Visiting Narnia

Last week, I had the amazing opportunity to take a trip to Narnia.

Ok...so maybe it wasn't actually C.S. Lewis' fictional kingdom behind the walls of the wardrobe, but I did get to utilize the Narnia Room at the Willamette Writer's Dream House in West Linn, Oregon. This is a place of intentionality for writers, dreamers, and thinkers. With a map of Narnia and a photograph of Clive Staples looking down on me, I entered the wonderful world of writing and spent the day in solitude.

Creating Space

In our culture, we're easily distracted by alluring forms of entertainment and endless problems that swirl around us. We have to work hard in order to create intentional space for dreams and callings. Whether it's writing a book, praying, or exploring nature, intentional planning for such things is essential.

Personally, I have to schedule a specific time and setting that will facilitate the creative process. otherwise, another week, another month, and another year will go by, and I will have walked in circles.

  Key to the Narnia Room

 Key to the Narnia Room

Your Narnia

We each have different dreams and goals. For some of us, it's art. For others, it's being in nature. In the movie Chariots of FireOlympic runner Eric Liddell says, "I believe God made me for a purpose,  but He also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure."

What makes you come alive? What breathes life into your soul?

Some of us like noise around us, while some of us like complete quiet. Whatever you are called to do, carve out dedicated time and space to do what you love.

Where is your Narnia? Where is that coffee shop, that garden, that mountain trail? Where can you go to spend dedicated time on the things that make you come alive? I encourage you to visit there soon.

Fame or Love?

This month I've enjoyed two opportunities to be in community with other creatives in Portland, Oregon. The first was an overnight gathering of writers. Sitting together, we took turns relating our experiences and reading original pieces to one another. 

The second event was the Portland New Year Shorts Film Festival at the 5th Ave Cinema. Local filmmakers shared their work with the audience and received constructive feedback from attendees. 

Participating in these events, I witnessed the value that exists when we share art in an intimate setting. This leads me to ask myself, "Why do I create? Do I create for fame or out of love?"

Pondering this question, I've arrived at two conclusions:

  • If we wait to share our art until we are guaranteed fame, we might spend our whole life waiting. 
  • If we wait until our art is flawless, we might also spend our whole life waiting.

But if we create out of love for others and for the art itself, we produce authentic work that touches those within our own sphere of influence. 

Share In Your Own Community

It's relatively easy to create space for the artists in your life. It's as simple as inviting a bunch of friends over and asking them to bring something creative to share, be it a story, a drawing, or a recipe. Sharing art amongst friends brings an intimacy that is missing when it is created for mass consumption.

While we might think we need a gallery or a stage, all we really need is a time, a place, and a few folks to share their passion. I'd encourage you to think of the poets, singers, musicians, painters, and actors you already know. Plan a meal together and take turns sharing what you've created.

You see, I never expected any sort of success with Mockingbird. I didn’t expect the book to sell in the first place.
— Harper Lee


Infinite Words

What if my words run out?  What if I have nothing left to say?  What if my creativity runs dry?

These questions often swirl around as I attempt to move forward. Recently, this happened as I began to write my three hundred and sixty-five letters (read my post 365 Letters to learn more). 

The first letter of 2015 was addressed to my husband Ben. Before I had even written the salutation, doubt bubbled to the surface. The fear that manifested was, "Do I have anything new to say to this man?" If I couldn't come up with anything new at this point in our relationship, what would happen in ten years? Twenty years? Thirty? What would I have to say to him then?

This train of thought brings about creative paralysis. As fear enters the equation, the very thing I dread happens. I freeze. I don't live.

If this life is humanity's grand opus, then I should fear the end and work to achieve maximum success before I die. 

But what if I changed my perspective? Rather than looking within myself for inspiration, what if I gazed up at the stars? What if I stared into the ocean or tried to count the sand on the shore?

What if I embraced the belief that God exists? And if God does exist, He must be infinite - infinite in time, thought, and creativity. A limited god would then, by definition, not be God.

What if I go a step farther and believe that human beings reflect the nature of the Creator? If I choose to be inspired by God, I have an infinite source of inspiration. 

If I consider the possibility that this life is merely a prelude to an eternal symphony, then I am free to create without fear of failure, without fear of a creative end. I would be COURAGEOUS. Creative paralysis would subside.

                                                                        

                                                                        

These are some of the thoughts I penned in the letter to my husband. The words came, and they will surely come again. As I gaze at the stars in the sky, I choose to believe in infinite possibilities.

What Do You Really Want?

As a writer, I'm constantly watching people. I study them, I ask them questions. I want to learn what motivates them, to understand their hopes and dreams.

In order to get answers, I ask questions. Some may call it nosy, but I like to think of it as taking an interest.

One of the questions I want to know from people is, "What do you really want?"

The reason I love this question is because it's one I have to ask myself. What do you really want, Heidi?

