Category Archives: Inspiration

Ordinary Extraordinary

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img_0592Just read  this post by Melanie Dale, who writes about living a life she didn’t choose. Her story resonates! 

I often struggle with our culture’s obsession with living a big-adventure, unconventional, extraordinary life. While I’m the first one up for a big adventure and extraordinary anything, let’s face it: life can sometimes be downright hard and limiting due to forces far beyond our control. The relentless challenge to live an outside-the-box, call-of-the-wild adventure can sometimes feel more cruel than inspiring.

“Ordinary,” we are told, is a sell out.  If we aren’t pursuing our dreams–and mind you, it better be a BIG dream–then we are, at best, settling. At worst, we are losers because we lack the faith or the personal gumption to “be all that we can be!”

I just don’t buy it anymore.

As a Christian, if Jesus is my model (and he should be, right?)  his version of an extraordinary life is not exactly the adventure-filled, wild ride we have in mind.  But if Jesus taught us anything about living an extraordinary life, he taught us to follow him into places we would never otherwise venture. In fact, he taught us that losing your life is the way to finding it.

What?

Don’t get me wrong. We were created to dream and to cultivate the unique gifts that each of us possess. In fact, Jesus often challenged the too-small thinking of his followers, just as he also challenged them to use the gifts they already had to accomplish extraordinary things.

At the same time, I don’t know about you, but I’ve followed my dreams right off a cliff before.  I’ve learned to be careful what I ask for!

I’m also learning to dream big but then to ask God to help me trust him to fulfill those desires in ways I cannot imagine.

One of my favorite movies is Under the Tuscan Sun. In the film, the main character is a depressed and despondent divorce who, on a whim, buys an old villa in Italy and sets out to renovate both the home and her wreck of a life. All kinds of things go awry, of course, and during one particular low point, she sobs to her only friend in the village, who also happens to be her realtor, about all the dreams she had for her house–dreams of a wedding and children and home filled with friends and family.  “I bought a house for a life that I don’t even have,” she wails.  I don’t want to spoil the film for you, but let’s just say that by the end of it, there’s a wedding, but it’s not hers. There’s a child, but it’s not hers. But she is surrounded by extraordinary love, family, and friendship.  The realtor reminders her: she got everything she wished for and more, just not as she imagined it.  But the reality, though much messier and more frustrating than her dream, was also a better and even more of a beautiful mess than she could have conjured on her own.

No one would choose a cancer diagnosis.  But because of that diagnosis, I’ve been introduced to new levels of extraordinary. Like the regular phone calls from my sons…just to talk. (If you have sons, you know just how extraordinary this is!)  Or like the  friends and family who showed up on my doorstep with food or flowers, or sat all day with me at the hospital. Or my friend, Dawn, who sends me something to laugh about every, single day. Or my friend Connie who cooks for me when we’re together, not because I can’t cook for myself but because she is spoiling me a little.  Or like the quiet back-porch nights with Barry that are even better when it’s storming.

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Or there’s my new friend Audrey at the radiation center. She’s a feisty, sassy grandmother of 10 who loves the Elks Club and likes to wear the hospital cape with the poker cards all over it. She scared, but she’s brave. I like her.

There is a certain amount of drudgery, frustration, and fear in everyday life that no one is immune to. But extraordinary usually happens right there, right in the midst of the muck and mess.  I have a vivid picture in my mind of the first time my son Isaac smiled. I was an exhausted mess of “new mom, ” who was just hoping this 3 am feeding would go quickly so I could go back to bed!  And then he stopped, looked right at me, and grinned from ear to ear. Thirty-three years later, I still see it perfectly.

Losing your life to find it is such a strange but true paradox.  I’m not suggesting that there’s any romantic allure to pain or suffering.  I’m only saying that if we look closely at the cracks in our oh-so-ordinary lives, we may find a bit of glory filtering through.

This post by Melanie Dale speaks beautifully to the whole idea of finding an extraordinary life in the least expected place.  It deserves a read!

