Training My Heart to Rejoice

I’m not really a fan of new years resolutions. They seem too tenuous, too half hearted. What I like to do instead is to take time at the beginning of the year to set goals for myself – goals of what I want to accomplish and where I want to be by the time the year ends. Normally I write them out and hang them somewhere easily accessible, visible, etc. so that as the year goes on, I won’t forget them. This year, my goals have been hanging next to the calendar on the side of my fridge.

A few days ago, as I was switching my calendar over from June to July, I saw the paper, and I pulled it off the fridge to read it more carefully. The very last goal I had written took me by surprise – I’d completely forgotten I’d ever considered it. It was a goal to change my perspective by focusing on gratitude. I wanted to teach myself to see the positive before I saw the negative, to dwell on (as the Bible says) … whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report … (Philippians 4:8). And I ended by writing “I will train my heart to rejoice.”

That turn of phrase really struck me. It stuck to my spiritual ribs, so to speak. I’ve been pondering it, meditating on it, turning it over in my mind for days now. I’ve asked myself, how do you do this? What does it look like to have a heart that rejoices? How does that feel? And how do I get there?

These are the types of questions that just lead to more questions. But I like where they’re going. So that’s what I’m doing for the month of July 2022. I am studying what it means to rejoice, and I am looking for the practical, everyday, honest, and sustainable ways that I can make my heart more joyful every single day.

Waiting

eagle-1316043Have you ever found yourself stuck waiting for something to happen.

It’s hard, isn’t it?

There is so much of our natural will and human instinct that provokes us to try to do something to enact the change we want to see. And I think that for the most part, that’s a God ordained desire. He expects us to participate in our blessings. He expects us to boldly reach for the things that He offers us.

HOWEVER … He also expects us to wait on Him – to wait for His timing and to follow His direction … and sometimes I think THAT is the hardest act of faith imaginable. Because when God promises us something, or when we ask Him for something, we normally have an expectation about how and WHEN that thing will happen. But of course, God doesn’t normally follow our timeline. He often has His own ways of doing things. And it can be so difficult to trust Him while we wait.

I was talking to someone about this earlier this afternoon – about why it can be so hard to wait for the things that God has promised us. And we came to a simple, honest conclusion. When we wait for something, especially when we’re waiting longer than we thought we would, it can feel a lot like being forgotten.

But we don’t serve a forgetful God. He doesn’t abandon us or change His mind. His blessings can’t be earned, and yet they are ours, because He has promised them to us. His timing is perfect, and we would be wise to stop trying to force His hand. Learning this – learning to TRUST that He will be faithful even when the situation looks bad, requires a true surrender – one that goes beyond words and actions, and transforms even the thoughts and attitudes of our hearts.

But those who wait on the Lord
Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:31

Our walk in Christ is not a sprint. It is a life-long race. When you grow weary and your heart is faint looking for your breakthrough, take the time to reflect on how you wait upon the Lord. Waiting with a heart of faith will give you the strength to endure for the long-haul. It will cause you to soar.

When God Provides …

fishing-1362370-1279x858Just last night I was reading the last chapter in the book of John (Chapter 21). In this chapter, the disciples had witnessed Jesus’ death, but not his resurrection, and in light of all that had happened, Peter made a grand announcement – he was going fishing. He decided to go back to doing the things he’d done before Jesus came into his life. He was (essentially) giving up on his ministry and walk with God in order to return to the life he used to have before he found Christ.

The other disciples went with him, and they toiled all night, but didn’t catch a single thing. I’ve read this story many times, but this was the first time that it occurred to me what a blow that must have been for these men. They thought that Jesus was dead. The ministry that had consumed their lives for three years was suddenly gone. And even fishing (the one thing they used to be good at) wasn’t working for them any more! It was like they couldn’t catch a break!

But then something amazing happened. In the midst of that moment of total failure, Jesus came on the scene:

Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”  “No,” they answered (John 21:4-5 NKJV).

Jesus then gave them instructions – he told them to cast their net on the right side of the boat. And even though they didn’t know it was him speaking, they obeyed. The result was a miracle catch so large that they could barely haul it to shore. That was when they realized what was happening – they realized that Jesus wasn’t dead! The biggest tragedy they’d ever faced wasn’t actually a tragedy any more!

