When You Write For 30 Days

Today marks the last day of my 30 Day Writing Challenge, where I set a goal to post every day for the month of June. I only missed one day, for good reasons, so I’m going to call it a success.

Here is the list of every post for the last month:
And there you have it! I don’t love all of them, but I love what they accomplished as a whole. Each one is proof that there is always something to write about. These posts trace a trajectory of my life during this last month, as well as multiple significant events in our country during that time.

By challenging myself to post every day, I cultivated the skills of attention and reflection, becoming more aware of each situation and deeply considering what could be said about it. It is easy to walk through life without paying attention or thinking about it, the challenge is being present through the process.

How often do you take the time to reflect on a month of your life, or a week, or even the day? It is a powerful way to remember how God answers our prayers, how our surroundings have changed, and what we take away from those collective moments. It can also inspire us for the future. You can do this in ways other than writing, the point is simply to generate a posture of awareness.

Writing Tools

The tools needed for writing: good books, plenty of journals, random notes I jotted down and kept, pens, and yummy smelling candles.

This challenge also confirmed what I wrote in my very first post:
Writers block more often comes from fear, not a lack of words.
There is always something to write about, the question is whether we are willing to show up to the page. Because I had to post something every day, I didn’t have time to overthink or fret about the quality. I did what I could and learned to be happy with the effort alone.

Obviously I still want to make sure each post is good quality, and this is easier to do when I have more time to invest in it. I hope to still write every day, but I will return to posting less often for the sake of quality and my own sanity.

Thank you to everyone who joined me during this 30 Day Challenge and read along. Thank you also to anyone who told me that they were reading and enjoying it. I probably scoffed at you in person, but deep down I really appreciate the encouragement.

We all have stories to tell and our own methods of telling them. We should challenge ourselves to explore these methods more, not because we have something to prove, but because we earnestly desire the resulting growth. I hope you are able to do that in your own way, and please share with me how it goes!

What was your favorite post from this month?
How have you challenged yourself before, and what did you learn?

Learning to Shut Up

We ran to the walk-in closet, hiding from her little sister. The giggles were absorbed in part by the leather shoes and fancy dresses, but they reverberated on the mirrored doors.

Still laughing I said, “Ssshhhh! We need to shut up!”

Her eyes froze at me, blinking wide. The clothes around us hung heavy, concealing us in. As a first grader, what I had just said counted as a bad word, at least in her family. She proceeded to tell me not to say the “s-word” again, especially not in front of her mom. I deflated, feeling awful, and spent the rest of the play date wondering if my friend still thought I was a nice person.

My family wasn’t the type to swear either, and shut up wasn’t necessarily something I picked up from them. But I had never been told it was a bad word, and it didn’t carry any negative connotation in my innocent brain.

I know now that we tell kids not to say this phrase because it is often used with a tone of animosity, and it isn’t a healthy expression of frustration at a young age.

But as an adult, saying “shut up” is a nonchalant occurrence. It means little harm, but it has also transformed in its meaning.

“Shut up” is a firm direction. It could be used harshly, but it can also be the strength of a loving command, made out of good intentions. As much as I try to be forgiving and kind to myself (see this post), there are also days when I need to be firm and tell myself to shut up.

I first noticed my tendency to talk too much when I began giving tours for the admissions office in college. To be fair, it was my job to talk a lot. But there is a delicate balance between blabbering out of pride and offering knowledge while still listening to the other.

Gradually, I learned how to focus on asking the prospective students questions and also allow enough silence for them to bring up the questions they really wanted to hear about. I cultivated a posture of listening first and speaking second.

This was lost when I moved to Seattle and didn’t have as many friends around to talk to. I joined a women’s young adult bible study, and quickly found myself blabbering every week, gushing with the excitement of a child who learned something new and wants to tell everyone with in earshot about it.

It was exciting to feel like I knew something they didn’t, simply because they hadn’t heard the campus pastor preach about this already like all of my college friends. I had unique knowledge, and I wanted to share it.

