Monday, January 27, 2014

An Encouraging Place

Are you finding refreshment at an oasis-place in your life where you have a little encouragement to offer those who have yet to arrive? Or would you like a place to go where others can offer you encouragement while you wait or slowly slog through a wilderness-place in your life? I’ve been in both of those places. Sometimes at the same time in my life. Where I need a little encouragement for what's perplexing, confusing and challenging me. But I might have already traveled through some hard places, where I've gained a little perspective and now I have some encouragement to share. 

Sometimes we just need to know that we’re not alone on the journey. 

Whichever place we're in.

In one of my first jobs out of college, a colleague encouraged me to keep writing when my spirits were flagging. I had a journalism degree but was working at a banking company, where my writing consisted of calendar appointments and grocery lists for my boss’s lunch. But I met a coworker in the technical writing department who encouraged me to submit articles to a local weekly paper. She offered to proofread and edit them. So I took her up on the offer.

When she handed me back my first draft, I stared at a page full of red-pen edits with a sinking heart. I didn’t recognize much of my original work. When it was published in the paper, I shrugged off her congratulations as I said, “But I didn’t really write it, you did.” 

She shook her head, “No, I just polished it. Rearranged some paragraphs. You did it. You’re a writer.”

Eventually I took a job in communications. Interns and new colleagues asked me to take a look at their first drafts. I reworked paragraphs and changed their word choices. And they had the same reaction I did. They looked discouraged. Acted deflated. Tried to tell me that they didn’t have anything to offer. 

And I told them, “I just polished your work. Rearranged some paragraphs. You did it. You’re a writer.”

I’ve found that no matter where I am on the path of my life, I happen to meet those who offer encouragement to me at just the time I need it. And sometimes at the same time, I connect with those who need a little encouragement from me. Recently, my friend Bree and I helped a coworker with her job search after she was laid off. Bree and I like to say that we have a fictional company called Hob Nobs, where we do a little bit of everything with our different but complementary talents in our profession of communications. But what we are both called to do is encourage. We role-played with our colleague during mock interview sessions so she could gain confidence. We helped her write her resume and edit her online portfolio. We prayed with her before she left on her first interview. When she got the job, she said she owed it all to us. But we told her what we had heard someone tell us.

“You did it. You did the hard work in the interview. You got the job.”

Last fall, I joined an (in)courager online community group on Facebook for professional women. I met a new friend there, Sara, as we shared our experiences in the workplace. Now we're going to co-lead the group for the winter session as part of an amazing group of (in)couragers. 

Sara and I don’t know yet who we will connect with in our group, but we’ve already been praying for them. For all of the women who will join us there in that encouraging place. 

(in)courage is an online home for the hearts of women through DaySpring, the Christian subsidiary of Hallmark. If you'd like to check out all of the groups, hop on over to (in)courage. 

Linking up my post with Holley Gerth and Coffee for Your Heart. Click here to read how you're not alone!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Following a Recipe for Dreams

I baked a batch of cupcakes last weekend with my niece Devon. 

We blended the eggs and butter and whipped up sugar and cream cheese for the frosting. We hoped that by following all of the steps outlined in the recipe that everything would turn out delectable. That the sticky batter would come together in the oven and rise into perfect puffy cupcakes. 

So when I shut the oven door and set the timer, I trusted that the oven was doing its work of baking. That the little paper cups filled with batter would in time become tiny cakes of deliciousness. 

Ready for the next stage of their life. To be topped off with frosting, of course. Not too thick or too thin, and in just the right shade of blue or pink.

Like my baking endeavors, when I begin a new project or step into a new opportunity, I envision the delightful ending. 

I try not to, but my mind automatically goes there. And when I let my mind meander ahead, dreaming of what might happen, I don’t trust the process. I want to rush it. 

I want to skip some of the hard steps in learning, growing and stretching so I can move on to enjoy the dessert that celebrates the finale. But I’ve learned that moving ahead in small steps to something new is better for me than thinking about how it’s going to end. 

Because there are always unexpected curves that can easily overwhelm me along the way.

