At the End of the Year, a Look Back…

missouri welcomes youAnother year is coming to a close, and as I can’t help doing, I’m already making plans for 2016. Namely, with baby #2 on the way, I’m looking at down-sizing my goals, and maybe hiring a quarter-time nanny with my book advance.

But what happened to my 2015 goals/resolutions? I did think about them some over the year, and I even wrote the germ of this post in May to check my progress…but my goals got somewhat swallowed up in our baby news, move, and continuous travel.

So before I leave this ambitious stage of life to enter another round of infant craziness, here’s a look back at how my 2015 resolutions played out.

(See my original New Year’s Resolutions post here, and its sister “plan” post here):

Resolution 1: Focus on my Family

 Oh, putting my family first this year was a paradigm shift! I realized that I had often made writing my primary focus, to the point of making it an idol (yikes). But with the resolutions I made, The Love Dare, and God’s help, I no doubt grew in this area.

Family Photo 2015

Here are some family and motherhood gains I made over the year:

  • I learned to be mostly nice (or at least not say anything mean) to my husband in the mornings—AKA the time of day when things are at their craziest and I at my most stressed.
  • Buc and I started implementing more date nights to preserve our marriage in this busy time of toddlerhood. While we don’t always achieve a weekly date night, we both recognize the importance of sitting and talking on a regular basis. It’s encouraging how you can stave off marital stresses with a little focused, face-to-face communication.
  • I learned to make singing with Sam a regular part of our day. If you will recall, singing with Sam did not come naturally to me at first, even though I am a musical person (I still have early childhood/teen roots to write through on my issues with music). But now singing comes easily.
  • At first I listed out one song a week, because I was not in the habit of singing with Sam AT ALL—like, not a note all day long. But having the list helped initially to remind me to sing. So did playing some kids’ CDS we got for Sam’s baby shower. I listened to 100 different Bible songs over and over, until I could sing most of them, and now singing comes pretty naturally. I am not writing down a song each week anymore, because I don’t need to. Singing has, happily, become a habit (and this is a great depression fighter).
  • We don’t yet have family devotions every night with Daddy—can you believe the day gets away from us before we can even sometimes sing songs with Sam? But we do have a family prayer, and Daddy has told me he is taking more responsibility for including this in our day.
  • I am happy to say I made some photo memories and mementos in 2015: I filled several photo albums with prints I already had, and then I transitioned into the world of electronic photo albums. I made an album for Sam on Shutterfly documenting his second six months.IMG_2106
  • I also made a family wall of pictures and decorated our living area with group shots of family and friends. These little touches made it so nice to come home from TX and MN visits; I had a living space that surrounded me with loved ones even though they were far away.

Resolution 2: Make Healthy Choices for My Family and Myself

 So, to sum this one up, I didn’t stick perfectly with my plan to eat healthy (here’s a second post about this, too)—I think I began to derail when chocolate Easter bunnies hit the shelves—but overall, our diet is pretty darn good…and I finally lost all my (first) baby weight at fourteen months postpartum. At thirty-ish weeks pregnant with #2, I am keeping to a healthier weight gain, and I don’t expect to put on the 50 pounds I did last time.

I must report that at Sam’s fifteen-month appointment, his pediatrician raised concerns about his slow growth and encouraged me to give him juice and more sweets (“he’ll use the sugar for extra calories” he said)—so I started to. It didn’t happen right away, but in the second half of this year, Sam’s and my diet got a little “junkier,” although still not bad—and now Sam is in a picky eating phase, which I am told is “normal,” and which I am trying to patiently wait out.

Here is Sam, pictured with adorable cousin Kendall, stuffing his face with Fruit Loops (he calls them ABCs) on Thanksgiving.

