Monday, July 29, 2013

My Emancipation Proclamation Revisited

As I was reviewing old posts, I came across this one, called My Emancipation Proclamation. 

It was written two years ago during a time when I was really struggling. It is poorly written and raw (apparently my spelling and grammar take a back seat to sentiment when I'm feeling emotional.) And it is very real.

A lot has changed in two years. Though I have moments where I don't feel the greatest about myself (like today when a crown fell out of my mouth while snacking on a rice-crispy treat. So not feeling beautiful then!) On the whole, I feel good about who I am. In fact, I like who I am. And it's not because I look a certain way (in fact, I'm heavier and wrinklier than I was when I wrote the post). It's because I look myself through God's eyes now-- not the worlds, and not even mine.

My concern is that I please God. And that makes me feel beautiful.

But, for those times of weakness and doubt (because they still come), when I struggle to find my inner and outer beauty, this Emancipation Proclamation rings true.



I am apprehensive as I write.  There is a part of me that feels that I am the only one that struggles with this.  I must be, because everyone else looks so lovely, so happy, so sure of themselves. And yet, I know that there are others.  I have talked with them. They have told me they feel the same way.  But, in spite of shared secrets and fears, there still is a voice that tells me it is only me.

I am talking about feeling insecure. I want so badly to say that I am completely happy with who I am all the time, but it is a struggle.  Especially lately.

There is someone that I compare myself to.  Most of the time it is a subconscious haunting. It crops up when I walk by a full-length mirror, or stand next to someone that reminds me of her. I begin to look at myself, not for who I am, but for how much I am not like her.  I am not as thin as her, or as confident as her, or as eloquent as her.  I am not as good of a mother as her, nor am I as smart or beautiful as her.  I cannot cook as well as she can, and her house is always clean. There are times when I don't feel I am good enough- because I think I am not as good as her.

She is you. It is of no fault of your own.  You just have so many qualities that I wish I possess.  It becomes a problem with I begin to think I am not as good in whole, because I am not like you.

I give myself kudos for admitting that.  It takes courage to admit that I compare myself to you and other women. I like courage. It's cool.   I don't like insecurities.  And yet, I have them. I typically feel very grounded and happy, but lately the doubts and insecurities are cropping up more frequently. Not cool.

I have thought a lot about the genesis of these feelings, trying to figure them all out.  Here's what I've come up with.

1. I've been a little emotional lately. I am a woman.  Women are emotional creatures with high self-expectations and a desperate (albeit sometimes hidden) need to be needed, desired, and loved. When we (I) feel unattractive outside and/or inside, we  (I) doubt that we (I) are worthy to be loved, desired, and needed.  Granted, this is a blanket statement that may not apply to every single woman- but for the other 99% of us (me), I think it applies.

2. Lately I have lost  view of the correct definition of beauty. We are seeds of Deity- daughters of God- and because so, we have an innate drive to progress, to improve, to get better.  That is a good thing.  This good thing, though,  becomes distorted when we look someone beyond God in Heaven as the yardstick for our progress, our success and our beauty.  The media is a terrible God to worship and follow.  It tells us that if we are not a size 2 we are fat.  If we do not have perfect skin, we are ugly.  It tell us that if we do not dress fashionable (again- fashion according to the Media God) than we are frumpy and out of style.  It tells us constantly that we are not good enough.

The Media God tells us our chest is too small, our thighs are too big, our hair is the wrong color, and our face is too saggy. And we listen. Sometimes I listen.

The messages creep into our minds and breed self-doubt and unhappiness. We look at other followers of the Media God and compare ourselves to them, even try to keep up with them.  So we get cosmetic surgery, color our hair, take diet pills, get botox, have fake tans, and get fake nails--all the while denying the Media God's influence in our lives. We say it's not about comparing,  that we 'just want to feel good about ourselves.' But, that is not completely true.

So, I look at the celebrities in the magazine, then to myself - not the same.  I look at women around me, friends, then to myself- not the same.  I see so many beautiful and talented people, and I see me and all my weaknesses, and I allow myself to feel less.

