Let's Help Them Get a Baby

Synergy: a mutually advantageous conjunction or compatibility of distinct business participants or elements (such as resources or efforts). Or, in common English, the increased effectiveness that results when two or more people or businesses work together.

If I rake leaves on my lawn by myself, it takes me four hours. If someone else rakes their yard alone, it’ll take them four hours. If the two of us rake my yard together, then their yard together, it will take us four hours—but probably less—to finish both.

When people work together, they get farther than when they work alone. The combined passion, enthusiasm, and brainstorming skills provide added energy towards completion.

My dear sister-in-law and her husband are working towards adopting a precious baby into their family—a true picture of how much Christ loves the church, and also a classic example of how nothing good ever comes easy. They’re working industriously to raise the needed funds: $34,000. Yep, that’s a lot of zeros.

Let’s use synergy to help them give a child a home. Visit their site,

give them anything you can,

and share this post. Let’s show my sister-in-law and her husband the support we’d all want shown for us.

gofundme.com/brentmelissa-adoption-fund

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I Have No Idea What I'm Doing

Most classic bloggers (and arguably, all the successful ones) have a theme and style and they don’t deviate from it. Mothers of young children write about their children’s antics. Lifestyle bloggers post articles about home decor, fashion, and occasionally makeup. Exercise-y type of people write about eating healthy, working out, and making good choices about how you treat your body.

The rationale is that developing your voice on a specific topic builds your audience. Faithful readers that consider you an expert will turn to you for advice and information. When you’ve built up enough credibility and readers know they like you, they’ll come out of habit (you kindly read my stuff because . . . maybe out of pity? for whyever you bless me in this way, thank you so much).

All the hottest research articles about blogs swear by this method. Stick to a subject, get good and become recognized, and build your platform on it.

Enter young writer with no audience or soapbox.

Anything you start takes time. Credibility doesn’t sprout up overnight. It takes months, even years of consistency. A thousand people won’t subscribe to you the day after you start (unless you’re already famous for a different reason—unfortunately, in my case, turning flaming red when you’re embarrassed doesn’t actually get you measurable fame). Your mom and grandma will always read your stuff even if it’s a spluttering mess (thanks, guys), but writing for the general public necessitates at least half an ounce of coherence (unless your mantra is unclear illegibility. You do your thing, just please don’t make me try to understand it).

It’s pretty much an uphill battle, and I haven’t even touched on how to choose an area of expertise or anything else that has to do with marketing yourself as a writer.

I don’t have clever wrapping or a neat bow with which to conclude this post, because I’m not really sure where it goes from here or what to do next, besides working hard and doing more of the same.

If I figure it out, I’ll write another post about it and link to it here.

In the meantime, share my blog with everyone you know and I’ll keep editing my next book and doing the writing thing, etc. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Good Artists Borrow

Yesterday I stared at my screen for a long time with nothing to say. Maybe the long nap wiped all functional vocabulary, grammar, and syntax out of my brain. Or I couldn’t hold my arms up to type after spending hours and hours packing and carrying boxes (Curtis and I will be starting our own moving company soon NOT). Or it could have been apple crisp induced sluggishness.

But most likely it was because even though I love it, writing is still work. After moping, I lamented to Curtis (he’s very wonderful) that, “I have nothing at all to write,”

Raising an eyebrow, he said, “Then read.”

He unwittingly touched on one of the greatest—and simplest—creative principles.

Good artists borrow, great artists steal.

No, don’t visit the Louvre and try to leave with the Mona Lisa.

Yes, study the work of skilled people who you admire.

It’s the same in every trade. Architects look at other people’s buildings. Chefs taste food everywhere they go. Teachers take classes from other teachers. There’s always something to learn from someone who excels at what you love.

And there’s great inspiration in seeing your passion done well. Seeing something beautiful (vague for your sake, but writing in my case) ignites an itch to create something beautiful. Framed negatively, it’s jealousy. Positively, extrinsic motivation.

