I Am Proud of You

When I was a little girl, I liked to tidy my room (weird, I know), and when I was finished, I’d run to wherever my dad was and yank his arm, “Daddy, come see my room! Come see how nice it looks!” And he would say, “Okay, sweetie, I will in a minute.” And I would say with impatience, “But I really really really want you to see it!!!” And my stubbornness would usually win the day, and he’d get out of his chair and come see what I did, while I showed him the ins and outs of my cleaning job—each drawer sorted, each dresser top organized.

My poor dad. Lol.

Thing is, I think all of us, even as adults, long for someone to take stock of our progress sometimes, to see how much we’ve done, how far we’ve come.

For someone to say, “I am proud of you.”

Every few months, my inner petulant little girl comes out, and I crave for someone to say those five words: “I am proud of you.” I long to show someone what I’ve accomplished, to get validation that yes, you are making progress; yes, you are doing great things because, honestly, as an entrepreneur, sometimes you feel like a lone duck without in-person coworkers to bounce ideas off of, to vent with after a stressful moment, to simply know what you’re doing day in and day out. And as an entrepreneur, too, there are simply too many things to master all at once. For a perfectionist, realizing you can’t do it all in one day is a lesson that can take a good while to master!

A few months ago, I called my friend Audria. It took me ten minutes to find the courage to call her because I didn’t want to unload, but once I did, she insisted on coming over. I didn’t want her to because I was feeling imperfect; my apartment was a mess; deadlines loomed. But as soon as Audria walked in the door, she wrapped me in a big hug and said, “I am so proud of you. And I know God is too.” And I kinda lost it. I didn’t realize how much I was longing to hear these words. Here we were, standing in the middle of my mess—me sobbing snotty tears onto my poor friend’s shoulder—and yet, she was proud of me.

It seems every few months my tank gets low, and I long to hear these words, for someone to see my progress, for someone to validate all that I’ve done. But, really, I guess I need to learn that I am loved all the time, that God loves me all the time, imperfect or not, clean room or not, whether I’m making six figures or six dollars. He sees my progress. He sees my hard work. He sees the growth that others may not see. He is my daddy, always present, who always sees.

Yet I do think we need to tell those we love “I am proud of you” just a little more often.

 

Advertisements

What’s Your Word for the Year?

If you could choose one word to focus on this year, what would it be?

What word speaks to you?

This morning as I did my daily devotion, I prayed for my word. The last few days, it seems God has been bombarding me with articles about the Sabbath. Still, the word “Sabbath” didn’t feel completely right. But, as I sat praying and thinking, the word “rest” came to mind.

Now that one felt right.

It’s not that I don’t still need to work hard or that I should ease up on finding clients and building my business, but the word “rest” spoke to my spirit. It spoke to my desire to live a more reflective, peaceful life with time for loved ones, reflection, and reading. It spoke to my desire to not always be “busy” for the sake of being “busy” (busy will NOT be my word this year). It spoke to my desire to slow down in my spirit and truly enjoy life, to truly savor life and each precious moment, to trust that if I do my best, my heavenly father will take care of me, that He will provide for me.

That I can rest in the arms of my God. He’s got me.

He’s got me.

I want to walk in peace, in “rest,” no matter what. No panic. No fear. But trust. Rest. A peaceful spirit that does not worry or fret.

So I think my word of the year is “rest.”

What will yours be?

Further Reflection: Matthew 6:25–34

 

 

 

Perspective

Lately, life has seemed overwhelming. I’ve been getting bogged down by all the elements of running my own business—and everything has felt like a fight. Fighting to land a job (quoting and negotiating jobs), fighting for payment (misunderstandings and miscommunications), and fighting to keep up with all the paperwork and administrative tasks (expense reports, invoicing, etc.). So behind in the paperwork. Tired. Tired of staying up late to work. Tired of budgeting every few days living a life of fluctuating income. Tired of feeling guilty for not spending enough time with friends. Tired of saying the same things over and over, “I’m trying to build a life with MORE time for you all.” Just tired. Tired to the point of frequent tears while sinking face-first into the largest square of my studio apartment’s carpeted floor.

