The Courage to be You, Bravely

6-13-sweet-pearIt’s funny how sayings stick in your head. “Be You, Bravely” was the theme for my Mother’s of Preschooler’s group (MOPS) in Dallas a few years ago and I have reflected on it a lot this week.

Whether it comes through scrolling down the highlight reels of friends on Facebook and Instagram or comparing myself to what another person has in their life, God is teaching me to be me. And me alone. The temptation is to believe that other friends have it better, are more gifted, and suitable for their work. But the truth is that we all have challenges in our lives – some obvious, some unseen. We’re all gifted uniquely for God’s purposes – fashioned according to His will.

It takes courage to be You. And no one else. It’s much easier to be busy about what others are doing, instead of taking a good hard look inside your own heart and seeing what God is doing in you. Who has he made you to be? What dreams has he given you?

Recently, I was given an exciting opportunity from a Christian publishing company to be one of three writers to submit writing for an upcoming project they are working on with a respected author. They seemed very interested in my sample writing and was hoping I would move forward in letting the author see my samples. The problem was that I thought it was going to be a co-write and soon learned that it was a ghost-write. My heart immediately became unsettled.

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image: thejellyjars.com

If you aren’t familiar with ghostwriting, you are hired by a publisher to write the story/content that is officially credited to another person – in this case it was someone quite famous in the Christian world. In ghostwriting, you take on their voice but you receive no credit on the cover and you cannot reveal it in your portfolio. You’re usually given a good sum of money in ghostwriting, too. There are pros and cons to it.

Now, many in publishing don’t see this as a big deal. There are many books written by celebrities that have been ghostwritten. However there is another camp of people that believe it is unethical/bearing false witness/deceiving. Best-selling author Randy Alcorn has this point of view. Having never been asked before to consider ghostwriting, I wasn’t sure where I stood.

I can see why writers do it as it helps someone who may not be gifted in writing to get their story told. I do know writers that ghostwrite and I don’t judge them. But in my heart, I didn’t feel it was right for me. It also wasn’t in line with my personal goals in my writing career. I talked to trusted friends and my Dad who’s an excellent businessman and received affirmation not to move forward with it.

It was hard to let the publisher know I wasn’t interested, but I felt peace. I believe it is giving me greater clarity in what to pursue next in my writing career. It has taught me above all, to be me and to stick to my convictions. To not look at what everyone else is doing, and then determine what choice I should make based on that.

There is always temptation to look back and wonder if I made the best decision, but the still, small voice inside me continues to say, “Yes. Trust me. This is not a shut door, but an open one. Keep trusting me.”

Do you ever find it hard to be You? When have you been tempted to doubt what you knew was right?

– Samantha

Book Proposals and Trusting God’s Plan

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It’s been quite some time since I blogged last. Okay, four months! That is a long time but so much has been going on that I wanted to fill you in on. At the beginning of this year, an email popped up in my inbox that I didn’t expect. A Christian publisher who I greatly respect had taken notice of one of my article’s and asked about my interest in writing a book on the topic of relationships. Anyone who has known me for a long time knows that being an author has been a life long dream since the 4th grade. My heart beat fast and I was ecstatic.

I told my husband and my family and closest friends. I got back in touch with the publisher with an idea that they liked and I moved forward with working on the proposal. Jeremiah watched the kids for me on the weekends while I’d go to our local coffee shop to hammer out the first few sample chapters.

I felt like God was calling me to write for single women who are waiting on God’s will for a spouse, similar to the book Passion and Purity by Elisabeth Eliott. Deep down, I felt too intimated to tackle the topic of marriage. I submitted the proposal and felt confident. In May, I heard back from the publisher and they loved and affirmed my writing and passion, but felt like the market was too crowded for the idea to sell, but that maybe we just needed to explore a different direction.

