Wednesday, March 22, 2017

In pursuit of passion

Once again, I found myself in a moment of feeling directionless, wondering what my purpose is. And very soon,  just going through the actions of my day, I found words that reminded me the importance of pursuing my passion.

But what is my passion?

Today's reading from a 12-step devotional (Overeaters Anonymous' "Just For Today") triggered thoughts.

"To recognize where my passion is."

I've thought this before, and it's what comes to mind again: My passion is to help and encourage others. But how?

Among my desires: I want to write. I want to sing. And I want to help and encourage others, to God's glory.

But how? I'm still stuck, but today it seems a little clearer: I need to write encouraging words. That's what I've been doing, but it hasn't seemed significant. But maybe that's because I haven't believed in its merit.

The turned-back page on my other daily OA devotional ("Voices of Recovery") sent me back to this that I had flagged from yesterday:


Yesterday is when I was questioning my purpose. Why am I here, on this trip to Houston accompanying my husband, who is working?

These words helped so much: "Today, I consider a day well spent if I have enjoyed something I once took for granted ... when I see a self-defeating habit go ... when I risk closeness ... when I forget what I have to do and let myself feel the moment."

I can't point to a particular thing about yesterday that this applied to, but it is a perspective that changes everything and renews my hope. And it pushed me toward this writing, which I'm pretty sure is a step toward recognizing my passion and letting it loose in a positive way, to God's glory.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Desire for discipline

I'm more about living than writing right now. But I haven't given up on writing, so I keep coming back here, as an act of discipline.

And that reminds me of one of the themes I thought of exploring recently: "Desire and Discipline," which was the title of a sermon Feb. 19 by the Rev. Jim Shepherd at Goodrich United Methodist Church.

When I wrote the word "discipline" above in regard to my writing routine, the word "desire" came to mind, courtesy of that sermon title. And it made me think of how, as Jim preached from a more theological perspective, the place my thinking went to was writing.

I often have desire. I much less often have discipline.

Among my New Year's goals was to write more. I planned to schedule at least 30 minutes for writing most days. It took a while, but eventually I started doing it.

It takes time for new actions to become a habit or routine.

The thing I've noticed recently is that not only is it hard for me to get started at something new; it's hard for me to keep at it. Even when I like the process and the results of new actions, it's not unusual for me to notice a week or two later that I've lapsed. I can think of at least three such instances in which this has happened regarding major goals, including writing, since the start of the year.

What I'm trying to do now as I work on becoming more disciplined and structured is, when I realize I've let something lapse that is important to me, to get it back on my list!

The list itself is one of the new disciplines or practices I'm trying to do. The WOOP* (Wish-Outcome-Obstacle-Plan) approach I'm using encourages me to write what I hope to be the outcome; list what I see as possible obstacles; and articulate my plan for fulfilling the wish.

I've added to my spreadsheet a line for the results. Several days, I had gotten to where I was just writing the wishes/goals and the results. But after I realized I was missing the middle steps, I've returned to the full practice.

At my best, I also include another extra step: scheduling some of the most important goals onto my day's calendar. Working on all these steps helps me to prioritize and reprioritize throughout the day, and that helps me to be more effective. And that brings me a sense of peace that I've desired for a long time.

Now, as a person of lifelong Christian faith and a member of a 12-step recovery program for most of my adult life, it might seem I should be far beyond needing such rigorous structure outside of either of those affiliations.  And I certainly don't want it to sound like this WOOP and scheduling structure is the answer. It's really  just a tool that I am able to use as a result of continuing efforts to grow as a person of faith, seeking to know and do God's will, to His glory.

* I found the WOOP method, created by psychology professors Gabriele Oettingen and Dr. Peter Gollwitzer of New York University, in an article by Melody Wilding via Quartz Ideas.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Letting go of perfectionism

As often happens and, in fact, I predicted, this year's experience of Lent seems to be taking its own shape.

It seems like the start of Lent is no different than the start of a new year or other such beginning when it comes to my tendency to set a standard to which I hope to adhere perfectly.

But before Ash Wednesday was over, I had failed my loftiest goals. And by the end of the second day, I had failed to achieve what seemed like a very doable daily goal.

So, I realized again the value of "progress not perfection."

I still have hopes of filling at least 40 bags of things to let go of (including trash) during Lent.

But following the letter of my law isn't the most important thing.

A big part of how I experience humility is through having to let go of perfectionism. The process continues.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The pull of repentence and reflection

I didn't really plan to write today, but here I am.

Ash Wednesday. I can't escape the pull to a Lenten season of repentance and reflection. But, as usual, I have been unsure of what shape that will take for me. Is it sacrifice? Discipline? Service? Bible study? Fellowship? Does it have to be daily or can it evolve over the 40 days, not including Sundays, leading up to Easter.

