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I pause at the fringe, looking ahead to the brown and green. Phone slides into the pocket of my bag, and I’m ready to go. I hoist the bag on my shoulder and step into the wood proper. The pavement falls away behind me, and with every step, so do the sounds of civilization. Instead of the slight crunch of loose stones on the pavement, I hear the scrape of dirt, the crackle of dry leaves, and the snap of twigs with every step. Birdsong and the slight buzz of many insects fall on my ears as the whine of cars along a busy road and the chatter from crowds of people fall away. A breeze through the trees adds the shush of leaves brushing against one another and the creak of tall boughs. Plops and scurrying feet in the underbrush attest to squirrels and other critters. And I settle into myself, allowing my thoughts to fill the quiet space in front of me. Here, in this space, I reclaim who I am.

 

We’ve talked a lot about relationships, but so far we’ve talked about relationships with other people. But one of the most important relationships you will ever have is the relationship you have with yourself. This relationship dictates how you view and interact with the world, and it directs your part in relationships with others. But, like all relationships, it takes time to develop a good relationship with yourself. You have to take time to spend with yourself.

When you spend quality time with other people and work to build those relationships, you don’t do so by sitting on your device while in the room with the other person. In the same way, you need to put down the devices and disconnect from the world of social media in order to truly develop a relationship with yourself. From personal experience, I recommend getting out of the house, away from civilization and the temptation to check social media and use those devices.

For me, nature is a great place to relax. The calm and stillness fills me up and I’m able to tap into that inner part of me that I often lose when I’m surrounded by the noise and bustle of everyday life. The woods are my haven when I need to get away and rediscover myself. But you don’t need to go to the woods as I do. Find the place in nature that works best for you–you could go to a deserted stretch of beach, a canyon, a valley, a plain. Go wherever works for you, but make sure to unplug from the Internet and your devices. After all, when you don’t have all of that information flowing into you, you’re able to discover what you already have inside.

You can discover yourself.

 

What’s your preferred place for getting away and rediscovering yourself? Share in the comments below!

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Giants

Giants. We all have them. They come from gossip, labels, experiences.

They come from fears.

Each of us has our own giants. We’re all afraid of something. Sure, you can be afraid of spiders, millipedes, birds, or whatever. But those aren’t giants. Giants are the fears that reside deep within us. The fears that hold us back or push us to do something we aren’t comfortable with.

All too often, giants are relational fears. I would go so far as to say 99% of giants are in some way related to, well, relationships. Because to be human is to be relational. I could live alone on the most secluded mountain in the world, and I would still have relationships. Being in relationship is part of our make-up. We can’t escape it.

And you know what else is with me on that secluded mountain? My giants. There’s a reason I’m alone, secluded. I’m afraid of something: letting others down, getting hurt, etc. Whatever it is, it’s a relational giant.

All of our worst giants include ourselves with other people. And these giants build walls around our hearts. Big, thick, sturdy walls. And we let them, because what the giants tell us make sense: the walls will keep us safe. And they’re right; those walls will keep us safe. But those walls will also keep us prisoner.

The giants don’t build gates into the walls–they’re just solid circles of the hardest stone. So while those walls keep us safe, they also keep us trapped within our own fears.

Everyone has giants. Mine? I’m terrified of ending up alone, losing everyone I love. At one time, this giant kept me from getting close to anyone. Sure, it kept me safe, but I still felt alone. Exactly what I was afraid of and didn’t want to happen. I was too afraid to speak up for myself and let others know who I was. I was too afraid to tear down that wall.

I was afraid to become a giant killer.

A few weekends ago, I attended Taylor University’s Professional Writing Conference. Jim Watkins gave a keynote session that addressed this very issue: I am a Giant Killer.

And Jim Watkins is right: We all need to become giant killers. We need to stand up to the fears holding us back, whatever area of our lives the giants hold on to. We need to take those areas back for ourselves. This can be anything: a career, a job, a hobby, a relationship, or even a personal confession.

We may never be fully rid of these fears even if we do kill these giants. But if we acknowledge that they’re there it can do a world of good. If we can acknowledge our own deep fears, we’ve already made a huge step in the right direction. Because while we may never be able to fully eradicate those fears, if we know what they are we have more power to combat them and move forward in our lives. We’re no longer held captive by them.