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I was tempted to get discouraged but Jeremiah encouraged me that it wasn’t rejection, but redirection. I knew he was right and I wasn’t going to give up. I realized the market really was crowded and deep in my heart I felt God had something different in mind. Shortly after that time, Jeremiah and I began to brainstorm ideas on marriage. After all, I had been writing marriage articles for over 2.5 years now.

Jeremiah was able to make my ideas better since he’s a visionary and I’m more detail oriented. We found ourselves really excited working on our idea together. We pitched it to the publisher and suggested the idea of Jeremiah and I writing it together as co-authors. Slowly, my fears of writing a book on marriage began to fade as I realized it wasn’t about me.

Several weeks later while we were on our road trip from Texas to Michigan, we were able to talk on the phone further with the publisher.  I was so thankful for our conversation and their willingness to help us narrow our idea. They asked us to come up with a detailed proposal so when we got home from vacation, we got right to work whenever time allowed.

As we neared the end, we sent it to a few author and editor friends for feedback, we changed one of the sample chapters completely, we kept editing and polishing it up some more, and after letting it sit a while and then coming back to it for more edits, we decided it was finally ready.

Well,  I’m happy to say that we just recently submitted the proposal! So now we are waiting to see if the publisher would like to move forward.

This whole process has been such a journey, especially in the midst of raising our four young children and Jeremiah starting a remodeling business. It’s been busy, chaotic, hopeful, and exciting. We’ve definitely experienced spiritual warfare and arguments–  To be expected when tackling such a project. But I have been so blessed being able to work alongside my husband and watch his gifts shine through. When I compare this proposal to my first, I feel like it’s so much better having his point-of-view, insight, and thoughts from the male perspective. I absolutely love the book concept and it is unique in today’s market.

What I’ve realized most in this journey is that God’s plans are not mine. They are better. After hitting the send button to the publisher, I felt nervous and excited. Nervous knowing that they may or may not think it will sell, but excited at the possibility that it very well could and we might get to sign a contract. Of course, we’re praying for the latter.

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During the writing process, I’ve also felt who are we to write a book on marriage? At times, we feel so broken in our relationship and some days are just plain hard. But that is the beauty of the gospel. Jesus comes down to us. He puts things in our lap not because we deserve them. With his life laid down, he raises us out of brokenness and sin and chooses us to be a part of his mission. He uses imperfect people and reveals his perfection. That is a mystery I’ll never get over.

I’m humbled and honored at even the chance to send a proposal to a publisher and at the thought that God could use our stories and experiences to encourage other young married couples out there.

So rather than doubt myself or God’s plan, at the end of the day the only questions that really matters are, Am I surrendered to His will? Do I trust that His plans are good?

So no matter the outcome, we’ve giving it over to Him with palms open.

We certainly appreciate your prayers as we wait. In the mean time, I look forward to posting again when I’m not cleaning up messes and taming tantrums. 🙂

Why You Don’t Need to Write or Live to Please Anyone

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photo: shutterstock

A few months ago, I poured my heart out into an article and submitted it to the website’s editor to review. After clicking send, feelings of doubt washed over me and I started dissecting the words over and over in my mind.

What if no one can relate?

What if I offend someone?

I’m definitely not perfect

Was I being too honest and vulnerable?

Is my writing good enough?

The other day while my husband was driving and I had a few minutes of peace, I read some encouraging words from a writer and author I’ve followed for a while now. Jeff Goins wrote about the subtle, dangerous temptation to write for recognition:

We begin to focus on the audience more than the act of creating, and ultimately, our art suffers. We grow self-conscious and worrisome about how a certain word or phrase will be perceived. It becomes less about the art and more about how much other people like us.

As I read those words it was like my soul was being exposed. As a writer, it can be so difficult to spend hours upon hours creating words only to later fear what your audience will think of them. I have worried about that many times.

But the truth is that I write because I love it. It’s a part of who I am. I write to tell a story, share biblical truth, encourage, and instill life and hope into others. I write because I feel closest to God when I do. I don’t know any other way to make sense of life than to write. That’s probably why I’ve had 13 journals since middle school.

