Get Your Butt in the Chair

Today’s guest post comes from a friend with whom Guy and I laughed ourselves silly during The Great 2010 Washington DC Snowpocalypse following the National Prayer Breakfast (we might have, at moments, engaged in the alternative–tears and hair-pulling–but laughter proved more helpful). We prayed together and then got stranded together in the gorgeous hip-deep snow we waded through to enjoy DC monuments and distract ourselves from where we were supposed to be. And yes, we did participate in the (we heard) record-setting snowball fight in Dupont Circle.

Create Challenge #26: Cara Meredithhome-office-336378_1920

I spent 45 minutes crafting a single sentence last night.

You see, the perfect idea existed somewhere in the back of my brain. I knew where I wanted to say it. I had an idea of how it would help the article come together, but the actual practice of clearly communicating what I wanted to say took more than a little while to get there.

I don’t think I’m the only one.

Anne Lamott, my writing saint of saints, says that it’s merely a matter of getting your butt in the chair. But taking the time to sit down, to wait for inspiration and creativity to come, is oftentimes the hardest practice of all.

On Saturday, I sat across from a young woman who wants to be a writer. She has a book idea down pat, so much so that she’s even carved an outline of its contents.

“So, have you written the book yet?” I asked her. She looked at me and laughed.

“No,” she replied. “I’m waiting.”

I, of course, continued to ask her questions. After all, she asked to meet with me about writing; she wanted to know how I’d gotten from Point A (teaching) to Point B (ministry) to Point C (writing). Naturally, I wanted to know the secret of her waiting game. It wasn’t a matter of time: working part-time, she knew she had more than enough hours in the day.

She was waiting for someone to want her. She was waiting for someone in the publishing industry to hear her great idea and offer her a book contract on the spot. She was waiting for the world to see and hear and believe in her potential, even though she’d hardly done any of the work to get there.

I leaned across the table and locked eyes with her.

“You have to do the hard work, my friend,” I told her, as gently as I could. And then I told her my story.Every-writer-I-know-has

Words have always been my thing. I read. I write. I say things. That about sums it up.

As a student, I dreaded math homework but looked forward to English assignments. Given the option of a standardized 80-question test or a five-paragraph essay, I’d choose writing every time. And through writing, I found what my insides really thought and felt and wanted to say. Through writing, healing came. Through writing, I discovered who God intended me to be all along.

Sure, I dabbled in other professions first: I taught high school English, expounding on all the great writers of American and British history. Could I be a great American writer too someday? Surely that wasn’t in the cards. Surely God would have made my path clearer and put a blinking, neon “Be a writer, Cara!” sign in front of me.

Then I spent eight years in outreach ministry to high school and middle school students. At one point, a mentor asked me to tell her three things that gave me life in my job.

“Being in students’ worlds. Mentoring young adult leaders. And writing and speaking – at club, at summer camp, in monthly newsletter communications.” I paused. “If I could do anything in the world, I’d write and speak. That’s what gives me life.”

She paused our conversation this time.

“So, why don’t you?”

Eyes wide, I stared at her, every bone in my body like a deer caught in the headlights. Surely, this wasn’t possible. I couldn’t make money, at least not enough to live in the Bay Area. I couldn’t leave the job and the ministry I’d known for almost twenty years by that point. Who would I be? And all of this would take time: time to find my voice and trust my words and discover the message that was mine alone to give. I’d have to get my butt in the chair and make it a priority – and this was something I couldn’t give at that point in my life.

I wasn’t ready. But mostly I wasn’t ready to give up fear.

I wasn’t ready to say yes to the heart-thumping thing that gave me life. So, for a long time I played it safe, hoping an opportunity would instead come my way, that someone would find my blog and see my words and say, Yes! We’ve found her: the next best writer the world has ever seen!

The latter never happened. But eventually, I began to write, almost every day. Eventually, I began to trust that the Writing Muse would visit me, when the time was right. Eventually, I began to put my work out there, even if I received more rejection letters than is humanly possible.

And eventually, I discovered the creator I was destined to be all along: a maker of words, a crafter of phrases and sentences and paragraphs alike.

So, what is it for you?

Who has the Great Creator made you to be?

And what, I ask, is keeping you from getting your butt in the chair and doing the hard work to get there?