A distant goal is to diversify our diet a little more, only because I like variety, but this will come slowly, because Buc does NOT like variety. So I am not killing myself to crack the cookbooks right now. I did join our potluck team at church so I can have an excuse to try new recipes from time to time…

Resolution 3: Get pregnant in 2015 with my second, and final, child

 This goal was unquestionably met, and it didn’t take too long. It was in June, after a few failed home pregnancy tests, that I got the news from my new OB that I was, surprise, expecting! It was a funny way to find out, because this was exactly how I found out with Sam: I was just going to a new OB’s office for a meet-and-greet to discuss getting pregnant…and lo and behold, at the end of both appointments, I found out I was!

Resolution 4: Write When I Can, and When It Doesn’t Interfere with Family Time

Writing time definitely went down this year, but with the recent book acceptance, I feel God really blessed the time I was able put in. I made some of the most important revisions and added some of the most important scenes to my memoir in 2015—or the ones that sold the book.

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At the beginning of the year, I also proudly maintained weekly blog posts and I ambitiously set a goal of writing and submitting five magazine articles this year. After the first article was written and rejected, and the second one unraveled, I put that goal aside, along with my blog for a time, because it was clear my priorities needed recalibrating. I did have this article published online in March.

Currently, I am aiming to stay “active” on my blog (not quite sure what that will mean with baby #2), trying to refrain from making any time-bound writing goals, and striving to let God show me when more projects will be ready to come together. I am heartened to remember that my memoir, and previous magazine articles I published, sat in various states of undone for years before God gave me their conclusions, or their unifying themes. I trust him to make clear when it’s time to take on more projects.

As You Make Goals for 2016…

For those of you working on new habits, goals, or resolutions, here’s a little wisdom I’ve learned: Goals and resolutions are good for us; they give us purpose and direction and by all means should be pursued. But once a goal is no longer helpful, or your needs change, or you accomplish your goal, feel free to drop it or change it. Resolutions should be guidelines for life, not ironclad rules. As life changes, we need to change with it.

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My SMART Goals for the Year (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-Bound)

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Photo Credit: “Orange and Measuring Tape” from freedigitalphotos.net

Previously I published three resolutions for 2015, but they were vague and hard to measure (except the one about getting pregnant), so today I delineate SMART goals for my resolutions: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-Bound.

In other words, I am breaking my goals into small chunks so I will be more likely to attain them. I have also typed out these goals in measurable formats and have posted them where I will see them every day.

Resolution 1: Focus on my Family.

This list of "family stuff" hangs on my fridge. The list of weeks is where I will write in the weekly song I will sing with Sam.
This list of “family stuff” hangs on my fridge. The list of weeks is where I will write in the weekly song I will sing with Sam.
  • Have nightly family devotions, if even just a song and a prayer together (I’ve learned that a song and a prayer is a notable accomplishment with a one-year-old!)
  • Do one fun outing/activity a month as a family
  • Sing with Sam every day: Pick one song per week. (I included this one because the Bible commands me to “sing and make music in my heart to the Lord” [Eph. 5:19], but I don’t naturally do this; if I’m going to develop this habit and pass it along to Sam, I need a reminder!)
  • Finish Sam’s baby book
  • Fill photo albums with the pictures I already have, then start making electronic albums

Resolution 2: Make healthy choices for myself and make healthy food for my family.

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I got Buc’s input on our family meal schedule, because he is not, shall we say, as experimental of an eater as I am! He generously agreed to take on the cooking for two nights a week–a relief for both him and me, because I can use those afternoons for other things, and he can count on two meals he is sure to like per week. He also agreed to take the family out to eat once a week to give us both a break in the cooking and evening cleanup departments. I sure have a good hubby!

Resolution 3: Get pregnant in 2015 with my second, and final, child.

I’m leaving this one to nature.

Resolution 4 (Recently Added): Write When I Can, and When It Doesn’t Interfere with Family Time

I’ve added “writing” as an area I want to focus on this year, even though I intend it to take a backseat to family life. Below are some goals that seem realistic for me this year; but because I can get obsessive in the area of writing, I’ve listed the third goal to give myself grace if I don’t meet my first two goals.