A friend's Facebook post stayed with me all day:

"The purpose for Ash Wednesday, ushering in Lent, is to repent of our sins and to reflect on our Lord and Savior and His great gift to us by saving us by His grace alone from the wrath of a righteous God. It is NOT to promote a political agenda or a perceived social issue. Once we move the focus from God, His Love and Grace and our repentance and reflection, we are promoting falsity. It is time for a reawakening of the churches who have strayed from God's Will and Purpose."

One of the disciplines I have pondered is to let go of a bag of stuff for each of the 40 days. This may seem like a superficial act to some, but as I went through some of my possessions earlier today in an effort to fill the bag, I was aware time after time how I cling to things, and only by focusing on God's love through Christ could I make the decision to just put it in the bag.

I was also aware after filling one  bag that I couldn't even tell anything was missing from my possessions. And that's often what it's like after I've spent time trying to get honest and prayerful  about my sins and shortcomings and asking God to help me release them to Him, to His glory. Even when I take a step of progress in this area, the magnitude of faults and shortcomings still seems overwhelming.

During the Ash Wednesday service at church, I prayed to know what God would have me do. On the way home, I was thinking about how fasting is mentioned as part of the spiritual discipline for Lent. Here it was 7:45 p.m., and I hadn't chosen to "fast" anything. It occurred to me I could sacrifice my evening snack. And guess what? I was not willing to do that. So I rationalized that giving up some of my possessions (so far, clothes, shoes and bags) that I've clung to is a type of fast. But I'm not convinced.

The Lenten devotional I started with today is one published by United Methodist Women. The theme is "Wearing the Mantel of Faith." I'm new to the UMW, so I don't really know what to expect from its Lenten focus.  And now I see that may not be a series. So ... I have no idea what my reading focus will  be tomorrow.

As it turns out, it looks like this Lenten journey will be another evolution. I really don't know where it will take me. But I am confident where it will lead me: to Easter and a renewed spirit of faith in the Risen Christ and the power of God's sacrificial gift of love for me.

Monday, February 27, 2017

The difference a day makes

I'm in a support and recovery program where "one day at a time" and "just for today" are important concepts. And what a difference a day can make!

In recent days, I've been making a pretty detailed list of what I hope to accomplish in that 24 hours. I use it to set goals and to prioritize and reprioritize as the day goes along. Even though I typically end up deciding some of the things are not priorities and can be crossed off the list or moved to another day, overall I think the list has helped me daily to get more done.

Saturday, the list was filled with opportunities and desires that I didn't see how could work out. During my devotional time as I walked on the treadmill before showering and getting on with my day, I read that I could ask God to show me His plans for the day and he would reveal them. It never seems to work that way for me, but I did pray to know, trusting that God would be in control even if it didn't seem clear to me what His plans were.

It doesn't usually happen this was for me, but as the day unfolded, it became crystal clear that God in fact was revealing his plans for the day, equipping me to do my part and blessing me and, I pray, others along the way. Not only did I get the things on my list done, some things came up that most days would have stressed me out, thinking there was no way to add another thing. Instead, step by step, it seemed clear how this would work. And I continued to be energized and blessed, thanking God all along the way. I was aware of a feeling that I like: All things seemed possible.

When I have a day like that, I always hope it will be the start of some consistency in productive days. So, even though Sunday's list again had what looked like too much to do, I was optimistic it would unfold just as gloriously. And maybe it did. But it didn't seem like it. Instead, I was weary and easily distracted. Things didn't fall into place smoothly. Although I got a lot done and much was good, by the end of the day I felt discouraged. It seemed possible things would never really change for the better.

What had happened? I don't know the full answer to that question. But thinking of those "one day at a time" and "just for today" concepts, I realize it's OK to have what might seem like good days and bad days — and possibly sometimes good days that for some reason just don't seem as good. I think that's what happened Sunday. I know I did my best and kept going back to God with prayers of thanksgiving, faith and trust, and to know and do His  will.

I awoke Monday again feeling that all things are possible. It's mid-afternoon, and I feel energized and blessed by opportunities I've had to serve and pray and share and care. Now there is some housework to do, which is part of what threw me off on Sunday. Maybe what wasn't possible yesterday will be today. Regardless, I pray to be aware at the end of the day that it has been good, and that, as always, God is the source of that goodness.

Monday, February 20, 2017

In God's Presence

My exercise in writing continues. Today I do not have the TV on. I've only allotted 30 minutes to write. I've already used some of the time to track down the HTML code for the em dash. How good that makes me feel is proof that I am an editor in addition to a wanna-be writer.

What would be great to write about is this morning's prayer time and then going to visit a dear friend at the hospital. Those words are harder to find, for some reason. The experiences are so positive, but much seems to get lost as I try to capture them in words.

