I Got a Gold Star!

Back in Mrs. Edgell’s second-grade class, we had math races. It was a test to see who could do the page of addition or subtraction problems the fastest AND get them all correct. There were five of us in class that I remember being in the top time and time again: Samie, David, Darren, Sherry, and me. It was many years ago, so who knows what reality was but this is my memory. Mrs. Edgell gave us first, second, and third-place ribbon stickers on the top of the pages. I loved these because I was at the top of the class on these tests. I feel a little bad for those who never won one. But in addition to these tests, we often had the foil star stickers put at the top of the page when we did well on our school work. I was motivated by the stickers! Give me the gold star! I also love to hear “good job” or “way to go” or any words of praise. It is embarrassing to say this motivates me, but it does. Getting those extrinsic rewards encourages me every time! 

 I am wired to need positive reinforcement. In the writing world, there aren’t that many “gold stars” given out in the form of writing awards. I wasn’t expecting that with this book, but it has been nice to hear some positive feedback about Seeking the Silver Lining. The reviews have been coming in SLOWLY, but they are all positive so far. To foster my continued writing, I need that little boost of confidence that I am doing something worthwhile. It is nice to hear that the time and effort I put into writing and editing is blessing the people who read it. Because I need to hear praise to stay motivated, I will take all of the gold stickers in the form of reviews. If you have read my book, can you please review it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and/or Goodreads? It doesn’t have to be lengthy or detailed, say what you liked about the book or simply “enjoyed this book .” Knowing what you think of my book will do my heart a world of good and keep me motivated to write books two and three.

Thanks to all who have read and given me “gold” stars on my reviews! I truly appreciate you giving me this proverbial pat on the back.

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Gratitude 2022

I have a cacophony of voices in my head and from society saying I’m not enough or worthy or successful if I don’t do X, Y, and Z. Do you feel it too? If I had X amount of money, or my business had Y amount of profit, or my home is in Z neighborhood, I would be where I need to be. And that doesn’t even touch what society tells me about how I should look or act for my age, gender, or social status. So much negativity! So much pressure to be a certain way!

I put myself in the public light by writing this blog, posting on social media, writing books, and recently publishing my first book Seeking the Silver Lining. The vulnerability it takes to do this is heroic, but I feel less than a hero. I feel unsure and unsettled. I am sensitive to the reviews or lack thereof, and it can bring me down if I let it.

In this season of gratitude, I’ve forced myself to be intentional about being grateful. Gratitude generates joy. The more we are thankful, the more joyful we will be. Instead of looking at how many books I haven’t sold or listening to the naysayers, I am focusing on how thankful I am. I appreciate my supporters and those who shared stories in my book. I am grateful that my book is published and blessing others. And most of all, I’m thankful that God called me to serve by writing. The writing isn’t about me and can’t be about me because it is about serving God, who can use my writing to bless others.

So when you are struggling with those harsh voices in your head or from society saying you don’t have enough or aren’t good enough, overpower those thoughts with words of gratitude and affirmation. I am so grateful for_____. Make a long list of what you are thankful for (not just at thanksgiving but all year long) and add to it daily. You are good enough. You are worthy. Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 5:20 says, “Always give thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Growing Despite Crap

My book Seeking the Silver Lining is coming soon. I learned a lot from hearing the stories for this book. One important lesson was that no matter the soil we were planted in, the environment we grew in, or the weather we endured, we can bloom and thrive just like this flower growing in an unlikely place.

Life will always have its ups and downs, but we use what we have and make the best of it. We can flourish if we continue to have faith, dream big, and work hard. There can be beauty that can come from a rocky beginning (or middle). The awful parts aren’t your whole story. Our experiences shape and change us, but the hard parts can be used for good. Finding value in our difficulties gives us hope and joy. We must trust that God can take the crap we endure and use it as fertilizer for us to grow and flourish. Remember Romans 8:28 “All things work together for good for those who love God.”

What has shaped you? How have your trials made you better or stronger? I pray that you will lean on God in challenging seasons, find beauty in your situation, and grow no matter your circumstances. 

Grieving What Won’t Be

Perhaps some would say it is part of a midlife crisis, but I’m going to consider it more of an awakening and grieving. I have done so much in my life. I’ve had many joys, adventures, pleasures, and happiness thus far, and I pray I have many more. However, recently I’ve been a little grumpy and sad, so I did some reflection and soul searching to assess why. I figured out that I long for some things that will never be, and thus I grieve. I am approaching 50 (50! I still have one more year, but that number looms large on the horizon), and I am looking at what is realistic about what is to come and what will never be.

