I’ve recently done a lot of soul-searching regarding this blog.
On Monthly Challenges
Try something new.
Make a change.
I dare you.
Raise your hand if doing new things isn’t your thing. Now smile awkwardly at someone who just saw you raise your hand. Good work. I raised my hand, by the way. I’m at home by myself though, so I didn’t smile at anyone.
I probably should say doing new things wasn’t my thing. I like comfort and routine and I really don’t like change. I do like small, incremental changes like a new hair color or cupcake flavor, but those things are well within my comfort zone. Stepping out of that zone scares me. Uncertainty, pain, loss, and failure live out there, and I fear those things. Always have. I prefer safety, security, and the confident knowledge that comes with doing things I know I’m good at, with people I know and like.
In the last fifteen years or so, I’ve learned some important lessons about my comfort zone. Sure, it feels good to stay safely inside, but when I step out of it and face what I fear, I also find some pretty amazing things that don’t live inside of it. Growth, adventure, and even success all happen outside of my comfort zone. By forcing myself to stretch and try new things, I’ve discovered things I love, new friendships, and new experiences that I would have missed out on if I’d stayed in my safe little cocoon. When I decided to start breaking out of it, I found my wings. Now, doing new things is totally my thing. So much so that now if I catch myself saying “Oh I don’t do that,” about something that’s perfectly acceptable to do, I feel an almost compulsive need to go ahead and do it. I’m sure this drives some people in my life crazy. I’m loving it, and also still kind of hating it at the same time, if I’m being totally honest. But I will say it has changed my life.
And now, I’d like to invite you to join me for the ride.
Okay actually in September I’d like you to join me for the run.
Monthly challenges happened completely by accident. A few years ago, a friend posted an invite to a Facebook group that was doing a 30-day squats, pushups, and leg lifts challenge. I’d been gaining weight pretty steadily and thinking I needed to get more active, so I decided to try it. Secretly. I didn’t even join the group. I checked it out, stole the image, saved it on my phone, and got started without telling anyone. I didn’t even join the group. The fact was, I could barely do squats, I had no idea what leg lifts even were, and I absolutely could not do a pushup. So if I failed horribly, I didn’t want anyone to know. Funny thing was, I didn’t fail. I did remember why I hated exercise. It hurts when you start. If you push your muscles beyond what they’re used to doing, they will protest. Loudly. For days. I wanted to quit, but I wanted to get in better shape, and getting in better shape won, so I didn’t quit. After just a week I started to see a difference. My arms started looking different. I felt different, tired but better, stronger. Two weeks in I actually peaked in the challenge. Almost every day, I was doing 50 squats and leg lifts, and 20 kneeling pushups, and I thought that was a lot so I finished out the 30 days just doing that. I figured no one knew I was doing it anyway, so I could just keep going at that pace for while. I did start letting a couple friends in on the secret of what I was doing, and they encouraged me to keep at it. I started getting bored doing the same thing all the time, so I added some moves. I switched to a classic 7-minute workout for awhile. I started looking into ways to get more out of my workouts, fuel my body better, and keep pushing myself to see how much more I could do. In just a few years I went from a moderately unhealthy person who hated exercise to loving exercise, sometimes being called “one of those fitness people,” and wanting to help people find their own fitness journey. It all started with one decision to try one challenge, on my own in the dark.
This year I’ve been stretching myself outside of my comfort zone again. I’ve written on doing what you can’t and doing what you don’t want to, and I’ve challenged myself to say yes to things I usually say no to. I did planks for a month. I joined a “gym.” Planet Fitness, but it’s close enough and it’s something I swore I’d ever do. Baby steps. And now, tomorrow, I’m going to attempt to run a 5K. Let me be absolutely clear: I HATE running. I’ve always said people who run are crazy (still true) and that no one would ever see me run, unless a bear was chasing me. Even at that, I might have suggested that death by bear mauling might be preferable to running. My husband has run a few 5Ks and he has actually been training (extra points to him!) for this one tomorrow. So last week I said, “Hey, I’ll do that with you.” Then I immediately went to Planet Fitness and got on the treadmill to see if I can even run. I can, but not far or for long, so we’ll see how it goes tomorrow. The next one is in early October, so I’m actually going to train for that one, three days a week. Me. Running. Like a crazy person.