This is not a new dilemma for us women (and men.) In the Middle Ages, women would concoct toxic treatments to remove all facial hair- eyebrows, lashes and even hairlines- all for the sake of their definition of beauty.  In 100 B.C. Greco-Romans women would bleach their hair using carbonized beechwood and goat fat. Women of the Han Dynasty in China would ingest a powder three times a day whiten their complexion. In 2,500 B.C. Egyptians applied a mixture of kohl and animal fat around their eyes as eye-liner. In 300 A.D. Japanese Women would lacquer their teeth black with iron filings. In Elizabethan times, women would painstakingly pluck their hairline back to make their foreheads appear larger.

Culture dictates what is beautiful and we conform. It has, and always will.  It is how the world works. But, we know that we are not of the world.  We have a divine lineage that did not begin, nor does it end, in this life. But, we allow ourselves to become immersed in it as it dictates who we should be, who we should follow, and what we need to be happy.  We all get caught up in it to one degree or another.  It is nearly inescapable.

So, the golden question is: How do we find the balance between feeling beautiful and secure in who we are - not comparing ourselves to others (or what we looked like in high school), all while staying beautiful according to God?

The answer.......... I don't know.  I don't know the formula for amazing self-esteem, impervious to outside influences and inside perception.  Otherwise, I wouldn't be feeling this way! But, what I do know is that I am done feeling this way.

So today I decided to make a stand. This is my personal Emancipation Proclamation (EP). Join in if you'd like:

I, (insert your name here),  hereby free myself from unrealistic expectations and guilt.  
I decree that I will love my muffin-top, embrace my stretch marks, laugh-lines, old clothes, and frizzy hair.  
I free myself from the oppression of comparison.
On this day, I declare myself free from pressure to be "perfect."
Today, I give myself the right to see me as He does - and agree.
I will hereforthwith recognize and find joy in my God-given talents and strengths without apology or dismissiveness.
I do not stand with the world and judge myself.
Today, I choose to stand with God and tell the world (Media Gods) to take a hike. 
Today, I love myself.
Today I am free.


Life Outside the Writer's Closet

I remember when I came out of the writer's closet. It was scary.

I had been working on my first fiction novel for a couple years. I had kept my writing to myself, only letting a handful of people know what I was doing. I was afraid to tell people I was writing because, well, first of all, what made me think I had something so great to say that I thought other people should pay to read it? And, what if I were really bad? I mean, I thought I was okay, but, what if I was a bad writer? I loved writing, and I was afraid I would be told I simply shouldn't do it.

So I was a closet writer. It was safe. And then I attended a writer's retreat. It was there that I met other writers. Some were published, some weren't, but all shared this love of writing that I felt inside. It was eye-opening and liberating. I realized there was a world of people and things waiting outside of my closet.

Soon after I returned home, before I even finished the first draft, I decided to take the plunge- to come out of my writer's closet and announce to the world that "I am a writer."

It was scary because, well, as a closet writer if I failed I failed in private. Out there in the world, if I fail, I might (notice how I didn't say will) fail in front of lots of people. And no one wants to do that. But, among the many things I learned at the writer's retreat was without risk, there is little reward in the writing world. And part of the risk is putting yourself out there. So, I waited until I was filled up with chocolate, and in the middle of the night last year, I left the safety of my closet and entered the scary world of self-promotion and marketing, and created an 'Author Facebook Account' and started friending people.

And guess what. People didn't laugh at me. In fact, the tremendous amount of support I received from old friends gave me the courage to make new friends and put myself out there more.

I created an 'Author FB Fan Page' and an 'Author Twitter Account,' too.

I joined a wonderful online writer's group, and attended my first writer's conference in February of this year, then another in May. I survived pitch sessions, took classes, and met lots and lots of amazing people.

I created my own website (this one), and even printed up business cards to pass around.

I didn't just come out of my writer's closet; looking back, it seems more like I slammed the door open and jumped out of the closet with ninja-speed. It's been an amazing journey since my closet liberation! No, I'm not published (yet) but I am better educated, more confident, and having a blast.