Why do I share these things with you? Because they are REAL. Building a business is no joke. It takes perseverance. Dedication. Resilience.

It also takes VISION.

One of those times laying face-first on the floor crying out to God in exhaustion, He transported me above myself, showing me another perspective. As I lay there, I saw in my mind’s eye the larger picture. I liken it to film, where the camera pans over an entire town, then focusing on the street, house, and room. In this case, I was panning out. And what I was seeing was GOOD. Real good.

After a few years of not writing, I had the formatted draft of a book I had cowritten sitting on my table, one that allowed me to write humor, a genre I’d always secretly wanted to break into; I was starting to land the clients I’d always wanted—authors and pub houses (most of my time was now spent editing books and helping people find agents and publishers—everything books—love love love); people were accepting my recently increased rate without question (five years in the biz equaled time to raise that rate!); and I was finally starting to write for myself again, with a project in the works and a group that kept me accountable. On the personal front, I had a few true friends I talked to on a regular basis, individuals who had been with me through this whole crazy journey and who loved me the way that I was, even on the crazy days when my hot-blooded Yankee Italian came out; my family and I were growing closer and talking about things with openness and love instead of sweeping things under the rug; I now had FaceTime, which meant more opportunities to chat with the nephews… Just a lot of good things. More I could list, but you get the picture.

But all these good things, these GREAT things had been clouded by too-limited vision.

This experience taught me that whenever I am feeling overwhelmed, I need to mentally pan upward and see things from a broader perspective.

In my case, the feelings of exhaustion and overwhelm, the more frequent bouts of tears are NOT signs of failure or impending doom. They’re signs of GROWTH.

And I realized that I need some help with larger vision. I have survived in this business and have fought my way through the brambles to get to this point of working with dream clients and doing things I love—I like to call myself a renegade—but I’m tired of fighting every day. And I’m realizing I don’t have to. With a little help from a business mentor and other experts such as my friend Melissa Perkins Capps who runs an organization business, I’m going to learn how to think larger and how to streamline all those tasks that are cluttering my attention away from the dream clients and projects. I’m going to get help with creating systems for the everyday aspects of running a business. I’m going to get help with accounting and finances. I’m going to build a team of helpers. Not be afraid to ask for help. Help is not a bad thing. Asking for encouragement is not a bad thing.

It doesn’t mean you’re weak; it just means you’re human.

It also means you’re growing.

It’s a good thing.

I reached out to my Facebook community the other day, admitting I was tired, that running my business was feeling like a fight, and I needed some encouragement. When the encouragement started rolling in, I ended up having to go to the café bathroom because the tears started flowing. I hadn’t realized how hungry I was for someone to tell me I was doing well, to just keep going, that they believed in me. I didn’t want to quit. I just needed some encouragement.

I’m so thankful for the support I have in my life. So thankful for the God I have in my life. So thankful for this gift of vision and where it is leading.

When life is getting you down, try it. Pan away from the moment, from the issue at hand, and see the larger picture. Are things really all bad? You may be surprised at what you see.

Phone Anxiety, or Remembering We Are Not Machines…

Sometimes I think in this world in which we can hide behind technology and take time to craft the perfect response, we forget that we are not machines, that true conversation is organic and imperfect at times, that this is okay, that this can lead to richer, unexpected, and even more beautiful conversation.

Source: Phone Anxiety, or Remembering We Are Not Machines…

Phone Anxiety, or Remembering We Are Not Machines…

I just got off the phone with an editing client; we had an awesome conversation—she is a writer with real potential to go far with her work, and I am going to help her get there! I am confident in the material I provided her in my written critique and in the phone call.

Still, when I got off the phone, I had to lay in bed for an hour to calm my racing heart, to still my breathing.

Confession: I struggle with phone anxiety.

It’s been a hindrance to my work and dating life, but I’m working through it.

For some reason, when I talk on the phone with unfamiliar persons—especially clients, new friends, new dates—my whole body tenses, I hold my breath (forget how to breathe properly), and my heart races. Oftentimes, I say too much or let slip my anxious thoughts (no-no in business and no-no with new people).