If I have an audience, great. That’s a privilege in and of itself. And I always keep the reader in mind. But I shouldn’t be writing to please anyone.

Naturally, this flows into my spiritual life. In fact, it’s dug down deep in the roots of my sinful nature. You’d think at 31 years of age this would have taken care of itself but insecurities are difficult to beat. Just ask my husband.

People pleasing in life and as a writer is dangerous because it’s man-centered, not God-centered. Living for the approval and admiration of man is an idol. Paul knew it well:

For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. – Gal. 1:10

It places the concern of people above God’s. It elevates them and not Him. And that’s a struggle that must be worked through.

But I know I’m human and in need of God’s grace. I need His discernment and love to guide me as I strive to bring him glory.

My article ended up going live at the first of the year. I prayed that God would use it how he wished and I was blown away by its positive response. Some readers contacted me through email and Facebook and we were able to encourage each other. Because it reached a broad range of people, I also had readers who misunderstood me.

One reader projected her pain onto me as the writer and she wasn’t nice.

I was tempted to get upset and dwell on her words. But I prayed for thick skin. And God gently reminded me that the audience I need to be most concerned about is the Audience of One.

The writing life is hard work, just like our faith journey. But it is love that motivates us to stay the course.

Do you find any of the above true in your own life? Feel free to share in the comments. 

Just a Note to Say…

coffee-cup-and-computerI’m still here!

I know it has been several weeks since I’ve posted. I’ve been working on a few writing projects that have taken up most of my hard-to-find spare time- a story for an upcoming Focus on the Family book (yay!), a few new articles, and a book review for my former professor, mentor, and friend Karen Swallow Prior’s new book, Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me. I’m in the midst of her review and will be posting a giveaway here soon so stay tuned.

A lot is happening in our home too. My husband has been thick into remodeling our master bath (quite the project!). As you can imagine with three young kids, it has been crazy. But we are so excited to be nearing the end of it. On Thursday, it will be two weeks until I’m due with our 4th child! It feels like yesterday that I was just writing the post about our surprise baby. Our baby boy will Lord willing complete our family so I’m really trying to savor all that’s happening right now.

I certainly value your prayers in this season of life. Feel free to drop a comment or email. I’d love to hear how you are doing.

As always, thank you for reading!

From the Archives: A Prayer for Thankfulness in Times of Pain

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Today I wanted to repost a prayer I wrote last year. The original post can be found here.

Father God,

We acknowledge that you are the giver of all good things. We live and breathe because of you. From your hands, You supply all that we need and so much more. But we confess that sometimes we are:

ungrateful…

unthankful…

selfish…

sinful…

hurting people…

I confess that at times I don’t see all the gifts you have given, are giving, and continue to give in my life. I confess that my ungratefulness at times has left me angry, bitter, and wanting. My unthankfulness has made me blind to all that I have. I know my heart needs radical change.

Some of us are unthankful because we’ve experienced a great amount of pain and suffering this year. We’ve lost loved ones and unborn children. Our marriages and relationships are broken. We’re dealing with sickness, injustice, and depression. We’re struggling financially and need a miracle. Circumstances don’t seem to be in our favor. Ever. Some of us wonder why in the world you work the way that you do.

I confess that at times I have caused my own pain and have projected that hurt onto other people.

God, help us to lean into your grace when we’re weak and feel like giving up. Because Lord we are so frail apart from you. Help us to give you thanks because when we choose not to we know that our wounds and pain only grow deeper.

Will you teach us and show us that you are good regardless of the pain and hurt we may feel in this life? You are worthy to be praised in the valley and on the mountaintop. Remind us that you still:

turn ashes into beauty.

instill life into dead bones.

give the oil of joy for mourning.

soften the hardest of hearts.

change sinners into saints.

transform brokenness into wholeness.

wash our sins and make them white as snow.

redeem and restore the years the enemy has stolen.