Some writers I've met along the way dread the marketing thing--the FB pages and accounts, Twitter and websites. Yes, it can be intimidating and even overwhelming. But, it is necessary.

During one of the classes at my first writer's conference, a publisher said, "The first thing we do when we get an unsolicited manuscript--even before we read it--is Google the author. If we can't find you on Google, there's a good chance we won't read your manuscript."

What! I know, right?

That's not the only reason to get your and your name out there, though. Through this whole experience, I have met some amazing and inspiring people--many of whom have become dear friends. I came blasting out of the writer's closet, and my life is better for it. I'd like to think that I am better for it, too.

So, don't look at marketing and self-promotion as selling yourself to others--think of it was opening yourself to people and opportunities that lie beyond your closet door.

There is also something to be said in the power of self-declaration. "I am a writer." There, I said it (typed it, really. But you get the picture.) At first I was sheepish in saying it, almost apologetic. But now, I own it and I love it. That came from saying it over and over in all these different ways.

So, are you still in your writing closet? Does your family know you write? Your friends? Co-workers, acquaintances? If a publisher were to Google you, could he/she find you? Would you want to be found?

If you are ready to come out of the writing closet, I say, "Go for it!" Take the plunge. I'll be your FB friend, your Twitter follower, your supporter, and your fan.

Blast those doors open and see what people and opportunities await.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Six People Every Writer Should Have in Their Circle

When I first started writing, I though it was a solo endeavor--just me alone with my thoughts a a keyboard. I naively thought I could write something brilliant the first time and send it to the perfect person and it would get published. So not the case for me, and for most writers.

Writing is a group effort.  

Over the years I've written a few books. One of these days I hope to get one (f not all) published.
But, regardless of the end result (published or not,) or even the type of book (fiction or non-fiction,) I have come to not only appreciate the role a handful of people have played in my life, but come to depend on them being in my circle.

Funnily enough, I came across an article that shared some of my same sentiments here, though I have one more person on my list.

The Cheerleader

I've got a few of these in my circle of support. The more the merrier! These are the ones that think you are just awesome, and are eager to tell you so.  I have one particular cheerleader named Marianne. She loves me and my writing, and I love her for it. She has read all of my manuscripts, and even called me at 10:30pm on the night she finished my fiction MS because she couldn't wait to tell me how much she loved it. Oh, how I love her!!  Whenever I begin to doubt my ability and/or work, all I have to do is call her and the shower of compliments begin *deep cleansing breath* and my confident soon returns. Cheerleaders are necessary to balance out the other people in your corner. I love my cheerleaders. They help me write with confidence. 

The Avid Reader

This person is a friend that reads a lot . . . A LOT. They should be honest and forthcoming in their opinion of your writing. They give you great insight into how your book stacks up against all the other books they've read. They are great at telling you if your book is too similar to something they've read before, etc.  They are able to look at your book in a holistic approach: is it satisfying, predictable, does it follow a trend in the market, etc. They help you be a better story teller.

The Editor

This is the person that can it like it is. Do you abuse semicolons? Do you neglect commas? This person has the ability to not only read for content (does it make sense, etc.) but for spelling and grammar. They have an eye for mistakes, and actively look for them. I'll admit, at first, I didn't want any of these people in my corner. They would mess up my beautiful MS with red ink, or comments and changes in Word. I did shed a tear or two the first time my MS came back a different color, but now I not only appreciate it, I come to love the correction. They help you be a better writer.

The Brainstormer

This is the person you can turn to when you're stuck in your storyline. They have the ability to ask you the right questions and offer suggestions that get you back on the right track, or send you on a completely different track. They are often writers themselves, and love the creative process. They help you keep the story fresh.

The "I Know a Guy"

In the world of writing, if you don't have a big name yourself or a big name backing you, much of your success will depend on the connections you make with others. It's great to have a friend who has his or her hands in a lot of places. They know writers/authors, they know small publishing houses, writer's conferences, free-lance editors, book review bloggers, etc. This is the guy that "knows a guy" who can help you in the pursuit of your dream of getting published. They help open up opportunities for you and your book(s).

