Category Archives: Meditations

When There’s Too Much Anxiety in Your Way to Move Forward

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It turns out I have this unconsidered theory that what’s most important is to be comfortable.

And it’s especially true with huge challenges like writing.

One more cup of coffee, I think. Then maybe I’ll be in the zone….

There’s no coffee mug big enough for me. Or coffee hot enough, tasty enough, fresh enough. And soon, the way the perfect light hits the perfect spot on the floor has stolen 5 full minutes of my writing time. It’s not “wasted” time; actually it’s helped me recharge and get my thoughts in order. But it hasn’t gotten words on the page. And there’s a difference between taking a moment to appreciate the light, and stalling out.

Just keep showing up, I think, against all opposition. I was even geared up about it, or so I thought, seeking the answer to something, a recent idea I wanted to capture. So I came early before the day’s work because I know this is the way I work: the day must start here. So just get it down before anything else.

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But I’ve hit a wall and it’s a slog. I’m trying hard to remember the question I had, and it’s not there.

Just press on. You know writing isn’t always easy or comfortable. But when I get in this head space, there’s no denying it: my writing time for the day is slipping away.

There’s too much to do to waste this time, too many tasks and none of them can be rescheduled. The recent sweeping changes have created several places of real need and that’s led to some anxiety and overwhelm. We knew the move to Michigan would be fairly difficult, but the house has needed a lot of help and leaving our friends and family behind in Portland has been harder than we even expected. Bottom line, it’s become uncomfortable.

God knows I need challenges to push me out of my comfortable or nothing changes. I like to think I welcome change and even handle it well. But the truth is I fear it, and in most situations it’s something I resist—

What’s that? You want to introduce something new into my carefully circumscribed life here? Uh, no thank you. I’m good. Move along, please—

When I’m uncomfortable, I just want it to stop as soon as possible. Pain or struggle is evil and needs to be alleviated. It’s not useful for my good. How many times have I heard this truth espoused, and yet still I fight desperately to resist it?

I fight the truth, and I make myself uncomfortable in the process. I make myself uncomfortable in order to stay comfortable.

Which is insane.

We’ve all got to choose to respond to life’s inevitable challenges. Doing nothing is not a choice because doing nothing is still a choice. Believe it or not, accept it or not, life will change on you. Your only choice is how to respond. And when I respond by letting go of what I thought I needed, I’ll find a deeper comfort.

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I have to stand up and walk toward the window, face the light to get a hold of it, the thought comes in such a burst. But letting go of what I previously needed for comfort may be somehow the only way I’ll regain the sense that I’m safe and sound, that things are in control.

Because it will no longer depend on my own efforts to hold on to what I think I need.

In this life, nothing is what it seems. The greatest teacher was right: you have to give up your comfort in order to save it.

I haven’t fully figured this out yet, but I want to believe this. And maybe that’s enough for now. I can feel the release of it coursing through my body, holding me up, and convincing me it’ll be okay despite what it seems.

Accept the responsibility, choose to let go here and now, and you preserve your deeper freedom. You may not get to writing down words today, but there’s tomorrow and if God allows it, the next day.

There’s good, even when things look bad. The truth is always there just waiting to be acknowledged and accepted.

And surrendered to.

Am I required to do or to share anything else? Or is just living this simple truth today enough?

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And maybe next time I’ll remember this sooner, accept it more readily. When discomfort comes, can I surrender to it to keep my deeper comfort?

Only one way to find out, I guess.

“If only we try to live sincerely, it will go well with us, even though we are certain to experience real sorrow, and great disappointments, and will also probably commit great faults and do wrong things. But it certainly is true that it is better to be high-spirited—even though one makes more mistakes—than to be narrow-minded and all too prudent. It is good to love many things, for therein lies the true strength; and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much; and what is done in love, is well done.” – Vincent Van Gogh, (from Dear Theo: The Autobiography of Vincent Van Gogh (Plume, 1995)

For the deeper, greater, and higher purpose,

 

Mick

For Writers, Is Living Love a Process?

“Success has little to teach us during the second half of life. It continues to feel good, but now it is often more an obstacle to maturity than a positive stimulus toward it.”
― Ronald Rolheiser, Sacred Fire: A Vision for a Deeper Human and Christian Maturity

The day’s list of projects is looking mighty long. I know enough by now to simply do the hardest, most pressing thing first, and stick to the process until I get through it all. Last week was a great reminder that “Bird by Bird is always the way.