I took Curtis’s advice and started reading Willa Cather—a true lover of sentences (and they tell me that’s really all that writers are). Now I have things to write again.

 Here, you’ll see I’ve stolen the design of the earth to doodle on . . .

Here, you’ll see I’ve stolen the design of the earth to doodle on . . .

Sunday Menu

Banana
Graham crackers and milk
Peanut butter and jelly
Sweet potato chips
Multi-colored bell peppers
Chili with cornbread crackers
Apple crisp

God gave us a day of rest out of pure goodness and compassion. He knew we’d try to push ourselves too hard and it wouldn’t be good for us, so He instituted taking breaks.

But He made food delicious as a special treat—just because He loves us.

To Be a Good Leader

There are a few different types of leaders.

Napoleon Bonaparte: Napoleon Bonaparte had a knack for being in the right place at the right time. France was looking for a strong military leader, and he was a young man with lots of ambition. He didn’t have decades of strategic experience, but he had gusto, verve, and lots of ideas.

David Ogilvy: David Ogilvy didn’t start out as the head of an advertising agency. He began his career as a line chef in a kitchen run by a martinet. This boss mostly worked in the office (planning food and stuff and things), but occasionally came out to exhibit that he could still cook a better dish than any chef in his employment. He’d earned his way to the top through years of practice and experience. Ogilvy held that principle for the rest of his career. To earn a high-ranking position, you must be an expert in your field and work your way up.

Most leaders in corporate America: Lots of people wake up in the morning and show up to work day in and day out. They’re responsible, they work hard, and they get the job done. When employers are looking around to give a promotion, this person is next in line and gets the role.

Obviously this isn’t a comprehensive list, and one isn’t necessarily better than the other. They all have their strengths and weaknesses.

But a successful leader needs a trait from each of these types.

Ideas: Napoleon Bonaparte had ideas. Lots of them. He wanted to do lots of things. Just because you’ve always done something one way doesn’t mean you have to keep doing it that way.

Expertise: If you’re leading people in your area of expertise that you love, you'll fall into approximately 2% of employed people. Maybe less. But to be a really good leader, you have to know the ins and outs of what you’re doing even if you don’t love it.

On any given day, you have to exhibit that you can write (produce, draw, build) something that’s not a spluttering mess.

—one of my favorite leaders

Consistency: When you’re leading people, they look up to you and wait for your input. And when you give an idea, they’ll act. If you give half-cooked ideas and change your mind after they’ve put 120 hours of work into your notion, things will go south faster than geese in October. Be consistent in your behavior, your thoughtfulness, even in your schedule. Not only will it make people trust you and listen when you speak, they’ll appreciate your stability.

If I were leading a discussion on leadership, I would ask the roomful of people what makes a good leader—and odds are they’d come up with more than a dozen valuable attributes.

We all know great leaders. Think of someone you respect and pinpoint what makes them excellent. Then emulate that.

Sunday Rest

Sleeping extra.
Finding praise in the little things.
Looking at photos of falling in love.
Leftover tacos.
Fall bike rides.
Camels and hippos and sea lions.
New shoes.
Popcorn for dinner.

Maybe a month of resting Sundays isn’t a bad thing. God knew what He was doing.

So on the seventh day He rested from all His work.

How to Live Your Life

A not-necessarily comprehensive list of large life moments

Graduations
Weddings
Births
Moving houses
Changing jobs
Traveling

These major life events tend to demand lots of attention and years of plans that culminate in one day. Hours of thought, kinetic energy, and coordinating go into making everything perfect. For many of these events, we plan how we look, think about how we ought to act, and practice in the mirror for what we’ll say (besides births, unless you’re just practicing yelling etc.).

A definitely-not comprehensive catalog of the little minutes

Waking up
Seeing your family
Buying groceries
Traffic
Working
Spending time with friends

You encounter at least one thing on this list every single day—show me a person who doesn’t, and I’ll raise a skeptical eyebrow (that’s why I put sleeping on the list, so I could claim that. Unless it’s a college student . . .).

