We’re all Aly Raisman’s Parents, and We All Deserve a Hug

The Olympics are killing me.

This happens every four years. The greatest sports competition in the world takes the stage, and I forget to sleep for two weeks. I try to be a responsible adult, and I tell myself over and over that I won’t stay up and watch every event, but I’m a sucker for human interest stories, and the Olympics drags me kicking and screaming into the arena.

United States' Simone Biles bites her gold medal for the artistic gymnastics women's individual all-around final at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, Aug. 11, 2016. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)

United States’ Simone Biles bites her gold medal for the artistic gymnastics women’s individual all-around final at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, Aug. 11, 2016. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)

We’re a week into this event, and I’ve got the bags under my eyes to prove it, but it’s been worth it to cheer on the athletes. Plus, it’s provided a tiny bit of motivation to get back to the gym and actually put in a modicum of effort.

Because when you watch the sacrifices these athletes have made, it sort of obliterates any excuses one may have to skip that extra round of crunches.

Last night, I watched once again as athlete after athlete finished first, second, third…

I watched Michael Phelps smoke the field in the 200 IM. I watched Simone Biles soar to the top of the podium in what I’d call her destiny (if I believed in destiny).

And I blinked back tears as so many of them rushed into the stands to hug their moms after it was all said and done.

Parenting children is the ride of a lifetime.

We know everything about these kids of ours, from their greatest strengths to the weaknesses that threaten to hold them back, and we walk the razor thin line of knowing when to push, and when to step away.

We make mistakes along the way, and we will always wish we did something better. At the end of the day, most of us know we won’t watch our children get a gold medal hung around their necks.

But all of us, without doubt, will watch as our children navigate the world of growing up. We’ll cheer them on from the sidelines of life, sometimes with our hands over our eyes, waiting with bated breath to see just how far they’ll go.

Let’s face it – We’re all Aly Raisman’s parents. Some of us mask it better, but all of us feel like a nervous wreck at times watching our kids grow up.

Today is a shout out to all the awesome parents who are doing the hard work. This is for the parents who are pushing their kids to succeed, and the ones who are cringing when they fall short.

This is for the parents who are wondering if they’re not doing enough, and for those who feel like they’re pushing too hard.

This is for all of us who are trying to do the best that we can, wishing we had a crystal ball to give us the outcome and save us so much emotional stress.

This is for the parents of potential Olympians, future business leaders, possible missionaries, someday stay-at-home moms, and young men who will work hard to provide for their families.

This is for all of us raising kids in a world that feels scary and dangerous.

Maybe we will cheer them on to gold someday, or maybe we won’t. Either way, we’re doing a heckuva a job. 

We will all deserve a great big hug at the end of this road.

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One Thing Every Day

I get a lot of comments these days saying something to the effect of, “I don’t know how you keep up with all the things you’re doing. You must be superwoman!”

While I do appreciate this sentiment, the truth is I am not superwoman. Actually, I’m not super-anything. I don’t have any super powers, unless you count my ability to sense when the toddler is up to no good, and I could never pull off a skin tight super hero outfit.

I am ordinary…and that’s okay.

Most of us are ordinary. Perhaps even all of us are ordinary (unless you happen to be the actual superwoman reading this, in which case I’m willing to concede that you are more than ordinary).

We’re all doing the best we can inside each of our unique circumstances.

I used to think that in order to be successful, one had to be constantly in motion. But the more I push my way through this ordinary life of mine, the more I realize that success comes in the quiet moments – those quiet pockets of time when the frenzy dies down.

A few years ago, I attended a conference that was designed specifically for moms. On the second day, a woman stood in front of us, and she acknowledged the obvious: Moms don’t have a lot of time.

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“What do you do,” she asked, “when you want to build your business, but the children are clamoring at your feet, and the moments in your day are parsed out?”

I leaned forward, ready to accept her answer to this question that often left me befuddled.

“You do one thing every day,” she said. The room was silent as a hundred moms with dreams soaked in this freeing nugget of wisdom.

“You can’t do all the things when you’re a mom, but you can do one thing. So do one thing every day that helps grow your business, develops your ideas, makes you money – whatever it is you’re working toward, keep pressing on, one step at a time.”

Yesterday was one of those days that seemed to spiral out of control. Between homeschool and toddlerhood, and all the life that crept into the cracks of my day, I found myself antsy and frustrated.

There simply wasn’t any time yesterday for me to sit and work.

By 8:00, I felt panic beginning to well up in my chest. I just wanted the kids to go to bed so the house would grow quiet, and I could find a moment to complete a thought.