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Looking at the calendar reminds me I’ll turn 45 on my next birthday. It’s not so old, but seems it’ll be harder to deny I’m middle-aged and “should be” more mature by now. Or whatever other “shoulds” I should be thinking about at my age.

And that list seems pretty stinking long too.

Apart from all of that–the work and the worries about shoulds–what would I choose to be doing to find the most meaning and significance? I know I’m being coerced by the clock and the calendar, but it’s a valid question, and a good one for a Monday morning.

What’s the best use of the day?

Certainly, I can assume a whole list of things it isn’t. Paying any more attention to that blowhard. Worrying about money or bills. Getting just one more modern convenience. 

FullSizeRenderI’m like most modern people. We’re all way too distractable. That’s different from being purpose-driven and interruptible, like Jesus always was. We’re too often thinking about ourselves. We don’t serve the sick and needy, the most innocent and vulnerable. We serve the powerful, the promising, the ones we deem worthy and projecting the right image of success. We elevate those we think can elevate us with their power, prestige, privilege, or position. We avoid those who might drag us down and look instead for promising partners who can help raise our status and standards.

If I could have my way, I’d have no other thought but to serve God and love Him fully through the care and keeping of the weakest and gentlest people I could find. Or so I think. I would be about His business, at least that’s what I tell myself.

But I don’t get involved. There are plenty of opportunities to serve those around me and I don’t. Haven’t I been faking my way through this spiritual writing life up to now? Aren’t I really all about myself, my own wants and needs, my own little comforts? 

IMG_0758Ronald Rolheiser, in his wonderful book Sacred Fire, says, “One of our deepest struggles in life is dealing with the unconscious anxiety inside of us that pressures us to try to give ourselves significance and immortality. There is always the inchoate gnawing: do something to guarantee that something of your life will last. It is this propensity that tempts us to try to find meaning and significance through success and accumulation. But in the end it does not work, irrespective of how great our successes have been.”

Meaning and significance are at the base of my motivation for everything. I want to matter. Jesus says to lose my life and I look for assurances it’ll be saved. Are they right–have I stopped believing because I don’t believe the Bible?

This process of pushing for the ever-deeper question is the impulse that compels me in the search for meaning. I know that I know the Bible is a guide to understanding, the bedrock of belief, but I don’t believe the inspiration is over and done. There’s life to be lived, experience to confirm the Word, and the writing life with the Spirit is a continual proving of faith in living and questioning and seeking, whether in sensing directly, or trying to make sense of his directing. To live the writing and write the life are the word and the deed, inseparable and constantly shifting.

FullSizeRender_1If you know these things, you will be happy if you do them.

And that is why we have to be about process. Progress is inevitable when your goal is the process, and living is always about processing what is lived. Step by step, moment by moment, now and now, the product is being shaped and guided each day until meaning and significance become byproducts of an active, proven faith. Get living in love and writing that lives will be the result.

What more proof do I need? Bishop Michael Curry was so right in that sermon. (I mean, can you get any better proof anywhere on the Web these days? Seriously.)

Writers must focus on process because there is no more powerful way to love everyone God needs us to love. Process is what ensures what’s happening when is what needs to be happening–writing or life, it’s all about the love. And focusing on process, the in and the out, like breathing, is how all the lists will finally be completed, all the work finally finished, and all the words lived out and written out.

And that is how the most powerful meaning will be achieved.

For the higher purpose,

Mick

(I’ll be breaking down some of the steps in my process over the next few weekly posts, so I’d love it if you did some writing and living about your own process as we go along, see what we might find… meantime, here’s a podcast I did with the Pastor Writer about learning to love process recently) 

Why Are You Worried?

“Sorrow looks back, Worry looks around, Faith looks up” 
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

People are killed every day.

I have this thought before I’m even awake. A dream, again, inescapable. Unavoidable. I get up and get ready, trying to stop thinking about the reality, not feel it crowding in as I look at my teeth and brush them in the mirror.

