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How Can I Raise a King?

A few days ago I attended a Christmas concert and it was lovely; the music, the handbells, the choirs, the costumes and decorations—so spiritual, so moving. There were many songs I knew but a few I had never heard before (and here I thought I had heard every Christmas song). One of the new songs, Joseph’s Song by Michael Card really stayed with me. One line in particular challenged me; it asked quite simply “How can I raise a king?”

Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father asks this question in the song. He is greatly concerned about his ability to raise the Son of God. Initially, I empathized with Joseph, thinking, yeah, what a great burden that would be, what a monumental task to raise one so important. But as I continued to listen the thought occurred to me that every child is the son or daughter of God. Every child is royalty and therefore shouldn’t every parent have this concern? Shouldn’t every parent, regardless of the child’s gender or lineage, ask the question, “How can I raise a king?”

I wonder… If we had more “Joseph-parents,” parents concerned about raising a king, could we finally rid the world of the George Zimmerman types or the type of person who drives drunk and kills four people or the Sandy Hook shooter type or the DC snipers, neighborhood dope dealer, crooked politician, greedy tycoon types? Unfortunately the list could go on and on but we have the means to stop it.

All we need do is show and tell every child from birth up that they are loved, that they are important. That they are unique and have a spot in world history that no one else can fill. We must teach every child how to respect and how to demand respect.

We must engrave the Golden Rule or the Scripture love thy neighbor as thyself on the hearts and in the minds of every child. Every child must be taught to lead with love and shun fear. Let’s teach our kings and queens that the obvious (skin color, hair type, snaggletoothed, etc.) is unreliable so look at the heart instead. Every child should be encouraged to discover their gifting and to have fun not only during the discovery journey but also with their gift.

Can you imagine the change in the world if we were more concerned with raising kings and queens? We could claim more Nelson Mandela types. More Ghandis and Jesus’ and Buddhas and Mother Teresa types. The thought fills me with joy!

So what say ye Josephs and Marys? Dare we start with this holiday season, raising our babies (of all ages) to be true Sons and Daughters of God?

Thanksgiving Blessings – One by One

I’ve had some great challenges and unexpected roundabouts this year. So many shattering events in fact that it caused me on many occasions to question my deepest desire to be a full-time, self-employed, income-producing writer of fiction. With tears in my eyes, on my cheeks, soaking my clothes, I wondered if I should:

1)  continue to pursue my dream or

2)  release the dream.

Every time I faced that decision, the battle between fear and courage, ego and God raged, and at the end of the fight, God and courage always won out. Not because I am such a mighty saint (trust me when I tell you that God is still making me presentable), but because there was something deep inside me that recoiled at the thought of giving up. So after my crying jig and after coming to yet the same decision, I would hop right back on the dream-train and chug-a-lug a few more feet down the tracks. And lo and behold, at the next stop, I was always rewarded with a sign or confirmation from God that I was on the right track, that I was travelling closer and closer to my dream.

So as we approach the Thanksgiving season, I thought it the appropriate time to “count my blessings one by one.” I am sharing them with you because they don’t belong to me alone. They are yours too…if you choose to claim them. No pressure.

Thanksgiving Blessings – One by One

praying hands two

1.   Thank you God for sticking close to me even when I don’t feel your presence;

2.   Thank you God for steadying me when I feel off-kilter;

3.   Thank you God for breaking through my ego so you may impart wisdom and direction;

4.   Thank you God for keeping my spiritual and physical eyes, ears and mind open to                         messages and signs from you;

5.   Thank you God for purpose and the pursuit of it;

6.   Thank you God for giving me the courage to act even in fear;

7.   Thank you God for keeping me on the right track;

8.   Thank you God for my cheerleaders on the sidelines (father, mothers, siblings, cousins,     friends, associates, bosses, aunts, uncles, etc.) who also serve as earthly angels;

9.   Thank you God for allowing me to relax, knowing you have all in your control;

10. Thank you God for the creative ways you give encouragement, hope, love and so much more.

Happy Halloween!