CMeredithCara Meredith is a writer and speaker from the greater San Francisco Bay Area. Co-host of the Shalom Book Club podcast and a member of the Redbud Writers Guild, she is passionate about racial justice and reconciliation, the great outdoors and dinner around the table with people she loves. She holds a Masters of Theology (Fuller Seminary), and can be found on her blog  Facebook or Twitter.

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Thankful Thursday – Poke-Cation GO!

We had a long family conversation before we left on our Southern Oregon vacation. The kids wanted to bring computers and games to play during down-time. The parents wanted everyone unplugged, but mostly we wanted peace. Kids got their way this time with the caveat that they had to instantly put it away when asked. They agreed and (mostly) complied.

We had no comparable conversation about their phones, however. Even though Tween’s “phone” is a donated iPhone 5 with no SIM card or data plan, both boys have phones firmly in their possession at most times. And both have, on said phones, the Pokemon GO game they have eagerly anticipated for the last year. So Guy downloaded it as well, and we played as a family.OR pokemon

Pokemon roam a wide habitat, and so we avoided arguments about any destination. Pokemon of many varieties, a Pokestop, a lure, or a gym could always be found–even on hiking trails and in National Parks. Spontaneous conversations bubbled up among strangers all searching for the same things, and so we shared laughter and camaraderie with people we’d never met. A comment by one stranger sent us to a darling nearby town we would have missed entirely except that it had more Pokestops than anywhere else we’ve seen. The dog got more exercise than ever in her life because Pokemon eggs incubate as you walk. The parents got an afternoon ‘off’ to wine taste in the Rogue Valley while Teen drove Tween around town hunting Pokemon. The kids didn’t fight but rather worked together…all week long!

Early on Tween declared, “This isn’t vacation. This is a Poke-Cation!” And I expect that our shared play time will make this trip memorable in more ways than one.

We also found Great Cats: http://www.greatcatsworldpark.com/

We also found Great Cats: http://www.greatcatsworldpark.com/

and Teen's favorite snake: http://thereptilezone.com/

and Teen’s favorite snake: http://thereptilezone.com/

OR corn flower OR dragonfly OR berries

Deschutes River, Bend

Deschutes River, Bend

Creating a Life

Today’s guest post comes from a friend with whom I have cherished memories of galumphing through Scotland and England–drinking LOTS of tea, enjoying plays, memorizing poetry, and discussing life, love, future, literature and more literature and a scattering of theology (she was one of the first female theology students I met in college and she introduced me to the work of one of my favorites, Henri Nouwen). I admire her–and her current life’s work–more than she knows, and I’m thrilled she agreed to create for the blog. Having just returned from a week of family vacation, I too am thinking about the memories and experiences that create this life, the time spent, rather than the stuff accumulated, that makes all the difference.

Create Challenge #25: Jennifer Root Wilger

For some time now, I’ve been engaged in the all-encompassing work of creating a school. It’s been an amazing journey that has resulted in the creation of a student body, a dedicated staff, and a curriculum so unique that we had to create a new word, “socio-academic,” to describe it. Yet, strangely, as I approached this opportunity to write about Temple Grandin School, other creative endeavors have captivated my imagination. These are both related and unrelated, and I suspect it is partly the expression of my own creativity that prompts me to look for connection.

When I was assigned a blog date in July, I knew I’d be away from home, traveling with my family. As it turns out, vacation is a great time to think creatively. It’s not such a great time to think creatively about the work I left behind, and am soon to resume. Instead of thinking about work, I’m thinking about family. My 25th wedding anniversary is approaching, and my in-laws have recently sold the home that welcomed me into the Wilger tribe. To commemorate this beautiful spot, nestled in the mountains of Colorado on the Florida River, I created a photo book, which we delivered to my husband’s parents last week. As we looked through years of kids growing up, holidays, and summer fun, even my father-in-law cried.sf_trip1

Days later, on the same trip, we took our kids to San Francisco. Drawing on his college experience living in the city, my husband eagerly plotted a route that would lead us through his favorite neighborhoods. We spent the morning exploring and creating experiences to add to our collection of family memories. Unfortunately, while we were out and about, two bags were taken from our car. We had left nothing of monetary value – no iPhones, computers, purses, sunglasses. In haste, the thief had grabbed my bag of books. The bag I always bring with me on vacation, and mostly abandon in the back of the car. The bag of good intentions, too heavy to cart into one-night lodgings. The bag of half-baked ideas, and the resources that I hoped would power them to fruition.

