Gallery of Gratitude—Week #8

15 weeks, 15 letters, 15 minutes. To start the new year, 2015. It’s never too late to join us. Learn about the challenge here. Someone who noticed or encouraged a talent or ability It all started with a postcard announcing that a Wabash professor, Joy Castro, had published a memoir called The Truth Book. I’m sure ...

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15 weeks, 15 letters, 15 minutes. To start the new year, 2015. It’s never too late to join us. Learn about the challenge here.

Someone who noticed or encouraged a talent or ability

It all started with a postcard announcing that a Wabash professor, Joy Castro, had published a memoir called The Truth Book. I’m sure I’d gotten similar mailings before, but that day I paid attention and ordered the book right away—and even invited her to a book club meeting at my house, where we discussed this book that I’d loved so much. She came and was lovely. I was fascinated by the writing process and apparently asked too many questions—or maybe just exactly enough—because she told me I could audit a class she was about to start teaching, a senior seminar on memoir.

So I took a deep breath and tried to slow my racing heart. I walked into a room of smart and oh-so-young college boys and hoped I wouldn’t make a total fool of myself. I was terrified—but Joy was so encouraging. And I loved, loved, loved every single part of it. The reading, the discussions, the theories, the ideas. And—obviously—the writing. It woke up something inside me.

At the end of the semester, Joy suggested that I consider applying to an MFA program, told me about some low-residency programs where I would do the work online and only spend a few weeks each year on campus somewhere. But Bobby was six, Anna was 10 and Katie was 13. I was working tons of hours and thought, if I could find any time, shouldn’t I just spend it writing?

Of course there’s so much I could learn in a program like that, and I know I’d love it. Right then, though, it just wouldn’t work for my life. But knowing that she thought I could do it changed something in me. Thinking that she saw something in me gave me the confidence to take it seriously. To believe it was a goal worth pursuing. To know that maybe I could do something with this new interest of mine.

I was so naive about how this process works. I didn’t really understand how hard it was or what it would take for me to truly bare my beliefs, my feelings, to the world. Joy knew, though, and gave me just the push I needed. As I sat in that classroom, I would have never imagined that 9 years later, I’d be counting down the days to the publication of my book. (66, in case you were wondering.) She didn’t know where it would lead, either. But I’m so grateful that she took notice, that she spoke words without having any idea how powerful and filled with hope they would be.


Who has given you a gentle nudge in the right direction? Who helped you see a talent that you had—or believe that you were good enough to try something?

Gallery of Gratitude—Week #7

15 weeks, 15 letters, 15 minutes. To start the new year, 2015. It’s never too late to join us. Learn about the challenge here. Someone who helped you find God This could be anyone from a nationally-renowned pastor or Bible scholar to a grandmother who taught you to pray. It could be a friend whose ...

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15 weeks, 15 letters, 15 minutes. To start the new year, 2015. It’s never too late to join us. Learn about the challenge here.

Someone who helped you find God

This could be anyone from a nationally-renowned pastor or Bible scholar to a grandmother who taught you to pray. It could be a friend whose calm spirit draws you to her, while her words point you to the Almighty God. Maybe you’ve learned about God from your spouse, whose faith never wavers. Or from a child, whose enthusiastic faith knocks down your barriers of doubt and cynicism. Whether their influence has been small or large, whether it’s something easy to define or something abstract and elusive, reach out today. Let that person in your life know that their faith has inspired you or that the lessons they taught changed you.


When I first walked into what is now my church, I definitely felt like I didn’t belong. I didn’t struggle with feelings of not being worthy or have worries that my less-than-perfect past disqualified me. (I certainly didn’t think I was better than anyone else. But somehow I “got,” right from the start, that God welcomed me anyway.) But I was strong and independent. Liberal and outspoken. A career woman who, at that time, earned more than my husband. In this church, though they’d walked away from old traditions governing the way people dressed, most women wore skirts and conservative shoes, had long hair and little makeup. They usually worked, but the jobs came after God and church and other family obligations. Husbands seemed to have authority over their wives. People shopped at thrift shops and bought bargain brands, while I bought high-end shampoos and didn’t have time to clip coupons, let alone a sane enough life to remember them when I went to the store. Moms carried their kids around with them—contentedly, rather than constantly looking for ways to get a break, to temporarily escape their duties, as I did. When someone taught them, they believed what they were told, without question. They already knew the Bible stories. And when music played, they danced.