The thing is, I know the value I have to offer and the need for the phone as a communication tool, so I push through. But there’s always a period of regrouping, of coming back to normalcy, of calming my breathing and beating heart.

However, I have learned the lesson over the years that oftentimes, the only way to work through a fear is to walk through it. This means walking through the awkwardness, the words you wish you hadn’t spoken, even the rejection. Case in point: After the breakup of a three-year relationship, I accepted a date with a very handsome man, a Marine, impeccably dressed. As we sat across from each other, me rambling on about whatever because I was nervous (it had been a while since I had dated!), he said flat-out, “This is awkward.” (Insert needle into my balloon.) But I survived, and since then, I have been on a number of nonawkward dates as my confidence in this area increases. Still, after a first date, the PHONE is called upon. And for quite some time, I avoided it like the plaque. So I texted. And texted. And it has taken a number of failed potential relationships for me to see that texting does not a relationship make. So I make sure now that we bring the phone into the picture early on, despite the awkwardness, despite the fears. Because, let’s face it, it’s normal for early dating to be full of butterflies, nerves, etc. It’s just a given.

Sometimes I think in this world in which we can hide behind technology and take time to craft the perfect response, we forget that we are not machines, that true conversation is organic and imperfect at times, that this is okay, that this can lead to richer, unexpected, and even more beautiful conversation. We must be kind to ourselves and kind to others in spoken communication because, honestly, I think a lot of us are struggling with it in this day and age.

In my case, the period of needed rest after each phone call is getting shorter in time; I am learning habits to make the process easier (e.g., discovering the best times to schedule phone calls, lighting an aromatherapy candle, preparing a list of topics to discuss—yes, even for dating phone calls); and I just accepted a contract position that will require video calls: VIDEO PHONE CALLS. Still, I walk through, step by step, and I’m hopeful that one day I will pick up the phone with confidence, a calm heart, and—dare I say it—joy!

Do you struggle with phone anxiety? Feel free to share tips that have helped you in the Comments section.

Morning Devotions …or why do we only discover the value of things when they’re leaving us? …or upon falling in love with nature amidst its destruction…

(Penned in 2004)

Six-thirty a.m. The world is quiet. There is a faint smell of dew, and mist is in the air. I leave for my job as a bookshelver when the morning sun is just beginning to rise, and the Carolina air is still cool. I adjust my helmet and wipe the dew from the bicycle seat with an old T-shirt, unhook the lock, and am off.

The first pedal is the most exhilarating, with the immediate wisp of air and glimpse of the sun rising over the manmade lake with its torch-sized pussy willows swaying by the water. My feet slow at this point, and I can feel the morning sun on my face. Stars are magnificent, but there is something so fresh about this time of day, and if one pulls herself out of bed to see it, there is a newness, a feeling that the day is a blank slate to be written on or a canvas on which to splash oil paints or Chinese brushstrokes or watercolor purples and blues.

Today, the sky is purple and blue and the wind has a slight chill, perhaps from the storm the night before. For a moment, it feels like autumn, and I am glad I packed a light sweater in my knapsack. I drive past the newly opened museum café and ponder stopping there for a cup of coffee after work. I savor this cool air. A Northerner by birth, I love the changes of seasons and miss the abundant leaf colors and snow. So I take pleasure in these moments when the temperature dips below normal, and I can imagine I am back home.

Who is awake this time of day, before the nine-to-five world has begun? I pass dedicated early morning joggers and folks walking their dogs and an elderly couple biking like me. The couple wave as if we are old friends. Fruit trucks, bread trucks, surfers, truck drivers, school buses, and most numerous it seems: pickup trucks filled with dark-skinned men. Heavy equipment, bulldozers, dump trucks, and other yellow vehicles soar past, but I am contained in my own little world on the side of the street where the trees are blooming, tropical flowers hang down, and the houses have large front yards.

A baby falls asleep in a moving car. My friend Mick reads best during his morning walk. My brother once saw a man reading a book while trudging through a foot and a half of snow. While pedaling, I am at peace. My morning bike ride is the time my mind is most clear and able to process and meditate upon my life. The freshness, the breeze sifting its way from the nearby Atlantic, casts a soft glow, an expectation for the day that lies ahead.