When I started blogging, I wanted to take my own photos and not use stock photography. I admired the beautiful photographs on the pages of so many talented bloggers, wishing my pages looked like theirs. 

But I didn’t even own a camera and I knew nothing about photography. 

A friend told me to buy a point and shoot camera and just start shooting. She gave me a few Photoshop editing sessions. After a year of taking hundreds of photos, I told her I thought I was ready for a real camera. 

With her help, I bought my first digital SLR camera. (You can read about it here.) Which I needed more lessons for. And I realize now there's so much more for me to learn. 

I still set the camera to automatic, doubting that I can remember how to correctly locate the settings before the photo opportunity passes me by. But I can’t let that stop me from trying to capture a photograph.

It's the same for other dreams in my life too. 

Dreams that seem so exciting at first can't be rushed. I can't arrive at the end without starting at the beginning. I have to first gather all the ingredients I need, measure them and mix them together before I have something delightful at the end. 

So I begin to doubt. That I can do it. That I have what it takes. Soon I'm wondering if God even whispered this dream to me. 

Maybe I heard him wrong. My fears loom over me and berate me, asking what I was thinking, thinking I could do this. For whatever dream I'm following. 

But when I turn my thoughts away from myself and turn my thoughts to God, I realize that God is cheering me on. If he put it on my heart, he thinks I can do it.

And the time I spend waiting between taking the small steps forward may not be because God doesn’t want the dream for me. 

It may be because I need the time for more -- for confidence, assurance, direction or patience or any other ingredient God thinks I need to help me move toward my dream. 

To find the resolution and character strength to withstand the challenges ahead that always come with a dream. 

God doesn’t doubt I can do it. God tells me he’s not done with me yet. And something beautiful is rising and coming to life. If I can walk through the steps God has planned out for the recipe for my life.

When our cupcakes come out of the oven, I frost them and let Devon pipe flowers on them. She chooses blue to tint the icing, but too much of it turns it a muddy gray and she wants us to start over. 

So we mix up a second bowl of blue frosting and try again. The cupcakes are not perfect. They have splotches of color and looping flowers as she practices with the piping bag. But Devon thinks they are beautiful. 

After an afternoon of following the steps of measuring and mixing and baking and frosting, we enjoy the sweet, delicious ending to our day. 

And we find that it was worth the wait. 

I'm linking up with fellow God-sized dreamers today at Click the image to read their stories! 

Monday, January 13, 2014

A Clearing Amid the Clutter

The new year has motivated me to organize and purge. 

I got rid of some books sitting on my shelves that I didn't even like that much when I first read them. I threw out an old bedspread I thought I might reuse that greeted me every time I opened a closet. I parted with broken costume jewelry that I somehow never got around to fixing. 

I organized my ribbons and wrapping paper drawer. I tackled the bins of tools and cleaning products under my kitchen sink. 

I wondered why I was keeping assorted bottles of glue and bags of nuts and bolts and gizmos I couldn’t even identify. 

But I did find the cover for my chandelier. Except it was for the chandelier in my old house. I wonder if the girl who is living there now has been looking for it?

So I want to reorganize my life too. Get rid of the clutter in my head and in my soul. 

There are experiences I’d like to clear out, chapters in my life I wish I could trash, and events I pretty much consider as junk. It seems to me that these life-episodes are a confusing, jumbled mess. And I feel like I want to edit them out of the story of my life. 

But maybe I should reorganize these thoughts.

Maybe I ought to reconsider what I regard as clutter. 

Maybe what I think are the messy times of my life should be looked at as something with a little more value. 

When I think about the times that tangled me up, they were really just stopovers on my journey that brought me to a new place. 

Some of those places were dry and dusty and left me feeling parched and burned. But eventually I continued moving forward. 

And realized that I came away refreshed. Or headed down a new path. Or left with a new perspective. 

I’m realizing that maybe this jumbled mess of experiences isn’t clutter at all. And I should keep them as a reminder of where I’ve been. And how far I’ve come. 

Because up ahead on my life's path, I think I see a clearing where I thought only clutter was.

A year ago I wrote about my aversion to Facebook. (You can read it here.) I felt like everyone’s page was shouting “Look at my perfect husband, my perfect kids, my perfect life.” 