And then there was me. I didn’t dance. I didn’t lose myself in the Spirit. When I finally raised one hand in worship, I held tight to the pew with the other hand, anchoring me in this physical world. When we gathered at the altar to pray, I’d keep one eye open. I’d pray, but I’d also notice the stack of hands as we prayed for individuals, hear the individual voices in the jumble that surrounded me. I watched. I listened.

But from the start, even though a part of me held back, God drew me in. And one of the key people in that process was Bishop Robert Miller.

In my mind, when I remember visiting that first week, he was standing on the platform, tall and dignified. Thin, in a well-cut suit, hair combed back, sideburns and a big smile. He stood at the podium and preached. I don’t know what he said. But I remember being intimidated. He was so slick, so polished. So knowledgeable. So holy. Not long after I started attending regularly, I remember Bishop stopping by my office one day to see how I was doing. I wanted him to like me. I wanted to impress him. But I always wondered what he must think of me because I didn’t feel like I fit.

Yet he welcomed me anyway. And when he taught, I was hooked. In between bites of donuts and sips of coffee, he talked to the adult Sunday school class. And  I took notes frantically, afraid I’d miss something. I filled the margins with my questions, then I went home and looked up what I didn’t understand. He challenged and engaged me. His messages were always spiritual—stories of faith, deep studies of the Scriptures—yet they captured my mind. Every week, without fail, I’d follow along. And by the end, as he brought the message around full circle, as he tied up all the loose ends, I was surprised. Fascinated. Amazed how all of these different pieces fit together into something whole and inspiring.

In the last few years, Bishop’s son Nathan has taken over in the role of pastor, and he gets much well-deserved praise. But to so many of us at Grace & Mercy, Bishop played a huge role in drawing us in, in pointing us to God.

At church on the morning that I’m writing this, we were singing “How Great Thou Art,” and Bishop sang a verse into the microphone. Tears ran down my face as my heart felt like it would burst with love and gratitude. This man has shown me so much. He stood strong in his faith, never wavering, as I wrestled with my questions, as I struggled with doubts. And he never failed to pour out his faith for all of us. The man who once intimidated me has softened. He reaches out an arm to hug me when he sees me. He reads my words and offers encouragement. Kids climb in his lap and make him laugh. His eyes crinkle when he smiles. And when he walks into the sanctuary, we all stand taller. He’s given so much to each one of us and we want to make him proud. We want to show him that he did well. That all of his serving and teaching mattered. That he was a conduit through which God spoke—over and over. Through which God revealed, illuminated, restored. And loved.


Who helped point you towards God? Let that person know that they made a difference. And please share your stories in the comments. I’d love to hear them!

Gallery of Gratitude—Week #6

15 weeks, 15 letters, 15 minutes. To start the new year, 2015. It’s never too late to join us. Learn about the challenge here. Someone under the age of 18 When we think about people who have influenced us, we often look to our past. But young people can have an impact, too—because of their hard ...

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15 weeks, 15 letters, 15 minutes. To start the new year, 2015. It’s never too late to join us. Learn about the challenge here.

Someone under the age of 18

When we think about people who have influenced us, we often look to our past. But young people can have an impact, too—because of their hard work; or compassion for pets, siblings, or others; or their willingness to do what is asked; or because of their sunshiny smile. Write and let a young person know that you noticed them.

Today I’m going to share part of one of the chapters in my book (What He is Made Of: Drawing the Underlying Structure). It talks about how if we look closely, if we watch to see Who God is and what He is made of, it helps us learn to lean on Him. This is just one small segment about a sweet little girl I adore (written a couple years ago when she was just five).


vanessaOne morning, I watched a little girl make the rounds during the worship service. Five-year-old Vanessa is irresistible with her pale translucent skin, dark blond hair, green eyes, and a sweet smile that camouflages her somewhat devious personality. She walked up the aisle with little flouncy twists of her skirt, chin tucked down into her doll, big eyes taking in everything. She stopped at the end of a row, watching until Peggy glanced in her direction. When Vanessa ran to her, Peggy laughed and picked her up and swung her around.