The deepest injustice is suffered by hundreds of thousands every day. Death. I drive my oldest daughter to school and have this thought again as the news from Gaza makes it to me. I can’t hear this word without thinking of death. Bleeding wounds seeping through bandages. Protestors have been shot over in the middle east. I think of the high-schoolers protesting guns and hope I’m doing right to not mention the political issues to my daughters just yet.

Is privilege just the ability to ignore what you please?

Yet sanity and self-preservation demand ignoring it. Our hearts and our minds weren’t meant to hold the world’s pain. Jesus walked Gaza but had no cell phone or social media bringing wave after wave of desperate injustice. Inescapable. Unavoidable.

I remember the woman who handled the emailed prayer requests at a big ministry. She was a saint, a prayer warrior. She killed herself and the ministry held a quiet service and sent condolences to her family. And a new employee took her place.

I think of the thousands of people who filter content for social media networks, the reports of their inescapable torment, their nearly inescapable mental health issues. Is this where we’re all headed eventually?

Another hot day and I’m thinking of polar ice caps. A celebratory dinner and I’m considering carcinogenic toxins. Maybe I read too many headlines.

“Do not fear. Do not fret. Trust me.”

HOW? How am I supposed to do that when I’m bombarded even before I can get to work on a Monday? It’s effort just to press on and not feel guilty for working to keep the horror at bay, at least to a dull roar until lunch when I’ll check my phone and respond to emails. And there’s plenty more to deal with–local community, family, neighbors, projects and writers, and personal struggles to choose appropriate responses and time on.

No one could possibly manage it all. And this danged-if-you-do, danged-if-you-don’t situation is unmanageable. Infuriating.

“Count your blessings.”

Despite the dreams and the no-air-conditioning-in-record-heat situation, I did sleep. There’s more light in these longer days and the beauty of spring has sprung. The house and our health aren’t perfect, but they’re amazingly good despite the advancing years thanks to regular upkeep and maintenance. And we enjoyed our moms and celebrated together on Sunday, and the girls are happy and enjoying their lives and music and reading.

Real life is happening and time is short and we’re no better off than when we know both those things. Remember the moment you felt Charlotte’s delight at beating you at the card game? You wanted to remember it forever? 

Yeah. Life is happening and death is part of it. And here were are to enjoy it and make the most of each moment before it’s gone and slipped into another one and another, until there are no more.

That’s every day and everyone and your awareness of it is contagious. Don’t be afraid. Don’t fret. Trust me. 

Can it be this simple? Can I write and do my editing work knowing this is what you’ve called me to until you bring other specific calls? Keep me praying, keep me seeing it all, in the midst of the passing moments. Stay with me and show me how it all is leading me to trust and connect however I can. With words or without. With getting involved or simply praying.

I know the only thing that’s truly up to me is the trusting. Thank you for the continual reminders. Keep me searching for them.

And keep me sharing them and connecting others to see you in their myriad reminders too.

“I trust in you, Lord…. My times are in your hands.” – Psalm 31:14,15

Write on, my friend. There’s always a higher purpose,

M

When You Finally Know Your Why – What Do You Do Next?

​”A great many Christian workers worship their work….There is no responsibility on you for the work; the only responsibility you have is to keep in living constant touch with God…” 
– Oswald Chambers,
My Utmost, April 23, “The Worship of the Work”

This was one of the fastest posts I ever wrote. Sometimes it comes out this fast because the thing that blocked it is suddenly removed. When I first wrote this, I’d just listened to about 30 book pitches at Mount Hermon, and given the opening talk the previous afternoon, a thought based on a blog post on “writing for one master.”

I always have an amazing time at the Mt. Hermon Christian writers conference. And much of the reason is that it’s always a thrill to connect with old and new writer friends. I’ve written about the essential value of writing friends a lot. But for a week every year over Palm Sunday, I get to receive from and retreat with a whole group of fellow frazzled faithful freaks all at once. And it is always such an amazing time.

If you were ever misunderstood in your life, or felt alone and unimportant to those around you, or if people  put you in a box, or you learned to protect yourself out of necessity, or spent years hoping someone would see you but secretly hoping they’d only see what you wanted them to see, and you’ve struggled to speak in your real voice…then you know what makes this conference so special. That’s the same stuff literally thousands of writers are coming to terms with and finding out they’re allowed to feel and reveal and then deal with so we can heal from it together, and finally become real together in a safe place of grace.