The voice inside me began to nudge, pointing out my habit of talking too much and listening too little. I noticed that I was thinking of my response instead of actually listening, interrupting others, and dominating the conversation. It was humbling to step back and realize I needed to shut up.

Thankfully this group of young women are all patient and kind, still accepting of me and my pompous mouth. As I began to shut up and listen more, I was able to recognize the wisdom that they each had to share. We were all recently graduated, newly employed, and altogether trying to figure out adult life. But even with these similarities, we all have unique backgrounds and histories that add valuable input to the conversation.

Once I had opened myself up to really hearing someone else, I was humbled to find I still had a lot to learn.

This is equally important in our relationship with God. Oswald Chambers wrote that “We have to get rid of the idea that we understand ourselves,” because “Jesus cannot teach us anything until we quiet all our intellectual questions and get alone with him.”

By over-talking and over-thinking, I create the false illusion that I know everything and I can figure everything out on my own. By shutting up, I am reminded of my foolishness in comparison to the great wisdom of God.

The truth is, I can’t ever fully know or solve my problems on my own. I need the wisdom of patient friends with different experiences. I need the wisdom of a God who understands the bigger picture. I need to shut up and be still.

The firmness of the words themselves usher me back to a hushed closet, a place of reverence and awareness. Shutting up doesn’t have to be negative, it can be about firmly redirecting one’s attention to what matters. The posture of listening is never permanent, we must fall on our knees again and again to relearn how to hear with our whole hearts.

Blogging every day for the last month is the opposite of shutting up, and that is ok because there is also a time when we need to speak out. However, I am grateful as this month comes to an end that I can return to a place of listening.

Writing requires me to have one ear to the world, one ear to God, and a heart that is willing to pour itself out on the page. Each one is important, but they need to work in conjunction, not in competition.

 Do you ever tell yourself to shut up?
How do you practice talking less and listening more?

Finding a New Niche

It is common among bloggers and writers to feel pressured to fit into a certain niche. We are told to define the topic or realm we will focus on and write only things related to it. This makes sense when the goal is to grow your audience and platform, but those are two words writers hate to think about.

I have struggled with this for years, because I’ve never felt like I fit perfectly into one realm or that I want to write things solely based on one topic. I love reading and books, but I also love hiking and the outdoors. I love discussing Christian life and faith, but I also think it’s important to engage culture with our ears open to other perspectives. I know that I could pick one and I would probably be more successful at growing my audience around that specific world.

But, as you may have noticed, that isn’t what I’ve chosen to do. You may have started following this blog after reading an article I tagged as travel, or one related to books, or perhaps it was one about faith. If you only want to read about one of those topics, I suggest you find a different blog. My feelings won’t be hurt.

However, if you want to step outside your normal boundaries and dare to dip your toes in different rivers, I can promise you one thing: all those rivers eventually converge. No topic is exclusive or isolated from others. The book world, the outdoors world, the Christian world, and the cultural world all have valuable things to share with each other. They can also all be affected by the same things while simultaneously offering different perspectives.

The recent earthquake in Nepal showed me this. I follow a number of magazines and cultural sources on Facebook, meaning my newsfeed includes daily updates from the leading sources on outdoor recreation, Christian thought, books, writing, and popular culture. After the tragedy in Nepal, each one had a different perspective to offer.

I read about how avalanches had left several climbers and mountain guides stranded at the base camp of Everest.

I read about ministries providing emergency care and support in Jesus’ name, as well as how we can view God in the wake of devastation.

I read about writers from the area and the books they had written about Nepal’s delicate civil and social balance.

And I read about the United States citizens who were there and how communities from their home towns rallied in remarkable ways to provide comfort and support for the family.

To be fair, these stories were all written with a specific audience in mind, and they each intentionally told the story from their own angle. We need writers who can do this. But that’s not the kind of writer I am, and that’s because I know one of my favorite things is to learn about someone else’s niche, and sharing those worlds with others.