After a few minutes, Vanessa headed to the other end of the row, waiting until Katie beckoned her over. She giggled, snuggling in, prepared to be adored. Just as she was about to doze
off in Katie’s arms, Vanessa suddenly extended her arms to me. I wrapped my arms around her and squeezed her tight. Before long, she climbed over the pew to sit next to Jordan. When he smiled at her, she scooted closer and showed him her doll, waiting for him to light up in delight. He did. We all had, the moment she shifted her attention to us.

Vanessa was in a safe place, where she knew without a doubt she was loved and would be welcomed with open arms. So she made her way through the church, letting one and all adore her. Because we’ve loved her since she was born, she knows what to expect. When she leaps into the air, she expects to be caught. When she reaches up, we’ll reach down. When she climbs into our laps, she will feel loved. Doubt doesn’t enter into the equation. Vanessa feels safe because we’ve never disappointed her.

When we learn the underlying structure of God, we, too, can feel that security. When we read stories about the convoluted paths of men and women failing over and over again—
killing and lying and cheating and complaining and rebelling—when we hear about miraculous deliverances, of complete change, of God’s unfailing love, then we learn what to expect. We start to believe we can trust Him. We don’t know exactly how He’ll react—in Vanessa’s case, she may not know if we will hug her or spin her or cuddle her or tickle her or give her our last piece of gum—but we do know that He has our best interests at heart. That He’s going to do what’s right. And that there are no limits to the ways He will solve our problems or the lengths He will go for one, just one, lost or hurting soul.

So we study His Word. We pray. We write. And when the time is right, when we are sure we have His attention, well, then we run toward Him. And leap.


Is there a young person in your life who has caught your attention? Let them know you’re noticed them. Remind them that their actions—or their mere presence—matters.

Gallery of Gratitude—Week #5

15 weeks, 15 letters, 15 minutes. To start the new year, 2015. It’s never too late to join us. Learn about the challenge here. Someone who loved someone you loved When my mom died, I wasn’t the only one who felt a loss. She had coworkers, a priest, friends, and kids who came into her clinic ...

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15 weeks, 15 letters, 15 minutes. To start the new year, 2015. It’s never too late to join us. Learn about the challenge here.

Someone who loved someone you loved

When my mom died, I wasn’t the only one who felt a loss. She had coworkers, a priest, friends, and kids who came into her clinic at school. Today, send a message to a person who might also miss someone you’ve lost. Or write anyone who’s recently experienced a lost of any sort (divorce, death, loss of a job) and let them know they’re not alone.

Grief is a funny thing. Sharing a loss can cause people to grow apart—sometimes people don’t want to see someone who reminds them of what they’ve lost. On the other end of the spectrum, though, the shared loss can also pull people together. When I run into one of Mom’s friends, it triggers a little bit of sadness—but that’s trumped by the comfort of knowing that someone else gets it. Someone else shares the hurt. Someone else misses her too. She influenced lives outside of our small little family. There are so many people I could name right now, but Judi comes immediately to mind.

She and Mom were friends from high school, and in Mom’s last few years, even though Judi lived in Texas and Mom in Indiana, they grew closer than ever. Judi had been fighting cancer for years, and now Mom was. They sent each other quirky gifts and made each other laugh. I’m so grateful for that, for the way their friendship grew during those years. For the fact that Mom knew that someone out there “got it.” Dad insisted that Mom was gonna be OK. So did I. But Judi, I think, is the one person who would go down those “what if” roads. Who would talk about the fears and really understood what Mom was facing. She didn’t love Mom any less than we did. And she fought and prayed for God to heal Mom. But she let Mom be real.

A few months after Mom died, my sister and I got a package in the mail from Judi, with cards saying she knew how hard it must be to face the date of Mom’s birthday without her. A year or two earlier, Judi bought herself and Mom matching bracelets which contained a single charm—a coin from the years of their births. Now she wears both hers and Mom’s on her own bracelet. But that year Judi sent what has to be the most thoughtful gift I’ve ever received: a silver dime from the year Mom was born, mounted and hanging from a silver chain. She sent Kerry and I each one.