I felt like I’d lost half my brain. But as I frantically tried to reconstruct the bag’s contents, I realized that we’d also lost a small stuffed monkey. Imbued with laughter and love, this little critter had been a part of our family for our children’s entire lives. Out of a huge menagerie of animals in a faraway place, he “found” us and followed us home. His real and imagined antics are a part of our family culture. Through our tears, we immediately launched into tales of his next chapter, in which he would, of course, continue making his mischief in the world. “I can just see him karate-chopping those thieves,” “I bet he’s on his way to Las Vegas…does he know they don’t accept bananas as poker chips?”

Our memories and experiences are the foundation upon which we create a life. The relationships we build (yes, even with inanimate objects) form and shape us in ways we can’t predict. Returning to the topic of creativity, I can see clearly how relationships and experiences from my entire life have contributed to my creative endeavors at Temple Grandin School. In the coming weeks, as we approach another school year, new conversations will generate ideas to augment or replace those that I’ve “lost.” New relationships will form even as existing bonds are strengthened. The school takes on a life of its own, a creative community powered by our shared life together. I can’t wait to see the surprising places creativity takes me, my family, and our entire school community this year.

JWilger fam

Jennifer Root Wilger is Executive Director and Co-Founder of Temple Grandin School, a creative community where intentional relationships and experiences enable students with high-functioning autism to recognize and realize their potential. Over the course of her adult life, she has been paid as a writer, editor, teacher, and caterer. These and many other experiences have enriched her life and family. Jennifer is married to Tom (for 25 years!), and they have three children, Micah (20), Jeremiah (13), and Josette (10). They live in Colorado with their 4 fish, and are currently seeking to add more mischief to their menagerie!

Thankful Thursday – Southern Oregon Summer

My gracious in-laws offered us the use of their home in Medford, Oregon while they’re travelling (French & Italian Riviera). We had been planning a camping road-trip around college visits for Teen, but our kids gently pointed out that, ahem, as Scouts they camp all the time, and could we please not camp on vacation? Especially considering Teen just returned from two weeks of pack-rafting in Montana and both boys will go to week-long Scout camp a few days after we get home, they had a solid point.

This trip is a great compromise–Southern Oregon provides lots of gorgeous outdoor activities and home-base has, well, all the comforts of home. And we can have our dog with us.

We’re eating simple-prep meals (yay for Trader Joe’s) and spending most of our time outside, while still sleeping softly at night. So much so that Tween slept almost twelve hours last night, remarkable for a kid with life-long insomnia!

I am grateful for time away, for natural beauty, for family, for rest. Teen has us listening to a lot of country music (not our standard fare) and this line from a Keith Urban song grabbed me today: Ain’t it funny how the best days of my life//Was all that wasted time…

Here’s to wasting time with those I love most in this world!

Crater Lake

Crater Lake

Medford Growers Market

Medford Growers Market

Lithia Park, Ashland

Lithia Park, Ashland

OR feet

Cheers! to Oregon beer

Cheers! to Oregon beer

Problem-Solving = Creativity

Today’s guest post writer holds a special place in my life: mother-in-law, the wonderful woman who raised my Guy to be the creative, giving, thoughtful man I love. Her creativity impressed me from the first time we visited their family home. Something was always baking or cooking (all three of my guys drool for her cookies–and she graciously keeps them in supply), her walls covered with handmade-by-her needlework, and she often had a current project in her lap. And I love today’s post about creativity as problem-solving right in your own environment.

Create Challenge #24: Nancy Ricketts

Let me introduce myself…as per instructions from my beautiful, talented, creative daughter-in-law.

NRickettsMy name in Nancy Ricketts. I am nearly 75 and have been blessed with many opportunities over the years to be creative. I could say something about “creating” two wonderful sons, but I give God credit for that…I only helped a little.

It seems to me that I create because of need. There is a problem or an opportunity that calls out to be solved, fixed, improved. My own home is my current creative laboratory, so here are some examples of my brand of creativity. The way I’ve chosen to decorate expresses creativity with shapes, patterns, textures, objects, light, colors and use of space.