I believe in the power of prayer, and I believe God has called me back to the prayer group at 10 a.m. Mondays at the church. The women who gather there inspire me. I feel humbled, grateful and honored to join them. Today I let the Spirit to move me to end my portion of prayer with the upbeat version of the Doxology: "Praise God from Whom all blessings flow. Praise God all creatures here, below. Alleluia! Alleluia! Praise God the source of all our gifts. Praise Jesus Christ Whose power uplifts. Praise the Spirit — Holy Spirit. Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!"

While there, I learned my dear friend Mac was back in the hospital. And the church is closer to the hospital than my house is, so being there made it easy to just go on that little bit farther to visit him. I enjoyed spending time with him and his daughter, and then his wife and another daughter when they arrived. I was grateful to be able to sing a couple of hymns of faith for this couple that I associate with the music ministry at church, even though it has been years since they could  participate. I sang a verse of "Great Is Thy Faithfulness" and two verses of  "Blessed Assurance." Mac had trouble understanding me when I talked, but his steadfast gaze as I sang conveyed complete understanding. Thank you, God, for allowing me to stand in Your presence with this precious family.

My journey to regain my skill and confidence as a writer is part of a larger endeavor to become more aware of and focused on my purpose in life. I believe God is the Author of that purpose and wants to help me know and fulfill it. I believe prayer and relationships with people in His body of believers are essential to this process. I am grateful to finally be acting on opportunities to build and deepen these relationships.


Sunday, February 19, 2017

An exercise in writing

Tonight I am setting aside an hour to write, and something from what I write I will post on the blog.

It's 7 p.m. Sunday. The NBA All-Star Game is about to start. I have it on but don't plan to watch too closely. It's possible Gene will interrupt me so I can watch him work on QuickBooks.

I want to regain confidence in my writing so I can return to writing for pay. Is there a class I need to take to move toward this?

I Googled "how to become a better writer." Ah, yes. That's the ticket. (Although what I really need is how to get back to writing, period. Fortunately, this addresses that, too!)

I found 15 tips from Leo Babauta, a professional writer who blogs about goals, habits, productivity, simplifying and more at http://zenhabits.net.

I think the most important one for me is No. 5, and he describes my situation well:

"Just write. If you’ve got blank paper or a blank screen staring at you, it can be intimidating. You might be tempted to go check your email or get a snack. Well, don’t even think about it, mister. Just start writing. Start typing away — it doesn’t matter what you write — and get the fingers moving. Once you get going, you get in the flow of things, and it gets easier. I like to start out by typing things like my name or a headline or something easy like that, and then the juices start flowing and stuff just pours out of me. But the key is to just get going."

That's actually what I'm doing right now ...  (Unlike this next one, which I may not try until Tuesday.)

Probably second most important for me is his No. 6, and I'm sure it will be the hardest for me:

"Eliminate distractions. Writing does not work well with multi-tasking or background noise. It’s best done in quiet, or with some mellow music playing. ... Turn off email or IM notifications, turn off the phone and your cell phone, turn off the TV, and clear off your desk … you can stuff everything in a drawer for now until you have time to sort everything out later … but don’t get into sorting mode now, because it’s writing time! Clear away distractions so you can work without interruption."

Other ideas that resonated:

"Get feedback. You can’t get better in a vacuum. Get someone to read over your stuff — preferably a good writer or editor. Someone who reads a lot, and can give you honest and intelligent feedback. And then listen. Really try to understand the criticism and accept it and use it to improve. ..."

"Put yourself out there. At some point, you’ll need to let others read your writing. Not just the person who you’re allowing to read it, but the general public. ... If you’re already doing a blog, that’s good, but if no one reads it, then you need to find a bigger blog and try to submit a guest post. Putting your writing out in the public can be nerve-wracking, but it is a crucial (if painful) part of every writer’s growth. ..."

Among Babauta's other suggestions:

* Read great writers. (I struggle with this. Maybe I need to also schedule at least 30 minutes a day to read. I don't think I've ever done that.)
* Create a writing ritual. "Whatever works for you, make it a must-do thing every single day. Write for at least 30 minutes, but an hour is even better." (I am working on this. It's been a goal for a couple of weeks, and maybe tonight is the start.)
* Plan.
* Experiment.
* Revise and rewrite.
* Be concise.

I like these ideas and I think they will help. I have to admit I just looked at the clock -- 7:50. Ten more minutes. Then I started trying to find out how to get those two hyphens to be a long dash. I found the instructions, but it didn't work. I guess I'll work more on that tomorrow.

Because:  It's 8 p.m. I'm out of here. But this was good. I am grateful.

Postscript: The next day, I found the HTML code for an em dash in this operation — but did it work? Yes! Yay! (I also see now that I could have copied and pasted an em dash from the "Just write" text I copied and pasted above. But then I would not have learned this code that will be good for me to know.)