Searching for that elusive bigger room

The dream resurfaces, time and again. And it’s never quite the same, but it goes something like this. I’m in my house (which never looks like my real house). And there’s a door that I’ve forgotten to open, or maybe I just hadn’t noticed it. So I open it and am absolutely amazed because there’s ...

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The dream resurfaces, time and again. And it’s never quite the same, but it goes something like this.

I’m in my house (which never looks like my real house). And there’s a door that I’ve forgotten to open, or maybe I just hadn’t noticed it. So I open it and am absolutely amazed because there’s a whole wing to the house that I didn’t know about.

Sometimes there are bedrooms with lots and lots of closets and I start brainstorming the possible uses of all those rooms. Once in a while I discover a wing that looks almost exactly like the second floor of my grandparents’ house, but with additional bathrooms with giant showers. One time it was a beautiful writing room—sort of a screened in, second-floor porch with white trellises and wicker furniture and art on the walls and a peaceful wooded view. But most of the time—on its own or in addition to the other rooms—there is a ballroom. A great big, beautiful room. So large that I am shocked by the sheer volume of space. Shiny hardwood floors. So very much potential.

Imagine my surprise when I set foot in that ballroom—fully awake, although completely exhausted—last week. This ballroom exists on the 2nd level of the Ball State University Student Center, which is where we held the Midwest Writers Workshop this year.

I’d seen the room before, as an undergrad at Ball State 25 years ago. I think I was looking for a different room on that floor, where I was interviewing to be an arts and crafts counselor at a summer camp in northwest Pennsylvania. (Even then I wasn’t much of a kid person, but I really wanted to spend a summer not at home.) But for some reason, that room has stayed with me. In my dreams it’s dark and shadowy, unused. Last week, it was full of light and voices and smiling faces.

A quick, highly professional and scientific Google search tells me that in dream interpretation, discovering a new room has to do with expanding your territory, trying something new, branching out in a new direction.

Fitting, since that was what the Midwest Writers Workshop was about this year, on multiple levels. After more than 40 years, MWW is becoming a stand-alone, nonprofit entity. We’re expanding our tent stakes, now offering a membership organization, webinars, and various events throughout the year. I credit MWW with all of my so-called writing success because it feels like I’ve taken advanced courses in publishing, in all aspects of the book proposal and querying process, and in honing my craft. I knew how to navigate through these past few years because of what I learned at MWW. And I found my people there. A wonderful, inspiring group of writers who are exceptionally talented, but even so, are somehow even better at being friends than at writing.

A couple years ago I joined the MWW board and have loved being on the inside of the planning process. But this year was something new because for the first time I was officially part of the faculty. I got to stand in front of people—once, I was even in the ballroom—and pretend to be a real writer. (You don’t have to argue with me. I do know that I’m a real writer. I’ve published two books, so this writing thing is definitely real.)

Even so, there are times that I feel like an imposter. I love to write and I think I’m good at it (some of the awkward sentence constructions in this blog post notwithstanding). And yes, I’ve had the privilege of writing two books that a publisher believed in enough to publish them. But I’ll confess that I’m still a bit starry-eyed when confronted with people who have had more success than I have—they’ve been doing it longer, or written more books, or sold more copies, or simply are better writers. I feel good about what I do, but like any artist I harbor insecurities about my craft because it’s so personal. When I write, I feel as though I am most fully me, so when someone doesn’t like my writing, or when I don’t meet sales goals or have a monumentally huge blog following, it feels like I have failed. Like I’m somehow not enough.

Which is why last week at MWW was so good for me. As faculty, I taught some sessions. I got to talk about inspirational writing, creative book structures, and creative marketing and branding ideas. I realized that the content came naturally to me. That I have learned some things along the way.

And I saw a few people listening to me the way I’ve listened to so many others over the years. Taking notes. Eyes wide, intensely watching. Hesitant to ask questions, but hanging around in case there’s more to talk about. Treating me as though I have “made it” simply because I have two books to my name.

I felt legitimate. Accomplished. Like I had finally expanded into that shadowy, unknown space and become somehow fuller, more present, more real. The truth is, yes, I’ve accomplished my goal of being published, and not everyone can say that. In reality, whatever we achieve, most of us will probably never quite feel we’ve done all we were meant to do. Through MWW, I’ve learned that we aren’t competing with each other, but we’re better together simply because we share this love for writing and we’re pursuing it together. If we’ve been published, it’s because the stars were aligned or the timing was right and we happened to actually get a contract. We’re not better than those who don’t yet—or maybe will not ever—have one. At every stage, there’s more to strive for and tons of work required. And yet, as hard as it can be to reach the place where we finally feel accepted, the bottom line is that it’s the process that’s more important than the destination. We don’t write for money or fame, clearly, but because of the people we get to know and the chances we have to discover who we are and what we were designed to do.