What does all this have to do with monthly challenges? I’m glad you asked. In March, I decided to try planks every day and I asked people to join me. (See how that went here) A couple months later, I went back and did the 30-day challenge I started with, and this time I actually finished it. 100 squats, 100 leg lifts, 40 full pushups, like a boss. I found out it’s fun to do these challenges with other people, moaning and groaning together on the hard days and celebrating successes. While I was working on refreshing this website, I decided to make the challenges a monthly thing. They won’t always be exercise challenges, but they will be designed to stretch our comfort zones. If you like a challenge, come on. Let’s do this.
So… dear reader, I’d love for you to join me September’s 5K Challenge. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never run before, if you do a few minutes of cardio a few times a week, or if you run five miles a day*. For the month of September, let’s run together. I’m giving you three levels to choose from:
Level One (beginner): Pick a Couch to 5K program. There are some great apps out there that tell you exactly what to do. Start at week one and complete four weeks.
Level Two (me): Start at week five of Couch to 5K and complete four weeks.
Level Three (runners): Run 5 kilometers or more three times a week.
Bonus: Run a 5K in October
Join my Facebook Group and check in every time you complete a day of training. I’m prize motivated, so I offer drawings if enough people get through the challenge. I won’t promise it’ll be fun, but it might be. You might surprise yourself and start something you never thought you’d do.
Try something new.
Make a change.
I dare you.
Comment with any questions! I moderate the Facebook group so if you aren’t one of my friends, please answer the questions and I’ll let you in. Thanks!
*As always when beginning any fitness program, be wise. Don’t injure yourself. Consult a physician if you’re not sure whether or not this kind of exercise is appropriate for you.
On Growing in the Dark
Mary Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?
Have you ever been in a season where it feels like everything is painful or at least uncomfortable, where you’re filled with doubt and you wish you could see some light on your path ahead to show you that the future holds some hope? I’ve had a rough few months personally, nothing big or dramatic. But I’m working on growing some new things in my life, new habits and new ways of thinking and a new business, and let me tell you, it is an uncomfortable process. I was sitting in church this week and the sermon inspired a thought in me, a question I’d like to ask you.
How does growth happen?
The Bible is not a botany textbook, but in John 12:24 Jesus, the author and creator of all life, makes a statement about growth. It goes something like this: Unless a seed falls to the ground and dies, it does nothing. It remains dormant. But… if it dies… it produces fruit. He was speaking about himself, and his upcoming crucifixion, but he also applied it to anyone who follows him. I’d like to go ahead and apply it here to everyone.
Do you remember doing experiments in elementary school to observe the growth of plants? I do, and I must have thought it was pretty fascinating, because the image has stuck with me for years. You take a brown dried out seed, put it in some dirt, water it, and wait. Keep watering, keep waiting. In a few weeks, a little baby green plant slowly begins to emerge from the dirt, sometimes with the remnants of the original seed still clinging to it. It’s like magic, or a miracle. But what is happening in those weeks in the dirt?
The seed, already dormant, dies. It shrivels, wrinkles, softens a little, and finally breaks apart. The new seedling then reaches slowly for the air and light, growing incrementally toward the surface while also sending slender roots deeper into the dirt. It finally breaks the crust of the earth, spreads its first fragile leaves, struggles to hold them upright on a tiny slip of a stem, and begins the process of photosynthesis, growing stronger and greener in the light and the rain, until it eventually becomes a strong plant, vine, or tree, capable of producing seeds that can one day become hundreds more plants, vines, or trees.
It all starts with darkness. Death. Shattering pain. A wound that may never fully heal. Doubt. Losing hope. Reaching, trying, failing, wondering if anything will ever feel right again. Then, just when all seems loss, when everything seems the hardest, when everything within you and around you screams it’s not worth it, it’s time to give up…
Light, growth, and abundance.
The growth that everyone around you sees comes only after the pain that you endure alone. If you are blessed with positive people and healthy relationships there may be people around you, encouraging you, watering and feeding your dream, but that initial shriveling and dying and breaking apart is a quiet secret that happens in the death of your soul where only God sees. He will let you break because he knows what is coming from it. But he will never abandon you. He is always there. When your faith is too weak to see him, he is strong enough to keep you from falling apart. He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it. He knows your pain. He’s acquainted with death and darkness. He overcame it, and we can too. That is a promise.
On Writing in Public
Awhile back, I started a series for writers, or maybe more accurately for people who want to be
Let me share something I often hear from friends. See if it sounds familiar: “I thought by now
On Writing With A Plan
I’m blogging a series that I’m calling “Stop Thinking About Writing…And Just Write!”