This theme runs through our world: our arts, books, conversations, music, TV, stories, paintings, movies. They all ask the same question: What are you afraid of?

So don’t be afraid to be a giant killer. Dare to discover who you truly are at your core–the you without fear.

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Gossip Divisions

Gossip. A word we hear and–sometimes–instantly dislike. Sometimes, we want to have others “gossip” about us–all good things, of course. But “gossip” doesn’t at all equate with good. Dictionary.com defines gossip as “idle talk or rumor, especially about the personal or private affairs of others.” Not a positive definition.

When we gossip about others, we tend to talk about information they never wanted public. Or we’re spreading an untrue rumor. Along with the gossip, then, we give our own opinions. Opinions that can be unfair and untrue because they’re not founded on facts and true knowledge of a person. In gossip, we judge and label others.

We can all start gossip. It’s easy. Have a problem with a friend? Maybe we’ll post on Facebook or Twitter something they don’t want shared with the world. Or we’ll call them a name that doesn’t at all pertain to them. Or we’ll just rant and let other people take it from there. Gossip is easily started and difficult to stop. And if something’s put on the internet, it’s out there for the whole world to see: No takebacks.

We have to remember that gossip hurts people. Sooner or later, whoever it is the gossip or post is about will hear about it. And, chances are, they’ll hear everyone’s opinions, too. And that hurts, even if it’s just a rumor. But especially if it’s something they’d told someone in confidence. Because now the whole school/group/world knows.

We don’t have to spread gossip. It can stop with us. Maybe we can’t entirely stop it, but we can keep it from spreading to that one person we could tell. Sure, maybe they’ll hear from someone else. But we won’t have spread it. Better yet, if it’s gossip about someone we know, we can talk to them about it. We can warn them of what’s going on, so they can (maybe) prepare themselves for what’s to come. And we can stand beside them as a friend.

The root of the problem, though, is that gossip starts somewhere. And lots of times, it starts from an argument or some animosity between two people. It can even start from the carelessness of a friend, though the friend doesn’t intend for it to happen. Don’t let it start with you.

But it can be hard sometimes. If you’re angry with a friend, you want to rant about it. You want to tell someone. Well, write it down. Tell yourself. Don’t let anger at a friend drive you to post something false or private of theirs on social media. And don’t let it drive you to verbally tell anyone those things either. Take time to cool down. Sleep on it. Then, go back to your friend and try to talk it out. Be wise, and don’t burn the bridges of friendship with one angry outburst.

But, it can also start other ways. When a friend tells you something in confidence, seeking advice, but you don’t have the wisdom to help them, you’re tempted to go to someone else to get help and advice. But you need to be sure that’s okay with your friend, first. After all, they told you and only you for a reason. And if you do need to seek someone else’s advice, choose an adult you trust and make sure it’s okay with your friend that you talk to that adult. Don’t go to a peer, who may not have any more advice than you. That peer may go to one of their friends, and on and on. Then, the information is spread, your friend finds out, and they’re angry at you. It can lead to big problems, and losing a friendship.

Don’t let gossip create divisions among you and your friends. If you need help with something your friend told you, ask them if you can talk to a trusted adult. And respect their answer. If you’re angry or have a problem with a friend, don’t rant on social media or to another friend. Take time to cool down, and go talk it out with your friend. Chances are, you’ll be able to save the friendship.

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Judging Labels

We all judge people. It’s a part of our human nature, whether we want to do it or not. We could even try not to judge others, but we will do it anyway. We can, however, choose to look past those judgments. To get to know the person we’re judging. More often than not, we’ll find our own judgement was wrong.

There are many things we use to judge other people. We do it at a glance every day. And when we judge someone, we put a label on them. We find one or two words that “describe” them.

But a person can’t be defined in just one or two words.

When we label someone, we put them in a box. And when we interact with them, if we ever do, we expect them to stay in the box with that label. And sometimes expectation is all it takes to beat a person into staying in that box, into living up to the label that may not describe them.

We judge others and label them using many factors, taking things in at a glance. Mannerisms, clothing, posture, cleanliness, manner of speech, and even skin color. All theses are things we use to judge and label others. And others use these things to judge and label us.

But these judgments are based off of our own perceptions and preferences. They’re not fact. When we judge others, we bring in our own experiences and tastes. Things we’ve learned, beliefs we have or have adopted.