What do I want to say at the end of this year? Do I want to have written a book, or do I want to say that I watched every single episode of Alias for the second time? 

When I say it out loud, this sounds like a no-brainer. Of course I'd rather realize a goal than be known for my television watching skills. But somewhere along the way, I get distracted from hopes and dreams.

Let's face it - steadily moving towards a goal is hard work. Personally, I find it much easier to power through seven episodes of Downton Abbey than to write, and rewrite, and rewrite...

Asking what we really want is difficult because it reveals our true motivation. It forces me to analyze my behavior. What I truly desire will get the majority of my time and attention. If my actions contradict what I claim to value, then it's time to make some changes.

In a culture with so many distractions, there is much to hinder us from stepping into our God-given calling. But when I ask myself what I really want, I begin to order my days differently. I gradually cut out the things that hinder and embrace the things that make me come alive.

So what do I really want? What do you really want?

Please share your hopes and dreams below.

What I Really Want

Just a couple of weeks into my letter-writing journey and I've already learned some things:

Number one: Keep stamps on hand at all times. (Sorry to those recipients who must wait to receive their letters until I can get to the post office).

Number two: Human beings are easily deterred from the path of perseverance.

When I set out to adopt a new practice, there is an initial sense of exhilaration. But as I truck along, it only takes a brief amount of time before I start to consider the possibility of taking a little break. And little breaks turn into longer breaks, which often lead to an end of the adventure.

Having identified this cycle in my life, I was prepared that this would probably happen with my letters. After all, our human nature is bent towards giving up when things get too hard. And wouldn't you know that I have been tempted to take a pause, to stop writing letters. What could it hurt?

Each time I have considered skipping a day or have struggled with the words to share, I remind myself of why I'm doing this. What do I really want? 

What I really want is to release love.

And not just for 365 days. I want a lifestyle of setting love free from the bonds of my selfishness, envy, pride, bitterness, anxiety, fear...

That's what I really want. I want to love well. For that reason, I best go buy more stamps. 

What do you really want?

-Read more about my 365 Letters.

Why I Avoid Reading

Two insufferable companions nip at my heels. Although they handicap me, I've grown so accustomed to their presence that I tend to forget that they're around. I accept them as a way of life, and it's not until their destructive influence surfaces that I fully acknowledge them. These two spirits that infiltrate my thoughts and stifle my creativity are called Pride and Envy.

Pride & Envy

It's naive to think that we can create without discipline or mentorship. Somewhere along they way, we've bought into the idea that we can be awesome at things while putting in minimal effort and training. This mindset is partially due to the influx of overnight sensations that have sprung up via social media and reality television. 

While prodigies do exist, most of us have to work at our craft. Like good wine that sits and improves with age, our talent needs time to be practiced, cultivated, and refined.

Not only do we think that we're the exception to the creative rule, but we carry bitterness when others succeed at something we want. Instead of utilizing that inspiration to fuel our own skill, we feel sorry for ourselves and pout in a dark corner of envy.

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At times I avoid reading great books and intriguing blogs because I'm intimidated by the brilliance of certain authors. When I read their work, I feel insecure, like I don't measure up. I compare myself, and I become dissatisfied with where I'm at in the creative process.

When I admit this, it sounds ridiculous. How can I expect to be a better writer if I don't read? While it makes no sense, this is how we act when we are insecure. We avoid. We hide.

Withholding Love

The sad truth is that pride and envy prevent us from encouraging others in their creative journey. When I run away from the gift of an accomplished speaker, singer, teacher, or writer, I rob myself. I miss out on new ideas and inspiring creations.

When I refuse to affirm another's gifting, I steal their blessing. I withhold love by remaining silent or by criticizing. It's as if I'm carrying around an emotional backpack of blessings that don't belong to me. Ironically, this brings me heaviness rather than comfort.

The great news is that it's never too late to release blessing. Whether you admire a musician, a writer, or a marathon runner - whatever skill they have that you want - you can encourage them today.

What would happen if I replaced Pride and Envy with Humility and Blessing? I would definitely read more. I would write more. What would you do?

How Focusing on the Finish Line Rather Than the Goal Leads to Incontinence

The Race

It was a crisp fall morning that welcomed us as we arrived at check-in. There was excitement in the air as the crowd readied for the run.

I eagerly accepted my T-shirt, a symbol of the work I had put into training. Using the popular The Couch-to-5K plan, I had prepared for this day, and I was ready to run.

As the race began, I was full of enthusiasm. Accomplishing goals gives me a thrill, and now I could say I was running one of them.

As we progressed, I foolishly began to observe the other runners. I took particular note of those going faster than me. Elderly people were even passing me, and that just didn't seem right. I quickly started to get tired, and I began to freak out.

What if I can't finish? What if I have to stop and walk? That would be a failure of the worst proportion.