Most of the items on this list are habits. You and I have woken up every morning for so long (our whole lives, actually), that we don’t think about it when it happens. Just like we don’t realize we’re fuming at traffic, complaining about work, and gossiping about friends. It’s all so second nature we don’t even notice.

But shouldn’t we concentrate on the daily moments of life with as much effort and attention as we plan a wedding or buy a house?

If there are flowers missing from a bouquet at your wedding, it will not likely ruin anyone’s life. But if you’re rude to your cashier at the grocery store every week for an entire year, think of the emotional havoc you’ve wreaked.

Check your daily habits to see if you want to sign your name to them when you die, because you’ll have to explain to Someone why you did everything.

Live the little moments with as much intentionality as you live the big ones.

The Priest on a Moped: A Vignette

Today I was walking through our apartment’s parking lot towards the street when a moped whizzed past.

On it perched a priest, grinning even in today’s toasty 88 degrees. His mostly bald head shone in the sun. He squinted through his glasses and clutched the handlebars tightly. The black shirt and white collar he wore were nothing out of the ordinary, but shiny plastic flapped wildly on both sides of him because he held a dry cleaning bag on his lap.

He was there. He was gone.

But if he were one of my characters he’d have a gentle, steady, enduring name, like Graham or Elliot. And he’d be going to a luncheon on Marybelle Winslow’s estate. Marybelle’s late husband Charles was a wealthy parishioner who’d left his 82-year-old widow wealthy. Rumors spread that she’d be announcing something important about his money today.

Father had been preparing a small speech for days. This morning the speech papers fell into his kitchen sink full of water and the ink ran, leaving him with three pages of indiscernible words. Trying to recreate it for two hours cost him breakfast. Hungry, he sighed at the knock on the door. A parishioner wanted his advice about her son.

He knocked a glass to the floor in his hurry to usher her out when she finally stood to leave, and broke a window pane with the broom handle while sweeping the glass. Spending half an hour trying to remove a stain from his formal collar was unsuccessful and he relented to his dingy everyday off-white. Last and worst, his 1988 station wagon spluttered and wouldn’t start.

The phone rang as he was pulling the door closed, stressed and already twenty minutes late. He paused, frowned, and reluctantly answered.

“Hello, Graham? Yes, this is Marybelle. Would you be a dear and pick up my dry-cleaning? Nancy’s taking the day off and I’m just desolate without her and I need it for a special event this evening and I don’t think I’ll be able to make it before then. You will? Thank you. So sweet of you.”

Dry cleaning in tow, he appeared at Marybelle’s flustered, sweaty, and trying not to wrinkle any clothes—only to find himself at to her grandson’s surprise birthday party, arriving with the clown.

* * *

Five Ways Writing is Like Gardening

Today Curtis (he’s very wonderful) took me to the Chicago Botanic Gardens, which reaffirmed that if I ever quit writing I’ll be a career gardener. That’s a horticulturalist, and yes, I would switch partially because it sounds much more pretentious.

Is it too far of a stretch if I apply lessons from gardening to writing? Probably.

Will I anyways? Yes.

Well-weeded, pruned gardens are more visually appealing. In 385 acres of garden, I didn’t see a single weed. It was breathtaking. I’m sure there’s an army of weeders. Good, clean writing takes a lot of work, but it’s worth it. Excessive words muddy the main point.

There’s not just one good writing style. We walked through more than two dozen different styles of gardens—Japanese, evening, prairie, native, vegetable, rose, sensory—and every one is gorgeous because it’s unique. You don’t have to write like Anne Lamott or Victor Hugo to be a good writer. Your voice, your style, your you-ness makes you special.

Composition is key. Plants are organized by height, color, texture, sometimes even smell, for aesthetic appeal. Arrange your words carefully in sentences, your sentences in paragraphs, and your paragraphs in pages. Organize your writing. Your reader doesn’t want to order your scattered thoughts (realistically will stop reading instead).