Melanie Dale knows something about life not looking like she thought it would. After twelve years of building her family through infertility and adoption, she finally snuggled down with three kids from three different continents, cultures, and stories. She thought, “Now the fun begins,” but then they encountered diagnosis after diagnosis. With words like “autism,”…

via when you’re living a life you didn’t choose — A Holy Experience

Elizabeth Gilbert’s Ideas on How to Survive Creativity

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Just ran across this TED talk by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love.  Gilbert wonders aloud about whether creativity is internal and innate, or whether it comes from somewhere outside ourselves. The difference may be critical to the survival of the artist.  As a Christian, I found myself nodding. Hmmm. I think this is what we call the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God the Creator. The Spirit that was there at creation “hovering” over the emptiness like a brooding hen. (See Genesis 1:1) This 19-minute talk is well worth the time.

Refrain from the Identical

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Do you flutter from one creative passion to the next, leaving in your wake a trail of unfinished projects and a stack of expensive supplies? If so, I can name your ailment. You are a creative eclectic. Refrain from the Identical: Insight and Inspiration for Creative Eclectics is a guidebook for people who love to explore new avenues of creativity for the pure joy of it.  Author JoDee Luna offers good news and bad news. The bad? You’ll be “this way” forever. The good news? You can learn to enjoy, manage, and embrace your creative self. You may even help friends and family understand you a bit more–or at least you’ll learn to deal with their consternation and befuddlement over your creative wanderlust.

JoDee understands that consternation. The creative eclectic feels it too! She recalls a conversation with her daughter, where they laughed, to avoid crying, about the frustration they shared over their wandering creative eyes.

“I can’t help myself,” her daughter moaned.

I stopped trying,” JoDee replied, and she went on to describe the creative process as something akin to childbirth, complete with post partum depression. JoDee encourages the reader to understand that there is a cycle of “rebirth” in the creative process.  “Like a weary, worn-out new mother, the soul must regenerate and renew.”

Many creative souls fear this depression because they do not grasp the dynamic. As a result they run from subsequent endeavors. Instead, I encourage you to take the time to understand this process in order to mature as an innovator who can deliver many gifts to the world.

JoDee Luna and Elya Filler

Author JoDee Luna with her daugher, Elya Filler

JoDee explores topics such as Exploring Your Creative Temperament, Aligning Your Creative Compass, Practicing Creative Self-Care, Overcoming Obstacles, Developing Creativity, and Refreshing Creativity through Excursions.  Exercises at the end of each chapter encourage readers to push beyond their present boundaries. In her chapter about creative self-care, JoDee challenges the reader to “Identify something or someone who drains your creativity. Write down your feelings about this situation or person. Now decide on one positive step you can make to take care of yourself when encountering this activity or person.”

JoDee understands the dilemma of creative eclectics all too well. She is the poster child. She loves photography, writing, sculpting, gardening, floral arranging, music, home decor. Name the creative venue. She’s been there, done that, and has a closet full of  supplies to prove it. For years, JoDee beat herself up about her meandering creative mind, but time and a tough divorce taught her the healing power of creativity for herself and, eventually, for her students. She gave herself permission to explore new creative paths. Good for us that she did. Her book offers invaluable encouragement and practical help to those of us who long to do the same.

Refrain from the Identical

My copy of Refrain from the Identical arrives in the mail!

From time to time, I do book reviews, and I’ve so looked forward to this one for two reasons. JoDee is an old friend. She was in my wedding, and we worked together in a creative arts ministry. Last year I reconnected with her through Facebook. She had already completed the manuscript for Refrain from the Identical, but she needed editing help, so I offered to help. We even met up for a writing retreat in Colorado. This week, my postman delivered my long-awaited copy of JoDee’s finished book.  Writing a book is, indeed, like birthing a baby and, in some ways, just as painful! (I’ve had two. Without drugs. I know what I’m talking about here.) JoDee is to be commended.

If you need creative inspiration, I highly recommend this book, along with JoDee’s resource-rich website. JoDee will give you permission to let your creative self soar. She’ll also give you wings with fresh ideas, resources, and a feeling that “Maybe I’m really not so hopeless after all.”

The Art Experience

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Art Experience Venice FloridaMy friend Ron Goulet has been telling me for months about a monthly community event he hosts in Venice, Florida, called “The Art Experience.” It goes like this. Each month, a group of aspiring artists are given a topic to paint. It could be anything. Last month, it was beer. Another month was sailing. This month, the topic was angels.

