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.

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!

Improvement is Impressive

As a natural part of my latest book writing effort (Dream Chasers: Living in Pursuit of a God-Sized Dream) I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about what stops people from running after their dreams. One of the biggest obstacles that I’ve noticed is how intimidating it can be to look at the sheer amount of work, effort, or time that would be required. We look at where we are, compare it to where we want to go, and throw our hands up in despair before we even start. Or even worse, we start along the journey to our dreams, but get discouraged and give up when we see other people advancing faster than we are.

But the thing is that the road to attaining our dreams is just that – it’s a road, a journey. And like any journey, the farther you want to go, the longer it can take to get there. That’s easy to say, and harder to remember – especially in this instant-gratification culture that we live in. So to help myself stay motivated and moving forward, I’ve developed a new motto: Improvement is Impressive.

Let me give an example of what I mean. I have always been the least athletic person in a very athletic family. My family is full of triathletes, marathon runners, martial artists, and general jocks. Christmas get-togethers, as you can imagine, involves a lot of chitchat about training regimes, upcoming events, and sports injuries – none of which applies to my life. They talk about doing things that I just can’t imagine enduring. I have one cousin who runs 10 or 12 miles at a clip in order to train for her next marathon.

But when I recently decided to get myself back into some semblance of fitness, I started by walking. Walking is a very effective way to ease yourself into exercise, but it’s not exactly glamourous. It’s slow, low impact, and time consuming. It’s just not an impressive achievement – especially not compared to the incredible things my family does on a regular basis.

So how do I keep myself motivated? By reminding myself that my improvement is what’s most impressive. That’s something that I can push for – something that’s quickly and repeatedly attainable. I can’t get myself out of the house with thoughts of the marathon I’m nowhere near running – not on a regular basis. I can’t push myself to run 10 miles when I’m still getting used to walking 5. But what I can do, what will keep me dedicated, is the idea that I can do better today than I did yesterday. I can improve my time, my speed, or my distance. I can take advantage of the day and use it to get a little bit better. If I commit to doing that every day, it will eventually take me where I want to go.

This idea is something that we can apply to any area where we want to see change. We may not be able to do it all at once. We may not even be sure that we can ever get it all done. We may be so far behind our peers that we can’t imagine catching up, let alone soaring on to new heights. But if we take our eyes off of the impossible distance that we still have to travel, and focus instead on the steps that lay right in front of us, we will find it much easier to take that first step.

So no matter what your dream looks like, find a way to move forward today. You don’t have to take great strides. Baby steps will do. But make it a point to improve yourself today, and then do it again tomorrow. Improvement is an impressive thing.

Chasing Dreams

A week or two ago I finally finished the first draft of the book I’ve been working on since the beginning of the year. The book is about what it means as a Christian to chase a dream. Specifically it looks at the lives of the dream-chasers in the Bible to learn a little bit about what works (and what doesn’t) when you’re chasing a dream that been put in your heart by God.

The book, of course, is nowhere near ready to publish. I’ve just started sending chapters out to a few beta readers to get their initial feedback before I buckle down and start editing (btw – I’m always looking for more feedback, so let me know if you want to read a sample). But something rather remarkable happened a few days ago. Just as I was drifting off to sleep, I was suddenly jolted back awake, and God told me very clearly “You need to change the name of the book. Call it ‘Dream Chasers.‘”

I realized as He spoke that He was exactly right. I’d had a few other working titles since I started this project, but none of them hit the nail on the head the way this did. 

Because the truth is that everyone has dreams … EVERYONE. Everyone has something that they want to achieve or attain. We were made to fill this earth, to have dominion over it, and to subdue it. It is, therefore, in our nature to want to expand and achieve, to reach for something better.

However, there is a vast difference between a dreamer and a dream chaser. We all have dreams, but there are precious few of us who are willing to put in the time and effort it takes to chase those dreams down. It takes a special drive and an unflagging character to push and to strive to achieve a dream, no matter what the opposition looks like, no matter how impossible it seems. But it precisely those people who have the character to chase their dreams, and to do it God’s way, that end up finding their success! You cannot become a failure until you’ve stopped trying. As long as you are pushing forward, as long as you are chasing after your dreams then every setback, every failed attempt is nothing more than a prelude to your success.

Do you have a dream? Do you want to see it become a reality? Me too. Let’s go out there and chase them together!

Shifting Focus

I hope you don’t mind, but I’m going to spend a little time being real in this post.

I’ve been having some problems lately with my blog. It’s not that I’ve had a problem writing it – I’ve loved it 🙂 But I’ve realized recently that what I’m writing here, while relevant and interesting, has been incomplete.