Let’s start with the front door of our home. It is a bit plain and needed a creative touch. A local thrift shop provided inspiration. Don’t you think it looks better with a band of roses overhead? The view overhead changes with the seasons. Fall leaves and pine swags await their turn to appear.NRicketts door 2

When we moved here almost four years ago, we were overwhelmed by the huge blank living room that had a wall of windows and a very high ceiling. On a trip to South Africa I found a large fabric wall hanging; at the same craft fair my husband found some beautiful sketches of San tribal members, also known as “Bushmen.” One thing plus some other related things create a whole. Problem solved.NRicketts wallNRicketts elephantsNRicketts San

Creativity can also be involved when things need organizing…whether planning a dinner party for 20 or dealing with a messy pile of fabrics and sewing materials. I confess it was not a fun creative project to sort out stuff from my home workroom, but the organized results are satisfying. Moral to this story: Do not expect every creative project to be joyful in process. Creativity may be in disguise as hard work!NRicketts org

NRicketts rosebush coverBehold the covered rosebush! A plastic tablecloth from the Dollar Store protected my precious yellow roses from marauding, hungry deer that see our yard as an evening buffet. This covering worked well during the night, but obviously can’t be used in the daytime, and unfortunately, the deer recently discovered that the roses are also tasty during daylight hours. Creativity does not always solve the problem!

NRicketts flowersDeer do not eat our patio flowers, leaving me with plenty of pretties to put into tiny bouquets, my current favorite way of expressing creativity. Some of these are given to people onNRicketts nosegay our Food and Friends (like Meals on Wheels) route every week, others are given to friends, neighbors, or staff at our local medical office.

Rejoice in the creative abilities God has given you–enjoy and share them with others! How pleased our Heavenly Father must be to see us explore and use the gifts He has so graciously given us.

Thankful Thursday – Week of July 4th, 2016

Today didn’t go as planned. I had to work through, pray through, a few unanticipated and frustrating speed bumps before I could return to gratitude. Yet my issues are annoyances, mere splinters compared with the unanticipated life-demolishing road blocks others have experienced today, this week. My reasons for gratitude remain huge, while others grieve.

I don’t have many words today, and so I turn to pictures and others to speak.firework 2

lady liberty
BY TATO LAVIERA

for liberty, your day filled in splendor,
july fourth, new york harbor, nineteen eighty-six,
midnight sky, fireworks splashing,
heaven exploding
into radiant bouquets,
wall street a backdrop of centennial adulation,
computerized capital angling cameras
celebrating the international symbol of freedom
stretched across micro-chips,
awacs surveillance,
wall-to-wall people, sailing ships,
gliding armies ferried
in pursuit of happiness, constitution adoration,
packaged television channels for liberty,
immigrant illusions
celebrated in the name of democratic principles,
god bless america, land of the star
spangled banner
that we love,

 

but the symbol suffered
one hundred years of decay
climbing up to the spined crown,
the fractured torch hand,
the ruptured intestines,
palms blistered and calloused,
feet embroidered in rust,
centennial decay,
the lady’s eyes,
cataract filled, exposed
to sun and snow, a salty wind,
discolored verses staining her robe,

 

she needed re-molding, re-designing,
the decomposed body
now melted down for souvenirs,
lungs and limbs jailed
in scaffolding of ugly cubicles
incarcerating the body
as she prepared to receive
her twentieth-century transplant
paid for by pitching pennies,
hometown chicken barbecues,
marathons on america’s main streets.
she heard the speeches:
the president’s
the french and american partners,
the nation believed in her, rooted for the queen,
and lady liberty decided to reflect
on lincoln’s emancipatory resoluteness
on washington’s patriotism,
on jefferson’s lucidity,
on william jennings bryan’s socialism,
on woodrow wilson’s league of nations,
on roosevelt’s new deal,
on kennedy’s ecumenical postures,
and on martin luther king’s non-violence.firework 1
lady liberty decided to reflect
on lillian wald’s settlements,
on helen keller’s sixth sense,
on susan b. anthony’s suffrage movement,
on mother cabrini’s giving soul,
on harriet tubman’s stubborn pursuit of freedom.

 

just before she was touched,
just before she was dismantled,
lady liberty spoke,
she spoke for the principles,
for the preamble,
for the bill of rights,
and thirty-nine peaceful
presidential transitions,
and, just before she was touched,
lady liberty wanted to convey
her own resolutions,
her own bi-centennial goals,
so that in twenty eighty-six,
she would be smiling and she would be proud.
and then, just before she was touched,
and then, while she was being re-constructed,
and then, while she was being celebrated,
she spoke.

 

if you touch me, touch ALL of my people
who need attention and societal repair,
give the tired and the poor
the same attention, AMERICA,
touch us ALL with liberty,
touch us ALL with liberty.