I know that gift was from Judi. I know she loved my mom, and that she promised Mom she would continue to remind her girls how much they were loved. But that necklace feels like a touch from Mom, a gift from the woman I never thought could give me a gift again. I wear it when I wish she could be there to see what I’m doing. I wear it when I need courage. I wear it when I just want to remember. I wear it nearly all the time. And I give thanks for Judi, for instinctively knowing just what I needed. For understanding that Mom is the thread that connects Judi and I, and that when I think of Judi, I feel closer to Mom.

Is there someone you can reach out to today? Someone else who feels a void, someone who also misses a person who used to be present in both of your lives? Or is there someone who you know is feeling a loss, and even though you don’t share that loss in the same way, would you just let them know that you remember? That you’re thinking of them, and of the person they loved, and that you wanted them to know? Mail a letter, or post a little bit about them on Facebook, or comment on this blog post… or pick up the phone and tell them hello.

Gallery of Gratitude—Week #4

15 weeks, 15 letters, 15 minutes. To start the new year, 2015. It’s never too late to join us. Learn about the challenge here. Someone who taught you to be curious A teacher, pastor, aunt or uncle, an author, a coach. This can be anyone who encouraged you to ask questions and explore. Who showed you how to learn, ...

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15 weeks, 15 letters, 15 minutes. To start the new year, 2015. It’s never too late to join us. Learn about the challenge here.

Someone who taught you to be curious

A teacher, pastor, aunt or uncle, an author, a coach. This can be anyone who encouraged you to ask questions and explore. Who showed you how to learn, or directed you to a new source for information. Write a Facebook or blog post or send them a letter and thank them for opening your mind to something new.

I thought this would be a great topic, but to be honest, I’ve struggled with picking someone. I know people can help inspire you to reach for new ideas or encourage you to explore, but I think the fundamental spark of curiosity often comes from within. (I’m curious about whether you agree with me or not. I’d love to hear different viewpoints on that, actually!)

I could write about my pastor Nathan (or his dad, who pastored the church when I started going there). They didn’t want me to take their word for it but to research and study anything I had questions about. I could write about an architecture professor in college, Rod Underwood, who taught us how to explore and create and go in new directions. (I do mention him in my book, but you’ll have to wait until May to read that! Just FYI, he’s the one who thought I should consider majoring in graphic design. He might’ve been onto something.) I could talk about my dad, who helped me learn to see and notice the world around me. Or my design professors, who loved my sketchbooks filled with research and drawings. Or my grandfather, who knew so many things about so many things. He was a radiologist, and a WWII surgeon and major in the Army. He was runner-up to the olympic cross-country team. As an adult, he traveled all around the world. He also loved new technology—before there really was such a thing. He bought one of the earliest IBM PCs, complete with software (in versions 1.0!). I used to spend hours typing on that dark screen—with its plain, pixelated alphabets—filling the screen with Xs and Ox and dots and dashes to make a picture. Why? Simply because I could. And because there was really nothing else I needed to do. (Those were the days…)

And then there was my mom. She read anything she could get her hands on. She took classes in photography and ceramics (and she even tried painting). She studied radiologic technology and then nursing. She volunteered with CASA. She spent a week every summer volunteering at a natural history museum, where they… well, I don’t know exactly what they did. Cleaned old crinoids? Catalogued stuff? I think they mainly laughed and wandered through local antique shops, where she bought me a really awesome gift once. Dad was always considered the creative one, but Mom was really good at helping me with my projects. I used to do a lot of design work for apartment communities, and the writer and I would always develop a theme—horse racing, or Italian villas, or whatever—for the brochure and other items. We always had to name the floor plans according to the themes. I’d call Mom, and an hour later she’d call back with long lists of ideas. I don’t know if Mom is really the one who taught me to be curious, but she certainly facilitated it. I took a correspondence course (back in the olden days before you could do it online) because I was interested in the etymology of words (today my kids call it learning “stems”). She ordered me a silkscreen frame and linoleum blocks to carve. I had books to explore—”regular” ones as well as references like the Physician’s Desk Reference and a whole set of encyclopedias. She bought me calligraphy books and music and lots and lots of organizing and office supplies. She even came up with the idea for me to attend my first writing workshop—and, well, we all know where that led :-).