And let us remember that you have already endured the ultimate shame and suffering on the cross for your glory and our good. Help us to persevere to the end until we see you face to face.

In the meantime, may today, this week and the rest of the year give us a renewed sense of genuine Thanksgiving in each of our hearts regardless of our circumstances. We love you.

In Jesus’ name,

Amen

A Special Thanks to You, My Reader

My husband had a seminary professor tell him once that if you ever go into a church to preach or speak that you should always first thank your audience for having you. Because the truth is that no one has to listen to you. No one has to spend an hour under your teaching. It’s a privilege and honor to communicate to the hearts of your hearers and for someone to take the time to listen to what you have to say.

As a communicator, always thank your audience.

That was the gist of what his professor was urging his seminary students to do. I think his professor was also stressing the importance of humility and I thought it was great wisdom for writing as well.

No one has to read what I write on this blog or in any other publications. It is a privilege to even have an audience who will take 10 minutes out of their day to read a post or an article. And I’m grateful and humbled that you as a reader do this.

Whether it is one person, 10 people, or 50 people, I care about each of you. I care about what is going on in your daily life and I care about your relationship with Christ. In addition to my love and passion for writing, I consider writing as a ministry to you.

I also want you to know that I pray for you and think of you when I write any post or article. While many of my posts are personal narratives or begin as personal stories, I’m always thinking of you and how God might use my words to speak truth and life into your heart. I’m always praying that God would show you more of himself.

And in return, I love hearing from you even if it’s just to say “hi.” Your comments and feedback encourage me and spur me on in this journey. The Lord knows we all need it!

So… that’s all I really have to say. Thank you being the best readers any writer could ever want.

Writing and The Ups & Downs of Social Media

I’m linking up with Sarah Markley today discussing social media in the writing world.

In college and seminary, I wrote primarily for magazines. I had no idea who my readers were personally. I didn’t have a blog, Facebook, Twitter or an i-Phone.

Shortly after I got married, I joined Facebook. Then after a writer’s conference in 2007, I was encouraged to start a blog. A few years later I joined Twitter for the purpose of networking with other writers and authors but I wasn’t sold on it for a while. I questioned:

Do I really need one more thing to put my energy towards? Will this become a distraction? Do I really need to be on it?

After becoming a stay-at-home mom in 2010, I started to see that being heavily involved in social media was a big deal in order to be a successful writer. You had to let others know about your work and gain a following. And you needed social media to build relationships that could lead to being published.

I understood the necessity of having a good platform but my love and passion for writing was getting shoved under the bus by the hype and noise of social media and self-promotion. I realized this more vividly through Jeff Goins, who helps writers get back to the basics of loving the craft. I wondered:

Could I just write for writing’s sake because I loved it, felt close to God through it, and wanted to encourage others?

Social Media and the Heart of it All

I felt like I couldn’t keep up with everyone else in the social media world. I found myself overwhelmed rather than enjoying it as a tool for connection, edification, and outreach. My heart desired to be noticed by others and my mood was sometimes dictated by how many retweets, responses, blog stats, comments, likes, and shares I had.

After a lot of wrestling the day came when I realized I had to make a choice. My time spent on social media would have to be limited and I would have to be okay with not being excessively involved for the sake of my relationship with the Lord, my husband and children, and my love for writing.

As I started to ask God to help me live in moderation, I found more freedom from the desire to people please, compare myself to others or feel like I wasn’t “being” or “doing” enough in the online world.

The Art of Disconnecting & Connecting

I wrote when I sensed God leading me to write something. I got on Twitter and Facebook a few times throughout the day but it wasn’t the end of the world if I went several days without sharing anything or reading other feeds. I practiced the art of turning my phone on silent so I didn’t feel the urgency to respond to every chime or notification. I set limits on how often I would check email and blog comments. It was more challenging than I thought!

