Five Minute Friday: Crowd

Against

Gentle Reader,

It’s been a week of glorious Autumn weather. I’ve been wearing socks. I put on a beanie for my walk this morning. The air is crisp. Leaves on the trees begin to change color, subtly for now, waiting a few more weeks to put on their full, glorious display.

I’m so glad the seasons turn. Goodbye, Summer. I don’t miss you.

Kate says: crowd.

Go.

I’m an adult. On an intellectual level, I understand that I should not care what others think. I cannot look to the crowd for a sense of identity, place, purpose or value. Further, I am a Christian, one who went to school to get a degree that enables me to use the fancy words like “justification” and “sanctification.” I understand that the One to whom I am ultimately accountable is the One who matters. I understand that I must listen to His views (commands, really) and live accordingly.

I’m also human. So of course I care. Not to the degree I did as a teenager, when I was desperate to fit in. But even at 34, it stinks to be ostracized. To find yourself in the minority. To know that there’s rumors and whispers fluttering behind your back. To have your confidence greatly shaken.

Tonight during the #FMFParty chat, Kate said to me:

I’m sorry, friend. Remember: We don’t need to have confidence in OUR ability, only in HIS ability . . .

Something I remind myself of often these days, but was grateful to hear from a sister. It’s a hard hole to climb out of, this one I find myself in. Doubts push down on me. Fear presses from the side.

Anita chimed in:

I have confidence in your ability! You wield words like a conductor wields a baton.

Brought me to my (figurative) knees. I want to use words that way. I want to create prose (and occasionally poetry) that is both beautiful and useful. I want to, somehow, some way, glorify God.

Then I said, to a couple of new(er) writers:

You belong here. Your words matter. Pull up a chair and stay at the table.

I read those words aloud. And I’ll be real: I wonder if they apply to me, too.

There’s been a crowd that tells me that I don’t belong, that I don’t matter and that I need to leave the table if I choose not to conform. Satan, the Accuser of God’s Children, echoes their sentiments. Give up. Give in. Shut up. How tempting it is, because there’s pain in rejection. Tempting, too, to allow seeds of bitterness to take root.

God speaks:

I am not really writing to tell you of any new command, brothers of mine. It is the old, original command which you had at the beginning; it is the old message which you have heard before. And yet as I give it to you again I know that it is true – in your life as it was in His. For the darkness is beginning to lift and the true light is now shining in the world. Anyone who claims to be “in the light” and hates his brother is, in fact, still in complete darkness. The man who loves his brother lives and moves in the light, and has no reason to stumble. But the man who hates his brother is shut off from the light and gropes his way in the dark without seeing where he is going. To move in the dark is to move blindfold.

– 1 John 2:7-11 (Phillips)

If I give up, give in and shut up, I am moving in the dark. If I indulge in bitterness and wallow in hatred, I am moving in the dark. If I want to be in the light – and I do – I can’t hit back at the crowd. Nor can I allow them to imprison me in fear. I have to keep climbing out of the hole, fixing my eyes upon Christ, the One Who promises to complete the work He began in me.

The One Who made me a writer.

With Him, I am never alone, though the crowd may not go with me.

Stop.

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Photo Credit: Remi Yuan
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Enough with the Hustle (or, a Nerf Herding Life)

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

 

Star Wars: the Last Jedi comes out in a few weeks. The excitement in the Gregg house is reaching maximum levels.

Years ago, I had a retail job that lasted exactly two weeks. Pressure someone to buy a tube of lip gloss? No, thank you. If I hadn’t quit, I don’t doubt that I would have been fired. “Chatty, good salesman” will never be words that describe me.

So color me uncomfortable to know that everyone, it seems, is selling something.

I like to work hard. I don’t mind having to put in some effort. I don’t balk at a little sweat.

What irritates the crud-muffin out of me is having to put myself “out there.”

I get that there’s a business side to writing. I get that it takes time and energy to build up an audience. I get that social media has come to play a huge (and, in my opinion, disproportionate) role in the lives of authors everywhere. I get that link-ups are important, a way to meet other writers and grow your reach. I get that well-crafted titles are vital and attractive images necessary. I get that you have to keep the content flowing. I get that good design matters.

None of that is wrong or sinful.

But.

Did you know that people publish articles telling others how to write viral blog posts? There’s actually a formula. If you follow certain steps, you’re more likely to see your stats explode.

Did you know that you’re supposed to “cycle” your blog images on Pinterest so that your followers see them multiple times? Same goes for sharing links on Facebook and Twitter. Better overload that feed.