Today, on the official release day for Designed to Pray, my overwhelming emotion is gratitude. I am humbled by the support so freely offered to me. And, although I’m happy with the rooms I’ve inhabited so far, I’m excited to see what will come next. Because there are endless possibilities, numerous other places to go. So many new rooms to explore—whole wings to discover.

And not only in my dreams.

How do I pray when ___?

Pray about it! I declare. Pray without ceasing, the Bible tells us. Prayer changes us, I promise. I write about prayer, but do I truly believe it? Absolutely. Except sometimes life gets in the way of our best intentions. When my mom was diagnosed with cancer and then passed away in spite of all the ...

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Pray about it! I declare. Pray without ceasing, the Bible tells us. Prayer changes us, I promise. I write about prayer, but do I truly believe it? Absolutely.

Except sometimes life gets in the way of our best intentions.

When my mom was diagnosed with cancer and then passed away in spite of all the prayers my family and friends prayed, I floundered. Not just floundered. I flopped. Fell, tumbled, stumbled away, pretending I was okay while knowing I’d never be okay again. God hadn’t saved her life. The only thing stronger than my anger was my denial about being angry.

When I watched my neighbor carry his six-year-old son Henry to the hearse parked in the driveway between our houses, after Henry had succumbed to the brain tumor that distorted his beautiful face, the ache in my heart was almost too much to bear. Even though he wasn’t my own child, my heart was broken. And I had trouble finding words.

When my daughter missed more school than she attended her senior year and had to be hospitalized three hours away from home for a week at a migraine specialty hospital, and clients needed brochures and ads turned around quickly, and my other daughter needed ankle surgery, and my dad was diagnosed with pre-cancerous cells, and money wasn’t coming in to my graphic design business account, I was more inclined to curl up in a ball and take a nap than I was to pray. It was too much to try to wade through it all.

When the British man who had devastated me in college by ending our two-year romance with a heartless letter found me online many years later, it threw me. As much as I loved my husband and my life, I had to reframe the way I’d thought about that relationship for the past twenty years, and figure out what any of it meant for my current life. My brain was a tangled-up mess. In prayer, I’d simply sit. I didn’t know how to put words to the chaos I felt inside.

Maybe for you it was a pastor or teacher or family friend who did unspeakable things and no one believed you. Or maybe it was a church who judged you—rightly or wrongly—and pushed you away. Your baby stopped breathing, or didn’t survive until birth. Your spouse cheated on you. Again and again. Your employee stole from you. Your boss spitefully reprimanded you, costing you the promotion you wanted. Or you admitted to being abused and nobody did a thing to stop it. Maybe you adore children and don’t understand why God hasn’t given you a baby of your own when so many who don’t want a baby get pregnant. Maybe you think the only way out of your financial mess is to file bankruptcy, but those debts don’t qualify, you don’t make enough to cover your expenses, and your job is a dead end. Or maybe you are an addict and can’t imagine God could ever deliver you from that.

You may not struggle with a traumatic event, but fight tangled emotions and insecuritieswhy would God want me after all I’ve done? Perhaps you’re waiting until you feel like you’re in a respectable place, with your life cleaned up. Maybe you can’t forgive yourself so you certainly don’t expect God to do so, and you’re certain He won’t want to hear from you.

It might be that you’ve watched holier-than-thou Christians judge and condemn and live hypocritical lives, and you just can’t bear to associate with them in any way because of the impression they convey to the world.

Or maybe you struggle with the age-old questions: How can God allow evil? What kind of God would let that happen? Is God really real? Why can’t I feel Him? Why doesn’t He answer me?

I could write pages and pages and never touch on half of the obstacles people face when it comes to prayer.

What I hope this tells you is that when—not if, but when—you struggle, you’re not alone. I’m right there with you.

In spite of the struggles, though, I’ve also seen answers. I’ve seen my life and attitudes and prejudices and beliefs transformed over time. I’ve witnessed what seem to be miraculous answers, unexplained by science and logic. I’ve watched science heal people, and found myself thanking God for working through medicine.

I haven’t seen God with my eyes, but I’ve witnessed His presence in one situation after another. He hasn’t spoken in an audible voice, but I’ve heard him loud and clear. He isn’t tangible, I can’t touch Him, but I’ve felt Him hold me tight and carry me through moments of unspeakable pain.

So how do we pray when there’s too much going on? When we can’t see God in it? When we don’t know where to begin? When we’re in pain? Sad? Depressed? Uninspired? When we don’t like the way God is answering? When we don’t feel like He’s listening? What do we do when we’re out of words or when our words are angry and don’t seem fitting to be used in a holy pursuit like prayer?

Try something new. Something to jolt our minds and our hearts, something to bypass established behaviors and patterns. We need to trick our minds out of relying on the known and instead seek the unknown.

Think of it as preparation for future situations. Just as an artist has to learn how to mix paint colors, or a basketball player has to focus on individual skills like dribbling and shooting, in order to practice prayer long-term we need to experiment. If you can find ways to strengthen and notice more of God in the everyday, then when it comes time for you to step up to the canvas (or get off the bench), you’re ready. You have all the tools you need to face the problem before you.