Now you want to come, and I would advise you do. Move heaven and earth to save up and make it happen because it’s not just about the books deals that happen there or even ultimately the professional craft that gets established, but the community of like-minded believers relating together–both sharing their stories and finding connection in deeply personal, universal identification with each other. 

Content, craft, and community are what every writer needs to learn to navigate, and all those things get unpacked, shaped, and embraced in the essential freedom of knowing there’s a big community waking up to God through pursuing the work alongside you.

The path of freedom for Christian writers is always found in seeking God through his always surprising process of inviting you toward the higher purpose, in wonderfully diverse unity together.

But as special as it is, this isn’t about the conference, or the great week I always have there, or even seeing and celebrating the amazing fruit of so many people’s life-investment come to greater fullness.

And the reason this post came so fast the first time is because I’ve finally seen it enough times to believe and know in my heart that God will use anything and everything to draw the world to Himself. That isn’t up to us. But also it is. We are given dominion and ownership over our small part, to cooperate in the work for His higher purposes.

Years have passed and some people leave and are lost to me. But many come back and my heart swells with pride and gratitude to see them still plugging away at this work for the higher purpose. They take what I and others have sown and use it to grow. And I see I’ve had a hand in some amazing stories all because God drew me to seek the joy of refining words for books, and loving the process and the people who pursue them.

Those people are my people, His people. They’re constantly taking their call and calling to others to be connectors in their circles and learning to look beyond the struggle and the pain to all the stories that point to His story endlessly reiterating in reflected refrains throughout time.

That story of what God is doing to unite us and draw all things to himself, it will never end.

My amazing “boost clinic” crew from 2018

So to all my old and new writer friends, know the dream is alive, and can never die. And wherever you are in the process, until we meet again…

Go light your world….

“The thing which is, but is not named, cannot be known. If you have no word for it, you can’t talk about it or think on it or consider it or meditate upon it…To name a thing (as art does) is to clothe it in visibility. To name a thing is to make it knowable.” 
Walter Wangerin, Beate Not the Poore Desk

Forever, for the Higher Purpose,

Mick

 

When the Waiting Has You Clawing the Walls

“The essence of writing is not control, but release…. When writing is going well, it is not like pushing. It’s like falling. You fall the way you do in dreams.” 

Bonnie Friedman, Writing Past Dark

 

So you wait. 

Maybe you stand, sit, pace the floor some more and try to unravel more of the mystery barely felt, subdermal and somehow, you sense, preexistent. How had you never noticed that urgent hum in its insistence before? Or maybe you had just chosen to forget.

And you know you must continue to wait. For the pieces to line up, the pattern to become discernible, emerging like a shape through fog into words that spool out tripping, then slowing to a stop.

And so you’ll wait for it, protecting this space. Believing it will happen is all you know to do, so you go make your second cup of coffee, taking trust with you as your feet carry you downstairs, the same old step creaking beneath your weight to remind you to consider cause and effect. The sun glancing in the window from a perfect 92.96 million miles away is just more proof. The energy is stored and expended in balance, symmetrical and perfect. Light given, sight received. Words formed, knowledge gained.

So you’ll wait. Your life attests to not much else after all. Relating what you know and nothing more for this will be your witness, at least you think. A thin knife splitting before from after will divide all you longed for into possessed and dispossessed, and the shocking reversal will only continue as you see how much you thought you needed has made you only poorer.

When will it all be revealed? And why do you want to know? And what is this questioning of everything, and how did you come to believe answers should be given, or even could? And what is now your business if you no longer believe that?

Are empty tombs proof, and is mystery evidence of devils, or just Mondays? Were questions defeated with death or deepened? You rush to answer questions and destroy the greater treasure.

The kettle creaks as the heat fills molecules and sends them skittering to suggest the glint of a cold fact: experience will surface your every destined revelation in the proper time and sequence. You do not presage their arrival for the boiling point of every thought is but an equation of volume plus heat plus time.

You know now you should have stuck to writing shorter pieces.

But there’s no unthinking the questions, no unhearing the song faintly heard. So now crush the seeds and now pour the water and now take your cup back creaking at every preordained place to patiently reverence this chance of now once again. You will finish this. This line will be traced and your truth will finally out.

If you just wait now.

For the higher purpose,

Mick