I have a confession to make. I am a Christian who loves Halloween. Okay, maybe love is too strong a word but I thoroughly enjoy it. I admit this because recently a friend commented that she did not like Halloween. She, too, is a Christian and feels that by “celebrating” Halloween, it sends the wrong message to the impressionable and places too much emphasis on the dark side. And she’s not the only Christian who feels that way. This last part I say simply based on the number of churches that now offer an alternative to Halloween.

Well, to each his own I say.

When you have survived a face-to-face encounter with a dark spirit as I have, when you have seen God’s power effortlessly destroy a demonic spirit as I have then the perceived threat or power behind Halloween disappears. Gone is the focus on the occult and dark forces. Instead, the focus turns to fun and enjoyment.

Yep, to me, Halloween is fun. I love riding through certain neighborhoods and viewing the elaborate displays. See the photos below.

Halloween 2

Halloween 3

Halloween 5

I enjoy buying and eating Snickers, Milky Ways, M&Ms, Skittles and the like. (Unfortunately in our neighborhood we do not have trick-or-treaters. There’s just not enough young families. But does that stop me from buying candy and hoping that one year someone will ring our doorbell? Nope!) I really like (when I have time) to drive around Halloween evening, scoping out and rating costumes. The creativity of some of the parents and children is amazing. And then there’s the children’s excitement! They be-bop up and down sidewalks, proudly displaying their costumes, eagerly ringing doorbells and yelling those magical words that produce more candy than any dentist would ever allow. And let’s not forget the homeowners. The tricks they sometimes play on the trick-or-treaters, the smiles on their faces as they give–priceless. And finally, don’t we all enjoy watching Charlie Brown and Linus in the pumpkin patch?

Yeah, okay, so I change my mind. I do love Halloween! One of these years, I am going to have an adult Halloween party and see if we “grown folks” can re-capture some of the innocence and excitement of an adolescent Halloween. We’ll bob for apples, collect for Unicef, pin the tail on the donkey, dance, fish for candy, eat hot dogs, popcorn balls and marshmallow treats, carve pumpkins. What fun that will be. Oh, and yes, costumes will be required!

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Unchartered Territory

Uncharted Territory 2

You may be wondering why this picture. I snapped this shot one morning as I was travelling a road that I rarely travel. It’s not the clearest photo (the camera on my cell phone is not the best) so let me explain what you’re seeing. It’s a stop sign, obviously, with a vine growing up the pole. Vines are not supposed to grow up a stop sign pole. The vine is not supposed to be there. The vine is in unchartered territory.

Which is where I am. Which is why this sight caused me to stop my car in the middle of a residential street and capture the sight permanently. I need a permanent, visual reminder that if a vine can flourish in unchartered territory, I can too.

See, I knew way back in 1990 when I joined my first writer’s group and decided I wanted to be a published author that I did not EVER want to self-publish. I wanted the traditional route of finding an agent and landing a publishing deal with one of the major publishers in New York City. And guess what? I achieved all that (minus the agent; turns out I didn’t need one for romance). However, when phase two of my writing career kicked off in 2000 (I switched genres; hence, phase two), the industry was in such a state of change that I wondered if I could hang on to that want. But, I plowed ahead, and set my efforts on finding an agent and signing a contract with one of the big boys.

But ten years and hundreds of rejections later, I revised my wish and said, “Okay, I still want to be traditionally published but I’ll be happy with a small, independent press.” Lo, and behold, in 2012, I got my wish. I signed a contract with a small publisher to be traditionally published.

But, two months before the release of my book, Fuller’s Curse, I found myself having to do the very thing I said I never wanted to do—self publish. The small publisher I’d signed with closed shop and I found myself in unchartered territory. Like the vine.