On Doing What You Don’t Want To
Today, I did a workout I didn’t want to do. I’ve been fighting a stomach bug this weekend, nothing
On Writing Every Day
Over the next few weeks I’m blogging a series that I’m calling “Stop Thinking About Writing…
Jaelyn touched the scarf that she had tied over her hair, making sure it softened her features and hid the slight points of her ears. She held her sister’s hand as they kept their heads down, looking only at the merchandise they were shopping for, and not at any of the merchants. She quietly laid her selection of herbs and produce on the counter.
“That’ll be four bronzes, dearie.” Jaelyn fingered the coins in her purse, counting them. It would be just enough. She laid the coins next to the fruit, but her hand shook and she dropped her purse. She reached down to pick it up, but another hand beat her to it. She looked up in surprise at the young man who held it out to her. With a smile.
“Th-thank you.” She stammered slightly, cursing her nerves.
“My pleasure,” he said. Then his gaze sharpened and he looked at her more closely, taking in the jewel brightness of her eyes. She quickly dropped her gaze back to the purse, tucking it into her belt.
“Wait,” he said. “You’re one of them, aren’t you? The Ancients.”
The air in the market seemed to still. Next to her, Kyra whimpered slightly.
“No, we are not Ancients. We are Others.” A rustle went through the crowded market, and Jaelyn felt the shift in the air. Anger and suspicion melted into uncertainty and worst of all, fear. “We don’t want any trouble,” she spoke softly, barely above a whisper. “We just want to eat.”
The merchant snatched up the coins and shoved the food toward the girls. “Take it and get out of here. Don’t come back.”
Jaelyn quickly put the items in her bag and gripped Kyra’s hand tightly. As they hustled away, she risked a glance back at the young man who had handed her the purse. He was still watching them. The friendly smile had left his face, replaced by … something else. Not the fear she was used to seeing. Curiosity? Eagerness? Kyra squeezed her hand, and they hurried away as the crowd parted for them. They heard bits and pieces of whispered comments: “Unnatural, they are…dark powers…secrets…they don’t belong.”
Once they passed the last of the houses that lined the road out of the small town, the sisters continued to walk quickly. Even at that pace, it would take several hours to walk home. Jaelyn’s heart sank at the realization that they would have to find another town, even further away, to do business.
At first she thought the pounding in her ears was an echo of her racing heart, but suddenly she realized that there was a horse approaching from behind them. “The bushes! Hurry!” she whispered frantically to Kyra, but before they could spring into hiding, a voice called, “Wait! Please!” The voice was filled with desperation, not animosity, so Jaelyn paused. To be safe, she pulled Kyra behind her and whispered a word that surrounded her sister in a shield of protective power.
As the horse pulled up in front of them, Jaelyn recognized the young man from the market. He alighted and bowed his head at the girls, a sign of respect. “Thank God you came to the market today. I am in need of the healing skill of the Others. My youngest brother has been gravely ill for several days, and I fear for his life. Can you help?”
Jaelyn bit her lip. “My power is not very strong yet, and I have little training in healing. My mother is an excellent healer but we are several hours from home.”
“Please, for mercy’s sake, come do what you can. His color is so poor that I’m afraid he may not make it through the day. Perhaps there is no hope for him, but—” his voice cracked slightly and he cleared his throat. “But it is possible that God sent you to this town today for this very purpose.”
Jaelyn hesitated. Her heart went out to the young man and his love for his brother, but years of keeping away from humans had taught her caution. She offered a quick prayer, asking, Is this a trap?
The answer came immediately: Go with him.
She gazed into the young man’s eyes, searching for truth there. “Perhaps you are right. I can’t make you any promises except that I will do what I can.”
When they reached the house, Jaelyn blinked in surprise and she heard Kyra gasp in awe. In a land where most people lived in simple one or two room houses, this place was a grand villa with several wings surrounding a courtyard where a fountain shot a spray of sparkling water ten feet in the air.
“My father is a man of some property and influence,” their companion offered by way of explanation. “He is away from home now, but I’m sure he will offer a handsome reward if you can help the boy.” He led them to a room where the curtains were drawn and sickness hung heavily in the air. A beautiful middle-aged woman turned to them, her face lined with worry.
“Fandin, what have you done?” she asked, eying the strangers with concern.
“They are Others. I happened upon them in the market today and thought they might be able to help.”
She wrung her hands. “What can they do that our healers have not already done? They are so young.”
Jaelyn offered the woman a curtsy. “Please ma’am, I do not have much skill, but I am willing to help if I can.” She caught a glimpse of the boy who lay on the bed and her heart sank. He looked as though he might be very near death. His cheeks held a gray pallor and his breath came in labored rattles. “What is his name?”