Read the rest of this post…

Blessed are those who mourn. Really?

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I’ve been re-visiting the Sermon on the Mount. That’s the one that starts out with the “Beatitudes,” and I’m struck, again, with how strange and totally foreign these words are to our “Anthony Robbins” way of thinking. This is not a success-by-numbers speech. This is anything but.

Think about it. Who are our “golden” ones–our “blessed” ones? Those who pursue their passion. Those who set goals and meet them. Those who courageously and fearlessly plow through obstacles or face fears to win the prize. Our ideals are all wrapped up in performance.

Jesus takes a completely different stance. He says that the blessed ones are those who are “poor in spirit” and “meek.” He lauds those who “hunger and thirst” for righteousness. He calls the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and the persecuted blessed. He even says that those who mourn are blessed. There is not a hint of stellar performance in these character traits. He describes people who are down on their luck, desperate, and denied. How is that blessed? He contrasts these with those who are rich, fed, comforted, and well respected. He says they are the ones to be pitied “for they’ve already received their reward.” If we are honest, doesn’t “rich” describe most of us who live in the U.S.? Can we even compare our poor to, say, the poor in Haiti? Calcutta? Zimbabwe? I don’t think so.

I don’t think Jesus is condemning material blessings. After all, all blessings come from God, but I do think he is warning us about being lured into a false sense of security and comfort by them. Those who are desperate, those who mourn, those who are hungry–they know all too well their need. Those who are comfortable and well fed can all too easily fall into a belief that they have need of nothing. When we believe we have (or have access to) all that we need because we are comforted and well fed, we’ve missed the real treasure–and in so doing, we’ve missed everything.

The top 5 regrets people make on their deathbeds

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My sister-in-law, Lisa, shared a link on Facebook to an article with the above title. The list was compiled by a woman named Bonnie Ware who worked for many years with the dying.  The #1 deathbed regret?

I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

Ms. Ware writes, “Most  people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.”  Ms. Ware encourages us to honour our dreams before a lack of health limits or eliminates our choices.

I question my sanity regularly, especially since I began working for myself just as the recession was beginning to bloom.  What kind of crazy person does that?  But my gut keeps telling me the same thing: Keep moving forward. I am learning that when you go after your passion, there really is no roadmap. Even with a business plan in hand, you have test your assumptions and make adjustments on a daily basis.

You also have to become very comfortable with uncertainty.  If you can trust God, this isn’t so bad. In fact, it’s a good place to be. I often find myself having conversations with God that go something like this: “Ok, God, I’m moving forward with this idea.  Are you watching?  Ok…here I go.  Stop me if this is wrong!” And then I trust that God will do just that.

testing the waters

photo by Brian Uhreen

I’m not sitting around waiting for daily epiphanies before I move. I’m just sticking my toes in the water and watching to see if they part.  If they do, guess what?  I’m moving. You’ll soon find me making my way across the riverbed. If the waters don’t move, it’s time for a route correction. And if I’m listening, I can hear those heavenly GPS directions and adjust to them while I’m in motion. It is much, much harder if I’m stuck in neutral. My friend Sonya said her father used to remind her,  “It’s very difficult to turn the wheels of parked car.”

Don’t sit around wondering if you can pursue your passion. Just go after it, but keep an eye and ear peeled to heaven for those route corrections. You can trust.

(You can read the full article about deathbed regrets at http://thenextweb.com/lifehacks/2011/05/31/the-top-5-regrets-people-make-on-their-deathbeds/)

I Need a Vista

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As any good writer knows, you need time away from writing projects in order to see them with fresh eyes.

Photo by Kay Johnson

The distance of even a few hours provides fresh insights into what you really want to say. I think that’s what vacations or retreats do for our lives.  We get stuck, don’t we, in the weeds of our own lives.  Distance brings remarkable clarity to those areas where we’ve allowed weeds to choke away our gifts and passions.

photo by Kay Johnson

It isn’t always possible to take a vacation, given life’s demands and financial limitations, but we can still get away regularly, even if only for a drive or a walk.  Every time I get away, especially if I can afford a bit of distance and time, I am amazed at the perspective I gain.  When I come home, it is almost shocking to see how quickly I can delete useless emails.  Priorities and passions crystallize, while useless and destructive time suckers become obvious.  I can suddenly see the light along my pathway.