It was 9:30 before I found that moment, and by then I was so exhausted the thoughts were tangled together, and I just wanted to go to bed myself, but I knew that if I could do just one thing I’d sleep a little more soundly.

As a writer, I’m finding this process of marketing books in the new media age to be rather intimidating. I’m not good with video or images – I’m a word girl. Facebook is my happy place because WORDS, all the WORDS!

Instagram bores me, and Pinterest intimidates me, and don’t even get me started on Periscope. But I need to step outside of this little comfortable box of mine, and I need to learn how to better utilize these online tools. So before bed, I went to Pinterest and poked around a bit.

I added a few photos to some character boards I’m developing for my book launch, and I looked at what other authors are doing on that platform.

This didn’t take a lot of time, and it didn’t require me to formulate any ideas. This was my one thing and it was all I had, but you know what?

I slept like a rock last night.

Doing one thing every day frees us up to enjoy the bigger picture. This season of my mothering life doesn’t offer loads of free time. I’ve got slivers of time in each day, and so I have to utilize those slivers to the best of my ability.

I slept so well last night because I went to bed knowing I’d done one thing. I didn’t toss and turn all night, chasing down ideas or fighting bitterness at all the stolen hours of my day. I felt a peace knowing I’d done something – one something – to get better at my job.

There will be other days when I can conquer my to-do list; days when the house is quiet and I can do a slew of book-related things. But those days are not the norm.

So I’ll keep doing one thing every day, then focus my attention on the children clamoring at my feet. And in this way, I manage to  survive this ordinary, maybe even slightly extraordinary, life.

 

2016: Pursue

We started last year with a hush. It was a quietness of spirit hovering slowly over a blanket of grief. And yet there was this burst of light sprinkled inside the fog, because for those who believe, death is victory.

And so it is that we enter into this new year with another victorious hush. We celebrate and we mourn as we head into the one year anniversary of Herb’s death. We celebrate that he’s had a full year to sit at the throne, though I imagine for him it’s been but a moment in time.

Entering into last year, I didn’t set any resolutions. I had no word to dictate my days. Or…well, actually maybe I did, but I didn’t know it at the time. In hindsight, if I were to pick a word for last year, it would be survive.

We survived the death of a parent, increased travel for Lee, a baby who didn’t want to sleep through the night, busy sports schedules, and my parents living in Europe. It was hard, but it was also overflowing with blessing.

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There was a lot of good in 2015, and for that I rejoice.

Heading into 2016, I’m a little more focused. My mind isn’t quite so numb, and the fuzziness of the past year has lifted considerably. So I’m focusing again on a new word for the year.

Pursue

I don’t want to survive this year. I don’t want to get lost in the haze of life again.

This year, I want to pursue.

The idea of a resolution is intimidating. A resolution demands some sort of success. It begs for, well, for resolution. An end. A satisfactory result.

It also sets one up for failure. Anything short of resolved feels undone, and I do hate for anything to be undone.

Pursuit, however, feels more open-ended. To pursue something means to chase after it. Perhaps you catch that which you pursue, and perhaps you don’t, but if the goal is to simply pursue, then whether or not you catch it isn’t really the point.

The goal is in the chase, and so I’ve set PURSUE my word for 2016.

There is no satisfaction in stagnancy, and I refuse to allow it creep into my life. There’s this sort of mentality that creeps up on you when you all approach forty – a feeling that perhaps the best years are already behind you.

I refuse to entertain such thoughts.

Pursue

This year, I’m pursuing that which is ahead of me. And so I’ve written down bullet points of the things I want to pursue:

  • A deeper intimacy with the Creator: What is life if we don’t constantly long to know Him more?
  • The hearts of my children: I often get so caught up in the day to day moments of our days that I forget to pursue my kids – to really know who they are deep down, beyond their outward gifts and abilities; beyond their personality quirks and challenges. This year I want to pursue their hearts.
  • The heart of my husband: We will celebrate sixteen years of marriage this summer, and I’m still learning more about this man I love. I want to pursue a greater depth of knowing who he is in the coming year.
  • A better use of my down time: This year I plan to read more (I’m open to book suggestions – preferably fiction!), and to spend more of my time pursuing those things that expand my mind, rather than simply shut it down (I’m talking to you, Facebook).
  • Excellence in the use of my talents and gifts: I hope to write another book this year. I will be launching two books in the summer and fall. I want to  continue to pursue excellence in my career.
  • Health: I’ve simply let it slide in the last year. I refuse to let my laziness make me old. This year I’ll pursue more healthy living.
  • Friendships: I’ve been richly blessed with dear friends both near and far. I want to continue to cultivate and grow those friendships.
  • Laughter: I just want to laugh more heartily and readily at the days to come.