I recently started asking people the following ice-breaker question: “What topic or random hobby (outside your job) do you know a surprising amount about?”

You would be shocked by the answers. I have a coworker who knows everything about Legos. I know someone who is well-versed in antique thrifting. I heard about a suburban mom who goes to every rodeo within reach. And I have a friend who can name almost any plant you walk by. The best part about all of those things: you would never guess it just by looking at them.

I love hearing about these things, where it all started, why they keep at it, and the random trivia they can share about a world that previously existed outside my radar.

Because of this, I like to think that people don’t always want to read within the same genre. We need to learn about areas outside our immediate interests and the place those things occupy in our world. Once we open ourselves up to that curiosity, we may surprise ourselves by learning things that connect to our own small worlds as well.

If anything, I can say my topic and realm is that of questions, raising them and answering them through experience. Thankfully, that means I can never run out of material.

What’s that? You want to know my random niche that I know a lot about? Check back tomorrow to find out :)

What topic or hobby do you know a lot about?

Worry Less, Write More

This officially counts as my seventh day in my month long goal to write every day. Here are some things I’ve learned so far:
  1. Miracles happen: My computer dried out completely and is working like it’s normal, albeit slow, self!
  2. Seven days can feel like a lot: I’ve said multiple times that I think time is a fickle, relative rascal. This week proved it again. I love writing, but doing it daily can be a chore when I also have to work, go grocery shopping, and entertain the idea of exercising.
  3. I have a surprising number of things to talk about: I used to wonder if I would end up rehashing the same topics and run out of new things to say. Turns out, my brain just keeps chugging.
  4. It is better to worry less and write more: In the past when I prepared to post something on the blog, I would spend days or maybe even weeks reading it over and making adjustments until I felt like it was really the best it could be. That kind of detail is called for at times, but I don’t think blogging needs to be that stressful. The best part of having to write every day is that I have an excuse to not over-analyze or over-edit.
I’m looking forward to continuing in this challenge, even though I have a busy week ahead of me. Ideally I will establish a more regular daily writing routine, but for now I write when I can and accept that I’m doing my best.

Barbara Kingsolver is one of my favorite authors, not because I love every one of her books but because she writes boldly and wrestles with culture to discover what is really important. As I venture into my second week of daily writing, I am keeping this quote from her in my mind as inspiration:

“Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.”

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more!

How do you motivate yourself to meet your goals?

Jesus, Sex, and Controversy

One thing that continues to puzzle me about writing and blogging is why some posts get more attention than others.

There are obvious reasons, such as when a post is controversial or speaks about a current event in a new way.

For example:
How many people would read this if it had the word sex in the title? How many people would read this if it had the word Jesus in the title?
How many people would read this if it had both sex and Jesus in the title? (Or how many of you did read it for that reason?)

These days it seems like people get more excited about a sex scandal, or a reality star’s sex change, than they do about war, politics, or faith.

The heart of the problem is that our definition of sex has a controversial connotation, but Jesus often does not. Somehow the name of Jesus doesn’t have as much impact on our culture today as sex does.
But why? Is it because we want to keep him safe? Is it because we are afraid making him controversial will turn people away? Somehow this lie has snuck in to the point where we felt the need to keep Jesus safely confined, instead of letting him push the boundaries like he always intended.

Because when Jesus first came, he was the most controversial topic of the day. Everything he said and did was far from safe. He shared meals with society’s outcasts, he spoke to those that any “good” Jewish person would shun, and he healed people that everyone else ignored. If the internet had existed at the time, his name would consistently be trending and your Facebook news feed would be covered with stories on him.

The actions and messages of Jesus were so different and so alluring that the controversy alerted people to the fact that he was nothing like everyone else. It showed people that he represented a promise of something better, because it was something that pushed beyond safe boundaries.