“Eldan,” the older woman whispered, then her face contorted with grief. “Do what you will. I am losing him anyway, so what can it hurt?”
She left the room, and Fandin turned to do so as well, but Jaelyn laid a hand on his arm. A slight current passed between them, strong enough that he could feel it, she could tell from the way his eyes widened slightly. “If you will stay, I think you can help.”
“I will do anything,” Fandin promised. “What do you need?”
“A willing heart. You have some power in you. Most humans do, but it is difficult, often impossible, to learn how to use or control it. When the time comes you will know it. Simply open yourself up to be used by God to heal Eldan, if he wills it.” She knelt by the bed and laid her hand on the boy’s head. The sickness that she felt in the room was so concentrated in his body that for a moment it nearly overcame her. She felt the throb of the fever that ravaged his body and tore at his lungs and head. She took a deep breath, allowing the feeling to subside and praying for wisdom. Holding out a hand, she nodded at Kyra and then at Fandin.
“Take his hand,” she spoke softly, and Fandin held the boy’s frail little hand in his own strong, brown one, completing the circle.
“God of all Quinerya,” Jaelyn began, and as she did she felt another presence filling the room, “We believe you have brought us together today for the sake of this little boy. He lies here ill and without hope in the world except the hope that you offer now, in this moment. For the sake of his family and your own name, we ask you to use what power we have to bring strength and healing to his body and mind. For this purpose we have joined together. We leave the rest to your will.” Then, concentrating on the boy, she brought back to mind the feeling of his sickness and imagined it leaving his body. She dug deep into the core of her being, reaching for her own power, imagining it flooding into his body, bringing health and wholeness. She knew in that moment that her own power was not enough, that she would fail. She sent a silent plea to Kyra and Fandin, fueled by the connection of their hands, “Help me.”
“Be well, Eldan,” she whispered, and opened her eyes. For a moment, nothing happened, and she felt a pang of grief. It was too little, too late. But then, just before she gave up in despair, she saw the tips of her fingers began to glow with a soft, yellow warmth. The light spread to Kyra’s hand, and the girl gasped as her eyes flew open. Then Fandin’s hand lit up as well, very faintly, and finally, so soft it was almost imperceptible, it spread to Eldan’s hand. Jaelyn poured as much of herself as she could into the connection, willing the power to spread through the boy’s body. It is not enough, she thought, as weariness pulled at her. Just as she thought she couldn’t keep the connection going any longer, a weak light spread through Eldan’s face and touched her glowing fingers. He opened his eyes slowly, and for a second they blazed with golden light. She sighed and moved her hand just moments before being drained completely..
“Am I dead?” the little boy asked, his voice weak with illness. “Are you an angel?”
“No, I am a living being just as you are. My name is Jaelyn.”
“Eldan!” Fandin cried, crushing the boy to him.
“Gently,” she cautioned him. “He is still weak.”
“Did it work?” he asked, meeting her gaze over the top of the boy’s head.
She took a deep breath, testing the air. “Most of the illness is gone, but his recovery will be slow. I could not remove it all. I don’t know everything that I should have done, but I did what little I could. I think that now he will not die of this sickness.”
“My family is forever in your debt. Please, tell me anything you want or need, and if I can I will do it.”
Jaelyn looked at her sister. The girl was weary, and Jaelyn felt her limbs trembling from the effort of healing the boy. “Could you give us a ride home?”
Fandin’s mother insisted that the girls stay for a meal. After checking on her son and finding him in a deep sleep untroubled by the fever or restlessness that had marked his sleep for days, the burden of care lifted from her, and she became a gracious hostess. Although Jaelyn and Kyra were reluctant to talk about their family, they learned a great deal about Fandin’s. His mother and father were the most influential humans in the region, and their home was usually flooded with visitors. Eldan had contracted his illness from a visiting family, and the house had been closed for the last week.
“I have been so worried,” Sheril confessed. “We prayed that this illness would pass, but Eldan grew so weak. He has not eaten in two days, and I had lost all hope. Praise God you arrived when you did.”
“He is merciful. I am glad we were able to help. I hope that Eldan’s recovery is swift.” She glanced at Fandin before continuing. “You have been very kind, and I thank you for the meal. However, our home lies several hours away on foot, and the work of healing has quite drained our strength. Would it be too much trouble for Fandin to give us a ride home?”