And like the vine, since I had already started up the pole by publicizing my release date and scheduling signings and appearances, I dug in and kept creeping ever upward, picking up and completing tasks I said I’d never do—coming up with a name for my publishing company, filing all the right DBA (doing business as) papers, revising the cover art, finding vendors for formatting and printing, securing ISBNs, and establishing accounts. The work of self publishing my ebook and print book continues and there are many days when I am overwhelmed (read: stressed) by all the production tasks that have to be accomplished as well as the tasks involved in marketing and selling.

But it’s all good because had I not followed this unchartered path, I would have missed interacting with the supportive online writer/author/publisher forums that have provided me with resources. I would have skipped over friendly, talented writers who publish amazing and encouraging blog posts. I would have snubbed the whole world of social media (who would have ever thought me…a non-techie…would grow to love Twitter?). I would have forfeited everyday miracles and a feeling of accomplishment with each completed task. I would have stunted my growth in faith and truncated my skills. So many good, no, great things I would have missed had I not mimicked the vine and crept into unchartered territory.

I haven’t been back down that residential street in a while but I like to think that if/when I do that the vine will have covered the word STOP. That makes me smile because what’s the opposite of STOP?

>Uncharted Territory

The Worst Boss Ever!

I had planned to save this post for October when National Boss’ Day is recognized but recently I’ve encountered a number of people complaining about their bosses so I decided to share this now. I hope it will offer another way to look at having the worst boss ever.

In February 2009, I took a new job as a technical writer. I was so excited because it was with a major employer, the commute was easy, the pay was good, and the company had dress down Fridays (a BIG bonus for me, a girl who loves her sweats).

My new boss, who I’ll refer to as WBE (worst boss ever) hired me after a grueling panel interview. I did not learn until after I started that few internal employees had applied for the position because most of the employees at company X reviled WBE. For good reason. WBE’s bullying and verbal abuse was known company-wide and for me it started my first month of employment. Here’s one example of the dysfunction I encountered:

One day as I walked down the hall wearing my new company windbreaker, WBE stopped me and asked why my first initial and last name had been monogrammed on my jacket. I stood there looking like she’d spoken a foreign language. Moments later, I managed to ask, “Excuse me?” WBE repeated herself and again it struck me as ludicrous so I started smiling, looking around for a camera and Ashton Kutcher with his “Punk’d” crew. But no. She was serious! Her rigid stance and angry face told me so. I stumbled through, “This is how I received it.” Spitting words, she asked who ordered the windbreaker. I gave her the name and off she stomped to report the incident to the vice president and off I ran to report the same to the person who had ordered and delivered the windbreaker to me. Thankfully, he was not concerned. He was well aware of WBE’s antics and had a great rapport with the vice president. He informed me WBE’s windbreaker had been monogrammed with her last name only, which was the former practice. I left his office, shaking my head, thinking one extra character—my first initial—had set her off.

Needless to say, reporting to WBE was a daily exercise of trying to dodge land mines and every day I failed, managing to step on one and blow myself up! No, I didn’t lose an arm or a leg or my life, but I lost confidence in my skills and abilities. I lost my enthusiasm for the job, for the company, and lost respect for upper management, who seemed to support her in her madness.

As the days and months stretched on, fear, animosity and stress piled on. I felt myself changing into a person I didn’t know, and I hated that person. That person was fearful, incompetent, insecure, angry, and she felt cornered. That was the worst! Feeling like I had no way out and no support. Not even when I filed a labor complaint.

Then it happened. I went on vacation.

During my days of rest and relaxation, I poured into my journal, complaining about my life, my job, my future. I also took time to revisit my life goals, and I recited affirmations as if my life depended on it. Now that I think about it, it did!

One morning as I journaled, I dared ask the hard question, “What should I do about my job?”

“Quit,” is the answer that came from that quiet voice within, the voice that leads and directs if one is willing to follow and obey.

“But, I have a mortgage, a car payment, and only a small amount in savings.”