It is perfectly okay to grieve and be sad about things that won’t happen in your lifetime. There are only so many years in this life, and some ideas or expectations won’t come to fruition because there isn’t enough time, enough money, or it just wasn’t meant to be.

This isn’t the first time that lost expectations have caused me grief. I tend to have high expectations about events, vacations, etc., and when things don’t go according to what was in my mind, I get sorely disappointed. Surely, I’m not the only one this happens to.

I have to learn to enjoy what is and release expectations. I am not saying to dream less or not pursue those dreams. I need to understand what is possible and let go of what will never be. It is okay to ache and cry and perhaps be a little grumpy, but when I’ve made it through the grieving process, I need to find the joy in all I have and all I’ve done. Having a mindset of gratitude leads to contentment. I have indeed been blessed in this life. Focusing on the good gives my heart peace and hope for all to come, without expectations.

“Peace begins when expectation ends.”—Sri Chinmoy

Climb that Mountain

Mountains are what we climb literally and metaphorically. Some are worth climbing; others are best for viewing from a distance. Some you may begin to ascend and possibly even go a long way into the climb and realize this is not your mountain. Although you’ve put much time and energy into this effort, it is okay to turn around and find the perfect mountain for you. Don’t feel defeated if you don’t reach the summit—delight in the experience and all you’ve accomplished.

Climbing a mountain isn’t fun. It hurts physically and mentally. Am I strong enough? Am I brave enough? Can I do it? Labored breathing. Muscle aches. Test of determination. But then those views! You wouldn’t get those at the base of the climb. And that confidence, pride, and joy you feel after conquering the mountain make the struggle and agony worth it. Look where one foot in front of the other, little by little, got you! To the top, baby!

Whatever your mountain, how determined are you? How much are you willing to give? How hard will you work? You don’t have to do it alone; use your friends and community to encourage and push you to the top. The summit is yours to take if you are up for the challenge.

What is growing?

It has been so dang hot that I haven’t gone out to work in my flower beds. The weeds are taking over! Before long, they will be strangling my perennials. As I’m looking at the forecast and contemplating when it may be a good time to do some weeding, I think I may need to do some weeding in my life, plucking out the things that are strangling my joy. I also need to be intentional about watering, nourishing, and pruning what I want to grow.

It is easy enough to let anger, jealousy, or hurt fester in my heart while dismissing how it is spreads and takes over my joy and contentment. These harmful feelings can hijack my satisfaction with life and can permeate every thought and decision. They will smother the good if I don’t take the time to work on my spiritual and emotional well-being. I need to eradicate the harmful thoughts and feelings by intentionally growing joy and finding the blessings in each situation. I will be more fruitful as I lean on God, who can weed and prune the garden of my heart.

It may get messy as I excavate old feelings, but as those are replaced by new growth, I will be healthier and stronger. Just remember that a beautiful garden takes time, patience, and effort. What weeds in your life need to be plucked right now? May joy overtake your heart just as the weeds are overtaking my flowers right now. Happy gardening, my friends!

“No one likes the process of pruning and the pain of loss, but fruit only grows on new wood.”–Leonard Sweet

How to Help Someone Become a Successful Writer, Musician, or Small Business Owner

exponent (n.) 

  1. A person or thing that is a representative, advocate, type, or symbol of something
  2. Someone who tries to persuade other people to support an idea, theory, plan, etc.

Synonyms: supporter, champion, proponent, promoter

If I tell 10 people how excellent a book, song, or small business is and those 10 people tell 10 people, then those 10 people tell 10 people (you get the idea), these people who are sharing this information are exponents. They are advocating for what they love while multiplying the visibility of the idea or commodity.

If you are a writer or business owner, exponents are the ones who support you and encourage others to support you, exponentially raising the awareness of your book or brand. We need to find our exponents! Besides having a well-done product, exponents are the primary way we will become beloved writers, musicians, or small business owners. Success in these areas is not an individual endeavor. People need proponents of their product or service. The world would not know about Harry Potter, Harry Styles, or even a favorite hair salon if the word didn’t get out.

Have you ever noticed that there is no advertising for books? We learn about them by word of mouth or through social media. If you are a writer who is lucky enough to have many presales, you can get on best sellers lists, but how do you get presales or any sales for that matter? People telling people. There aren’t commercials, billboards, or even Facebook ads about books being released. The cheapest and most effective method of success is through exponents’ word of mouth, posting on social media, and leaving reviews.

Please be exponents for those you wish to support. Whether you know it or not, you are part of the marketing team for what you love. Doesn’t it feel good to know that you are part of someone’s success story? It is because of you! Don’t think it isn’t true! Don’t dumb down your role. Because if each of you didn’t do your part, success would not happen. Period. The end. Every exponent is necessary and important! Thank you to all of the exponents in my life and in the world. You are appreciated! 