As I’m thinking about this, I’m realizing how fortunate I have been to have a life filled with people who had a wide variety of interests and who believed in embracing new experiences. I’ve always loved to explore, and to be honest, I don’t know if that was there first and these people reinforced that trait in me, or if I developed that trait because I was exposed to so many things first. Chicken? Egg? It doesn’t really matter. But it reminds me again how important other people have been to my development. Which is the whole reason I started this series, so I suppose today’s post—although it followed a curvy, slow path with no clear sense of direction—actually accomplished all I set out to do. In a weird, random, convoluted sort of way. Which is pretty much how I do anything. Because of the interesting people in my life who also followed unconventional paths. See? It all comes back around.

Thanks for following me down this winding trail today. Now it’s your turn—who pushed you to try something new? Made you curious? Showed you how to explore? Inspired you to learn? Tell me your stories. I’d love to hear them.

Gallery of Gratitude—Week #3

15 weeks, 15 letters, 15 minutes. To start the new year, 2015. It’s never too late to join us. Learn about the challenge here. Several years ago, the first time I attended the Midwest Writers Workshop, I met this woman from Michigan. Irene invited me to lunch with some people from her writers group. The ...

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15 weeks, 15 letters, 15 minutes. To start the new year, 2015. It’s never too late to join us. Learn about the challenge here.

Several years ago, the first time I attended the Midwest Writers Workshop, I met this woman from Michigan. Irene invited me to lunch with some people from her writers group. The next year, I met a redhead from Indiana, Sarah, who also hit it off with that group of writers from Michigan. Before long, Joe, Terri, Irene, Sarah, and I were hanging out with Kelsey and Dan and a whole lot of other people. We kept having to pull up extra chairs because we didn’t fit around the table anymore. Someone dubbed it the Cool Kids table. And our writers group was born.We’ve added a few others along the way—Julie, Lisa, Jane, Jama—who are present when they can be. We have fun together. But what I love is this: every single person takes their writing seriously.

 

They work it in around kids and jobs and all of life’s busyness. It’s not a hobby, it’s a passion. I’ve watched their determination—Sarah’s and Joe’s, in particular—to press on, no matter how busy they are with regular life. To keep getting better. To finish one project and start another and never give up hope. To learn more, and try new things, and do whatever they have to do in order to make this happen. To be published. To be able to keep writing.

I’ve never been great at follow-through—I have lots of ideas but not enough hours or energy to make it all happen. But the determination of my friends is impressive. Without them, I doubt I would have attempted to write a book, and if I had, it wouldn’t be nearly as good. We all write something different—fiction and non, mysteries, historical fiction, horror, poetry, inspirational, YA and middle grade. We all have different backgrounds. We’re a wide range of ages. And yet, somehow, the bond was deep and instant and only gets stronger.

Cool Kids retouched

 

On paper, and maybe in person too, we appear to be an unlikely group. But this group brings something into my life that I don’t get anywhere else. This past weekend, we had our third annual retreat. We write. And talk. Mostly about writing. We read each other’s work, help each other past problems. We brainstorm ideas, suggest marketing techniques, discuss our experiences so far with agents and publishers. And we laugh. And have spirited discussions. And ongoing jokes. And deep connections. And like every other year, we found ourselves still up at midnight, sitting around the fire—still talking about writing. We gathered around to hear Irene’s poetry. We ate a lot of food. We laughed. We advised and counseled and taught and propped each other up. And had a glass or two of champagne to celebrate our successes.

These are not the kinds of friendships you can make happen. This is the kind that comes naturally, instantly, without any effort at all. I’m so grateful that God gave me such a great group of friends, people who have become some of my biggest cheerleaders. People whose love for what they do has inspired me to keep going, to keep writing. To do whatever I can do to make this publishing thing happen for me—but also for them.

Tell me—who has inspired you? Send them a note or post a short tribute to them on Facebook or your blog. When we share our stories, we get to know each other better, and I want to know about you.