We can’t always afford to hop on a plane and get away, but we can keep things in perspective through daily “retreats”—even as simple as a few backyard moments to breathe, pray, meditate, and just be with our Maker.

photo by Kay Johnson

 

Think Small

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Have you been dreaming about something you would like to do? Do you think it might never happen?  Take some encouragement from writer Leigh McLeroy.  Dream big. Act small.  If you need a little kick in the pants, read her post here.

Wednesday words from Leigh.

To Mothers of Boys

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My mother-in-law raised four boys. Four! Boys!  That deserves a trophy or something. Let’s face it, though, men just aren’t great about things like Mother’s Day. We girls get it, don’t we?

Lest some of you men beg to differ, let me just ask you: How many women changed their profile pictures on Facebook to a picture of their moms today?  How many men did the same?

Go ahead…count. I’ll wait.

As a mother of two boys, I don’t worry too much about this. I understand that holiday remembrances are not often a guy’s priority. Boys don’t plot for weeks about how they will surprise their moms this year. (“Hmmm…should I get her the manicure or the facial?”)  They don’t call us up to chat or drop by to take us to lunch. But it’s all good.  Moms of boys know that their boys love them–even whey they are being…well…typical boys.

So this is a toast to all the moms of boys out there. While mothers and daughters and planning their pedicures, we will chalk it all up to a nice day off and not worry about it.

But since she did raise FOUR BOYS, I thought my mother-in-law deserved a little tribute today too. Over the years, I’ve come to know a three critical things about my relationship with her:  She loves me.  She will fight for me. And, annoying as it is, sometimes she’s (darn-it) right!

Marilyn is outspoken, and she’ll tell you so! Sometimes, this makes it hard for her to have easy friendships, but there is something amazingly redemptive in this very aspect of her character. She has remarkable compassion for outsiders. She’s been teased about her tendency to collect “stray puppies” in the form of lost, broken, lonely people. She spots them a mile off, and she swoops them up when others won’t go near.

Marilyn came to a life of faith later in life, and perhaps that’s why she is so ardent about it.  She remembers all too well what life was like without it. Her hope in God got her through some tough times, including the loss of her oldest son, T.J., to cancer. Amazingly, she can still declare a steady faith in a loving God. You cannot watch faith like that and not be touched by it.  I am grateful to have had the opportunity.

I love you, Mom.

(Oh…and thanks for Barry. I still say I got the pick of the litter! ;))

Janice LaNita

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My mother looks for miracles in the every day.  A chance encounter.  A casual conversation. A random passage of Scripture she happened to come across that spoke into her circumstances at the moment. I used to think she was almost superstitious.  Now I understand she simply looks for God in everything–and she expects to see Him looking back!

I don’t worry so much now that I’m “reading too much” into the same sort of everyday “God winks.”  I’d rather look for God too much than miss him completely when he’s right in front of my nose.  My mother taught me that.

My mother is Janice LaNita Hood. She is:

  • Southern Gospel
  • Sweet Tea “with extra ice and lemon, please”
  • Suppertime Storyteller
  • Shoe shopper extraordinaire
  • Southern Living decor on a shoestring budget
  • “Jay-un” or “Jay-un-nice,” depending on if you are from Tennessee or Alabama
  • “Red”
  • Lucy’s daughter and Ray Ray’s princess
  • Ron’s ever lovin’
  • Pam and Kay’s “Mither”
  • Isaac, Michael, Brad, and Brian’s “Nana”
  • Clancy’s “Woof”

She blessed us with unconditional love, a heritage of unflinching and unashamed faith, and a model of what it means to be a faithful wife and friend. She she gave us a stable home where we might not always get what we wanted, but we never lacked  anything we really needed. Her mother did the same. Her mother’s mother did to. So did my Father’s mother, and her mother.  I am embarrassingly rich with a heritage of amazing women. I hope I do them proud.

I love you, Mama.