These are the things I’ll pursue, and in the pursuit I’ll offer myself loads of grace. I don’t have specific goals inside these pursuits as I want to simply enjoying the chase. 

2016 is here. The future is upon us! This is our time to pursue all the beauty that life has to offer. Won’t you join me in the chase?

Have you chosen a word for the year? Feel free to share it in the comments!

Take the First Swing

“There will be many times in your lives – at school, and more particularly when you are grown up – when people will distract or divert you from what needs to be done. You may even welcome the distraction. But if you use it as an excuse for not doing what you’re supposed to do, you can blame no one but yourself. If you truly wish to accomplish something, you should allow nothing to stop you, and chances are you’ll succeed.”

The Last of the Really Great Wangdoodles

I opened up the attachment, and immediately my eyes began to burn. The photo was everything I’d imagined, and nothing I ever allowed myself to dare dream. It was a colliding clash of conflicting emotions, and it all washed over me in a giant wave.

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When I first dared to dream of writing a book, I was twenty-one years old. I was told it was an attainable goal, and I believed that fully and without doubt. I had no reason not to believe it.

I didn’t understand how difficult the process would be, though – how hard I would have to fight to tell the right story in the right way. I didn’t know that I would sweat and labor and toil, and I had no idea the effect all that fighting would have on my confidence.

All around me, it seemed other people were living out my dream. People launched books, and they all seemed to do it accidentally, never having really wanted to publish in the first place.

So I wondered if I wanted it too much. But then I realized, it’s okay to want it, and it’s definitely okay to fight for it. In fact, the fight makes the end result that much sweeter.

I am constantly telling my children that they have to fight for their dreams. Success doesn’t just fall into your lap – you have to work for it.

This week, my daughter got a much coveted skill in gymnastics – the cast to a handstand on the high bar. When she came home after practice, I asked her how she felt when she did it.

“Scared,” she replied. “I was so scared to try it, and the first time I didn’t get all the way up. But then one of the bigger girls told me to do it again, and I reminded myself that I have to just keep trying, so I got up and tried again. And I did it! The third time I tried, I wasn’t even scared anymore.”

Out of the mouths of babes, right?

Friends, big goals and dreams take courage. You’re holding yourself up on the high bar, arms quaking under the strain of desire and fear, and you have a choice to make. Will you cast, or will you jump off the bar?

Maybe you cast and you don’t get all the way up. Maybe you even fall. That’s okay. Cast again. And again. And again and again and again.

Because one day, after all that casting, you will manage to push into the handstand. You’re heart will thump with adrenaline as you teeter high above the ground, and you’ll realize that all that casting was worth it.

It mattered.

Accomplishing goals takes courage, yes. But it also takes hard work and perseverance. You have to look at your dream for what it is – a bar high above the ground, and it begs for you to swing.

So what are you waiting for? Take the advice of my tenacious nine year old with the big dreams. Remind yourself that you just have to keep trying, and climb back up on the bar. Because you can do this, friends.

All you have to do is take that first swing.

 

Post Celebration Blues

Do you remember that feeling you got as a kid when a birthday would come and go, or Christmas morning passed in a blur, and suddenly it was all over and you were left feeling a little let down?

It was the post-celebration blues, and they snuck up on you every single time.

The same feeling washes through when you finish writing a book. It’s sort of a day-after, did-that-really-happen kind of feeling that leaves you wringing your hands and wondering what you should do next.

The thing is, there’s still a lot to be done. Just like after a great birthday party, or a memorable Christmas, there is cleaning up to do. A new day dawns, and brings with it a flurry of activity. And yet you find yourself a bit dejected for a few days until the moment finally passes and you can start looking forward to the next celebration.

Wendy and I turned in our manuscript on Tuesday. It’s been an intense couple of weeks as we’ve gone through the book with a fine-tooth comb, pulling out sections that didn’t make sense, or stopped the flow. We’ve done rewrites, and we’ve challenged one another on theological concepts, always pushing each other toward becoming stronger communicators.

We’ve pushed ourselves late into the night, and throughout the day, filling each down moment with editing and sharpening.

And now it’s out of our hands.

Add to the the fact that I turned my novel back into the editor on Sunday night after doing all the rewrites, and you find me here in the corner, feeling like my birthday and Christmas just rolled past me in one giant swoop. I’m a little sad that it’s over.