The thing is, I’m not just a writer. I’m a Christian writer. Specifically, I write about Christian themes and topics. All of my books have been directly related to my faith, and to the things that God has been working on in my own life. But in that regard, my blog has felt like it’s wandered farther and farther off from my reality. God is the center of my life, but He hasn’t been central to my writing here. In fact, the things I discuss here seem to have little to do with the themes that are constantly running through my heart and head …

So I’m just writing this post as a bit of a heads-up. The tone and focus of my future musings on this sight are going to be shifting. It’s not that I won’t be writing about writing or blogging or book production or publishing or anything like that. I certainly will be. But I’ll be mixing a lot more of the spiritual in with the practical, if that makes any sense.

An End in Sight

This is the last of the posts about the book that I’d posted on my other blog. I wrote it at the end of last year …

Just earlier this week I got some incredible news and an amazing opportunity regarding the book that I’ve been working on for the past few years.

On the one hand, I’m so excited that I can’t wait to tell you all. But on the other, I’ve realized that so much has happened since the last time I wrote about the book, that there’s a lot of catching up to do first.

For starters – I’ve gotten some really amazing feedback and direction from a few key people (especially my mom) that has helped me crystalize and solidify the central argument that the book is making. That, of course, has meant massive re-writes (again), and a lot of time spent back at the drawing board (but in a good way).

Also, I realized a few months ago that my cover, while awesome, felt a lot darker than I wanted it to. So I called up my best friend/favorite graphic artist Rashada Nunez (designesbyrashada.com) and together we came up with a completely new cover design:

 

Isn’t it awesome?

And as if that weren’t enough good news, just a few weeks ago one of the senior pastors at my church got wind of this project and asked for a copy of the book to read. Of course, I was incredibly reluctant to give her what still felt like a work in progress. But I ordered the proof copy anyway and gave it to her to read.

Her feedback has been so positive, so encouraging, that it’s motivated me to push to actually produce a finished draft. 

And then just this week she called me into her office to share even more good news. She wants me to build a 12 week Bible study course around the book so that they can offer it (and I can teach it) during the next semester of Bible Institute in our church’s main location in Queens.

When she first told me I was so shocked and honored that I couldn’t come up with an intelligent response.  I think the words “that’s crazy” were the first thing that managed to come out of my mouth. And then of course I started crying. Because it really is a crazy gift from God, and it is so far beyond my wildest expectations of what might happen with this book that I still can’t really believe it’s happening.

But I agreed. And next semester I will be teaching My Brother’s Keeper as a Bible Study course in my church. That means by the time the spring semester starts the book needs to be completely finished, published, and available for sale.  

I have 6 weeks. And suddenly it feels like I would need a year to finish everything I have left to do.

And yet there is no question in my spirit that this is a God-ordained moment of opportunity. So even in the panicked scramble that I am about to dive into, I cannot help but find peace. If this is His plan, then it is in His hands. What better place could there possibly be?

An Open Door

door-1524886The 5th of my original posts on my experience in writing my first book and the journey that God took me on in the process:

The funny thing about the doors that God opens (in my life, at least) is that they never come with a bang.  They’re never big, awesome, public displays.  They don’t normally look like the type of thing that should blow your socks off. In fact, most of the time they begin in the most mundane and ordinary of ways and at the most unexpected of times.  In this particular journey, after six months of nothing, the last thing I was expecting was to see a door suddenly opening in front of me. But it did – and it all started with the most ordinary of occurrences – it started with a conversation.

I was talking with my pastor and a few other people at a our weekly women’s Bible study. We were discussing a wonderful blog that’s written by our bishop’s wife and published on the church website, and my pastor mentioned that she wanted to find a way to turn it into a daily devotional book.  As soon as she said it my ears perked up.  The conversation continued around the topic – discussion what it would take to make it happen. “We could have it bound at Staples” was one comment that was met with some enthusiasm, and I suddenly realized that no one else in this little circle understood how doable this project was, or  how quickly or professionally it could be completed.  What’s more, they had no idea that I knew exactly what needed to happen to see it become a reality.

So I started telling them about ISBNs and print-on-demand technology and a few of the other nuggets I’d discovered in my research.  I think some eyes started glazing over – and I don’t blame them, I was in total nerd-mode and probably making absolutely no sense to anybody but myself.  It wasn’t long before we moved on to another topic of conversation (coffee, I think).  But I went home that night with the absolute assurance that this was something that I could do. And so I sat down that night (and for many nights over the four weeks that followed) and set to work “creating” this book.

It was so liberating to be working on something that wasn’t my own writing – the freedom and the joy that it gave me was frankly surprising.  And as I worked on the book I found myself diving back into my research on publishing. I went back to re-learn everything about what makes a book good (and it’s so much more than the writing!)  But this time around my mind was like a sponge.  I just couldn’t get enough.  My brain was whirling around at a mile a minute, filled to the brim with a wealth of new information.  And the best part was that I had a project waiting for me – one that allowed me to put into practice every single new tidbit of knowledge that I came across.