  • Post a blog once a week
  • Submit five magazine articles this year
  • Give myself grace if/when I don’t meet these guidelines. I have a toddler.

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Inspiration for Completing My Goals

In case you’re curious, I’m getting a lot of my ideas and inspiration (such as the SMART acronym) from Crystal Paine’s Say Goodbye to Survival Mode. (And I got the book recommendation from hearing Crystal interviewed on Family Life Today–which radio program I also highly recommend). If you’re interested in getting help with setting and following through with goals, check out her book, or her very popular blog, moneysavingmom.com. In her book, she walks readers through setting up goals, a daily schedule, and more, all with the hope that the reader will Stress Less, Sleep More, and Restore [their] Passion for Life.

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Just be warned: Crystal is a highly driven woman with many, many goals, some Herculean (at least from where I sit in life right now), so I am trying to take her advice to not to compare myself with her, and to set my goals in the context of my individual circumstances. I realize my goals may change as I go along, should my circumstances change or should I discover a better fit for my life, but for now I am committed to implementing the suggestions she’s given, and doing what I’ve identified as most important to my values at this time. Stay tuned to see how it all goes! We can journey toward our goals together.

Knowing When to Quit

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Photo Credit: “Exhausted,” posted on Thayer Memorial Library’s Website

I can talk a good game about living proactively, being productive, and striving for new heights; however, I’ve also found there’s a time to back off. The time is when you’ve made commitments that are not needful, helpful, or healthy for you to keep.

For a few weeks I’d been feeling stressed because I wasn’t finding enough time in my day to work on my memoir. I entered the fall planning to work on my book at least twenty-five hours per week. As I looked at my records for the past month, I saw that I was logging closer to ten. And because my baby’s due date was approaching, this was making me nervous. Could I still get my manuscript done by the time Baby Sam came?

My hubby has often said I tend to keep my plate full to the brim; he’s always known me to be stressed over what I’m not getting done. But since my unexpected breakdown, I had been trying to pare down the helpings on my plate. What had gone wrong?

As I’ve been learning to do when I get in a pickle, I prayed. But this time as I started to pray, my brain felt too scattered to even stay on track (this is a good sign you’ve got too much on your plate, or you’re pregnant, or both). So in my prayer journal, I began with a list of my current commitments, hoping to see a pattern or pick out something I was unnecessarily stressing over.

 

Let me fill in the background for you about the housecleaning item. In the past two months, thinking I needed to become a better homemaker for the baby, I picked up two books on housecleaning (three, if you count The Happiness Project), and started to try to drastically change my habits, per the books’ suggestions. I had started to feel positively weighted down by the thought of keeping my kitchen sink clean, de-cluttering a little bit every day, and deep-cleaning my kitchen.

When I made the list in my prayer journal and saw the housecleaning item mixed in with everything else, though, I realized something: Cleaning/organizaing my home doesn’t have to be a top priority right now. Especially since I’m not a dangerously messy person (i.e., my dust bunnies are not causing us physical health problems or my clutter creating safety hazards, like some people referenced in my cleaning books).

I asked the Lord to help me set some goals for what I actually needed to do for the time being. He told me, “You can stop reading the housecleaning books right now. If you want to focus on your own book [and I do], read stuff that inspires you to write [books on writing, or memoirs].

“Continue the habits of keeping your sink clean and purging your clutter when you can. But you don’t need to add anything else.”

This was making me feel lighter already. I was next able to list out some new, more manageable goals for my writing each week; although I had to admit it wouldn’t amount to twenty-five hours. This was because my unexpected teaching job had come up at the last minute, and it takes time to create curriculum when you’re teaching a brand new class. This was an item that was not negotiable.