The afternoon bike ride is a bit different. As I pedal, I enter into many different places at a time. The house on my right has just been landscaped with a new winding driveway, lined with full, green bushes and palm fronds, the chocolate brick color creating an elegant scene. There is a large in-ground pool in the backyard as well. For some reason, when I pass this house, I am awash with California breezes, and I feel like the Pacific Ocean is just a few turns away. How can something so mysteriously take us to another place? But don’t we eat coconut to taste the Caribbean; sip espresso alfresco to experience Europe; buy long, colorful skirts for a taste of Brazil?

I have an adventurous spirit as I travel through residential communities and shopping plazas and weave my way amongst the trees, searching for the longleaf pine I just read about in my Janisse Ray book. It’s a wonder I haven’t wrecked with the way my head is always up or turned sideways. Today, I see a trio of brown birds high up in the air; two are hanging low but one wants to be as high as he can, and he keeps swooping down as if to persuade his friends to “Come on, give it a try. Live a little.” I’ve never before noticed how high birds can fly; I’m used to seeing them lazing around on telephone wires or digging in the dirt for a gooey worm.

Splashes of azaleas in shades of pink (hot pink, violet pink, camellia pink), purples, reds, whites meet my eyes, and the branches reach out and scratch my face. The petals provide a carpet for my wheels, and they stick to the tubing. I turn my head to avoid a wayward branch. The construction vehicles roll past, but I don’t really notice.

I’m rediscovering nature amidst the tearing down of it.

My workplace is part of Mayfaire, one of the live-and-work developments that are springing up around our nation. Ours is being advertised as a haven, a step into old Main Street, into a bygone era where you could walk to the corner store for an ice cream: “We’re trying to create Main Street America,” says the codeveloper to our city newspaper. There are small shops, restaurants, and balcony apartments being built, along with residential streets and a movie theatre. Bike trails will allow access from the houses to the shops. Furious building occurs each morning in the summer heat.

Consequently, each morning as I ride into work, there are less-and-less trees and more-and-more dirt and dust. I am anxious for the day they cut down my favorite tree—my finger tree, its slender branches bending down like flexed fingers on a hand.

Concerning nature, I have been a five-minute participant, stepping outside when necessary to check the mail or walk to the grocery store or to an evening class. Travels always had a destination, a practical purpose, a slot on my to-do list.

Even my bike riding started with a purpose: I needed to get to work. My workplace moved two miles away, and I didn’t have a car or the means to purchase one. So I invested in a bicycle and a helmet.

Now I am noticing the world around me, breathing the air, observing the wildlife.

Many mornings I quietly prayed I would see a deer across my path. I wanted to see one up close. Well, it happened, unexpectedly, on a Saturday. All of a sudden, there was a deer to my left, staring at me, not afraid but curious. A few pedals more, and another one appeared. The females were beautiful, serene, not in the least afraid of my noisy bike. Their glassy black eyes seemed sad, though, and I felt a strange kinship with them. A connection, a brief moment of love I didn’t quite understand.

Another morning I was pedaling when all of a sudden, my eye caught what looked like an owl. I had never seen an owl in the wild before and was intensely curious. It sat upon a tree stump a few yards away, but when it flew away, I realized that it was not an owl but something equally magnificent. The bird stretched its wings out, a span of at least two feet and soared over the street to another tree, as if it wanted to be admired. I had never seen a bird this large up close, and it reminded me of the films shown in grade school of the majestic bald eagle soaring over the valley.

I spent my lunch hour poring over bird books and concluded that it was definitely a hawk. A Red-Tailed Hawk. As I read on, I discovered that the eagle is a member of the hawk family. My coworker saw what I was doing and chuckled, telling me that his mother has three birds that she keeps in larger-sized cages. As he was talking, I couldn’t help thinking of the birds stuck in their cages, not able to soar like my hawk did this morning, but rather on display as objects of beauty, their excitement being the type of seed they may eat that morning or if their owner will let them fly through the living room.

I wonder whose habitat is being taken away. These things never bothered me, never turned my stomach or made my eyes burn, until my morning bike rides.