It took several weeks to do all of the editing, formatting, and layout work.  Who knew that font selection and line spacing would become so important to me?  But finally it was done.  I surprised my pastor with a pdf of the final product (she didn’t know I’d been working on it) and then I waited for … well, I didn’t really know what.

The funny thing was that with all of the work that I’d poured into this project, I had no defined expectations of what would happen as a result.  I hadn’t even thought about who might see it or what they’d think. I’d just worked on it for the sake of working on it.  It was something that I could do for my pastor, for her pastor, something that might bless them or help them.  And it was something that I knew that I had the resources to complete.

Sitting back when it was over, waiting for whatever response this little project was going to receive, I marveled at the way that God had orchestrated this whole thing.  The story was far from over, and my biggest breakthroughs were still on their way.  But in that moment I felt so blessed.  I saw how God had orchestrated the past few years of my life in order to prepare me to complete this task.  I suddenly felt as though everything was clicking into place.  God had set me up to pick up all sorts of obscure and practically useless knowledge along my way, because He knew full well that the day would come when I would have the opportunity to put that knowledge to use for His glory.

But isn’t that so like God?  He knows the task that is waiting for us 1, 5, or 20 years down the road.  He knows the tools we will need to be successful.  And He is so faithful that He provides us with those tools often long before we even realize that we need them.  The junk that we’ve collected over the years – the experiences, the trivial knowledge, the random expertise that seems completely useless … all of those things are given to us by God for our benefit and for His glory.  He is the grand designer, and He knows every tool, every cog, every instrument that we require.  He isn’t IKEA.  He doesn’t leave us with extra pieces at the end of our journey.  He is precise, He is exact, and when the pieces of our lives begin to fall into the pattern of His plan … well, it’s a breathtaking thing to behold.

A Word in the Void

abstract-bokeh-photos-blue-1149226-1280x896Part 4 of the story of how I got started in writing a book, and the journey I took to finish it:

After a year of writing and editing, I was “enjoying” a long six month hiatus from the entire book project. Truth be told, my biggest enjoyment came from not having to think about the book any more.  I was sick of it.  I had spent so much thought, work, and energy on it that I simply had nothing left to give.  As I said in the last post, it wasn’t like I intended to walk away from it, but I completely lacked the motivation to go back.

It was a weird 6 months.  Every once in a while someone would ask me what was happening with the book.  The question often left me speechless, fumbling for some kind of answer (shocking!)  But I never had anything to say to them, because in all honesty I didn’t know.  I couldn’t tell if this was something I was ever going to want to go back to, or if it was a dead project.  I knew I had written it for a reason, but I wasn’t sure any more if it was ever going to see the light of day.  Every time I seriously considered picking it up again, I felt drained – like it was a black hole sucking down every ounce of my creative energy.

But One of my favorite things about God is His constant attentive awareness of our every thought, dream, and desire.  God knows about the things we dream of.  He knows about the things we’ve lost.  He knows about the places where we’ve tried and failed.  And the amazing thing is that He doesn’t forget!  The passage of time and the accumulation of dust don’t diminish His awareness.  He is always there, waiting for the perfect moment to fill the void that is created by our lack.

That’s what makes Genesis 1:2-3 one of my favorite passages in the Bible: And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.  And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

There was the earth – formless, lifeless, dark, empty … VOID.  But even then the Spirit of God was there, hovering, waiting.  And all it took was one utterance from God’s mouth to change the entire nature of that void and empty place.

Of course, in our “void” moments it can be so hard to see that way out.  We have such trouble imagining the incredible instantaneous change that can come from our empty situations.  Yes, we KNOW that all we need is one touch of God’s hand, one word from his mouth, but when the waiting seems endless and the darkness is so dark, our knowledge often conflicts with our expectation.

But my favorite thing about this verse is that it tells us that God spoke and there was light.  It was an instant change.  It wasn’t gradual.  You couldn’t see it coming.  In one moment darkness was upon the face of the deep, and in the next, that darkness was replaced with light.

We get so busy squinting at our horizons, looking for the first glimpses of a far off sunrise, that we lose track of how suddenly God’s answers will come upon us.  Or at least I do that … all the time.  You think I’d learn after all these years, right?  That was me though, squinting off into the distance, occasionally searching for a clue as to what (if anything) would become of this year’s worth of work that was now collecting dust on my shelf.  Little did I know how suddenly God would turn this situation around for my good and for His glory!

The Deafening Silence

Here’s part 3 of last year’s posts on this incredible experience of writing my first book.