The baby registry and choir cantata were pretty easy to resolve: I’d let them become overwhelming when I saw I couldn’t get the registry done in three sittings (but one more should do it), and the cantata piano music learned in two weeks (hopefully four more will do it—but if not, I have the out of purchasing the performance CD).

While my hubby had told me I shouldn’t feel bad about cutting back on my memoir work, I did feel bad, because this was the single most important thing I’d identified to get done before the baby came. I knew I wouldn’t cut back anymore than I had to, but God did help me see that I was worrying too much about getting the book done in my projected time frame. He helped me resolve this by reminding me that if I got the first section revised and a proposal written, I could start shopping the manuscript to agents/editors even if it was unfinished. This is how non-fiction publishing works, anyway.

Then, God gave me this list of do’s for my guilt:

  • Lighten up
  • Lessen your expectations
  • Give yourself a break. Unpredictable things (like the class and the puppies) have happened lately.

Finally, I realized that God would accomplish his work in his time. I didn’t need to worry about what wasn’t getting done, because he was seeing to it that everything that needed to get done was getting done.

When we are walking in God’s will, or doing our very best according to the light we have (based on reading his word and listening to his voice), we can “quit” certain good things with a clear conscience—and sometimes, to continue walking in his will, we must.

Some Keys to Being Freshly Pressed

key
Photo credit: “Key” by debsch

After achieving the feat of being Freshly Pressed, a sort of fear can set in, along with  negative thoughts like these: “I’m going to screw up!” “My next effort won’t be as good!” “I’ll disappoint all these new readers!” Happily, I’ve only had these feelings mildly, and they’re not sticking around. Instead of fear, I mostly feel hope. Rather than daunting me, the Freshly Pressed Status has buoyed my confidence as a writer (a writer whose work people want to read!), and it has encouraged me.

The Surface Answer

So, you want to know how to get Freshly Pressed? (Before last Tuesday, I wondered that, too.) The easy answer is that you just have to keep writing and hope one of your posts gets picked. On the day produced my “pressed” post, I was just doing my regular thing. I was praying and reading the Bible like I do every morning, then I started scribbling about the issues my prayer time had revealed to me. I let the writing sit for a weekend, and then on a busy Tuesday when I almost didn’t think I’d post, I tweaked a bit, paired it with a picture, and posted. It was one of the easiest pieces I’ve published, in fact, because I didn’t expect much out of it—not like some past posts I’d edited into mincemeat (hoping to be “pressed”).

It was a complete and total surprise when, three hours later, my inbox greeted me with: “Congratulations! You’ve been Freshly Pressed!” For the next few days I soaked up the extra comments, likes, and follows—and thanked God for blessing me when I wasn’t even asking.

The Deep Answer

Maybe that’s a key to receiving blessings: to stop trying to force them.

I think back to the small string of writing successes I’ve had so far. (You can liken my writing to whatever dream you’ve carried for most of your life.) In all honesty, when I’ve succeeded in writing, I wasn’t much expecting it. Conversely, when I’ve most expected to succeed, often I’ve actually flopped.

I know I’ve talked to God a lot over the years about my dreams. Heck, he was aware of these goals even before my birth. But when I started chasing them in the beginning, it was like I wanted God on call, ready to answer at the moment I asked. I was selfish (not that I’m a saint today, but I’m slowly learning patience). I wanted to be published, and I wanted it when I wanted it, in the way I wanted it.

Some Instructive “Flops”

In 2010 I prepared a manuscript based on my “oh-so-interesting” teenage journals and figured this just had to be my first book. After a pause in the project, during which time I encountered some pushback from one of the main “characters” in the memoir, I realized maybe this sensitive material wasn’t yet “book-ready.”

In 2011, when I was re-entering graduate school with the dual goals of professing and writing, I identified a PhD in Creative Writing program one hour away from me that I thought would be “so much better” than the bland rhetoric program I was currently in. So I fretted my way through months of manuscript and application preparation, then lay awake at night with knots, willing and wanting so badly for this to work out—only to be rejected a few months later.