And I didn’t have much to showcase. But a friend helped me design a personal page with a professional look that included my blog banner. She locked it down with all the privacy controls available. No crazy photos. Not much personal information. 

But she told me I'd have to post at least once a month. Which seemed like a lot to me. But I did it. Old friends found me. I wondered who cared what I was doing since sometimes I just posted a photo of a dessert I'd made, but my friends cheered me on by liking my posts and commenting. 

Somehow I was getting used to being on Facebook. 

And now I'm going to co-lead a small group on Facebook through the website (in)courage. This strikes me as ironic. But I think it’s part of the ongoing journey God has planned for me. 

To bring me to this very place. Where I didn't even know I wanted to be. This clearing where I've landed amid some of the clutter-experiences of my life. That I might be able to use again in sharing with others.

I thought Facebook would be the last place I'd want to interact and connect until I realized it’s part of my God-sized dream. 

Because I want to be an encourager. To share and grow with other women in the (in)courage community. 

Where I'll be posting status updates, sending notifications and liking posts. With the amazing women I'm going to meet. 

And hope to call my friends.

I'm linking up with fellow God-sized dreamers today at Click the image to read their stories! 

Monday, January 6, 2014

Am I in the Middle, Beginning or End?

It’s just the beginning of a new year but I feel like I’m caught up in the middle. The middle is a restless place. It has none of the fresh anticipation and crisp excitement of the beginning and none of the peaceful contentment and serene fulfillment of the end. The middle is a hard place. It’s uncomfortable. Uneasy. Awkward. It’s hard to tell if I’m moving forward or slipping backward. And if I get caught up in it, it makes me want to quit before I even begin. Throw in the towel. Call it a day. Say thanks, but no. I’ll pass.

If only I were someone who didn’t mind getting her shoes a little muddy to get to the other side. Where something good might be beckoning. Instead I’m a girl who wants to back away when things get messy. And then I remember that I’ve got to keep going. Because I’ve been here before.

Two years ago writing a blog wasn’t something I could even imagine doing. Although I worked as a corporate writer, I didn’t know much about blogs. But I discovered the website (in)courage after I met up with yet another dead end. The writers at (in)courage shared their hearts to encourage the women who stopped by those pages, and I found inspiration in their words. But there weren’t many posts on the topic of being single and I felt like God spoke to my heart to submit a guest post. But I didn’t have a blog.

I shared this crazy dream with my friend Christy, who said “You can do this -- let’s brainstorm a blog for you!” I’m convinced that everyone needs a friend like her. She suggested I write about my vintage decorating finds along with whatever else God put on my heart. I enlisted the help of a web-savvy friend and within a week I had a blog. Even though my sister, mother and a few friends were my only readers, I submitted my guest post to (in)courage. To my amazement, my post was published on their website. And what I thought was an ending was the very place my blog began. 

All these months of writing, sometimes the words come only after a long struggle, many edits and a few tears. But I've discovered that writing my blog is really a new facet of my relationship with God. Because it's here that he meets me and lets me come beside him. Right in the middle of my very own story. Where I am now but with a different perspective. Instead of being overwhelmed by fear and worrying about disappointment, I want to:

Trust that God’s plans and thoughts for me are not what I would ask or think. Because he wants to do far more than I could imagine. To replace my prayer-demands with an expectancy that he knows far better than I do what is best for me.

Believe that all things – the joyful and the painful – can work together for good things for me. Good can come from disappointment, disheartenment and hopelessness. I have lived out these truths too often to not believe they are true.

Dig my heels in deep in my faith and not let go. Because faith is believing in what I cannot see and being certain of the hope that God promises.

So at the beginning of a new year, I know I’m not stuck in the middle. And I hope you aren't either. Because the days are waiting to unfold, holding promises of new experiences, fresh perspectives, novel ideas, and surprising encounters when you least expect it.

And I can trust God because he knows what he’s doing. Because the middle is a stop on the journey to the end. Where another beginning just might be waiting for me.

All photos were taken at Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales, Florida.

I'm linking up today with fellow God-sized dreamers at Click the image to read their stories!