Of course they rushed to the shore to meet with Jesus face to face. And when they arrived, the Bible gives us a detail that is small, almost to the point of insignificance, but so powerful that it overwhelms me:

When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it,and some bread (John 21:9 NKJV)

Jesus had just given his disciples a monumental miracle. He’d just revived their dreams, their faith, and even their careers in one single supernatural act. But that wasn’t all he did. He cared so much about these men that he also cooked them breakfast!

I can’t get over how beautiful that statement is, and how much meaning it has for our personal lives. We don’t serve a God who only cares about the big things. When He moves in our lives, he doesn’t pass over the “insignificant” details. He provides for the big and the small, the significant and the seemingly insignificant. He doesn’t just provide – he is MORE than enough.

Isn’t that amazing?

As we near the end of this year, there may be some of you who are wondering how everything went so wrong. You may feel just like the disciples did at the beginning of this chapter – facing a life that looks to be in shambles. Or maybe you’re not in dire straights, but there are certain areas of your life that just aren’t working out the way you’ve wanted them to.  I’m here to remind you that God is with you in all of this. He sees where you are. He knows your fears and your frustrations. He has not abandoned you. In fact, he can take everything that you thought was wrong and make it all right again – and he can do it in an instant!

So if you’re struggling, frustrated, or just unsure … cling to Jesus today. He is the one who will NEVER leave you (even when you feel alone). He will NEVER abandon you (even when everything looks terrible). He is NOT done with you (no matter how impossible your situation may seem). And best of all – he CARES. He cares about the little things and the big things. He cares that you have enough – and that you have more than enough. He will give you the testimonies that will stun and amaze your friends and family. AND he will also do the “little” things that hold a personal power and meaning for you that can’t be expressed in words.

The love of God is more – more than we expect, more than we imagine, more than we could ever understand. And his love never ever fails.

Starting Fresh

pen-notebook-1463345-1280x960It’s the beginning of a new year, and like so many others, I am looking into the next 12 months with a sense of determination and promise. I’ve never placed much stock in “resolution” per se. I’ve always thought they were too easy to walk away from once February hit. But I can’t help but see the start of a new year as the perfect opportunity to start changing things.

One of the things I want to change this year is this website – specifically the content of my blog. For a long time I wasn’t sure what I wanted this site to be, or what I wanted to say. It was just a place to jot down the things I wanted to share with the world about my personal experiences in writing and publishing.

But I’ve decided that it’s time to change that. So now that we’re walking into 2016, I’m going to change the focus of my writing here. Instead of writing about writing, I’d like to focus more on sharing the little things that God is showing me in His word – the details I’d never noticed before, the passages that He’s using to encourage me, or the things He’s showing me that don’t necessarily tie in to the books I’m working on (and yes, I am working on a few books right now).

I’m not saying that I’ll never have anything to say about writing ever again. I’m sure as publication dates approach and the pressure builds I’ll have plenty to vent. But for the most part, I’m planning to change my focus here. It’s time for a fresh start.

Christian Message Writing: or Why I’m Uncomfortable With Marketing My Books

seed-1533117-1280x960If it’s ok with you, I’m going to get a little bit introspective. Today’s post isn’t really a matter of advice or a how-to style explanation. It isn’t a list of 5 (or 7 or 9) steps you can take to do anything. It’s more of a question. How does a Christian nonfiction writer with a “message” book approach the problem of marketing?

Now at first, this seems like a bit of a silly question. I mean, it’s not like we can’t successfully market our books the same way everyone else does. We can go out there and do book promotions, blog tours, book signings, and event tie-ins. We could write press releases and try to get interviewed by local radio and newspaper outlets. But while that might work with a lot of writing (even a lot of Christian writing) it never really felt right when I tried to do any of those things for my own books. For a while I wasn’t really able to put my finger on why. But every time anyone (read: my BFF/SNOO) pushed me to develop a specific and actionable marketing plan, I found myself slamming on the brakes.

So after a year or two of doing virtually NO marketing for ANY of my books, I sat down and asked God what the deal was. Why was I so reluctant to do this? Was it just that I had an aversion to marketing in general? Was it something that I needed to get over?