Did you know that you have to spend some good money attending writer’s conferences in order to get a literary agent to give your book proposal more than a passing glance? Most of these conferences are, as we say where I’m from, “back East,” making the cost simply out of the question for many.

Did you know that most Christian books are exactly alike because publishers are terribly risk-averse? Imagine how many voices you’ve never heard because they don’t harmonize with the established choir.

Did you know that if every blogger did everything that we are “supposed” to do in order to be successful (as the world defines it), we’d never see the sun because we’d be trapped behind our screens all day long? That’s no life at all.

Again, I like to work. I have to write. I believe that each one of us who taps the keys is required to take the calling seriously and do our best. I wouldn’t be coming up on my tenth blogging anniversary if I didn’t. There’s nothing wrong with sharing things on Pinterest, Facebook or Twitter. There’s nothing wrong with writers conferences. There’s nothing wrong with having a plan and dedicating time to this thing that is so important. As usual, the tools are benign.

And as usual, there is something wrong with the way we use them.

A Christian writer (or a writer who is a Christian, same difference), shouldn’t be selling herself. He shouldn’t be stressed out at 2:00 a.m. because he “only” has 500 followers. Nobody should feel bad when the stats aren’t that great. (After all, every last one of us writes a clunker from time to time). She shouldn’t be striving to squeeze herself into an “acceptable” box. He shouldn’t try to be like anyone else. Nobody needs to find identity and value in how “successful” they are.

Did you hear that?

Nobody needs to find identity and value in how “successful” they are.

Believe me, I struggle mightily with this. I am never going to be Miss Popular. I have considered throwing in the towel more than once. My voice does not sing the song that mainstream Christian culture wants to hear. I have more often than not wondered if I’m having any impact at all. Who really cares what I have to say? Who even knows that I”m here?

But what’s the goal: That anyone knows my name, or that they know His?

Our job isn’t to be “successful.” It’s not to go viral, gather a magical number of followers, brand ourselves to death, sign a multi-book deal or alter the message to make it more palatable. Our job is to preach the Gospel. It is to make much of Jesus. It is to decrease, while He increases (John 3:30).

Our words will fade.

His will not.

We are but a breath.

He is eternity.

So, enough with the hustle. It’s okay if you don’t have something to share every single day. It’s okay if you don’t follow the formula. It’s okay if you faithfully labor in the hidden places. It’s okay if you have no idea just who it is you are reaching. Your value and legacy have nothing to do with what you achieve. These things are wrapped up in Christ, whose child you are, in whose arms you are hidden.

The only thing that matters is if you used your ability to scatter words across the screen to give Him honor. The only thing that matters is if you point people to Him. At the culmination of time, when the clouds roll back and this world as we know it is no more, nobody is going to care how entertaining your Facebook page was. We’re going to be far too busy exulting in His presence.

Why not exult now? Why not believe, fully and deep in your bones, that He smiles upon you, no matter how great or little your reach may be?

So yes, fellow writer, work. Steward the gift well.

But, every once in awhile, step away from the computer and the page. Look around and look up. Throw caution and the “supposed to” into the wind and go for a walk. Pet a dog. Call a friend (or, really, text a friend, let’s be real). Do whatever it is that will shake you back into reality. Because there’s things more important, more vital, than stats and shares.

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We Are Gorgeous

along-the-way-mlsgregg-com

Gentle Reader,

When I look in the mirror, I don’t see a woman who is ever going to grace a magazine cover. There’s a white streak in my hair, growing more prominent with each passing day. That same hair is typically unruly, unless I have the time and inclination to spend an hour smoothing it with curling irons and other torture devices (usually don’t). After seven surgeries, I’m covered in scars, some more prominent than others. I have a high forehead and small facial features. My eyes will never be in perfect alignment. Got a few wrinkles here and there. Freckles in odd spots. Skin plagued by dryness and eczema.

All of this used to bother me.

These days my attitude can be summed up in one question: Who cares?

I’ve mentioned that I switched to a largely vegetarian diet at the beginning of this year and that I took up an exercise regimen roughly 7 months ago. Neither of these choices were driven by a need to comply with some vague, ever-changing beauty standard. Yes, I’ve lost weight and dropped a dress size, maybe two (depends on the day and how much chocolate I’ve eaten). But that size is not four – and it’s never going to be.

Again, who cares?

I do the clean eating and the weights and the cardio so that my liver will stop being all inflamed and ticked off. (Hasn’t happened yet).