“Not at all! Fandin, please go prepare the horses.” Sheril turned back to Jaelyn with a question in her eyes. “Why did you travel so far from home to come to our simple market? Surely there are other towns nearer to you.”
“There are, but the Others do not find a warm welcome in the world of humans. We have no quarrel with humans, or with any of the races. Still, we bear too much resemblance to your enemies, the Ancients, and people do not understand our powers. They fear what they do not understand. Many of the towns we have visited have asked us to take our business elsewhere. Your market was no exception. My mother and father have both been asked to leave, and today Kyra and I were told in no uncertain terms that we should not return.” She gave a helpless gesture. “We have a small farm and can take care of many of our own needs, but when we must buy or sell something it can be a challenge to find friendly folk. The price of being different, I suppose.”
Sheril leaned forward, a fire in her eyes. “Well, that will change today. My husband will spread the word that you and your family are welcome in any of the towns where we have business. After what you have done for us, how could we do any less?”
“Thank you, but we have not done so very much. We only acted as God willed.”
“Not everyone would have done even that.” Sheril grasped Jaelyn’s hand. “Perhaps this is his will, also. He provides for his servants, yes? Now you can go where you will, without fear.”
Tears pricked Jaelyn’s eyes at the thought. “Thank you, truly. That would mean a great deal to us.”
Fandin appeared in the doorway, and Jaelyn found that her heart beat faster at the sight of him. “The horses are ready.”
On Doing What You Can’t
There is a commercial that aired during the Olympics that keeps sticking in my mind. You know a commercial has a powerful message when you keep thinking of it months later. This one was a Samsung commercial but like many commercials that run during sports broadcasts recently, it only subtly featured products, instead promoting an inspirational idea. This particular commercial focused on the word “can’t” and showed a variety people failing at what they’re trying to do, only to find inspiration to try again and succeed. The tag line of the spot is “Do What You Can’t” and it embodies the spirit of the Olympics, which I love. Run faster, jump higher, be stronger, do more and be more than what anyone thought was possible before. Even you.
What is it about the human spirit that strives for the impossible? To look failure in the face and say “I can’t do it… but I will anyway”? I believe it is a hint that we were made for more than what we are right now. We are not gods, shouting to the universe and commanding it to obey, but we are created in the image of God, who spoke the universe into existence. His power at work in us makes the impossible seem achievable.
But what about when tasks are too difficult? When obstacles are insurmountable? When weakness, or illness, or failure cannot be overcome? We are all human. If you live long enough you will come against something that knocks you down so hard and so repeatedly that you are too defeated to go on. What then?
This may sound crazy, but I suggest that you do something you can’t. Learn a new skill. Find a new opportunity. Make the most of what is available to you and stretch beyond your belief about what is possible. Then come back to the impossible thing, the broken heart, the difficult relationship, the frustrating job, the dismal future. You may find that what once seemed impossible now whispers “It can be done. You can do it.”
This year, I’ve set out on a journey to create a career and a future for myself that requires hard work, dedication, and learning new things. When it comes to working for myself, I have some bad history to overcome. My past is littered with failed endeavors, unfinished business, and great ideas that never came to fruition. But this time is different. I am older, wiser, I know more about the world and myself, and I am determined to make this work. More on what “this” is later but I’ll give you a hint: It has to do with writing.
The easiest path is the straightest and smoothest, but the difficult, rocky paths often reward us with the best views. It is easy to simply give up, to say “I’ll never be better than what I am now” or “I’m stuck in this job/house/relationship forever, it will never get better” or any of the other lies we convince ourselves to believe. What if, instead, you change your mind about what is possible? What would you do if you could not fail, if you had no limits? What if you went ahead and reached for that? I’m not promising miracles. You might fail. We are taught to fear failure as though it is our enemy, but it isn’t. Failure shows us how not to do something. It shows us where we didn’t work hard enough. It shows us that perhaps we should expend our efforts elsewhere. We learn from failure until we succeed. It’s just a step in the process.
There are some things in life that truly are impossible. I learned at an early age that I could not fly or become a shape-shifter, no matter how badly I wanted it. But I could write about flying and shape-shifting, and take others along for the ride. Sometimes when you want the impossible, you can still look it in the face and find your dreams. Sometimes we come up against the impossible so that we will turn to God, for whom nothing is impossible. The human spirit is powerful but God’s Spirit is all-powerful. Impossible doesn’t have to mean the end. It can be the beginning of more than you ever imagined. So go on. Do what you can’t. I dare you.