There’s always more to a person than what we judge them by.

Each of us has a soul, a past, a story to tel. If we judge before we know a person, we could miss out on a great story, a great lesson, a great friend.

We can’t expect ourselves to stop judging others. It’s human nature. But we can get ourselves to look past those judgments and get to know the person we’re judging. We don’t have to get to know every person we come across. That’s not feasible. But we should always remember that there’s more to a person than meets the eye. Appearances aren’t everything, and they can be deceiving.

 

After all, isn’t there more to you than what can be seen with the naked eye?

 

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When I’ve heard other writers give advice about attending writers’ conferences, there are two pieces of advice I always hear: “Connect with people you don’t know. Network.” and “Go to everything offered.”

For first-time conferees, these two phrases can put a lot of pressure on both the conferee and the conference. There are many expectations for the experience. However, while I think that both pieces of advice are good to hear, I also think we need to take them with a grain of salt.

“Connect with people you don’t know. Network.”

Networking is good, and so is connecting with writers, agents, editors, etc. that you don’t know. However, this can put a lot of pressure on conferees, especially introverts. While at the conference, they’re worried about talking to enough people, and the use much of their energy trying to work up the courage to talk to strangers all day. As an introvert myself, I’ve found this to be extremely exhausting. And as I use up my energy trying to talk with people the whole time, per the advice I’ve received, I find it harder at times to focus on the workshops and have energy for the things I am excited about.

Another thing that I thought when I heard this piece of advice was that I had to connect with a lot of people. I took it in the sense of “meet someone, have a short, meaningful conversation, and move on to meet someone new.” But I think sometimes you just need to connect with those old friends you haven’t seen in a while, or even those acquaintances you don’t know that well. Here’s one of my own experiences.

This past weekend I attended the Indiana Faith and Writing Conference in Anderson, Indiana. I was there with a group of fellow classmates, and a lot of the time I talked with them. Instead of branching out at lunch and sitting with a group of strangers, I chose to sit with a few of my classmates, most of whom I hardly ever talked to. And we had a wonderful conversation. For that day, it was my favorite part of the conference, and I feel I gained much more out of having lunch and interacting with my classmates than I would have if I’d networked and sat with a group of people I didn’t know.

“Go to everything offered.”

Look, I get the point of this statement, but it’s just not possible sometimes. I know the value in experiencing everything the conference has to offer, but sometimes you just can’t do it.  From what I thought when I heard this, and what friends have thought as well, this is often taken as “Go to everything offered no matter your energy level.” Which I think is just ridiculous. If you’re going to a conference, you’re going because you want to learn new things and meet new people. You can’t do that if you’re too exhausted to approach others or pay attention in workshops and critique groups.

I attended the Write to Publish conference at the beginning of this summer, and this was one of the pieces of advice I took to heart. I was determined to go to everything they offered that I could. I was ready to take in all of the information from the four day conference. I was excited.

By the time I made it to the middle/end of the third day, I was exhausted, but still excited. I was having a great time and learning a lot. Then at dinner I started talking with an alumnus from my college who was also attending the conference. When the time came to go to the evening activities, such as a speaker and critique groups, we decided that we both needed a break–and we didn’t want to end our conversation. So we went back to the dorms we were staying in (we were on the Wheaton Campus in Wheaton, Illinois) and talked for another hour or two. Honestly, it was the best thing I could have done. Not only was I able to rest from taking in information, but I was able to really connect, and it was with someone who helped me more than anything I could have learned from the conference activities.

So, what I’m trying to say with these examples is to not go too far. Know what your limits are, and when you reach them, don’t push past. You’ll only exhaust yourself further, which could lead to missed opportunities or lessons. If you get the chance, slow down and really connect with someone–whether that’s someone you already know or someone you just met. Don’t be rushing around trying to get everything in, because chances are, you won’t. And that’s okay. It’s why most conferences are an annual thing.

Go ahead and take everything you can out of the experience, but don’t go too far. Slow down and listen for what God’s calling you to do, even if that’s getting away from the conference for an hour or two to rest. Because if you don’t, you might just miss something important.

 

What do you think about these pieces of advice? Others? Voice your thoughts in the comments. I’d love to hear what you have to say on the subject. (After all, I’m only one of the many perspectives out there.)

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