Today, and tomorrow, and possibly even the next day, I hope you will try something different. Stand up if you normally sit down. Speak out loud if you typically pray in silence. Read a liturgical prayer or spiritual poem. Write it down. Shake things up.

Designed to Pray coverYou can totally do this on your own, but if you would like to dedicate some time to exploring different approaches to prayer, I hope you’ll check out my new book. Designed to Pray: Creative Ways to Engage with God releases on August 1, and it’s an 8-week individual Bible study designed to lead women into a deeper relationship with God. (You can order it now.)

Whether you read my book or not, I’m excited to hear what you discover. I hope you’ll share your experiences with me here or on my blog.

Dear Lord, sometimes it’s a little intimidating to try something new. But I hold tight to the truth I’ve discovered as I’ve walked this path with You: As long as You are in it, I want to be there too. Change can be painful at times, and sometimes I fight it. But Your vision surpasses mine, so I surrender myself willingly. When You get involved, when You begin to refine me and smooth the rough edges, I don’t become less but more. Open my heart and mind to new possibilities, and teach me to express my creativity in ways that allow me to find You. Make connections for me between people and ideas and my awareness of You—let me see more of the ways You’ve woven us all together and connected us all with Your love. Amen.

TO SCHEDULE: “You, My child, are My favorite.”

I have one younger sister, Kerry. Our dad, who loves us completely and totally and with an unconditional love, has a standing joke when we call: “Is this the pretty one or the smart one?” After all these years, it still makes me laugh, and depending on how I feel that day, I give him ...

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I have one younger sister, Kerry. Our dad, who loves us completely and totally and with an unconditional love, has a standing joke when we call: “Is this the pretty one or the smart one?” After all these years, it still makes me laugh, and depending on how I feel that day, I give him a different answer. We both know he thinks both of us are pretty and smart. My dad has found a way to always let us know we’re special to him. If you would ask Kerry, she’d claim she’s his favorite. I, of course, know better. (Because I’m pretty and smart.)

One night, when my friend Sandee and I were talking, she said, “Don’t you ever, sometimes, imagine that you are God’s favorite—just for that moment?” At the time, I couldn’t say that I did. I wasn’t important enough. I didn’t know Him well enough. The only thing I knew was that I was jealous. I didn’t even know I wanted that special distinction until I heard her talk about it.

And yet, in spite of my actual qualifications, God looks at me and says, “Is this the pretty one or the smart one? The faithful one or the prodigal? The one who’s with Me all the time or the one who just found her way back?” And whatever the answer, it doesn’t matter. He already knows. He holds out His arms in welcome and says, “You, My child, are My favorite.”

How can that be? It makes no sense to us, particularly as women who are conditioned to compare ourselves to others (usually finding ourselves lacking in the ways we measure up). We’re too fat, too short, too insecure. We’ve become conditioned to expecting the reward to be commensurate with our abilities. If we’re talented, we will succeed. If we’re pretty, we will find a man.

It’s a short step to apply that concept to “if we’re faithful, God will like us.”

God wants us to be more like Him, but He takes us just as we are—and multiplies what we have into something more. I love color and words and design. To me, there’s nothing more exciting than hearing people’s stories about God, but I’m an introvert. So God has filled my life with clients who have become friends and provided opportunities to talk about Him. He’s used my love of design and writing to allow me to tell people about Him without having to stand in front of crowds on a stage. Of course, He’s given me opportunities to do that, too, because He sees potential even when we do not.

Romans 12:6-8 says, “In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.”

See? He doesn’t want to make you into something you’re not. He wants to make you into the most-fully-you possible. Don’t shy away from that. Figure out what you’re good at, what you love, what you need, and embrace it. It is only when we fully express ourselves, pouring it all out for Him, that we become fully alive. When we operate from that place, God becomes visible. Removes obstacles. Relieves fears. Opens doors.

And shows Himself to be more than we ever hoped.

Pray with me? Heavenly Father, as we’re starting a new year, help us embrace who we are—who You made us to be. Let us relinquish control and let You lead. Help us to humble ourselves and step back to let You shine. You can take what meager things we have to offer and make something spectacular. You’re the one who can change lives—but we pray that You will use us as instruments of that change. Thank You for the individual, personal, unique gifts You have given to each of us; help us remember that they’re all gifts from You, and one person’s gifts aren’t better than another’s. Let us be content in the way You made us and know You love us, just as we are. Help us to love others with the kind of unconditional, generous love You show us. And let us believe that we are all that You say we are. That we are pretty, and smart. That we are loved. That we are yours. No matter what we do or don’t do, no matter how outstanding or inadequate our abilities are.

Together, Lord, we will do amazing things. Thank You for letting me walk with You. Amen.

This is an excerpt from my book, Designed to Pray, with a new prayer added. It first appeared on Internet Café Devotions.

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