The more I prayed about this subject, the clearer it became to me. I was avoiding marketing because I was inherently uncomfortable with the idea of “selling” the message of my books. I didn’t write these books because I wanted to become a published author. I mean, let’s be real – I absolutely wanted to become an author. I’ve wanted that since I was 8 or 9  years old. But that want never led me to write a book. And if success as an author was my main goal, I really should have picked a friendlier and more popular genre.

No, I wrote these books because I had a message on my heart for the people of God, and I wanted to share it with them. At the risk of sounding insanely self-important and pretentious, I’ll admit that I really believe the messages in these books are ones that God placed in my heart. I didn’t come up with them on my own. They aren’t my ideas. And because of that these books have become (in my heart, at least) much more a matter of ministry than business. I see them more as God’s work than my own.

No wonder I’ve struggled with the traditional marketing schemes that focus on “selling” the books as a product. They aren’t really my product to sell! In fact, even the idea of letting my friends and acquaintances buy these books from me has always bothered me. I’ve come to realize that while selling books is the easiest and most far-reaching way to spread these messages, it’s never really been about sales for me. It’s always been about getting the word out there to as many people as I can.

Now I know that this may sound a little crazy to most of you. But I have a feeling that for at least a few other Christian authors, this is going to ring true. So the next question that we have to ask ourselves is this: what do we do about it? How to we adapt our approach to marketing in order to adjust for our different perspective. How do we reach a broader audience without focusing on getting people to buy a product?

The answer (for me at any rate) is simple, Biblical, and effective. Start sowing seeds. 

What that means will be different for each of us, and that’s ok. This isn’t meant to be a one-size-fits-all solution. It’s a new way to look at marketing from a Biblical and ministerial perspective. All you have to do is look at your books as seeds that you are planting into people’s lives and ministries. The harvest that you hope to reap is a widespread understanding of the message that God has given you.

In the morning sow your seed,
And in the evening do not withhold your hand;
For you do not know which will prosper,
Either this or that,
Or whether both alike will be good (Ecclesiastes 11:6).

Start looking for opportunities to sow the seed of your message into people’s lives. Maybe that means giving away free copies of the book to local pastors and ministers who you think may benefit from reading it. Maybe it means taking advantage of Amazon’s KDP Select program so that you can “sell” your ebook for free for several days each quarter. Maybe it means carrying hard copies of your book around with you so that you are ready to give them to people who might benefit from reading them.

What do you guys think? How can you stop selling and start sowing? Leave a comment below 🙂

Irony

notebook-wih-spiral-and-blue-cover-1236579Irony is what happens when you get a brilliant idea for a book on how to get started with plans that God’s given you, you’ve gone through your prep, finished doing your research, and created your outline, but suddenly find that you can’t seem to start writing the actual thing.

This post could also be called “Learning by Doing” “Practice What You Preach” or “Why Am I Surprised?”

So here’s a question for all you people in blogger-land. What do YOU do to get past writer’s block?

Setting Goals

shinning-1155886-1280x960Setting goals – it’s one of those things that we all think we understand, and of course it’s especially popular at the beginning of every new year. We set these goals with all sorts of good intentions, but it normally doesn’t take us long to abandon them altogether.

Why is that?

One reason, I think, is that while we are generally determined to do better, we are often less enthusiastic about being better. Of course we want to achieve that level of success, finish that book, lose that weight, etc. We just aren’t as thrilled about having to do the work it takes to get there.

The other reason, I think, involves a simple lack of clarity. It amazes me how often people set goals that are either outrageously unattainable (I’m going to write a book a month for the next 12 months!) or so vague that they can’t be measured (I’m going to save money this year!)

So how do we fix these problems?  How do we change our patterns so that the goals that we make become achievable as opposed to forgettable?  How do we help ensure that we’re setting ourselves up for success instead of failure? What can we do differently today that will change our outcome tomorrow?

Well, everyone’s different – what works for me might not work for you. But here are a few general guidelines that have helped me along the way:

1. Get Specific. This is one of the simplest things that you can do to help make your goal achievable. If you’re serious about a goal, then you should be able to specifically define what qualifies as success in your mind. Do you want to save money? Great – how much? Do you want to get healthier? Do you want to write more? Well, that’s wonderful, but what does that ACTUALLY mean in your mind? If you can’t tell me that, then you don’t have a goal, you have an idea. Ideas are nice and all, but you can’t achieve ideas. You can’t work toward ideas.