“You have faith. That’s all you need.”

“Are you sure?”

“Absolutely!”

I asked the same question repeatedly over that lengthy vacation and received the same answer every time. I knew what I had to do. When I returned to work, I gave two week’s notice and promptly took off a week to spend time with family and luxuriate in the feeling of power and freedom.

So what did I learn from my experience with WBE? I learned that I was stuck on the wrong life path. But thanks to WBE’s poor management and people skills, it forced me onto the right life path. I am here on Earth to be a self-employed writer and publisher. I was not living that truth until WBE entered my life. I also learned from that experience the real definition of “security.” Security no longer represented a steady paycheck or benefits with a major employer. Security was faith and knowing with surety that God’s word will not fail. Lastly, I learned my encounter with WBE was a karmic setup. After my emotions had returned to normal and I had settled into my new life, I thought about the days when I supervised people. And I had to admit I was not always fair in dealing with those who reported to me. Karma, payback, ‘reaping what you sow’ is real and it can hurt.

So you see there was tremendous good from that God-awful experience so I ask you…what is your encounter with your WBE trying to teach or show you about yourself? Take time now to chew on that because the revelation(s) just may save your life. It did mine.

Ann vs. Fear: The Fight for Authentic Living

In her book, The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron discusses Shadow Artists. These are people who have a deep-seated desire to be an artist—a painter, poet, actress, singer, etc.—but who are so blocked by fear or firmly planted negative messages that they never bring that desire up and out. They prefer instead to bask in the company of Authentic Artists—people who are fully engaged in making art.

For a long time I was a shadow artist living a shadow life. Afraid to fully engage in my art even though God had sent me a strong message to step out on faith and do so. Oh, I talked myself into thinking that I could do both—work full-time jobs that I hated and write in the evenings/weekends. But that’s all it was
—foolish talk and foolish thinking.

Then one day I had no choice. Well, let me restate that. We always have a choice. My choices were to continue living as a shadow artist with a shadow life or live authentically as an authentic artist. For me, I had reached such an unhealthy level of unhappiness and dissatisfaction that there really was no choice. I resigned from shadow living and swore I would never go back to the shadows.

So far that has been the case but I tell you…it hasn’t been easy because of fear. Fear is a powerful emotion, as powerful as love. Fear is what kept me operating as a shadow artist for so long. I was afraid of having no money. I was afraid my quality of life would degrade. I was afraid my talents weren’t good enough to sustain me. But to live an authentic life, I knew I was going to have to step into the ring and fight fear. So I did. It was September 2010. Here’s the blow-by-blow…

I had finished a freelance assignment in August (2010) but the jerk client refused to pay me (that’s another story). I had maybe $10 in my checking account and another $25 in my savings. My mortgage and car payments were several months behind, all of the utilities were due, and I had received more rejections for my novel. Thus burdened, what did I do? I went to bed. I just couldn’t face fear or the future so I went to sleep, hoping to never wake up. Just before drifting off, I had enough sense to ask God for help.

Before I woke fully the next morning, a thought pounded in my head: Go to your safe. Dig out your savings bonds and cash them in. I had forgotten all about the savings bonds I had purchased over the years! Needless to say, I broke all speed limits driving to the bank, and after cashing in the bonds I had enough to keep the utilities going, purchase gas and groceries, and have cash on hand until my unemployment checks kicked in.

When I returned home, I received a prompting from Spirit to call the finance company that held the note on my car. With butterflies in my stomach, I dialed them up and they were so nice, granting me a two-month deferment. A month later when I should have been evicted from my home, I received a letter from my mortgage company and HUD (Housing and Urban Development) stating the Obama administration had called a halt to all foreclosures, and oh by the way, there’s a program you qualify for where HUD will pay the bulk of your mortgage for two years.

But that’s not all…sixteen months later, I sold the novel I had been trying to sell since 2000.

Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! The winner is: Ann.