In 2012 I tried again, this time a distance MFA program that specifically catered to writers of faith. This, I was sure, was the vehicle through which I would make my plans—my plans—happen. Only, I didn’t get in.

Today I’m not sorry I attempted that now-dead manuscript and those fruitless applications. I think it was good for me to try, especially since I felt God nudging me toward writing and I didn’t sense him expressly forbidding those things. Where I went wrong was becoming too bull-headed to recognize that God had other, better ways to make my dreams come true besides those few paths I could see.

Doing Our Part, Letting God Do His

So it is with any endeavor. Maybe we don’t exactly know if the thing we want is the same thing God wants, but we feel it might be. In that case, I believe our part is to work faithfully—do our homework, hone our craft, practice it, and perform it to the best of our ability (so we are not presuming on God)—but after we’ve done that, we should let go and let God.

When we live our lives like that, quietly and diligently doing those things that (to the best of our knowledge) God has appointed us to do, we might just be pleasantly surprised one day when our faithful efforts pay off. Since I’ve made writing a part of my daily routine (and dropped those arbitrary, self-imposed expectations, such as “the writing has to result in X”), I’ve had a few of those pleasant surprises, including three published (and paying!) magazine articles, a co-book project, and most recently a Freshly Pressed blog post.

It’s fun to get good news when you’re not expecting it. That’s not to say we shouldn’t expect good things from the hand of God. We should.  But we shouldn’t try to dictate what those things will be. As I’ve learned, God has a vast storehouse of blessings for me that I’m not able to see—and it’s bigger and better than anything I could ever come up with.

Today my prayer is that I will faithfully do the task God has given me while letting God be God, trusting that he will reward me according to his promises and for the purpose of his glory. If you need to get re-centered on what really matters today, I recommend reading Psalm 119 in its entirety, as I did this morning.

Dear Lord, “Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain. Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word. Fulfill your promise to your servant, that you may be feared.” (Psalm 119: 36-38)

A Schedule for Completing My Dream

 The working title of my dream, AKA my memoir, is 1,000 Miles: A Memoir on Recovering Family, God, and Dreams from Depression. Below is the schedule I came up with for myself last week to help me push through to completion.

Note: When I made this schedule, I already had a rough draft of my book, so when I say “finish” a section, that means refining the roughness and filling in the gaps.

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 July 2013

  • Finish sections 3 and 4, and revise sections 1 and 2
  • Locate a professional editor to edit my book (Yes, even though I have a master’s in English, this is a piece of advice I’ve heard too many times to disregard.)

August 2013

  • Finish Sections 5-7
  • Ask 10-15 friends/family members to read my manuscript
  • By Friday, August 30, Send manuscript to editor, and to ten other readers

September 2013

  • Write book proposal/query letter and identify agents/publishers to query
  • Hopefully receive manuscript back by end of month

October 2013

  • Revise Manuscript based on feedback
  • Polish query and book proposal if needed

November 2013

  • Query 10-15 agents and/or publishers beginning of month (first round)

December 2013

  • Query 10-15 more agents/publishers (second round)

January 2014

  • (Baby due!)
  • End of month, follow up with first batch of queries

February 2014

  • Query 10-15 more agents/publishers (third round)
  • End of month, follow up with second batch of queries

You’ll notice I’ve left room for “failure,” by including several rounds of querying agents. Maybe, by God’s grace, I won’t need more than one round. But if I do, I will choose to see it as a learning process, and I will just keep moving forward…until, one day, I either get accepted, or my thirtieth birthday is upon me—at which point I will try another angle, and publish on Amazon (plan B). Blog readers: If you are interested in being one of my manuscript readers after August, please let me know!

Fable of a Freelance Writer

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Once upon a time (three months ago, to be exact), a freelance writer developed a blog, some book chapters, and a guilt complex.