We have lost the radical message that made Jesus so controversial. It is important to note that this message centered around love, not hatred. There are Christians today who do supposedly radical things and make headlines, but they are not representing the love of Christ. They have created their own agenda based on incorrect assumptions, and it is controversial in a negative way.

There are always going to be critics, regardless of how positive the message is. Some people won’t ever hear the message, because it wasn’t controversial enough to outshine the Caitlyn Jenners or Jim Duggars of the world.

Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 (NIV) are still applicable today:
“For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

Whether it be blogging, speaking, or writing wordy comments—the way we discuss ideas should not look the same as the rest of the world around us. Hateful words and ignorant criticisms are pretensions that go against the knowledge of a loving God. We do not need to be overly controversial or have click-bait titles. Take hearts and minds captive by lifting up love, rather than waging a war of angry words and edgy messages.The radical love of Jesus is strong enough to grab attention on its own. 

Do you think Jesus is controversial?

How is his message different from the ones we hear today?
computer drying

Perfect Timing

It only makes sense that the day I announce a 30 Day Writing Challenge would be the same day I spill water all over my laptop.

My immediate response went something like this:

*!*#$&@^* (uncalled for expletives in the face of technology disaster)
Of course. 
The universe does not want me to write.
Or maybe it was my own hand rejecting my mind’s fantastical notions.
I’d rather say the world is against me.
Because this is just OUTRAGEOUS.

I quickly turned the computer off, tipped it over to let gravity do its one job: save my hard drive. Paper towels were called in. Then what? Rice of course! Isn’t that the solution people always recommend for wet electronics? So I dumped out a large cardboard box I had handy, put my laptop inside, and proceeded to dump two bags full of brown rice on top of it. I got this.

Or not. Because it turns out rice is annoyingly small and fits perfectly into every crevice of a laptop. So that was a bad idea.

*!$#&%*^* (More expletives, because I’m not perfect.)

I sat and stared at the box. Time to think. This isn’t the end of the world, it’s just a computer. I backed it up recently, the important stuff is safe. But that’s not the real problem. It’s the inconvenience that boils my blood, the idea that I will have to figure out a new computer situation, pay money I don’t want to spend, and brush aside the ten other items I planned to check off my to-do list this week. I don’t have time for this nonsense.

But that’s not the real problem either. I do have time, because I’m privileged to live a life where my fridge is stocked, a paycheck is guaranteed, and I don’t have to worry about where I will sleep. If I’m honest with myself, the problem is the same thing that upsets all of us in the first-world who think we control everything: unpredictability. 

So then I had a decision to make.
  • Option 1: Wallow in my guilt about how selfish and trivial my problem is in comparison to the world’s bigger problems.
  • Option 2: Throw out the laptop, buy a new one, and settle into my consumerist hole with the blinders up. Also give up writing and go back to Netflix as my sole nightly activity.
  • Option 3: Buck up, find a solution, and move on from my dilemma so that I can get back to the important stuff.
The first one sounded pretty depressing, the second would make me hate myself more, so I went with option three.

*Note: I did not get there on my own. I was ready to spend the night kicking and screaming, veering full speed towards option 1 while pondering the simplicity of option 2 and the security of being cushioned by selfishness. Thankfully I called my most calm and pragmatic friend who listened to me blubber, then softly suggested I go to Target, get an eye glass repair kit to take the back off my computer, also buy some chocolate, and then set up the computer to dry without the rice. I did exactly that, because she was obviously thinking more clearly than I was.

computer drying

My amateur solution for drying out my computer: prop it on a basket, with a towel, and point the fan at it.

So here I am, day two, and I am still cranky about the whole thing. The chocolate helped. But I have to wait two more days for my computer to dry out, because that is what the all-knowing internet suggests.

If I wasn’t writing every day, I would wait a week until I have a more hopeful and complete perspective on what happened, then write an inspiring post about moving on after challenges and embracing the unpredictability in life (like I did with this post).