2. Try setting goals that you can meet all on your own. In other words, don’t put your success into someone else’s hands. This can be a hard one to face up to, because so many of our goals involve approval or acceptance by other people. But when our goals involve decisions that we aren’t empowered to make, we can end up feeling like failures just because of other people’s choices. So if you want a better job – don’t make “getting hired”  your goal. That’s not in your hands. But set goals that will make you a stronger candidate for the job you want, and set goals for how and when you will go out there and apply. Do you want to sign with an agent? Well that’s not a great goal, because at the end of the day it’s not up to you. But you can start SUBMITTING to agents – and that’s the type of thing that you can control and plan.

3. Set goals for habitual change, not end results. This isn’t an absolute must, but if you’re the type of person who forgets about your goals 60 or 30 (or let’s be real, 10) days in, it will help to keep you on track. Instead of setting the goal of loosing 20 pounds, try setting goals to change what you eat or increase you exercise. Instead of saying you’re going to finish your book by the end of the year, why not set a daily writing goal – one that’s manageable – and try sticking with it for a month or two? You’ll be surprised how those small daily successes will keep you motivated, and at how quickly they will lead you to real results

4. Build gradual increases into your goals. I love those people who decide every January that they’re going to run 5 miles every day and stick to a strict raw-vegan diet from now on. I love them, but I don’t believe them, because most of the time those types of extreme changes aren’t sustainable. What is sustainable, however, is change that comes in gradual increases. So rather than deciding that you’re going to write 5,000 words a day every day, why not go for gradual change? Set a low goal for January, one that’s easy to achieve – maybe you’ll decide to write 200 words a day or 1000 words a week. And then decide that on February 1st you’ll change it to something more challenging. And then do it again in March. These kind of gradual changes give you time to adjust your life to fit the goals that are important to you.

5. Only set goals that you want to meet. There is no bigger setup for failure than the goal that you don’t actually want to achieve. We set these goals out of a sense of obligation or guilt, but deep down inside we don’t care if they never happen. News flash – those goals are not only pointless (because let’s face it, you’ll never actually do them) but they’re also incredibly harmful to the goals that you actually want to reach. They clutter your plate, so to speak. They weigh you down unnecessarily. They stifle your momentum and steal your focus. None of those things will help you to reach the goals that are important to you. So this year why not do something radical and get rid of the goals that you don’t actually care about.

6. Keep track of your progress. This is so important for anyone who has a goal that’s going to take a while to reach. If you don’t have a plan to reach your goal, you won’t meet it. But just as importantly, if you don’t STICK to your plan, you’ll fall short in the long run. So revisit your goal on a regular basis. Look at how you’re progressing, and celebrate your incremental victories. It’ll keep you focused and motivated throughout the year.

7. Make adjustments. Listen, life is going to throw you curveballs this year, the same way it does every year. That’s just how it works. Some of the goals you set now will happen more quickly and easily than you expect. Others might suddenly become impossible as a result of unforeseen circumstances. That’s all fine. Don’t throw in the towel when things don’t work out. Don’t stop pushing just because you’ve already done better than you’d expected. Make adjustments to your goals throughout the year if you need to. It’s ok to redefine success as you move ahead. That’s part of life, part of growth. If we all stuck to our original goals the world would be full of princesses, ballerinas, fire fighters, and doctors. That wouldn’t be such a bad world, but you get the idea …

I hope these tips helped! Comment below and let me know what you thought. What kind of goals are you setting for 2015? What tips or tricks have worked for you? What important piece of advice did I leave off of my list? Let me know!

Embracing the Unexpected

detour-sign-1141114This may very well be my last blog entry in 2014, and so before anything else I want to wish everyone who reads this a very Merry Christmas and a happy New Year.

But before the year ends I want to tell you a little bit about the whirlwind of a week that just happened to me. I help to run the theater program at my church – we perform skits as a part of our weekly church services. We also put on a few full-length productions every year, normally around the holidays. We’d spent the past few weeks working on a silly, funny Christmas play based loosely on A Christmas Carol, and I was kind of excited about it. But then last Sunday I got what seemed like terrible news – we weren’t going to be able to do that particular show. Without going into too much detail, it became clear rather quickly that we were going to have to scrap the play entirely and start over with something new.