I see women of all ages, shapes and sizes who waste precious hours condemning themselves for not being able to achieve the look of the models in photo shoots. How long before it finally sinks into our heads that they don’t even look like that because Photoshop? How long before we realize that starving ourselves really isn’t the answer? How long before we stop allowing others to define whether or not we are beautiful?

Instead of compliance, let’s shoot for confidence.

I love fashion. It’s never wrong to put together a great outfit or try a new lipstick. Enjoy, if that’s your jam. If you don’t like that, great. And, yes, women should take the time to exercise and eat right. Not because we need to prove something to the world, but because we see ourselves as being worth the effort self-care requires.

But if you’re 5 feet, 6 inches – why feel bad that you aren’t taller? If your eyes are green – why feel ashamed that they aren’t blue? If you have full eyebrows or sparse eyebrows, a curvaceous frame or a lanky one, straight hair or curly, big lips or thin, dark or pale skin, narrow feet or wide, if you like sparkles or prefer a gray t-shirt and blue jeans – it doesn’t matter. None of it matters.

You’re beautiful.

Every time. Every day.

Walk into the room with your head held high. Believe that you have a lot to offer – because you do.

I’m over allowing anyone telling me that I’m “less than” because my hair grows throughout the day (especially if it’s humid). I’m over strangers telling me to “smile more.” (A particular pet peeve). I’m over fad diets. (Seriously. You need food. Real food). I’m over apologizing for being intelligent.I’m over worrying about whether or not I intimidate others.

I’m over feeling bad about myself.

I wish I would have figured out this confidence thing, I don’t know, about 20 years ago, but it is what it is. I don’t know how much time I have left on this earth but I do know I don’t want to spend it concerned over whether or not someone likes my jeans. I like my jeans. I’m just done with caring about opinions that don’t amount to a hill of beans.

You, dear lady reading this today – will you join me? When you look in the mirror, will you smile at yourself? Because your face was crafted by the skilled hands of the Master Designer. When you go into that meeting, will you speak up? Because your voice should be heard. When you put on that dress or slip those pins in your hair or zip up those boots, will you do so knowing that you rock whatever style you’ve chosen? Because you do. You do rock it.

Here’s to us, of the gap-toothed grins and the thick thighs and the hands gnarled with age. Here’s to us, of the frizzed-out hair and the eye wrinkles and the crooked noses. Here’s to us, of the flat butts that squats will never round out and the raspy voices and the Bohemian flair. Here’s to us, of skin as dark as coffee and pale as winter snow and all shades between.

We are gorgeous.

Nothing less.

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Five Minute Friday: Trust

Along the Way @mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

I can’t say enough good things about the Five Minute Friday writers. They are intelligent, witty, encouraging, compassionate, messy, chocolate-eating, bacon-frying, television-show quoting, ridiculously good-looking people who love Jesus. There are times when technology repulses me, but I will be forever thankful to have met and become part of this group thanks to the interwebs and the twitters.

Kate asks us to: trust.

Go.

I can’t stand it when people lie.

We’ve all done it because we’re all flawed. We’ve all “bent the truth” or omitted a key detail. We’ve all had moments when we give in to either insecurity or arrogance and thus seek to make ourselves look better than we really are. I know that – but knowing that doesn’t make me any more patient or tolerant. (#keepin’itreal)

Big lies.The ones that alter the course of a life. The truly shocking kind that we never forget. The ones that are told out of the desire to protect ourselves, even if we claim that we want to spare someone else. These are the painful fabrications. Words that leave lasting wounds.

Little lies. The things people say that can be easily disproved by the half-dozen witnesses in the room. Phrases of pettiness. Glory-grabbing and scene-stealing.

I hate it all.

Words are serious business. They should be truthful. We should be able to stand by every syllable that comes from our mouths. Or our fingers. Because every lie damages relationships. Sometimes between two people. Sometimes between groups of people. Always between the one telling the lie and God.

Falsehood erects a fence. When the fence is discovered, when the lies are uncovered (and they always are), the damage is irreversible. Yes, forgiveness always, no matter how hard, and rebuilding when true repentance is evident. But it can never be the same. It can never be as it was.

I think of Mary Poppins when she compares promises to pie crusts: Easily made, easily broken. So, too, trust.

Trust is among the most precious things we have in this life. We must be loyal to those who trust us by being truthful at all times. Gentle, of course. Loving and tactful, to be certain. But always, always truthful. Never inflate, never deviate.

The cost is simply not worth the fleeting moment of pleasure or boost to the ego.

Stop.

My journey to faith. (15)