There’s a place for everything. Cabbage and corn stalks may not be as visually exquisite as dahlias and heliotropes, but there’s a place for both in gardening. And writing. There are heavyweight words and fluffy terms—use both for good rhythmic balance.

People enjoy quality. Hundreds of people were enjoying the gardens today. If you practice-practice-practice and always work to get better, people will enjoy reading you (and your mom and grandma always will, regardless of whether or not you improve—yes, telling my own story here).

On the blog tomorrow: Lessons I Learned about Writing at the Trash Dump.

Kidding, kidding.

 
 Apparently this is an Inspiration Passion Flower. I would have called it a Purple Squiggly Guy.

Apparently this is an Inspiration Passion Flower. I would have called it a Purple Squiggly Guy.

 

Writing: Almost like Talking to a Friend

Often when I sit down to write I have nothing to say. Yet I have few friends who I’d voluntarily engage in conversation then sit in silence with, from lack of stuff to talk about.

That’s because if it was a friend, I’d know them and we’d already have common ground to cover: work, family, friends, the GIGANTIC groundhog living in their backyard, etc.

Conversely, a lot of what you do as a writer is like a one-way conversation. Chances are you’ll never get to speak personally to many of the strangers who read a lot of your work (I don’t even talk daily to you kind, considerate folks who skim my blog to see if I mention you by name).

But if you disassociate your writing from your audience because “Why would I write to people who I’ll never meet,” everything you write becomes boring and robotic, much like a computer manual. It’s not appealing because it’s not personal or personable. People want to read things they can relate to.

For instance, embarrassing things.

  • Today I sat through a whole meeting with a big black mark on my face that I only saw after. I think it might have been dirt. No, I don’t know where it came from. Yes, I’m too old to have dirt on my face.

  • Earlier this week I walked half-way across the street in front of a line of traffic, realized my mistake, and turned around.

  • I trip at awkward times, sometimes laugh with food in my teeth, and frequently turn BEET red and splotchy. People have been telling me I’m loud since I was . . . well, I can’t remember when they haven’t. I’m about as subtle as a peacock.

But there’s danger in trying to be the kind of personal I would be with a friend. You’re tapping your fingers waiting for me to finish talking about myself. I’m not really all that interesting, and why should you care what dumb thing I did when what happened to you yesterday at the drinking fountain was oh-so-mortifying.

Good writing then becomes the balance of using your life experiences for your reader’s benefit. You’ve got (at least) two goals, to help your reader:

a) grow without experiencing the pain/pleasure/confusion you’ve had and they haven’t
or
b) cope with a circumstance
they can’t escape

For example . . .

Our family dog died unexpectedly the day before my 13th birthday. We were on a business trip with my dad, and I didn’t get to say goodbye. The call came from our kind, dog-sitting neighbors. You know when the pit of your stomach becomes solid rock, and you want to turn your face toward a wall to hide your tears so no one thinks you’re a butter-hearted baby who can’t handle the facts? Me too. It feels awkward and uncomfortable.

But it’s okay to be that butter-hearted baby, sometimes. Some things are too sudden to prepare for, too complex to understand, and too hard to express with anything other than tears.

It’s okay to acknowledge that. It’s okay to cry, fume a little, not understand.

Years later (I’m long past 13, you see), I still think of our dog. She was a golden retriever, only nominally obedient, and staunchly defensive about her food bowl (our chocolate lab learned that the hard way—again and again. his learning curve was a pretty straight line). And while her dying certainly is not the hardest thing that’s happened in life around these parts (for Jesus knew what He meant, In this world you will have trouble . . .), it’s what I think of when something hard or sad or bad happens.

I still have fond memories of her. While I wish she hadn’t died the way she did, I no longer cringe at the memory of her death—I think of the happiness of her life.

And I remember one more thing: trouble isn’t where Jesus stopped.

In this world you will have trouble . . . But I will give you peace.

Sometimes, you just have to wait for the peace. Sometimes, it takes a long time. It’s okay to be sad in the waiting.