 

hunger abounds, our soil is plentiful,
our technology advanced enough
to feed the world,
to feed humanity’s hunger . . .
but let’s celebrate not our wealth,
not our sophisticated defense,
not our scientific advancements,
not our intellectual adventures.
let us concentrate on our weaknesses,
on our societal needs,
for we will never be free
if indeed freedom is subjugated
to trampling upon people’s needs.

 

this is a warning,
my beloved america.firework 3
so touch me,
and in touching me
touch all our people.
do not single me out,
touch all our people,
touch all our people,
all our people
      our people
             people.

 

and then i shall truly enjoy
my day, filled in splendor,
july fourth, new york harbor,
nineteen eighty-six, midnight sky,
fireworks splashing,
heaven exploding
into radiant bouquets,
celebrating in the name of equality,
in the pursuit of happiness,
god bless america,
land of star
spangled banner
that we love.

Find Your Passion and Move Forward

I had the honor of working with today’s guest post author for six brief years when he was a recently ordained pastor and we were young marrieds with Baby #1, playing the see-saw game of ministry-life balance. Neal was gracious in so many ways, asked hard questions that led to meaningful conversations, encouraged us at every turn, and even proctored our Presbyterian ordination exams when Baby #2 made travelling to take exams impossible. I also had the privilege of reading a pre-publication draft of Move Forward, which I highly recommend!

Create Challenge #23: Neal NyboNNybo website

I find I am most creative when I am helping other people move forward in their lives. My most recent example is working with J. Mark McVey, a Broadway performer of extraordinary skill and giftedness. I have the pleasure of engaging him each week on a coaching call. I am sharing with him my experience with online marketing and self-publishing. What happens is that, as we talk about his opportunities, my creative imagination explodes. I leap from one idea to the next. I can imagine a blog post on his website turning into a book, leading to a new motivational speech and singing series for him. I start naming individuals and organizations we can contact to help him.

I’ve learned that this burst of inventiveness isn’t always helpful for Mark.

But I almost can’t help myself for spinning new possibilities out of thin air. Almost. I am learning to pull back and move at the other person’s speed. Everyone else seems to know this character trait of mine. My level of enthusiasm is famous in our home where my wife and daughters have learned to let me process out loud. It is part of who I am at my core. On my best days, I am a hand-waving force generating spontaneous construction of ideas.

It’s helpful to know this about myself. If I am going to thrive, I need to put myself in situations that are open to my creativity. I also need to know when to rein it in.

It’s helpful for any of us to know what is at our core. It gives us clarity and direction. I am clear about this now because I’ve been working over the last couple years to write it down. The result is Move Forward, a workbook and journal. This project in itself is an example of my core. I’m not satisfied to learn it for myself. I need to be able to help others as well.NNybo MF

The Move Forward Workbook and Journal contains a set of thought processes, exercises, and reflection opportunities. Combined, they create an environment in your heart and mind that naturally leads to “Aha” moments and breakthroughs in clear thinking. They center around positive events in your life. You focus on the best character elements, values, and interests that make up the core of who you are. These exercises, spread out over seven days, give you enough time to genuinely reflect on lessons you have learned throughout your life. And the time is short enough that you can come to clarity and direction much faster than you imagined possible.

This workbook and journal is the result of multiple generations of the Move Forward process practiced by thousands of people in live seminars, online video courses, and earlier versions of the workbook. It has benefited from feedback to the point it can now guide others to a positive outcome in seven days. It has grown out of my passion for helping individuals and organizations find direction.

If I can offer one word of advice, it would be to find what you love and pass it on. I need to stop there or I’ll start spontaneously constructing new ideas for everyone!NNybo

Things to know about Neal Nybo: I’ve been married thirty-five years and I really married up! Carolyn has made my work possible and my life a blessing. I once had a curb painting business and was robbed at gun point when managing a Burger King. I’ve been meeting with the same two guys for connection and accountability every Friday for more than ten years. As a pastor, I have worked with single adults and families, couples, young adults, and men. I’ve taught large groups, led a weekly men’s Bible study, provided pastoral direction to worship, communications, men’s ministry, couple’s ministry, and large connecting events like all-church retreats and Easter services for 2,000 held in a parking lot. I currently oversee a staff of 120 at a church with 2,000 members, 1,300 in worship at five services. You can find out more at NealNybo.com.