At some point, I began to cry. I was in pain, I was panicking, and I was on the verge of an emotional breakdown. My husband, who has the ability to run much faster than me, faithfully stayed beside me. "Just keep going, just keep moving," he encouraged.

Plodding along, we eventually neared what I assumed to be the final portion of the course. My eyes brightened at the sight of the finish line in the distance. I could do this.

When we reached the crest of the hill, my heart sank. It was a false finish.

Now, this is where the most embarrassing portion of the story takes place. To put it simply, I lost control. I was sobbing, and yes, ladies and gentlemen, I was peeing my pants, and I couldn't seem to make it stop.

Focus on the Goal Rather Than the Finish Line

Now you're probably wondering what this humiliating experience has to do with writing, or with anything else for that matter.

What I've learned is that this race is symbolic of the way I tend to approach other goals in my life. Rather than focusing on running the race, I let the location of the finish line psyche me out.

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I'm currently in the process of writing a novel. Right now I'm clocking in around 17,000 words. This is about the time when the doubt begins to creep in. How in the world am I ever going to reach 90,000 words? 

I begin to panic and start to loose control of my emotions and my thoughts. 

Who am I to think I could ever write a book? Maybe I should give up and leave the real writing to people who know what they're doing.

Here is where I stop myself and remember why I'm doing this in the first place. What do I really want? I want to be a writer. If I want to write a book, that happens one page at a time. 

When we focus too intently on the finish line and forget the end goal, we become paralyzed, discouraged, and afraid. When we lose sight of the goal, we miss the mark completely.

This year, I want to enjoy each step in achieving my goals. The finish line will be there when I get there.

Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.
— John Steinbeck

The Creative Struggle

Sigh.  The words don't come.  Another sigh as I consider the possibilty of completing a work that has no guarantee of success.  

As I was struggling in the development of a recently completed screenplay, I had begun to focus on achieving.  Before it was even finished, I was fretting over the end result of my work.  Would anyone ever buy my script?  Would it ever be made into a film?  What if nothing ever comes of it?

In the midst of this striving, I was making very little progress,  and I wasn't really enjoying myself.  Success began to consume my thoughts more than the art itself.

In verbalizing my frustration to my husband, his gentle response carried a needed correction.  

Embrace the process.

These same words had been spoken to him by a friend several years before, and now they were for me.

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For artists, a constant battle rages.  A struggle to create for mere pleasure, while at the same time hoping to share our craft with others.  Content if only our Creator's eyes see it, yet yearning to display the gift that has emerged from our toil.

When I strive to achieve greatness, joy is strangled.  But if I create in order to simply share what I know and feel with those that I love, a flow of inspiration springs forth.  

Letters to Friends is just that - a simple attempt to write for the sheer love of words.  It's an opportunity to share thoughts with people that I care about.

Don't write to be famous.  Create because you love others.  Create because you are loved.

Attending My Own Funeral

Back in the day, there was an episode of Little House on the Prairie in which one of the townsfolk staged her own death so that her loved ones would finally come visit.  She knew they would have to come to her funeral.  In disguise, she attended her own wake and listened in on the conversations.

Some of us would love to attend our funeral, while some of us would avoid the experience altogether.  But in general, we all desire to be remembered.  We want to hear that our life was significant.

Unfortunately, we often delay verbalizing our care for one another.  For some reason, it can be easy to express what irritates and bothers us, while affirming what we love is a struggle.

Recently, I had the overwhelming privilege of being publicly blessed by the employees and volunteers of the S.E. Portland Pregnancy Resource Center where I served for the past seven years.  I tend to have mixed feelings when a group of people publicly expresses appreciation of me.  While I crave thoughtful words, I also fear what might be said, fear what might not be said.  All the attention focused on me...

As I was able to sit and hear these incredible women share their appreciation of me, some of my greatest fears and insecurities were relieved.   Everything I would desire to hear about myself as a colleague, as a supervisor, and as a friend was expressed.  It felt like having the opportunity to attend my own funeral.

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This "funeral" experience inspired my decision to write 365 letters.  I was so moved by my friends' generous words that I have become compelled to do the same for others.  

We mustn't wait until death to affirm others.  Life is fleeting, and now is the time to bless.  Give everyone the chance to attend their own funeral.

Website Launch: 365 Letters

The challenge has been proposed, and I have accepted.  Three hundred sixty-five hand-written letters to friends, family, acquaintances, and even a few strangers.

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Unlike many endeavors, this is not merely a project to complete.  No, this is a journey to release love.  By taking the time to write out words of blessing, words of affirmation, words of care, I have the opportunity to defy fear and embrace vulnerability.  

We hold the power of life and death in our words.  And just because we aren't saying cruel things doesn't mean we are saying encouraging things.  We withhold love when we have the ability to speak words of life and don't.  When we keep silent, we hold love hostage.

I anticipate learning more about myself, about others, and about God throughout this process. At the end of 2015, I expect to have an increase in my soul's wealth.  By giving love, I will gain.