The Problem with our Thankfulness

The Problem with our Thankfulness

It is a virtue we’re taught as soon as we can utter words. We say to whether we mean it or not because it is the right thing to do. We go through the motions for fear of being rude or weird or ungracious. The problem is that many of us are not genuinely thankful; we secretly (or openly) live in a state of ingratitude. Well how do we make it real?

Train your Heart

Thankfulness is not instinctive. We are by nature selfish beings. And if we don’t train our hearts to be grateful, we will live in a state of perpetual need—or should I say, never ending want. Most times our unthankful attitudes stem from unmet expectations—we didn’t get what we wanted or deserved or needed. But thankfulness is not be contingent upon receiving something we expect or desire; thankfulness has little to do with the gift but everything to do with the giver. We must train our hearts to appreciate that it has been given to us and not what has been given. At the root it is about love—the love we have for another. It is our ability to recognize and lift up people and not the weight of what they have given us.

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Focus on the Present

Thankfulness forces us to stop and center on the present. Suddenly we must see and appreciate what it is that we possess—not on what we would like to have, not on what we have lost. Even if our thankfulness is on past events or possessions, the present is always our point of reference. Living in the moment allows us to see and take in all of life’s goodness-as little or as plentiful as it may be.

Remember that thankfulness causes us to look into the face of God

Gratefulness opens and expands our capacity to see and receive God’s goodness. All good things come from Him and when we are thankful we are forever reminded of Him. To look upon God is to look into the face of love. And in doing so our hearts are primed to receive all good things. Thankfulness keeps us loving, hopeful and happy.

 

Writing your story: Trust the Process

Recently hubby and I traveled 40 miles west of the city to a farm that specializes in producing grass-fed beef. We checked the website and perused bright colorful pictures of animals grazing green pastures and we were ready to roll.

I remember the farm as a kid; I visited one in elementary school; the horses ate from our palms and the sheep bleeped rhythmically in the background.  And I’ve seen farms on television—peaceful, beautiful.

 

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Miles into our little road trip civilization gave way to lonely roads and stretches of open fields with a home here and there. Finally, we gazed upon a worn sign announcing the name of the farm. Ah…we weren’t lost. We turned down the one-lane dirt road. On both sides of us there was climbing brush and hillsides—not a house a car or the sound of anything from the industrialized world indicating we were nearing one of those cool farms from elementary school. Nothing. But the sign indicated that we were on the right road. Onward and upward.

When we type the words, “The End” after a long stretch of toiling over our masterpiece we feel ready to take on the world.  We imagine grueling negotiations with our agent, lucrative publishing deals and an awaiting public. It’s a one-of-a-kind tale and soon the whole world will know it. But the reality is the process can be long and trying and often there are more ebbs than flows and that is even before we get a deal at all.

Yes, there is so much joy in that great feat—finishing the story because many never do. But you did. And as you seek to get your story out into the world know that each grueling step is part of the process. Take the time to develop the perfect query letter. Research agents or publishing houses to make sure you find a good fit. If you are self-publishing ensure you are a part of a deal that you feel comfortable with. Those are the right things to do. Take your time and trust the process no matter how tedious it may seem.

There is no magic in getting published. It requires putting in the work—sometime reworking or tweaking the story or revising your query or attending some writers’ workshops or conferences to understand the industry. These things are all a part of the process.

As we traveled the road that afternoon, my visions of what a farm should be diminished and were replaced by real farm life. Not the ones made a certain way for the public consumption of 8-year-olds but a real farm where the cows meet you at the gate and  the hills rise high into the sunset and the farmhouse is worn and well lived in. But it is a true farm. And although the road appeared destitute and deserted at the end was exactly what we were looking for. All we needed to do was keep driving. And by the way—the meat was delicious.

Keep at it. The process is tried and proven.  And the end result is amazing.

 

Writing Fiction: Make the Payoff Worth the Wait

Writing Fiction: Make the Payoff Worth the Wait

Growing up, my mother had a habit of getting the biggest kick out of a funny story halfway through sharing it.  With tears streaming down her face and completely breathless she’d try to finish it, but simply couldn’t—it was just that funny. We’d all wait patiently because everyone wanted to be a part of a good, rolling-on-the-floor-can’t-catch-my-breath kind of story. We got the first part and surly the ending would have us in the same state as she. And finally she’d pull he self together long enough to finish it. There it was. We’d waited for her to get to the rolling-on-the-floor-can’t-catch-my-breath part. But something was wrong. We weren’t laughing. What should have been the funniest part wasn’t all that funny. The pay-off, the moment we’d waited for was…not worth the wait.

And then again, perhaps it was the build-up. Perhaps that had been too much because often the stories were at the least mildly amusing. If she’d simply chuckled or giggled or smiled broadly we probably would have enjoyed the fact that it was kind of funny. But as a kid, it felt like a setup as if she’d led us to believe, by her gut-wrenching laughter that the story had more meat than it actually did.