Instead you get honesty. I know there is a silver lining, I know I can learn something from this, and I know God is a lot bigger than my laptop. But right now I want to cross my arms and keep my bottom lip out. I’m on my way to getting back to the important things, but no one does that right away. Try me again tomorrow.

When have your plans derailed because of some unpredictable event?

How did you handle it?

A Subacute Future / Coming Soon on the Blog

According to my brilliant doctor sister-in-law, my anxiety over the future is what the medical community might call “subacute.” Besides the fact that I love having a new term to label it by, I also thought it was an apt description.

From what I understand (in my limited capacity for medical terminology) an “acute” problem is immediate and at the initial stages of an infection or disease. That problem becomes “subacute” when it lingers longer than expected and is no longer an immediate threat, but it still looms in the background.

So although I’ve been increasingly anxious about finding a job and my lack of a concrete plan for the future, it is subacute because I actually do have a plan for the next month and half. Acutely, I will be leaving Albuquerque in five days, driving home to San Diego, spending a few days packing, flying to Chicago, catching a ride to Ohio for my friend’s wedding, then flying out the next day to spend a full month in Norway and Sweden (which has it’s own crazy itinerary).

These do count as concrete plans, but I think their haphazard nature reduces my feeling of security, which then makes the unplanned stretch afterwards feel urgent with anxiety. On top of that, the news never ceases to distress me further with depressing stories about the injustice and racism in Ferguson, our never-ending interference in the Middle East, and the death of Robin Williams (oh captain my captain!).

I am working on accepting that this is simply a condition of a broken world and the trials of post-grad life. Packaged together they make one disturbing couple. I wrote about this at the beginning of the summer (here), but now that my time off is coming to an end it is hard to maintain a posture of hope and relaxation. I like having plans, but my future is out of my control for the time being (unless you can find someone willing to hire a person who can’t start till October).

Post-grad is teaching me how to focus on the acute part of life, enjoying whatever is right in front of me and letting the future unfold on its own. Unfortunately, I’m a rather obstinate student who doesn’t approve of the current teaching methods. Eventually, hopefully, I will get over it.

Until then, I have a couple of funsie items (the word “funsie” is courtesy of a favorite professor of mine) planned for the blog to close out the summer before I take my hiatus to Scandinavia. First, since this week is my last in Albuquerque, I will be doing a New Mexico recap. Tune in for   the variety of oddities I’ve found in this strange, strange place. This is the (tentative) plan:

  •      Monday 8/18 – The City of Albuquerque: Restaurants, Activities, and the Unexplained
  •      Tuesday 8/19 – Albuquerque’s Landscape: The Sandias, the desert, and monsoons
  •      Thursday 8/21 – National Parks and Monuments: Carlsbad Caverns, White Sands, The Petroglyphs
  •      Friday 8/22 – Concluding Thanks and Goodbyes
Check back this week to see posts about my Albuquerque adventures, including a trip to this dark place that resembles my fears about my future... just kidding, kind of :)

Check back this week to see posts about my Albuquerque adventures, including a trip to this dark place that resembles my fears about my future (sharp, ominous, with large scary impediments that almost look like Chewbaca on the far right)… just kidding, kind of :)

After that, probably not the next week but maybe the week after, I am planning a Book Week to report on and discuss all the books I’ve read this year (see the page 2014 Reading List for a preview). More details on that coming soon.

Lacking confidence, like many other writers and post-graduate students, I never cease to question what the point of this blog is or why I should bother to continue writing on it. Nonetheless, I continue. Perhaps the reason is related to the lack of consistency in my life right now, and this blog is one of the few things I can control. Another reason is that I can’t deny my desire to write, even if no one is reading it. We all have our own methods of adjusting to change and the outlet that helps us to re-center. Mine is writing. It is an acute part of my life, regardless of the other subacute things going on. We all deserve such an outlet, I’d love to hear about what yours is. In the meantime, if you do bother to read these things I write, I hope you know I appreciate your presence.

Sometimes you just need to take life one day at a time. I’m not always good at it, but maybe one day that won’t be the case.