The Stranger

Okay, maybe not a total stranger, but I've found great value in finding a person or two that don't really know me personally to read my stuff.  Without any personal connection they can read the book for what it is, not for who I am. They can read without the distraction of our personal relationship. They'll read your book the same was as any person would who just happened to pick it up at the book store. They have an insight that is invaluable: the insight of a true critic/fan. They help you keep it real.

To the tune of the good old Sesame Street song, I happily sing, "These are the people in my cir-ircle. In my cir-ircle. In my cir-ircle. Oh, these are the people in my cir-ircle. They're the people that I need each day, when I'm filling that white sheet, they're they people that I neeeed each daaay!"

Hopefully you've got at least one of each of these in your circle, too. If not, go out there and get 'em. I promise you, you won't regret it!

Thanks Scott, Debbie, Marianne, McKenna, Stephanie, Bonnie, Wendy, Christine, Laura, Heidi, Tanya, and more! 

Saturday, July 6, 2013

What's in Your Box?

I just finished a great book called Through His Eyes by Virginia H. Pierce. It was a great read.

The theme of the book is that we store in our heart and minds (what she calls the Belief Box) three things: Truths (with a capitol T), truths (small t), and untruths.

The Truths are those truths that are universal and eternal: I am a child of God. God loves me.

The truths are things that are true in different situations, culturally or circumstantially, depending upon the person, but have not eternal bearing: A clean house makes me a good homemaker. Having healthy homemade dinners on the table each night will bring my family closer together.

The untruths are things that are simply not true, but mask themselves as truth. These things are the most dangerous, because they are usually negative and damaging.

I know my Truths, and I love them. But, out of curiosity, I decided to make a list of the untruths floating around in my mind. I am typically a pretty confident person, so I was surprised at the untruths that had been lurking inside my Box when I took an honest look.

My list was thus:

  • I am supposed to have the same gifts and talents as other people in my situation have.
  • Other people's strengths and/or successes somehow diminish mine or my worth (this one was the most difficult to admit because I truly am happy for other people when experience success. But sometimes it is difficult when they succeed and I don't. Especially when I am trying my hardest.)
  • I cannot meet expectations of others--they will be disappointed, and I will fail.
  • I am not educated, therefore as intelligent as others in my situation.
  • I don't deserve success.
  • I let people down because my weaknesses outweigh my strengths.
  • I am not good enough.
  • I am nothing special.

AHH! I couldn't believe what was in there! I mean, I knew that I carry some insecurities--don't we all? But, I didn't realize that I allowed myself to see my fears and insecurities as truths, or even Truths.  These untruths were not bubbling at the surface. I don't dwell on them. They don't make me constantly miserable and unsure. But, when I dug deep, they were there. And they shocked me.

I know, in my every day thinking mind, that none of these are true. Consciously I will refute them. If any friend came to me and said they felt that way, I would wrap my arms around them and tell them with all the sincerity that they are untrue. And yet...they still somehow found a place in my Box, influencing my thoughts and feelings and perspective.

Now that I know they are there, the question is how to get rid of them.

That is where I go back to the Truths that illuminate my Box, mind and heart. I find that my untruths are often the polar opposite of Truths. So, I line them up side by side, and do some canceling out.

·       untruth: I am supposed to have the same gifts and talents as other people in my situation have
Truth: God has given me unique talents He knows will make me happy and will allow Him to do His work through me.

·       untruth: Other people's strengths and/or successes somehow diminish mine or my worth.
Truth: My success comes in doing God’s will for me in my life, whatever that may be.

·       untruth: I cannot meet expectations of others—they will be disappointed, and I will fail. (This is more of a prophecy-of-doom born out of fear.)
Truth: People’s opinions are as diverse and unique (and, at times, imperfect) as the people themselves. If I focus on pleasing everyone I will fail, because it is not possible to make everyone happy. It is the expectation and opinion of God that ultimately matters, and if I follow His will to the best of my ability, He will not be disappointed.  