So where did we last leave off?  If I recall correctly (and I know that I do, because I just went back to check) I had just realized that God’s purpose for this whole adventure was significantly bigger than I had first imagined.  I was holding a secret, a beautiful secret of a dream that I’d never even imagined wanting before.  It was impossible, it was insane, but it was there.

And in the meantime I was working on my manuscript, trying to turn my mess of words into a clear and precise expression of the powerful concept that God had placed in my heart.  And slowly but surely pieces were beginning to fall into place.  The hodgepodge of styles and ideas were starting to mesh together into something resembling a cohesive argument.  My words were starting to resemble a book!

But this is the point when things started to get hard – incredibly hard.

Here’s what would happen.  A friend or acquaintance would ask me what I was up to, and I would start to tell them about the book.  They would get excited and ask me if they could read it.  I would gladly say yes, tell them how eager I was for input, and then print out (or e-mail) the latest draft for them to read.

And then … nothing happened.  I wouldn’t hear back.  I would wait for a response for a month or two and then finally ask them about it.  Their response was always the same: “Oh yes, I started to read it, but then …” not one person I spoke to was able to tell me that they’d read the book through to the end.  Not one person was able to give me any kind of feedback whatsoever.  I can not express how frustrating it became.

Now before my friends and family read this and think I’m upset with them I need to clarify that I’m not.  I know, in all fairness, that the vast majority of these people were not avid readers – at least, not readers of this type of non-fiction.  This isn’t the type of book that they typically gobble up, and most of the time their eagerness to read it at all came more from their friendships with me than from an interest in the topic.  And aside from all of that I know without doubt that this was the way God designed the situation to happen – so how could I possibly be upset with anyone for doing exactly what He’d planned for them to do?  But in the midst of all of this, as it happened over and over again, the pattern was more disheartening that I can put into words.

I would work on a draft, run into someone who offered to read it, give it to them, and then hear nothing back.  And so I would go back to the manuscript and work through another draft – trying to make it better, more captivating, more un-put-down-able.  But the response never changed. It happened with my mother, my closest friends, my father, people from church … everywhere I looked there was someone who offered an open door that inevitably led me right into a brick wall.

The silence was deafening.

And the longer I went without any form of encouragement or critique the more the doubt and fear began to nibble at the edges of this dream.  I knew God was faithful – but I began to wonder if I was doing something wrong.  If I couldn’t get my friends to read this book, what were the chances that a stranger would care enough to pick it up, much less finish it?  And how was I ever going to get it published, distributed, and sold if I wasn’t even able to find supporters among the people whom I’ve always relied on?

At this point in my (I won’t say “panic” … let’s go with “struggle”) … at this point in my struggle I began, for the first time, to seriously consider the idea of self-publishing.  The very words “self-publishing” still send shivers down my spine – they conjure images of failure and mediocrity that harken back to those mailings I used to get in high school (We’d like to publish your poem – just send us $100 for your copy of the book).  Of course, now I know that self-publishing has undergone tremendous changes over the past ten years, and that the quality of self-published work has changed dramatically, but it was certainly my perception at the time.

And no, I hadn’t abandoned the idea of working with my church to start their own publishing house, but that dream was still so far over my horizon that I’d never seriously considered connecting it to my current project.

So I started doing research in between revisions.  I learned about self publishing, co-publishing, and what it takes to start a small publishing company.  I learned about the difference between “self publishing services” and websites that expected you to do all the work on your own.  I learned about buying ISBNs, about marketing and distribution, about print-on-demand technology, and about book layout and cover design.  I learned more about the production of a book than I’d ever imagined possible.

I spent weeks pouring over an incredible amount of data, and then one day I just stopped.  It wasn’t like I quit.  It wasn’t an intentional decision.  I had just printed out paper copies of my latest draft, just heard back from another friend who wanted to read the book, just sent her a copy, and was waiting (again) for a response.  And so I took a break for a week – and that week turned into many weeks.  Soon it was six months, and I hadn’t so much as opened the envelope where my latest paper manuscripts were waiting for me.

That was last October, and until this April that was as far as this story went.  I was at a standstill, and there was nothing left for me to do.  I felt like I was idling at a red light, just waiting for it to change to green.  But the more time I spent away from the whole thing, the less stressful it all became.  Yes, I still felt passionate about the topics my book discussed, and yes there was a piece of me that was still hungry for progress.  But in my soul I had nothing but peace.  I knew that this journey wasn’t over.  But I also knew that it wasn’t going to work in my time.

I think that’s the biggest lesson I learned from this period of frustrating silence and brick walls – that I would never be able to force God’s hand to move in my way or my time.  I knew that these dreams, these plans weren’t mine – they were His.  And with that knowledge came the assurance that He already had the answers in place.  He was going to give me exactly what He wanted, and when He did it was going to be glorious.  But until that moment, the best thing that I could do was learn to wait on Him.