I had a full cast of actors (many of whom had made special arrangements to be in the show) who were excited to perform, a whole bunch of families who were planning on coming, exactly 2 weeks until the show date, and NO SHOW. Given the position I found myself in, you might not be surprised to hear that my first thought was “Where can I get my hands on a new script?” You might also be able to imagine the horror I felt when my pastors suggested that I might want to try writing a show of my own.

Write a show? I had two weeks! The way I saw it, I barely had enough time for the actors to learn their lines, and they wanted me to WRITE them first? Didn’t they know that I wrote nonfiction? Didn’t they know how badly I struggled with things like plot and dialogue? I didn’t even have an idea – I mean, literally, not even an hint of a spark of an original idea for a Christmas play. The whole thing just seemed impossible …

Except that behind the panic (and believe me, I was in a panic) I could see the hand of God pushing me to do this. I knew it wasn’t just my pastors asking me to do something. I knew that this was too perfectly orchestrated to be an accident. I also knew, from personal experience, that just about every time I’ve ever agreed to go along on these crazy leaps of faith I’ve ended up on my feet.

And so on Monday morning when I got to work I got a coffee and locked myself away in my office with a few mindless projects so that I could focus on brainstorming. And only a few hours (and several spreadsheets) later, I suddenly had one! Paula Casill, the girl who’s never had a particularly inspiring idea for a fiction piece in her entire life, suddenly had an idea that she found exciting, one that was big enough for a full-length play, and one that she wanted to write! Was it even possible?

Apparently so! Over the next few days I spent every free moment glued to my computer typing like a madwoman. Some scenes were so easy I wrote them off in one go. Others took thought and time and conversations with actors and re-writes in order to get them sounding natural. There was very little time for things like sleeping, grocery shopping, or communication with the outside world. But by Thursday night it was done – a completed script.

The show isn’t until Sunday, so I can’t say for sure how well we’re going to pull it off, but all early signs point to it being just as good as (if not better than) our first production. Our actors are all on board, and rather than being frustrated with all of the work they “wasted” working on the old show, they’re excited at the prospect of being involved in something original.

But here’s the most amazing part – the play uses a standard “storyteller” dramatic device to make it easier to transition between scenes and the storyteller’s narration was written in a classic children’s poetry style. When the script was finished I looked at it and realized that it is perfectly suited to be adapted into a book. So that’s the new plan! As soon as the show is finished I’m going to start working on the book! Just like that, without even realizing what I was doing, I ended up writing something awesome in a completely new genre!

Why am I telling you this story? Well, for two reasons (and no, neither of them involve patting myself on the back).

The first is this – because I think that there are a lot of people out there who reject and despair at the uncomfortable, out-of-the box situations that happen in their life. They see them as impossible challenges (or at least, that’s how I saw THIS) and that often leads to giving up, running away, or some other form of surrender. But when we can learn to trust GOD more than we trust in our own abilities, these impossible challenges suddenly become POSSIBLE.

The second reason is that I have been reminded first-hand how often God will use our challenges and adversities to expand and bless us. I didn’t come into this December looking to write a children’s book. In fact, I’ve NEVER wanted to write a children’s book. It just didn’t seem like something in my wheelhouse.  But God had plans of His own, and He knew exactly how to use my current circumstances to accomplish His will.

So when the unexpected challenge or the impossible mountain suddenly appear in your life, let this story be an encouragement to you. Don’t run away. Don’t give in to fear. Stand up, square your shoulders, and plow ahead. You never know where that kind of persistence and determination can bring you. I can’t tell you what’s waiting for you on the other side of your mountain, but I can say this much – it’s worth fighting for!

ABCs of the Dream-Chaser’s Mindset

words-dream-on-cubes-1161376Hey everyone, happy belated Thanksgiving (to all of my American readers, of course)!

