggest reason to be thankful—that I am still alive—with people when I am speaking to them. I fear their judgement. I always said I don’t care what other people think of me, but that is not always true. I worry that if I do not fit into the “mold” during a holiday, other people will find me insincere in my thankfulness.
If I tell the truth, what do they say? What kind of response would you give someone who confesses they’re grateful to be alive? I’ve had people tell me that before, that they are thankful they are still alive. And it is difficult to form a response because it is a personal and private struggle that the person is sharing with you. I am humbled by these people, that they feel I am trustworthy enough to know the pain that brought them to that place of thankfulness.
As a child, we’re thankful for a lot of things, too. Sometimes new toys, or our friends, or families. And as children I feel we are completely sincere in our gratefulness, even though it may not seem so. But as life wears away at us we learn to appreciate what we are really thankful for, and for some of us, it is more complicated than we could have ever imagined.
And for me, life wearing away brought me to the place where I can say I am thankful to be alive.
In May, I quit my full-time job to focus solely on my writing and editing career, and moved back to the town where I grew up. I'd been away for a year and a half and realized I missed them.
Of course, that wasn't the only reason. The company I worked for was great, but the job was neither challenging or fulfilling. I needed a change. When my sister called and asked if I could move back and help with watching the kids and the bakery she and my mom started (in exchange for free rent), I said yes. It was time for a change, and I don't regret it.
So I'm living with my sister, brother-in-law, and niece and nephew. I've been living alone for awhile so it's quite an adjustment for me. It'd just been me and my cat before I moved back, and the noise level is certainly something I've had to adjust to!
And now that I'm focused on writing full-time, I realize that it actually is something I want. The hunger for writing hasn't abated-I started writing short stories in 2003 and never stopped, but I considered writing full-time an impossible dream.
Now, that dream has become a reality and it's harder than I ever imagined. I had been in the workforce full-time for over thirteen years when I left in May, and finding the discipline to sit down and write, to edit, to actually do the job, has been difficult. Especially when all I want is to play with my niece and nephew or spend time at my parents' house, now that I am close again.
But I am determined to do this. On days when it's hard, I simply try to remember that I have a gift for words and I want to use it. And so I try, and keep trying, and keep writing, and eventually my first book is going to be finished.
What happens after that? I guess we'll see.
Writer/Editor. Voracious Book Reader. World Traveler. Veteran. Bakery Owner.