I feel a mixture of loss and gain. I feel guilt about my role in the destruction of nature, not in terms of performing the act itself, but in my quiet acceptance of it by working in one of the stores in this development. I pray that my morning companions will learn how to adjust to their new neighbors and changed land. How many of their nests will be torn down for the new condos and houses, houses that you must pay a quarter of a million dollars to live in? Who is going to live in these newly built condos, which they are building in “eco” shades of brown and green? Certainly not the wildlife.

***

I am on a mission for a flower.

I have packed a pair of scissors in my knapsack, and I am nervous about using them. I hope that my taking a sample will not affect the plant, but I must study this flower up close. The vine is on private property, at the main entrance of a group of houses in a quiet retirement community. I am hoping no one will see me. I park my bicycle and look both ways. The coast is clear.

I step toward the vine, looking for a ripe bloom. That is when I notice my flower is dying. The majority are withered and facing the ground. Just two days ago, this vine was bursting with so much color and spunk that I had to stop to take a closer look.

There are three blossoms left. I hate to take this flower, but I want to study it. Preserve it in words. I also want to share its beauty with others.

When I step into work later that day, I show my coworkers my beautiful flower.

“That doesn’t even look real. What is that? Thread?”

“Those are rare around here. Where did you find it?”

Even the men are caught by surprise.

“Whoa. What’s that?”

That’s what I thought when I first discovered the purple passionflower, with its large, purple-fringed corona, which is essentially the body of the flower, and its bold, yellow stamens. The passionflower is thought to signify the Passion of Christ, and was reportedly used by Spanish Catholic missionaries to tell the Crucifixion story. The corona resembles Jesus’s crown of thorns; the ten petals represent the ten faithful disciples (excluding Peter and Judas); the five yellow stamens symbolize the hammer-wounds inflicted on Jesus; and the three knob-like stigmas can stand for the Trinity, the three men on the hill, or the nail piercings.

Excited by this newfound knowledge, I explain the flower’s significance to my coworkers.

“And you took it? Isn’t that ironic…”

“I always thought the name meant the romantic-type of passion, not death. It seems more appropriate. I think I’d choose that meaning over death. Death just doesn’t seem appropriate.”

I point out that if you believe in the Crucifixion, the cross is actually a symbol of life after death. Jesus died on the cross for everyone’s sins, and those who accept him as their God are granted eternal life. New believers are thus “born again.”

On my way home, I ponder this flower and its significance. I find it sad that as I rediscover the natural world, it is being taken away. What is happening inside me, however, cannot be taken away.

Can life be found in death?

***

Why is it that we never explore the places we live, but instead go on vacations to destinations hours away, which we may never see but once in our lives? After we graduated college, my roommate and I decided to keep the keys to our apartment one more month, even though we already lived back home with our parents. We wanted to ease the transition. So we planned a weekend for just the two of us to enjoy our apartment and college town one more time, to savor the pizza smell from the shop below us, to look out over our street and see the Amish buggies pass while the horse hooves clattered on the cobblestone. The town consisted of one main street, and in college, carless, I moaned about how boring the town was.

During this last weekend at our apartment, we decided to take an evening stroll. We began on the main street and headed toward the residential area, away from the college. A few minutes into our walk, I realized I had never walked these streets just two or three blocks away from my school, my home for four years. There were beautiful Victorian homes, small restaurants, and art galleries tucked in among the homes. I had missed out.

***

Today, I decide to take a detour into the community where I snipped my flower, the one that is considered private, but not gated. At first, I thought it was a campground, as all the houses are paneled in grayish-brown, reminiscent of old camp cabins. As I bike through the streets, I am amazed at how quiet this community is, how the simple fence concealing the main road blocks out any traffic sound. I feel I am intruding, that I am illegally biking in this neighborhood. It’s surprising, for these houses do not look like rich persons’ houses, by any sense. Their color and their shadowbox front windows, which display their owner’s collections of shells or model cars or other ornaments take away the feeling that I am trespassing. One older woman is watering her lawn when I pass. We say hello to each other and I brake, pausing to tell her that I just discovered this community and think of it as a haven. I am amazed at how peaceful it is here.

“Stop by again sometime,” she says to me.