P.S. If you have a group you’d like to spend a weekend with, someplace comfortable, I highly recommend the Patchwork Quilt Inn in Middlebury, IN. We’ve gone there every year. The owners are fabulous—as is the food. It would be a great getaway for a couple, but it’s the perfect setup for something like this.

P.P.S. I have no idea why that photo is upside down. I wasn’t trying to be cute. My computer is doing it and I can’t figure out why or how to fix it. So I guess you’ll have to look at things upside down in order to see right side up. Hmm… maybe I should write a book about that.

 

Gallery of Gratitude—Week #2

15 weeks, 15 letters, 15 minutes. To start the new year, 2015. It’s never too late to join us. Learn about the challenge here. WEEK 2 CHALLENGE: A PERSON YOU’VE LAUGHED WITH Your best friend. Your spouse or life partner. A co-worker, a roommate from college. Your child. Anyone you think of when you think ...

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15 weeks, 15 letters, 15 minutes. To start the new year, 2015. It’s never too late to join us. Learn about the challenge here.

WEEK 2 CHALLENGE: A PERSON YOU’VE LAUGHED WITH
Your best friend. Your spouse or life partner. A co-worker, a roommate from college. Your child. Anyone you think of when you think of fun. Write them a note telling them how glad you are for the fun they’ve brought into your life.

flamingo carI’m not all that much fun. I like to have deep, serious conversations. I may like to stretch the rules ever so slightly, but I try not to break them. I don’t “do” spontaneity. I don’t want people to make fun of me so I avoid acting silly in public.

But at least I know enough to surround myself with fun people. My friend Peggy is one of the most fun of all of my friends. Of all people anywhere, to be exact.

Several weeks ago, I helped Peggy plan a ladies meeting for the women at church. We decided that the holidays are hard on us as moms. There’s so much to do, so many responsibilities and stresses that fall to the women in any household. So we had this brilliant idea that we would have a pampering session. We came up with a craft idea to help everyone focus on prayers and gratitude. Scheduled a masseuse to come give shoulder massages. Planned a menu and decided to fix all the food ourselves so people could just show up without having to prepare something first. And handed out invitations, by hand, to all the women at church.

Great idea, right? The night before the meeting, we met at Peggy’s house to prepare the craft and bake some of the muffins. We rushed over to the church and dragged the tables around, arranging and rearranging the banquet hall to best accomplish our plans. We set up foot baths, set aside an area for massages, covered the tables with cloths and pretty decorations. We rushed back and forth, trying not to get in each other’s ways. We made a long shopping list of items we still needed, knowing we’d have to run to Walmart at 10:00 that night because we were completely out of time.

At one point in the middle of this frantic preparation, one of us commented, “I sure am glad we’re doing this because I sure needed to relax.” And then we fell over laughing. I mean that literally. Peggy was rolling on the floor. We were wondering how we looked at that moment on the security camera Shirley could be monitoring. Which made us laugh harder. And cry a little bit. And maybe have to run to the bathroom, too.

The thing is, we were sincere. We genuinely wanted to pamper the women in our church. Each and every one of them deserved a little treat. And we were completely willing to do the work to make it happen. But the irony of our frazzled, frantic state, combined with the late hour and long to-do list, made us slap-happy. And we laughed. And laughed some more. In that moment, we were simply worn out—but thankful. For friendship. For the fact that we can have fun, whatever we’re doing. For the God who created laughter, and joy, and taught us the value of connecting with people.

So today, I give thanks for Peggy. For the way she completely supports me in everything I do. For the way we can go deep, have deep spiritual discussions one minute and laugh until we’re crying the next. For making friendship so fun. And for all the fun friends I have in my life.

(In case you’re wondering, the photo is of me with Peggy and some other fun friends in a borrowed flamingo car. For Peggy’s birthday one year, we surprised her by picking her up in this. It also inspired our “Lola” adventure, which you can read about when my book comes out.)

When you think of laughter, of having fun, who comes to mind? Please share your stories in the comments.

Gallery of Gratitude—Week #1 Challenge

When you walk through a gallery or museum and examine the paintings on the walls, you’ll see a huge variety of brush strokes. Some are bold and thick and viscous, shiny streaks of color smeared onto the canvas. Some strokes are soft, virtually indistinguishable, carefully blended to leave no trace of the brush that made ...