You see, this writer started out herself to please—to fulfill a dream, put her heart at ease. No more would she hate herself for putting it off—no longer would her naysayers scoff. 

And so writing a schedule–for she must have a plan–finally, she began:

January

Wake up at 6, breakfast, goodbye.

Then meet with the Lord, at 7 or so.

Eight was for exercise, don’t get flabby!

 Then 9 was for work—let the writing begin!

The plan was to write until 4 or more—

Her memoirs, her art, her triumphant score.

But alas, as soon as she began,

She got the email from the man

Who wanted revisions on his manuscript…

So she said, “Okay, I’ll look at it.”

Then April came…

She’d made no progress

On her own goals…but I digress.

 

April

As the writer looked back on the past three months, she realized she had not stuck to her guns. Besides some blogs and some personal slime, she had nothing to show for her time. Something had happened, but she was not sure what—had she just wasted time, sitting on her duff?

As she searched the memories of her mind, she discovered it was not that she hadn’t tried—it’s just that some stuff had come up inside.

The joy of Jan was followed by blues…somewhere in Feb, kids came up, too. Then, in March, she thought back to home, a topic deserving a fully-fledged tome. So maybe her story isn’t written yet, but perhaps just now its reaching denouement.

What has she learned, this freelancer babe? In three months of blogging, and burbling, and talk? Maybe she just needs to lay off the clock.

  • Sleep in sometimes, and let the mind rest.
  • Talk to a friend, get things off of her chest.
  • Relax, and take the stick out the rear.
  • Go for a run, the fog will clear.
  • Relax, be a wife, and a friend, and a person.
  • Those bad writing days? Well, you win some, you lose some.

As she thought on these lessons she’d learned over time, she decided her life was really quite fine. The dream was not lost, merely delayed—and even if slow going, it still with her stayed. Maybe, she thought, I’ve been under delusion—thinking my story needs a conclusion. Maybe, in fact, I’ve been all wrong—and I’ve been living the dream all along.

 

The Day after Disappointment

What do you do after you pour your heart and soul into something—only to fail?

“I’m confused,” I wrote yesterday to Jim, my former thesis advisor. I had promised to let him know the outcome of my applications, both the MFA and the PhD.

Both outcomes were the same.

“I thought I’d be getting a terminal degree and teaching college for my life’s work,” I wrote. But it seems God has other plans.

So, what do you do the day after disappointment?

Well, after a little weeping and gnashing of teeth, I sat at my computer and got down to business. I have an almost-finished magazine article I’ve been putting off for over a year—and I have known where I can get it published—but I just haven’t finished it. Today I will finish and submit it.

This week I am also going to get back to the “before-thirty” manuscript I’ve been putting off. And lying in bed this morning I was hit with the possibilities of e-publishing some even older work.

It was like some barrier had been removed; some permission given to just do it, damn it—stop waiting for someone to wipe my nose and just move on, already!

A cocoon was what I wanted, I think. Just a few more years before I grew up. But even with the benefit of one night’s sleep, now it seems kinda silly.

I’m almost twenty-nine. I’ve been in school for about six of my eight years of marriage. I already have a book forthcoming with a co-author. I’ve been published in three magazines. And already for several years I’ve been learning about creative writing on my own.

Oh, and just one more thing. Time will tell, but was it a coincidence that yesterday, after opening my mail, and after crying my tears, my queasiness didn’t go away? Was it a coincidence that I also woke up feeling nauseated again this morning, and that I’ve felt that way for the past four days?

If it’s what I think it might be…well, that would be just too clear—and it would carry the kind of poetry this writer delights in—an extra special way for God to tell me that, even in the wake of disappointment, He knows the plans He has for me (Jer. 29:11).

Note: On the day after the day after, I find it was just a false alarm. Oh well. God gave me a distraction to numb the blow. In any case, I still believe He knows the plans He has for me!