There’s still so much to be done, obviously, but today I’m simply in that strange aftermath – the waiting period before life kicks back into gear.

Tomorrow my husband celebrates his birthday. He’s had a stressful few months as well, so we’re sneaking away for a few days, just the two of us. We’ll join Matt and Wendy in San Diego, and we’ll celebrate birthdays and finished manuscripts.

And hopefully we’ll sleep, because I’m running on fumes.

I’m not taking my computer with me, and I’m not going to lie – I’ve had a couple of panic attacks today as I’ve thought about leaving it behind. I need to get started on marketing plans, and I need to finish my ebooks. I need to contact people for endorsements, and I have a MOPS talk to prepare.

But if I don’t stop to take a breath, I simply won’t make it to the next goal.

There’s something to be said about stepping back and taking it all in. Just like there’s something to be said about sitting in front of the fireplace the day after Christmas and not diving right into the cleaning and organizing. Memories can’t be made if we don’t stop to digest the moments.

Books won’t be launched if we don’t stop and digest the accomplishment of writing them.

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So tomorrow morning, I will drag myself out of bed at O’Dark Thirty (it’s hard to fly from one coast to the other), and I will leave the work behind. It’ll all be waiting for me when I return, no doubt.

I’m going to step away and celebrate the accomplishment of finishing these first steps. This is the time to breathe, to soak it all in, and to not think about what’s next.

So that’s where I’ll be, and that’s what I’ll do. And hopefully I’ll come home relaxed, refreshed, and ready to prepare for the next big celebration. TWO BOOK LAUNCHES!

Happy weekending to you all!

When No is the Only Word You Hear

I work in a profession that requires thick skin. I put my heart out there, tapping each beat to the rhythm of my keyboard, and I hand it to a friend, an editor, the world via a blog post, and then I wait for the feedback.

I learned to accept criticism in college. My senior year, the class Writing for the Popular Market would be the training ground for giving and accepting constructive criticism.

That was also the year that I began to associate editing with coffee. But that’s a different topic for a different day.

Once a week, my classmates and I, along with our professor, sat in a circle in the local coffee shop, or on the couches in the room above The Sub, and we’d dutifully hand the ten pages we’d written in our novels that week to the person sitting just to the right.

Then we’d sit back, sip our coffee, and read one another’s words.

There were only six of us in the class, and by the end of the year, we each had a completed manuscript. This would be the first draft of my novel. It was the beginning of learning to communicate through story.

I’m grateful for the lessons learned in that small class. I’m glad I learned to hear someone criticize what I wrote, and not take it personally. It’s a necessary skill, and it’s one that’s served me well over the last fifteen years since I graduated.

When I shared the news that my novel would be published last week, I received so many wonderful, encouraging messages and comments from all of you. And I cried a lot as I read through them, because fifteen years of waiting and dreaming of seeing this book published suddenly took a realistic turn.

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I received a lot of rejection letters for the various drafts of my novel. For a long time, I kept every rejection letter I received. After reading Stephen King’s book, On Writing, the notion of a stack of rejection slips seemed almost romantic.

See, when I started the process of trying to get my book published (an earlier version of it that is nothing like the one coming out next spring), I did it the old school way. I mailed letters – actual letters written on paper.

I sent query after query in the mail, along with book proposals and sample chapters. And I included in each stamped envelope, a Self Addressed Stamped Envelope (SASE) for the publishers to send me his response…which was usually a big, fat no.

Every once in awhile, though, there would be a glimmer of hope. A note, scratched at the bottom of a form letter from the editor encouraging me to keep writing.

Those rejection slips went to the top of the pile.

I tossed the folder of rejection slips when we moved, because I was over the romanticism of it all by then. And the world had moved on to email, so now I had the privilege of receiving electronic form letters, and that felt a little less nostalgic. I wish now, though, that I had that stack of “No’s”

Because I’d love to see it dwarfed next to the contract that says “Yes.”

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I haven’t really minded all the rejection, if I’m honest. I’ve been impatient at times, of course. And there were days when I’d feel terribly discouraged over it all. But in all the years of waiting and hoping, it never occurred to me that I should give up on the book.

There are some stories that just get under your skin, and this story that I’ve written is one of them. The characters crawled into my very being, and I knew that someday I’d see them really come to life in print.

So I waited, and I pushed, and I simply refused to take no for an answer.

 

If you’re in a place where “No” is the only word you’re hearing, can I just urge you not to give up? Sometimes you have to wade through a whole lot of “No” to get to “Yes.”

And when that happens, you’ll find that the “Yes” is so much sweeter after the waiting.

 

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