I connected with people and readers more individually through email or a personal message rather than publicly. I started to enjoy the benefits and blessings of social media rather than feeling exhausted or overwhelmed. 

With the ability to share posts on Facebook and Twitter, God has given me the opportunity to connect with friends and readers I never guessed were reading and minister to them in unique ways. He’s also given me the opportunity to guest post for authors that I love and to become a contributing writer to a few sites.

I’ve learned new things and gained fresh insight through social media. And probably the thing I love most is getting to know readers and connecting with them in a more personal way that can’t be done through magazine writing.

Life is Happening Where You Are

I don’t have it all together when it comes to balancing the benefits of social media. It’s a daily choice and discipline to make sure my heart is in line and I’m using it for the right purposes.

Will I continue to use social media in the future? Absolutely. But as a writer, wife, and mom my time will be guarded. Life is happening where I am right now and I don’t want to miss out. There will always be time later to post, share, reply, connect, and write.

What about you? Do you ever struggle with finding a balance with social media? What do you like/dislike about it?

 

“Resting” in the Writing World

Today before John’s nap we read the book I Knew You Could by Craig Dorfman. It’s a children’s book I highly recommend full of inspiration and encouragement similar to the classic, The Little Engine That Could. But I beg to say it’s even better.

The words at the end rang true for me today:

When your belief in yourself doesn’t feel quite so pure, and your “I think I can” doesn’t sound quite so sure.

That’s when to push and to strive and to strain, to show the world you’re not a giving-up train. And you’re wise if you know that doing your best means that sometimes you should just slow down and rest.

Speeding through your whole trip will bring only sorrow, so slow down today to be happy tomorrow.

I’m such a dreamer and often want things now. Starting this new site and recently accepting offers for new writing responsibilities has been so exciting. I could write all day if there was time. But my priorities are the Lord, my husband, children, and managing my home.

All of which means that writing comes after all of that. And I know that in order to do my best in the writing world requires me to slow down and rest. Dreams take time and the most important things in life can’t be sacrificed.

I’ve seen the opposite happen (dreams happening fast at the expense of spouse/children) in lives of highly talented and successful people. Some are still making it but some have crumbled and it’s so sad.

As I enter a new season of writing, my prayer is to strive and strain towards my goals but to slow down and rest simultaneously so that I’ll be able to stay at writing for the long haul. If that makes any sense at all.

What about you… How do you balance your dreams with reality? Do you find it easy or hard to rest?

You Write the Title, I’ll Write the Post

For my next blog post, I thought it would be fun to include you in the creative process.

I’d love for you to write the title for me! Then, I will write my next post based on your title.

If there is a certain topic you’d like for me to write on, you might want to include it in the title. Here is an article from CopyBlogger on how to write catchy titles. Don’t think too hard though. I want this to be fun for all of us.

Feel free to also go through my Archives to see titles written in the past.

I’ll choose the one I think I can tackle and praise you for your great work.

Ready. Set. Go!

10 Tips to Becoming a Better Blogger

In September 2007, I attended the North Texas Christian Writer’s Conference. At that time, I was a year out of getting my Master’s, I’d interned for two well-known Christian publishing companies, I’d been published in several magazines and contributed to two teen books.

But I was itching for more. I just couldn’t put my fingers on what it was.

That’s when I sat under the writing workshops of authors James Watkins and Christopher Maselli. I took to heart their advice:

Every writer needs to have a blog.

Christopher had a workshop dedicated solely to helping you start a blog. I wrote down all his notes, came home, and started what you’re reading today on WordPress.com.

I didn’t know much about blogging, I just wanted a space to write and the opportunity to hear from readers. The same is true today.

Sure, I research how to write good blog posts. I subscribe to CopyBlogger.com. I frequent blogs of writers and authors I enjoy and respect. But at the end of the day, I simply write from my heart. I figure a day will come when blogging is no longer cool, and that’s okay because I’ll still keep writing.