And it happens often in fiction writing and movies. How many times have we read a story or watched a movie and the stakes were so high for the protagonist until we were sitting with fists clenched and eyes widened wondering what would happen next? How in the heck was she going to get out of this? And that’s a good thing. It is the hope of all of us that we will engage at such a high level the reader or viewer will forget that these are fictional characters and that their suspension of disbelief will be at its height. But it’s a serious thing to take a reader to the top of a cliff and then…then…the ascension is only a two-foot drop. When a reader trusts us with his time, energy and efforts it is important to engage until the end and make the payoff worth it.

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One approach I have tried to use is to visualize the end of a conflict—exactly how does this turn out? And then I work backward, building from that pivotal moment. This is something you can do with each conflict all the way through the major one near the end.

The first time I saw The Pursuit of Happyness starring Will Smith, I remember halfway through thinking, “Will this guy ever catch a break?” It seemed that scene after scene was nothing but pure struggle and heartache. But at the end when his Gardner gets the intern stockbroker position out of a plethora of applicants you rejoice with him and feel pure elation. This position, this payoff was worth it the wait. This job will take him places he’d only dreamed about. It was difficult to obtain and highly unlikely. And now standing there at the top possessing a position coveted by so many is a payoff worth the wait for him–and for us.

It the payoff isn’t sufficient perhaps you will need to rethink whether the story is worth telling—at this point. Maybe, just maybe a bigger payoff is lurking around the corner.

 

You Can Write it: All things are Possible

My hubby got me a bike for my birthday. I was thrilled because now I could actually make exercising fun. Also, he’d recently gotten one and now we could ride together.  The thing is Tennessee is hilly (now I know where they get the term hillbilly). You don’t think about it so much until you are walking it—or riding it. There are so many inclines in our subdivision trying to divert them is like trying to ride between rain drops.

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When he and I started out on our first ride I was a little apprehensive and purposely avoided some streets because the inclines were much too steep. But after riding a while they all became steep and finally I came to the foot of a hill I knew would bring my ultimate demise.

I am not a chicken or faint at heart by any means but I looked at that hill and turned back to hubby and announced, “I can’t do it. I’m pushing the bike up the hill. I’ll meet you at the top.”

He smiled and calmly said, “You can do it.”

“No. I can’t. And I’m not going to try.”

Was he kidding?

“Nope. There’s no way.”

“You can do it.” He said.  “Take your time. Just take your time.”

Take my time? That’s not the way I’d done it in the past. I’d always gunned it. Maybe that’s why my legs felt like Jello when I got to the top. But aren’t you supposed to feel that way after a great feat? Completely spent?

I’ve always been an all or nothing kind of girl. Sometimes that has worked for me and sometimes not. Creating unrealistic expectations will leave you frazzled and beyond exhaustion and dreading what should be a somewhat pleasant experience. Obstacles in any situation where there is great accomplishment is assured; but should satisfaction only come at the end? No. The experience itself adds to the satisfaction of the end result. As we are tackling that novel or short story or biography we can make the journey pleasant but we can only do so when we take our time to embrace the worth of it. Go at a pace which will allow you to observe and learn and grow and stretch. This is the worth. Too many valuable life lessons get lost on the journey.

When hubby said, take your time it triggered something in me. I suddenly had faith in his method. He’d taken this ride before. He knew the way. So I looked at the hill and slowly ascended. I could feel the pull and stretching of my legs. I steadied my breathing. Several times I looked up at the hill and decided he was wrong; I was not going to make it.

And then another revelation came to me—don’t look at the top, you are focused on how far you have to go. So I concentrated my efforts on the road in front of me and suddenly the obstacle, the impossibility was only in my mind. But the more I focused on the immediacy of the road directly in front of me (and I could not deny that I was moving forward)  that impossibility left too. Why? Because I was doing it and my mind couldn’t argue with that fact that I was actually moving forward.

When I finally looked up again I was halfway up the steep and now it was just a matter of seeing it through. My results had silenced the voices.

As you move through your story, the voices of inadequacy, failure and confusion will be silenced. They cannot argue with the words you have written. You are doing it.

And then new voices will emerge telling you that what you have written is crap. They will mock that you are not a writer! But you will silence them too reminding them of what you have already accomplished. What you have done will be a testament to what you can do. And you will do it and no one will be able to argue the results.

 

Every Story has Already Been told–except for yours

There is nothing new under the sun the saying goes. Nothing. Everything has been said, seen and done. What is the point? The point is the uniqueness of you–the priceless one-of-a-kind—you.

The problem is we often look at others and covet their experiences or their ability to deftly convey their experience. I believe that each generation has an collectively—as well as its individual voice. The cry of a generation is often thematic and we may not realize what they were trying to convey s until the time has passed. We look back on the 60’s and late 70’s and say that was the hippie generation or the 80’s as the Me generation. But today, now for those stories may be reflective of the times.  Your voice is filled with all of the idiosyncrasies of your time, culture and experience. It cannot be duplicated.

It is unavoidable that you will be influenced by those who have gone before (remember nothing new?) but those that will hear or read your story will be filled with fresh wonderment. God’s beautiful creative power allows us to relive the past without living in the past. A new generation needs to hear your voice. An old generation needs to be reminded of this story.

So do not try to duplicate but reach into your depth and express what God has given you, exactly as he has given it to you. You may be surprised at the results.