As cars soar past in the early afternoon, people on their lunch breaks or heading to the beach, I am journeying through a calmness that is new for me. Down the bike trail, past the manmade lakes, alongside the highway and the California house, past the kayak shop and the hanging tropical vines, looking upward occasionally for a longleaf pine. Past the gas station with its summer hot dog specials. At the last stretch of the journey, down the residential street with the art museum and the azaleas, their fireworks of red and white that try to scratch my face, and as my bike rolls on, I wonder whether I really want to go home.

Freelance Feast or Famine: Am I living the sweet life, or am I back in college studying for finals and shoving Ramen down my throat?

If you’re a freelancer or have friends or family who freelance, you’ve heard the term “feast or famine.” Basically, it seems to be the trend that all the projects and work come at once, and this is why you’re supposed to be a master budgeter, to shore yourself over for the dry spells in between the projects. But really, we’re all trying for balance. Feast or famine is not the ideal, though it is a very real trend—the late nights, the early mornings, the overtime weeks of “feasting.”

So a few weeks ago in the morning I was putting away the groceries from the night before, still in bags because it was one of those “feast” weeks, which essentially meant too-many hours behind the computer, Lean Cuisine tuna-noodle casseroles, and switching between Starbucks full-caff to Folgers half-caff in the evenings—or, just getting through the deadlines while remembering to feed myself and shower.

What kind of a life is that?

Am I living the sweet life, or am I back in college studying for finals and shoving Ramen down my throat? 

No no no.

Truthfully, we all go through seasons when we have to work harder and smarter, when things slide. Maybe we’re new parents or starting our business or juggling work and school, what have you. But here I am a few years into my business, not rolling in the dough yet but confident in my abilities, building connections, having people reach out to me for advice about the field, and I am STILL going weeks on end not taking a walk or getting any exercise, running on little sleep, and letting my apartment become a reenactment of a frat house from Revenge of the Nerds (yeah, that’s the movie that came to mind—don’t judge—that scene at the end with the keyboard is amazing!).

Anyways, here I was in my kitchen, putting away the pantry groceries that had been there (okay, the truth) two days (three?), and I saw the box of pancakes. And I thought—

“I could totally make those pancakes.”

“Right now. With the blueberries in the fridge. And the good maple syrup and the real butter. And then I could totally take a walk afterwards. Other people are in their offices, and I could totally make pancakes and take a lovely walk.”

“And I could do this every day.”

“Why am I not doing this?”

“Why am I not ENJOYING this life I am so blessed to have?” 

Such a simple thing, such a simple moment, but a rare one without the interruptions of social media or noise.

A moment my soul rose up to remind me that life is meant for more than just “getting through” but to be enjoyed, savored, lived.

Yet, sadly, I did not make the pancakes and the lesson remained one I did not put into practice—that is, until a few weeks later, another “feast” week of three courses to edit, a book to finish writing, and other client duties. My head spinning, I walked to my trunk to get my work bag. And it was there that I saw it.

The tennis racket.

It had been sitting in the trunk for many months, waiting for me to take it to the shop to have the handle re-taped. And I thought—

“I could totally play tennis in the middle of the day if I wanted to.”

“And I could do this every day.”

“I am living a life that allows me to do such things.”

“Why am I not doing this?”

So tonight I allowed myself a lovely summer evening walk and to pause to write this blog entry, two practices that feed my spirit.

And I am going to pull out the planner and try, again, for the 9 to 5 schedule, which means planning fun summer things in the evenings (and volunteer work, which has been on my heart lately—helping real flesh-and-blood people in front of me, not behind a computer) and letting my clients realize that I am a human and not a machine. No, I’m not shirking my duties, but I’m planning smarter, prioritizing, and learning that taking a moment to make pancakes, play a tennis game, strum the guitar, have tea with a friend—these things are the stuff of life. This flexibility, this life of letters, I chose it in part because I am a sensitive soul who loves people, the quiet pleasures of reading and writing, a person who wants a simpler life with time to breathe and enjoy my relationships and the outdoors.

Thinking tomorrow morning would be a good morning to make those pancakes…with the real butter and the real maple syrup…maybe even a stroll afterward…