Thursday, January 28, 2016

When Anxious Thoughts Steal My Peace...

I have struggled to get a post out this week mostly because I have struggled with being vulnerable. It’s called “Transparent Thursday,” right? 

Earlier this week, I felt very anxious about some future events. I am a planner, y’all, and so I suppose uncertainty will always be my nemesis until I learn to walk in peace and trust the Lord. 

This was my conversation on Tuesday morning, as I’m trying to get ready for work—and the Lord keeps interrupting me. (He does that sometimes.) 

Lord: Why are you doing this with your thoughts?
Me: What? I feel fine. I’m fine.
Lord: What are you feeling? Why do you think you do this?

[Side note: Remember when I said I used to be a professional avoider, but the Lord helped me learn how to express all these stuffed down feels?]

Me: I don’t know. I don’t know what you mean. I feel fine. Everything is cool with us.
Lord: Your heart is troubled. Can you just pause for a second?
**I sit on the edge of the chair. (You know, not totally committing.)**
**60 seconds of silence.**
Me: I guess I feel anxious because I don’t know—and uncertainty makes me anxious.
**More silence.**
Me: And so I guess, in my mind, I go to the worse-case scenario to make myself feel better.
Lord: And does it make you feel better?
**I sink into the chair.**
Me: No… I just feel more anxious.
Lord: I hold your future, sweet child—and I promise it’s good because I’m good and because I’ll be with you always.

I heard a sermon once (okay, fine, I don't really listen to sermons online, but I heard from a friend about a sermon once :)) that fearing the future means I’m imagining a future without the Lord in it. 

When I remember that He is with me always, I remember I have nothing to fear. 

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I can’t control my uncertainty. I can’t predict the future. I have no idea how it will all shake out.

But I can control myself. He’s given me the Holy Spirit to help me do just that. 

And through Him, I can live in peace every day. 

Isn’t that a better way to live, my friends? 

Thursday, January 21, 2016

"Sometimes Favor Means No."

Cara Putman recently blogged about the importance of writing buddies. I was thankful a few weeks ago not only for mine but also for my larger support system in general—those close family and friends—when an agent sent me a rejection email. 

This news is delayed on the blog because the day I received the email was the day Rizzoli ate poison, so I was not exactly focused. It took another day or two for the news to settle in. (I call that God’s grace.) 

But I didn’t reach for the Ben and Jerry’s or spend a day wallowing in my PJs, and honestly, I think that’s because, in a way, God had prepared my heart, and perhaps also because the email was just so…nice. 

It was the nicest, kindest, most considerate rejection email I’ve ever received. And maybe that’s because she’s a Christian too, or maybe it’s just her canned rejection email, but still—so kind. 

The email was not my first rodeo with rejection.   
But academic editors and reviewers are far less kind with their criticisms. On one article I submitted (and later did publish elsewhere), the editor, after several rounds of revisions, decided that he questioned the “validity” of my study. (I wished he had questioned it before encouraging me to make the initial “minor” revisions.)

I’ve also had reviewers say things like, “Even without the above mentioned desiderata concerning scope, argumentation, and style, I do not believe that the paper is fit for a flagship journal in argumentation theory. The submission shows so many and grave errors in formal reliability and academic care that they are too numerous to list in full.”  Or one that I memorized: “Even after reading the submission multiple times I cannot identify substantial academic contributions that go beyond existing rhetorical knowledge.”

That’s Academic-ese for, “This paper has nothing new to offer.” (*sigh*)

Even over the break, my proposal was rejected for the ATTW conference (I’m 0 for 3 with these guys). My favorite line—the one they use every year: The quality of submissions was so high this year, we had to reject a number of good proposals, including yours.

So, I’ve had my share of rejection on the academic side, but the creative fiction side is all new, and I had no idea what to expect.

After the agent told me she couldn’t pursue my project, she gave me a list of other agents who represent Christian authors and encouraged me to send it to someone else.

I thanked her for her considerate email and asked if she had any advice for me as I prepare to send it to someone else I met with at ACFW. She replied that she didn’t—that I was doing everything right, and she ended with, “Don’t give up!” :)

So, I won’t. I wouldn’t have anyway. (Not after learning Charles Martin—New York Times Best 
Selling author and one of my favorites—was rejected 86 times before his first manuscript was published.)

My personal goal is to send it by the end of this month to another agent-hopeful that I met at ACFW, and actually the one I clicked with the most (she had me when she said she was a Gilmore Girls fan). *high five*

I have already learned so much on this journey as an unpublished author, but I am grateful for every second of it—even the days of “no.”

I know that God holds my dreams (even beyond the ones about writing) in His heart, and I can trust Him with them. I don’t have to force them to happen. I don’t have to begrudge the delays. I don’t have to accept rejection as my personal identity.

I know who I am in Christ. And I know how perfect His timeline is.

In the words of Jason Craft, “Sometimes favor means no.” 

What's your rejection experience like?  How do you handle the 'no' from your agent or editor? 