The Dragon and the Hero

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Chinese DragonOnce upon a time, a distant village lived in terror of a fearsome Dragon whose name was, appropriately, Death. No one had ever been able to defeat it. Many brave souls had tried, charging full force, armor ablaze, swords aloft, but none had succeeded against the merciless, cruel monster.

Enter the hero.  The stranger had challenged and beaten other dragons handily, so hope rose that he would free their village from the Death Dragon.  He marched up the hill to the dragon’s lair. He raised his sword, and the villagers held their collective breath. No one stirred.

Suddenly, the Dragon opened its mighty jaws, spewing a stream of fire, blasting the hero full force. In a split second, the Dragon snatched up the hero with its writhing tongue of flames and swallowed him whole. The Hero was gone. The villagers were horrified.

The dragon lay on the hill, his belly full and ravishing appetite temporarily appeased. He curled up for a nap, a smug, satisfied smile on his scaly lips.  The villagers were crestfallen. All hope was dead.

A few days later, the Dragon, still snoring, suddenly started with a jolt, head reared and eyes wide in astonishment. His mouth opened but no fire appeared. The Dragon’s jaws seemed pried open against its will–but no fire appeared. Only a tiny light.  To the disbelieving eyes of all, the Hero emerged from the Dragon’s mouth!  The villagers were dumbfounded.  No one had ever returned from the Dragon’s mouth, now opened painfully wide.  As the hero exited the Dragon’s mouth, the Dragon began to fade–first the tail, then the long, scaly back, until only a faint image remained.

As the hero emerged the light grew brighter. It was the Dragon’s fire, but the Hero held it in his hands, rolled into a small, fiery ball. He raised the ball of fire aloft and flung it into the sky where, even today, you might catch glimpses of it in the night sky on a moonless evening. The Dragon remains, but his fire is extinguished forever, and in his belly the Hero planted the seeds of never ending life.

Risen.

Indeed.

For the pure joy of it

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Joy-Hebrews 12:1-3

Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!

Hebrews 12:1-3, The Message

Stupendous Friday

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Good Friday Worshipers

© Lawrence Wee | Dreamstime.com

It always seemed strange, maybe even a little morbid, that this day is called “Good” Friday.   This is the day when Christians commemorate the crucifixion of Christ.

What’s so good about that?

A dear friend once asked me, “What’s the point of Jesus?  I get God.  I just don’t get Jesus. Jesus just sort of gets in the way for me.”  After some discussion, though, we both concluded that if you don’t see yourself as someone in need of a Savior, Jesus would get in the way.

I am not one of those people.

Good Friday Cross

© Paul Mckinnon | Dreamstime.com

I know my own heart all too well. I know when I act in jealousy, pride—even hatred.

If our one purpose is to love, I fail more often than I care to admit. I love myself too much to love my enemies, and I don’t always even love my friends as I should.

So I cannot fulfill those two commands that Jesus said were the culmination of all the laws: Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and spirit. Love your neighbor as yourself.  Just two little commands.  That’s all.

But love for self prevents me from fulfilling them. And THAT is what sin is all about. It is a failure to love.  It is, sometimes, a refusal to love. A just and loving God cannot turn a blind eye to a refusal to love. He would no longer be just and loving. Sin must be addressed.

Therein lies the rub.  How could we ever “pay” for the sin of failure to love God or love others?  What is the price of that ticket?  Even if we could pay, that wouldn’t solve our problem.  We’d fail again, and again, and again, until we’d owe an eternal debt that could never be paid.

And THAT is what Good Friday is all about.  God stepped in and said, “Child, I cannot turn a blind eye when you refuse to love.  But I can show you what Love looks like by paying your debt.  I will bear this burden on your behalf because I love you.” God didn’t even wait until we appreciated or acknowledged this self-sacrificial act.  No, we are still quite enjoying our self-consumed journey—not even seeing the need for God to intervene.  Yet, God steps in anyway.

That’s not just good news.  It’s stupendous.  We should calls this “Stupendous Friday.” God’s self-emptying, ego-less, utterly humble love should leave us speechless.

Good Friday Service

© Lawrence Wee | Dreamstime.com

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:4-5, NIV)