To All the Grapes Who Don’t Hang with the Bunch

I have a quirk, well, I have many quirks, but I’m going to share one with you today. When I buy a bunch of grapes, if any have fallen off of the vine and ended up in the bottom of the bag, I will not eat them. Why? I think those grapes can’t be as good as the rest, and there must be something wrong with them. But when I was thinking about that this week, I realized the grapes are a good metaphor for how we treat people.

We think that people who don’t follow the crowd or hang with the majority are odd or bizarre. Sometimes they get our side-eye as we walk by. Perhaps we think we wouldn’t have anything in common. Maybe we believe their non-conformity is a defect. Are we willing to open our minds and learn from all around us? Don’t brush misfits off immediately in our minds. Haven’t we learned from Rudolph that we are all misfits? Get to know people who aren’t like you. There are similarities under the apparent differences. Have meaningful and deep conversations with those who don’t look or act like you. What can we learn from each other? The world is a more beautiful place with various cultures and personalities.

To all of the grapes who don’t hang with the bunch,

I see you.

I’ve too quickly discarded you,

Disregarded you.

Thought you weren’t good enough.

I was wrong.

Continue to be original,

Create your own path.

You are valued and good.

Sameness is blandness.

It’s extraordinary not to be ordinary.

There is strength in diversity,

Excitement in variety.

Be uniquely you.

You don’t need to hang with the bunch.

Best Dog in the World?

“I have the best dog in the world.” “He is perfect!” My family and I have said similar things in the three years we’ve had Winston. But I realize you’ve probably said the same statement about your fur babies. So who is right? I believe we are all right because I think that God has given us the pet that is perfect for our family. 

When my daughter was about four years old, she started asking for a dog. It took about nine years for her to convince her dad that we should get a puppy. That timing led us to Winston and we feel so fortunate to have him. He is so cute, cuddly, and sweet. We’ve asked, “how did we get so lucky to get the best one?” God blessed us. And he blesses us by giving us things that are perfect for us, not anyone else: our spouse, home, job, friends, church, pets, and so much more. 

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:17 NIV)

“And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9:8 NIV)

“The Lord will send a blessing on your barns and on everything you put your hand to. The Lord your God will bless you in the land he is giving you.” (Deuteronomy 28:8 NIV)

Maybe your Great Dane is perfect for you and our Shih Tzu wouldn’t be what your family needs. God knows your heart and his will for your life and he will lead you to what will bless you and your family, whether that is with your dog or any other aspect of your life. God is abundant in his love and goodness. We feel so grateful to have Winston. He is the best dog in the world, at least for us.

Winston

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

My mother-in-law recently got a new neighbor. She left some goodies for the lady, welcoming her to the neighborhood. It was such a sweet gesture! It has been a long time since I’ve taken a basket of cookies to a new neighbor. From my observation, this is becoming less and less common, but perhaps that is just in my neighborhood.

Why have I stopped reaching out to new neighbors? Am I a recluse or anti-social? No, I worry that the person may have food allergies or be on a special diet. I don’t bring non-food items because I’m afraid they want to keep to themselves and don’t want to be bothered. Also, do I have time to pick up a little gift at the store or make something homemade? Is it worth the effort? Can’t I simply wave as I see them pull into their driveway and maybe say hello at the mailbox? Is being friendly to the new neighbor worth the effort?

A neighbor is more than just someone who lives next door who you may borrow a cup of sugar from or a teaspoon of cream of tartar (right, Cathy?!). It is nice to look out for one another for things such as letting your neighbor know not to let their dog out because there is a coyote nearby or that they left their garage door open. It is good to be friendly even if these people aren’t going to be your best friends but, who knows, they may become just that. I’ve be fortunate enough to experience this (Wendy and Cathy).

I’m sure we’ve all had a rotten neighbor or two, making us not want to connect with someone new. I’ve had some bad neighbors through the years. Ones that don’t take care of their space or play loud music at all hours can be annoying and difficult. I can’t let the bad neighbors I’ve had prevent me from being a good neighbor now.

The house next door to us is empty and I expect that someone will be moving in soon. I should reach out and be a good neighbor. If they aren’t receptive, that’s on them, not me.

A good neighbor is a blessing and a bad neighbor is a lesson in how much you appreciate good neighbors. So be a good neighbor. Reach out. Connect. We build a community we love by creating connections and relationships. To have a good neighbor, start the trend by being a good neighbor. Kindness is never wrong.