I won that particular fight against fear, but the battle is never over. Every day I face fear and every day I rely on prayer, journaling and the prompting of Spirit to stare it down and come out swinging. This I do so that I may continue to live an authentic life as an authentic artist.

I ask you … Are you bound in shadow living? If so, what deep-seated fear(s) has beaten you? Are you ready to face that fear and live authentically?

Three Wise Men – Three Wise Books

As I packed my Christmas decorations to store for another year, I unintentionally spent a few extra minutes staring at the three wise men in my nativity set. For some reason looking at those characters brought to mind the titles of three books: the Holy Bible, the Weight Down Workshop, and the Artist’s Way. Knowing this was not a coincidence, I sat down and waited for the connection between these two seemingly unrelated things. Here’s what came to mind:

The three wise men presented valuable gifts of frankincense, myrrh and gold to baby Jesus.—
I consider the three mentioned books valuable gifts to me (and others of course).

The three wise men spent time with the holy family.
I can’t begin to tally the number of hours I spend reading these books.

The wise men’s lives were no doubt transformed by the holy experience.
My life was transformed by these books.

And that is the crux of the matter. Just like the three wise men were transformed by their experience with Jesus, so too was I transformed by Jesus through these books. Let me explain more fully, starting with my first gift—the Holy Bible.

I was introduced to the Bible at a young age. Through my attendance at Sunday school, worship service, and special programs, I learned scriptures and the teachings of Jesus Christ. This gave me a clear understanding of how I was supposed to act (even though I didn’t/don’t always act right), a strong moral foundation (even though my foundation cracked/cracks from time to time), and a sense of belonging (as a member of the family of believers). I also think the Bible was one of the original books that stirred my creative nature. Have you noticed how many great stories are in the Bible? …the wise, colorful parables? …the beautiful language, poems, and words? It truly is an amazing book and I am forever grateful to my elders for introducing me to it.

As I matured, I continued my Christian walk, engaging in ministry work, tithing, and attending Bible study. In one particular Bible study group, I was introduced to the Weight Down Workshop (WD). WD is a weight loss program that marries faith with dieting. I joined the program expecting to shrink in dress size and grow in faith, which I did. But the most amazing outcome was I met God face-to-face. What do I mean? I learned that after all those years of going to church, studying the Bible and more, I only had head knowledge of God. I didn’t view God as “real,” as someone with whom I could develop a deep, intimate relationship. To me, God was a symbol, a concept, an unattainable entity. WD revised my view of God. One of the exercises in the workbook challenged me to select a task for God to perform and to make that task so specific that I would know without a doubt it was Him. So for my task I said, “Okay God, if you’re real, you’re going to make my Bible fall open to a specific passage that will not only prove you’re real but also prove you love me.” I picked up my Bible and let it fall open. My eyes went straight to a passage that met my criteria. I was blown away! I remember crying and praising God. It felt like my heart grew four times larger…and warmth; I felt such warmth. And here it is years later and I’m still so very grateful to WD for my second, life-changing gift–making God real to me so that I could begin a heart relationship with Him.

As my heart relationship with God grew so too did my faith, and the biggest boost to my faith came through the Artist’s Way. This workbook/journal liberated me to pursue a life of purpose. But how did that increase her faith? you may be thinking. Can I tell you the fear I felt at giving up a steady paycheck and benefits? Can I tell you the monumental faith that is required to live day-by-day? It’s been almost two years since I left the path of the “tried-and-true-and-dissatisfied” to follow the path of purpose. And even though there have been many rough patches, I can honestly admit I would make the same decision if I had a do-over. Want to increase your faith? Step off the path of the tried-and-true and live day-by-day, following God’s commands. Talk about a faith walk but oh what a transformative gift!

So there you have it. The connective link that ties the three wise men to three wise books–being transformed into a better Ann. What about you? What three books, songs, poems, people, lessons, etc. have been especially transformative in your life?