Faith is not looking from a staircase and measuring the distance down; faith is looking at the next step and jumping hard.
Ever so often--sometimes when I'm burned out from editing or sometimes when I'm so sleepy in the morning--I look at my book and think, "What in the world do you think you're doing?" You know those moments... when you look at a word like "the" and wonder who was in charge of putting the letters in that order. When you forget how to use contractions for a second, and genuinely wonder if you intended to use the word "quish" in your last draft.
I had a moment like that at the ACFW Conference, as I realized I really am nothing without Christ. When I finally said, "Okay, God. What am I doing here? Are you sure this wasn't a mistake? Because I hardly even remember my name at this point." that I found myself in the depths of God's mercy, which is a beautiful place to be. So, after that I received a couple full manuscript requests... a symphony to a novelists' ears, right?
We'll put it this way. I'd like to consider myself a quick learner, but not when it comes to being OCD. I continue going back to my perfectionist tendencies, like the one-more-chocolate-mint-after-I've-already-eaten-too-much-pasta mindset.
And so here I am, plugging away at final polishing edits, and changing way more than I intended in the attempt to get my book just perfect. And you know what? It will always fall short of perfection. And that's sometimes discouraging. Because the fact of the matter is, I don't care if you're Jane Austen, there is no such thing as mastering the art of writing. In writing, there is only progress and further progress.
But in those moments when feel like a puddle of melted vanilla ice cream in a sea of chocolate milkshakes, something keeps pushing me through, and that is the absolute certainty I am doing just exactly what God has called me into. And at the end of the day, that's all I need to worry about.
And you know what? Surrender looks a lot different than I thought it did. It's a lot easier, and a lot simpler. Stop trying to control everything. Do your best, be faithful, and let go.
Sometimes He only reveals the next step when we'd like to see the next three. But that's okay, because He loves us deeper than we can know.
So I want to encourage you if you're feeling overwhelmed... everyone feels the vanillas from time to time, especially when under pressure.
For what it's worth, I think the key to success is simply knowing what you're called to do and never, never letting go of that.
Have you experienced this feeling lately? How did you find God's calling in your life?
You don't have to know me long to realize I'm a recovering perfectionist. Big time. We're talking parents-had-t0-make-me-stop-studying-in-high-school perfectionist. It's something I still struggle with often, particularly when under a lot of stress.
Over the past few years, I've started to realize that "perfectionism" is usually just a selfish attempt at control masking itself as some high moral ground. We say to ourselves, "I want to do this as well as possible because I'm being a good servant of Christ," but what we really mean is, "I want to do this as good as possible so I can be sure of the outcome." Two very different things. I've been realizing that perfectionism often belays trust in a holy God who will work through our mistakes for His glory. He doesn't need perfect people in order to use us well; in fact, the broken people are often the ones who can be used the most powerfully, because they allow God's great grace to be vastly manifest.
But what does that type of wholeness, that type of trust in God's grace, mean in the day-to-days of life?
At the ACFW Conference, I came to the realization that I was trying too hard. Trying to figure out who I was supposed to talk to when, trying to figure out how to describe my writing, trying to leave positive impressions on everyone. All of those things are good in and of themselves, and in my head, I thought I was surrendering them to God. But when I came to a point of sheer exhaustion and didn't even know which direction was up, I realized that praying, "Help me know what to say to this person in order to represent my book well," is a whole lot different from praying, "I have no idea where to go or what to say, but I trust You're the one who's brought me to this place in life. So please, somehow, help me walk in step with that great plan, a plan that's outside of myself yet also woven into my purpose."
I'm not advocating laziness by any means, but what I am saying is that if you are a perfectionist like me, give yourself a break. Don't worry about every little word of your manuscript having to line up with some greater plan God has for your book because He's not limited by words like we are. If you trust Him and commit your way to Him, He will make it all work out. That's the mystery of faith, and the beauty of grace.
This weekend I attended the ACFW Conference in Indianapolis, Indiana. The conference was absolutely phenomenal, and I can't wait to post more about what I learned. But for now, check out these pictures of all the fun.
Here I am with Carol award winners Christina Berry (author of The Familiar Stranger- a must read!) and bestseller Terri Blackstock. We shared a flight back home.
This is Etta Wilson from the well-respected agency Books & Such. She was kind enough to get a picture with me.
Katie Johnson, one of my friends from the ACFW loop.
Another sweet new friend, Kathy Lay!
The wonderful Jennifer Slattery, whose manuscript I've had the pleasure of reading in part, and let me tell you, it's wonderful. She's going to be published in no time.
You may recognize these ladies! Here I am with some of my absolute favorite authors (L-R) Deb Raney, Diann Hunt, and Denise Hunter. Such kind people!
Me with new friend Cheryl Eklund.
Ane Mulligan, my zone president.
The fabulous Cara Putnam who couldn't be more helpful.
And you probably recognize this face as Jenny B. Jones, a two-time Carol award winner who is every bit as adorable in person as she is in her books. What a privilege to meet her! And no, I didn't plan the coordinating purple.
What a dream it was to meet all of you! Thank you for your kindness and for welcoming me into this group of talented storytellers.
It happens almost every time I go overboard.
I feel like I'm going to get sick.
My throat gets sore, my nose gets stuffy, and I get exhausted.
I've been battling this feeling this week in particular as I polish my manuscripts before I pitch them, while at the same time keeping up with my regular job.
And here's what I've learned: don't forget the Haagen Daazs.
Yesterday, one of my students came up to me and told me that he really wants to pass my class, but sometimes he has a hard time finding motivation to do assignments. I told him I'm glad to hear about his enthusiasm, but ultimately, it has to translate into action in order for it to count.
I'm in this mad race to finish all my stuff before conference season. I literally had a dream last night that the woman who runs my favorite ice cream store also happened to be an editor. I pitched her my book while she made my milkshake.
Talk about my subconscious trying to say something...
In any event, I want to encourage you while you also put the finishing touches on your books, or perhaps even race to finish them in time to pitch them. Remember that things in life, particularly large projects like books, are not accomplished suddenly, but by a lot of small steps.
Today has been my "focus on writing" day, and let me tell you, I am already exhausted. I get so jittery when I try to write for a long time! I start finding all sorts of things to look up on the internet or work on around the house. But sometimes, I just have to tell myself a firm, "no," and keep going.
Be encouraged that the finish line is not as far off as it seems, especially if it feels ever-evasive. All of your decisions to work toward a project are forward-moving decisions that will eventually get you to your goal.
Be blessed in your work today.