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When you walk through a gallery or museum and examine the paintings on the walls, you’ll see a huge variety of brush strokes. Some are bold and thick and viscous, shiny streaks of color smeared onto the canvas. Some strokes are soft, virtually indistinguishable, carefully blended to leave no trace of the brush that made it. Each artist has a different touch, a unique style, and a specific result. Some are better than others. Some are more fitting for a particular style. Some are polished, others are rough. But there’s no denying that, without them, the piece of art just wouldn’t be the same. Van Gogh’s Starry Night wouldn’t be the same if the colors were soft and smoothly blended, and Leonardo DaVinci’s Mona Lisa wouldn’t look right with swirly, multi-colored strokes of paint.

van gogh mona lisa

Just as each painting is made unique by the mark of its artist, we, too, have been shaped by the people in our lives. People who have laughed with us, helped us, cried with us, taught us, enriched us, and made us feel special.

As I walk this path towards having my book published, I’ve noticed that the people who have shared these moments with me—the ones who have lifted me up when I was discouraged, edited my words and shaped my manuscript, pushed me to be better and better and reveal my true self—are such a gift to me. I know I wouldn’t be here, and my book wouldn’t be nearly as good, without the people behind the scenes—the artists holding the brush.

So once a week for the first part of this year, I’m going to paint brief “portraits” of some of the people who have made a difference in my life. (Some recent, some going way back.) I’ll share a single paragraph or short story to honor that person.

But I hope it won’t stop there. Most people never get to know how important they’ve been to you. So will you join me in this challenge? Each Tuesday morning, when your week is still young and you’ve made it through Monday but are not yet face-to-face with Friday’s deadlines, you’ll get an email from me (if you subscribe to my blog). Think of the person who best fits the category and take a few minutes to write a quick note, find an address, and drop the envelope in the mail. (Or send an email, or post a Facebook post, or whatever works for you.)

It’s a small act, but a transformational one. With each note, you’ll send a little bit of light, a little dab of color. You’ll strengthen your connection to people who have mattered to you. And in the process, you get to remember—and give thanks for—the people who helped you become the masterpiece (or work-in-progress) that you are. Gratitude is the very best form of prayer. If you don’t have time to write the notes, it’s OK. But take a minute or two to give thanks to God for this person. Say a little prayer for them right now.

So will you join me? 15 weeks, 15 letters, 15 minutes. To start the new year, 2015.

Gallery of Gratitude headers-1

There are so many people I could mention here, but I’ll just pick one: GOYITA YOUNG. She’s got spunk. Passion. Determination. She serves God with all of her heart. She studies, she digs deep. She prays with fervor and she has fun doing it. As long as I’ve followed God, I’ve learned by observing other people. So I watch her—especially when I wonder, how can I remain passionate about serving God? When I wonder if anyone can maintain this kind of intensity long-term. When I question whether everyone burns out sometimes. And what I see is a woman who wears an attitude of expectation. She comes to church eager to soak it in, alert and open. When people gather at the altar, she moves right to the center and prays for them. She serves. She worships. She doesn’t hesitate to stand up and tell us about the ways she sees God answering prayer, the ways she knows He is real. She goes wherever God is, and she doesn’t hold back. I admire that so much, and I’m so thankful that God put me in a place where I see this weekly. Daily. In her and in so many others.

Who have you learned from? I’d love to know. You don’t need to give full (or even real) names if you don’t want to. But I hope you’ll share some of your stories and relationships in the comments below. It will help us learn a little bit about each other, brighten someone’s day—and, in the process, remind us to make an extra effort to be “that person” for someone else.

5 unexpected blessings from writing

I can’t say I’ve known forever that I wanted to write. I liked to write; just wasn’t sure I had anything worth saying. But look what’s happened in this past year. I went to Italy and learned from Elizabeth Berg (and met a lovely group of women I’m happy to call my friends). An agent ...