One of the things that I’m especially thankful for this year is the incredible reception that Dream Chasers has been given over the past few weeks.  I had scheduled a free promotional period on Amazon for the end of last week – and not only did it climb to the top 5 in each of it’s categories, but it broke into the top 100 in Christian Books & Bibles! I’m seriously astounded at what God has done – I even took screen shots so I could prove to myself down the road that it really happened 🙂

So as a way to say thanks to everyone who’s been so supportive and encouraging I’m going to give you all a little sneak peek at something I’ve been working on:

This is going to be an actual ABCs series – so I’ll be releasing a video every Monday for the next 26 weeks. I’ll be starting on this upcoming Monday, December 1st, but I wanted to give you all a chance to watch it first.

The information in these videos aren’t taken directly from the book – they’re brand-spanking-new bonus material that anyone can enjoy, whether they’ve read the book or not. So let me know what you think!

Thank you all!

Stretch Yourself

PIC02041.JPGA few months ago I was spending time with one of my very best friends, when she suddenly announced that “we” were going to get in shape together, and among her many plans for diet and exercise was one little nugget that made me cringe. “That’s it!” she said with enthusiasm, “We’re going to do 50 crunches a day every day from now on!”

I have to admit I laughed. I told her there was no way on God’s green earth that I was capable of 50 crunches. “That’s no problem!” she said, “You can work up to it! Come on, Paula – we can do this!”

I groaned a little inside, but since I’ve never been good at saying no to my friends, I finally agreed to do the crunches – and I did. I didn’t do them every day – it was 3 times a week, and it took me a week or two to build  up to 50, but eventually I got there.  And once I did, I have to admit I was kind of proud of myself.

And then one night I woke up in excruciating pain. Every muscle in my abdomen was cramping at the same time, and I couldn’t relax them enough to uncurl myself out of the fetal position. The problem, of course, was that I  had spent so much time focusing on working those muscles, but I’d never bothered to take the time to stretch them.  For a while I got away with it. They even got stronger. But eventually it all caught up with me, and the result was a night of serious pain and very little sleep as I tried to undo the damage, release the tension, and relax the muscles.

Now that’s a relatively simple anecdote – but it illustrates an important and relevant point.

You see, the crunches were a good thing. They took work and effort, and I took them seriously. They made me stronger and I found a moderate level of success in doing them. But that only took me so far before it all backfired. Because all of that effort and work was pointed in only one direction, the muscles in my body eventually rebelled. There was only so much work they could handle before they “broke” under the tension.

They needed to stretch. They needed to be pulled in unfamiliar directions, forced to move in a new way. Without that key component, all of the time and effort I’d put into working those muscles proved pointless. I hit a brick wall (or more, it hit me – in the stomach – at three in the morning).

I think that this is a truth that we can apply to our lives on a much broader level. Have you been working hard in an area of  your life and just not seeing the results that you want? Have you ever found a moderate degree of success, and wondered how you could ever manage to achieve more? I want to let you in on a little secret that’s not much of a secret – you probably need to stretch. Your life will never really be able to grow and expand until you are willing to push yourself beyond  your limits and move in a new direction.

How often have you talked yourself out of doing something new just because it wasn’t familiar? How often have you decided that it was better to stay where you were comfortable than to venture into the unknown? We do it all the time, and I think it’s because we’d rather remain firmly planted in what we know than try something that might fail; and – GET THIS – we do it even when what we know isn’t working all that well either!

The problems with this kind of thinking is that it always sets us up to fail.

Remember that the familiar things in life can only get you so far. If whatever you’re doing right now isn’t producing the results that you want in your life at the level that you want, then it’s probably time for you to venture out into some new territory. It’s time to try something different.

This isn’t to say that you need to toss aside the things that are working for you. But you can’t allow yourself to get boxed in by the familiar either. By all means, do what works – but make a point to go out and do something new at the same time!

Even the Bible encourages us to go out and to try new things:

As you do not know what is the way of the wind, or  how the bones grow in the womb of her who is with child, so you do not know the works of God who makes everything. In the morning sow your seed, And in the evening do not withhold your hand; For you do not know which will prosper, Either this or that, Or whether both alike will be good (Ecclesiastes 11:5-6 NKJV).

Isn’t that such an encouraging word? This verse is telling us that we can’t know what God plans to use in order to bless our lives, we can’t always see which of our options will produce the best results. That’s why we always need to be willing to try a little of everything. We have to be willing to stretch ourselves a little bit!