One of my newest readers, Meg Pieroway, asked if I had any tips or advice about blogging as she’s launching a Christian blog soon. I smiled when I read her comment because I was already thinking about writing something about my journey in blogging. So thank you, Meg, for the nudge.

I hope these tips will help many of you as you pursue your passion to write.

10 Tips to Becoming a Better Blogger

1.) Be Yourself. You’ve heard it over and over, but it’s true. Learn and grow from bloggers you love, but remember their voice is not yours. Take advantage of the fact that there is no one like you in this world and that’s how God wanted it to be. There is someone who needs to hear your voice.

2.) Write When You Don’t Feel Like It. Emotions come and go, but the truth is that you love to write. Take the first step and start typing. I’m pretty sure you’ll fall in love again and get hooked into some kind of post. Either way, you’ll be glad you chose discipline and commitment over your feelings.

3.) Never Publish Your First Draft. Writing is an art and takes time to craft. Write your post, sit on it for a few hours or a day, and come back to it to edit, shorten, proof-read, simplify, and tighten. You’ll be amazed at what you want to change and reword to make the post better.

4.) Don’t Get Hung Up On Blog Traffic. It’s exciting when you get 500 hits a day on your blog and you check the stats throughout the day to watch them soar. But in my experience, blog traffic can be a major distraction and can put you in a good or bad mood.

You’re writing for God, yourself, and your tribe or niche. Stats are important to make sure people are actually reading, but keep first things first.

5.) Reply to Readers’ Comments. Your readers are responding to your posts partly because they want you to know they’re reading. And deep down, they’d love your response. Who wouldn’t? This doesn’t mean you have to respond to every. single. one. but you want them to know you care.

6.) Work Hard at the Craft of Writing. Discipline always requires sacrifice. The writing life isn’t an easy road and success doesn’t happen over night. Some bloggers are successful right off the bat and their blog turns into a book. But for the majority of bloggers it takes years to hone your skill, know your audience, and find your voice. Writing on a regular basis will pay off.

7.) Share Your Blog Posts on Facebook, Twitter, & Other Social Networking Sites. Who needs one more post in their news feed, right? Well your post might be the one that someone desperately needs to read on that particular day. Social networking sites are a perfect way to get the word out about your blog and to connect with readers. And they’re great for finding other writers with your interests.

8.) Be Discerning With Self-Promotion. In the publishing business, having a platform and being willing to market yourself is crucial. That’s just the rules of the game. As writers who follow Christ, there is a fine line when it comes to the sins of pride, vanity, and boasting.

I haven’t figured all of it out yet, but be cautious and discerning in the ways you let others know about your work. Check your motives and your heart. Is your purpose to draw attention to yourself, or to edify and equip?

9.) Mark Your Writing with Authenticity. Our generation craves it and the Lord knows the church needs more of it. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable or share your weaknesses and struggles. People will relate to you all the more if they know you’re human.

When I read posts, I often ask: Where is the conflict or struggle? If one doesn’t exist, I question it. Conflict is a natural part of life.

10.) Don’t Ever Give Up. I wanted to quit blogging at one point. It was difficult and I wasn’t seeing the results I wanted, in the timing I desired. I eventually discovered that it was all about me and God showed me I needed to get out of the way. He had bigger plans for my writing. And he used many people to encourage me in that, especially the words of a friend and reader, Scott McCreedy.

There were also times I wrote to please people and that did nothing but hinder me. So I renewed myself in my passion to write and didn’t worry about those latter things. Now, I see blogging as another tool for God to use my writing however he wants and I’m just happy to get to do what I love.

If writing is a gift God has given you, push back whatever lies are roaming around in your head and keep at it! This world needs your voice.

Now it’s your turn to chime in. What have I left out? Blogger or non-blogger, what do you think it takes to be a great blogger? 

Above photo credit: lsgeekster.blogspot.com

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