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Habits of Marriage: Creating a Communication Plan

Before Thanksgiving, we started a marriage series for our blog about The Habits of Marriage. In December, I blogged about praying together, and earlier this month, Howell blogged about the importance of setting a vision for your family. 

Today I want to share about another habit: creating a communication plan.

The other night Howell and I kept my 18-month-old nephew, and when we got in bed at 10:45 that night, he said, “I feel like I didn’t even talk to you today.” 

I laughed. “I know, right?”

“This must be what people mean when they say it’s so hard to have a normal conversation once you have kids.”

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I nodded. “Yep—except every day would feel like our one experience tonight!”

So, if you have kids—this post is for you! It’ll be challenging, but make a plan!

And if you’re like us, and you don’t have kids yet, this post is still for you. We’ve taken steps to learn to communicate better, and I’ll be honest, Howell being the one to say “I feel like we didn’t talk today” would not have happened a few years ago.

We're both introverts, and I’m no expert, but in my opinion, there are two kinds of introverts—those who like to have deep, meaningful conversations about how they feel, and those like the both of us who think, What? Feelings? I have feelings?

Shortly after we moved to Plainview, our pastor’s wife gave me a book to read titled How We Love. I mentioned to her something like, “I’m not very good at expressing my feelings toward Howell. I feel like I sort of can in writing, but I’m not verbal at all.”

She said, “READ THIS BOOK!”

So, we did. It’s similar to the Five Love Languages, except it’s about five unhealthy ways of loving and only one healthy way.

There’s a quiz you can take to see what your love-style is.

Howell, not surprising, was more healthy than I was. His only unhealthy flags were to be a Pleaser, at something like 30%, and to avoid, at something like 18%.

I was 0% healthy and pretty much unhealthy in 4 out of the 5 categories. (Yikes!)

The largest category was Avoider—at a whopping 80-something percent. (No wonder I wasn’t in touch with my feelings!) I was also a little bit of a Vacillator, a little bit of a Pleaser, and a little bit of a Controller. The only thing I wasn’t was a Victim. (Go figure.)

Why am I sharing all of this?

Well, in part, because this book seriously influenced our marriage. I know there are all kinds of books out there about marriage, and none of them mean anything if you don’t apply the truths or practice making changes.

For example, I learned, as an Avoider, I wasn’t very in touch with my emotions. I expressed one emotion the most—anger. I could easily let Howell know if I was angry, frustrated, mad, etc.

But I didn’t express positive emotions very well, like how I felt about my husband, for one.

Negative was my default.

Howell, as a Pleaser, only expressed positive emotions—to please me. If he was upset or frustrated, he did not express that.

Positive was his default.

We had probably balanced each other out for those first six years of marriage, but that doesn’t make it healthy. Howell was great at telling me how much he loved me, and if we were apart, he always said when he missed me. I struggled to verbalize those kinds of feelings.

But if he was upset, and I asked what was wrong, I got nothing. He couldn’t verbalize those feelings.

We laughed at ourselves at one point taking the test because it asked us to name ten emotions we had felt in the last week. We were like, “There are 10 feelings? Uh—mad, happy, sad. Done?”

The book has a chart of 16 “feeling words” that we printed out, and seriously y’all, once we had the words to verbalize what we felt, it changed how we communicated in enormous ways. 

As a quick disclaimer: just because we feel something doesn’t make our feelings right. Yes, feelings lie, and yes, what we feel does not always line up with the truth of what God says. But there is still enormous power in expressing your feelings. If you can’t do that, then you don’t know how you feel or whether that feeling is a lie.

To pretend like you don’t feel anything (e.g. to pretend like your spouse didn’t hurt your feelings, to pretend like you’re not mad that the Lord hasn’t answered your prayer) doesn’t mean you don’t feel those emotions. It only means you’re not being honest with yourself or with God or with others—even if not intentionally.

So, a communication plan: Maybe Step 1 for you is understanding how you communicate right now; maybe you need tools and resources like we did.

But the major change we made was that we set a date on our calendar—once a week—for us to talk about our feelings. It’s literally there, every week, and it pops up with a reminder. 

We picked a night and a time we are usually home and winding down.

If you have kids, pick a time when they’re in bed. Yeah, you’re probably exhausted, and you’d rather watch TV and zone out. Yeah, the dishes need to be washed, and the laundry hasn’t been folded. But try it—for one night a week.

Howell and I talk every day, of course. We talk about our days and exchange stories about work or whatever. But this night is about how we feel. Are we stressed? Are we connected? Are we trusting God with our family? Do we feel sad? Do we feel peace? We both have learned to share those positive and negative feelings.

And you know what? It trickled into other areas too. If we have a fight, we can get to the root quicker—what did I feel when he did X and why? He can express things like, “It upset me when you said Y.”

We certainly aren’t perfect—and maybe almost eight years of marriage is a crazy amount of time to figure out our feelings, but I’ll say this for us: we made a plan, we determined to be intentional about communicating, and it continues to work.

How about you? Do you need a communication plan for your marriage? Or your family? 

What strategies do you use to communicate that work well?