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78483107I can’t say I’ve known forever that I wanted to write. I liked to write; just wasn’t sure I had anything worth saying. But look what’s happened in this past year. I went to Italy and learned from Elizabeth Berg (and met a lovely group of women I’m happy to call my friends). An agent and publisher responded to my first batch of queries. I signed with the agent and got another offer. Signed a contract. Started writing. Won first place in a big writing competition. And now I am only one month away from finishing my final manuscript! This time last year I wasn’t even sure this book would happen. I am loving every minute of it — even the stressful ones, and the ones in which I feel like my brain is churning, frantic to make sense of all the thoughts swirling inside, not sure if the pieces of the puzzle will ever all fit into place.

The writing — well, yes, of course it’s a blessing. The act itself makes it worthwhile, even if there were no other aspects to discuss. Writing has always been healing to me. It helps me discover what I think or feel. But I keep being surprised by the other blessings I didn’t know would be wrapped up in the middle of it all.

1. Discovering a new community, both nearby and far away. Support, encouragement, acceptance. True friendships. People who understand me on a different level than my other friends — not better or worse, just different. One will never replace the other, but having both kinds of friends makes me feel impossibly full. Rich. I am a part of the amazing Cool Kids, a group of writers who came together through the Midwest Writers Workshop. We share in each other’s successes (including one woman who got two publishing offers this week and now has a decision to make!). We read each other’s work, solicit each other’s advice — and never run out of things to say. Seeing each other in person once a year wasn’t enough, so we’ve added a winter writing retreat. I’m already counting down the days. I’ve met people locally, including a critique partner and friend here in Crawfordsville who just signed a book deal! (Yea, Alison!) I’ve met people online — other writers who share the same agent; women who also are mourning the loss of their mothers and who share so many other things in common with me; as well as the authors of some of my favorite blogs and books. I may never see them in person but I am better for my exposure to them and their words.

2. Seeing my children being proud of me. I know my kids love me, even when they don’t want to admit it. But my daughter who refuses to hug me (or, pretty much, anyone else) has shared some of my posts about my awards or other writing milestones on her Facebook, commenting, “That’s my mama!” My 13-year-old son asked me to print out a copy of my manuscript and put it in a binder so he can read it during his reading time in school. And he’s really doing it, coming home and commenting on things I’ve written. I’d like to think maybe this is helping my kids know that if you truly seek God and that He is the guiding force behind your dreams, good things can happen.

3. A sense of awe, of wonder — because I see now that everything in my life up to now has led to this place. My struggles, my experience, my education, my work, my relationships, and the ups and downs of my faith all pointed to this book. I feel like my whole life — all that I know, all that I’ve learned, all that I’ve seen — is in this book. But that keeps me humble, too, because it’s not all that long of a book! I guess that just means that I’ll have to write another.

4. Unexpected conversations. When people learn I’m writing a book, they want to know about it. And since the topic is faith, invariably people either ask questions about mine or want to share theirs. I’ve talked to a wonderful Jewish man on a plane. Pastors from other local churches in coffee shops. Friends, family members, former and current clients, and other acquaintances who have never talked to me about these things before. Atheists, agnostics, pagans, Catholics, Methodists, Pentecostals, Universal Unitarians. Suddenly it seems they have permission to talk. To ask. And there’s really nothing I’d rather talk about, so I find each conversation exciting and challenging and I walk away, energized, grateful, and full of wonder.

5. Discovering the depth of my faith. Going into this book, I was struggling with many things. My faith had once been strong, but I was floundering in so many ways. As I’m writing, I’m seeing how much I believe what I’m writing. How deep my convictions go. And that, no matter how I may fall short living this life, it is all I want, and it is the very source of who I am. Even when I forget to pray. Even when I don’t always feel passionate. Even when I don’t get around to reading the Bible. Because although I have specific doubts, and I’m a cynic at heart, I now realize how strong my belief is that God is there. That He is who He says He is. That He never fails, and He never ceases to pursue and adore us. My pastors often say they find themselves preaching the very message they needed to hear. And I’m finding that this book I’m writing is exactly the one I needed to read. It is reinforcing all that I knew and reviving me daily.

Have you been surprised by the unexpected you’ve found along the way? Whether you’re a writer, engineer, artist, musician, nurse, hair stylist or accountant, what are some of the blessings you’ve discovered as you’ve walked down that path? I’d love to hear…

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