·       untruth: I am not educated, therefore as intelligent as others in my situation.
Truth: Formal education is not a barometer of intelligence, but of opportunity. The lack of formal education does not negate my ability to think, reason, believe, and/or teach. The Truths that are most important to know are not taught on a campus, but through personal revelation.

·       untruth: I don't deserve success.
Truth: I deserve any and all things that God sees fit to give me—even success, as long as I am seeking His will.

·       untruth:I let people down because my weaknesses outweigh my strengths.
Truth: God doesn’t expect me to be perfect. Everyone is imperfect—it is part of this part of God’s plan for us. If we turn to Him, He can help us take ours and others’ imperfections and use them for our good.

·       untruth: I am not good enough.
Truth: God made me good enough.

·       untruth: I am nothing special.
·       Truth: I am special to God.

Virginia told a story in her book about a time when she broke down under the pressure of the expectations of others and her own doubts, fears, and insecurities. A good friend said, "All you have to worry about is pleasing God."

That Truth resonated in me. As you can see, all of the untruths above were cancelled out when I changed my focus to what God's will is, what His plan is, what His view of me is. How grateful I am for my Father in Heaven, and His perfect insight and love! 

I am weak and imperfect. I know that my Box will probably always contain some untruth stow-aways. But I LOVE the fact that, with God's help, I have the power to perceive them and strike them out. Then I am more free to live and move and act in confidence and joy as I strive to live His will. 

The cool thing is that this doesn't apply only to me. It does to you, too.  Right now, in your Box, lie a number of untruths that you perceive as truth.  Go ahead, dig them out. Write them down. Then, prayerfully seek after the Truths that will strike them out. 

Perhaps this is part of the meaning of Jesus's words when He said, "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32).

There is freedom in Truth--freedom to see yourself through His eyes. Freedom to be happy with and confident in yourself, imperfections and all. Freedom to live His will. Freedom to change and grow. Freedom to feel success. Freedom to love yourself--every part of you.

So, my question to you is, what is in your Box? 

What are your Truths? What are you doing to seek more Truth (for there is Truth out there yet to be understood). 

What are your untruths? What are you doing to eliminate them?

Remember that Truth is freedom, untruths are bondage. I hope you take some time this weekend and take an honest inventory of your Box. Hold tight and cherish the Truths you have in there. Then dig out the untruths that hide in the dark corners, and annihilate them.

You'll feel so much better.

I already do!  

Friday, July 5, 2013

Why Do I Love It?

I have this weird thing--I love to teach. Not math or science--but eternal spiritual truths. And the bigger the crowd, the better. Public speaking has been heralded as the number one fear among people, so I'm not surprised when people come and ask me (and many do) why I love it.

I've given many answers over the years: I love to see the light of understanding in the eyes of those I teach. I love the Spirit I feel when I teach about eternal truths. I love the feeling of saying something I hadn't planned on, but felt impressed to, only to have someone come and say that that particular thing was just what they needed to hear. I love using the talents that God gave me for His purposes. I love the people I teach. I love the energy of a good lesson. I love to bear testimony of what I believe.

But still there was another reason that I love to teach that I couldn't quite find the words for. Until yesterday. It is a quote by S. Michael Wilcox, an author an avid public speaker. I realized when I read this that yes, I love to teach for others, but my love of teaching comes from the fact that when I teach, that is how I am filled. 

He said:

Sometimes I start a class or talk feeling my souls 
is as empty as a dry lake bed 
and I have nothing to offer, 

But when I rise and begin to speak, 
the water of truth seeps in and fill me, 

and I know that I know. I am strengthened by my own voice. 

 The memory of hearing the water flowing into me stays and sustains me even in the driest periods.

It is when I teach the things that I have studied and prepared that God confirms to me they are true. My own doubts and fears tell me I have nothing to offer. But when I speak, He reminds me I am not offering myself, but Him. And that is what fills me. 

What fills you?