Saturday, December 31, 2011

One Word: Do


I talk. All the time.

I plan. I discuss. I pontificate.

That's all well and good. I can't change who I am and really, I'm not interested in doing that.

But I want to be more than a talker. I want to put more action behind those words.

I don't want to just talk about writing a book proposal, I want to write it.

I don't want to just talk about meeting folks in the virtual village, I want to go visit with them.

I don't want to just talk about helping the poor, I want to spend time at the soup kitchen.

I'm going to keep talking, but this year there's going to be more.

This year I'm going to DO.

"Knowing is not enough; we must apply.
Willing is not enough; we must DO."
(This quote was attributed to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe,
Leonardo da Vinci, and Bruce Lee.
Take your pick.)


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I'm linking up with Alece over at OneWord365. If you want to be a part of this movement, pick your word for the year, and join us. 

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Best Stuff I've Been Reading of 2011

Every Sunday I bring you half a dozen or so links to my favorite posts of the week. Things that provoke some kind of emotional response from me.

As the year wraps up, I wanted to highlight some of my very favorite pieces by some of my very favorite writers. These are ones that have stuck with me well past the initial posting. With the fluid nature of blogging, it can be difficult sometimes to gauge our long-term impact, so I want these folks to know that their words have lasted more than a week or two, but have changed me. (And for real, please subscribe to each of these blogs. They each put out quality content all. the. time.)
  • Tamara Lunardo: What's a Girl Worth? - More than just about anything else I've read this year, Tamara's post at A Deeper Story changed me. It forced me to look at some things that I'd buried for a long time and as painful as that was, it was incredibly important for me. Obviously it moved a lot of people, because it became the inspiration for a collection of stories from women about their value. Tamara inspires me all the time and I hope that she knows that she is invaluable to me.
  • Ed Cyzewski: Telling Proactive Stories Instead of Reactive Stories - Ed wrote on this topic a couple of times this year, but this was my favorite post. Every now and again someone writes something that really challenges my behavior and with this post, Ed did just that. These words changed the way that I look at big events, but also at my day-to-day blogging. I still do reactive blogging, but is my proactive to reactive ratio higher? I hope that it is, and that's thanks in large part to Ed's writing.
  • Sarah Styles Bessey: In Which I Promise Not to Call Myself Fat - Oh my word. This was one of those shaking-shoulder cries when I read this. Granted, that happens regularly when I read Sarah's words, but this one? Changed how I talk about myself. I am so grateful to her for her honesty and vulnerability with this post. She's working on a book proposal now and I cannot wait to read whatever it is that she puts out.
  • David Nilsen: Coping with Disappointment When Calvinists Refuse to Be Jerks - I know it's probably bad form to link to something on your own blog and probably also bad form to play favorites with guest posts, but yeah. This post was something special and to not include it in this list would be a far worse crime from where I'm standing. I don't know what led David to my blog, but I am so grateful that he reached out and asked about swapping guest posts. I definitely got the better end of the deal there (and that's not self-deprecating crap, it's just the truth). This post was absolutely amazing and has made me think about assuming how people will react if I'm honest with them. 
  • Shawn Smucker: How I Know My World Will End on May 21st - There were a lot of posts that went up in mid-May for the Harold Camping end of the world prediction, but Shawn wrote one that stuck with me. Death to self is something that I can't read about often enough, and Shawn used a weird story to bring that point home. I love Shawn's ability to draw beauty out of, well, everything.
  • Rachel Held Evans: On Being Kinder To Ourselves - This short post is brimming with truth. We need to be better friends not just to others, but to ourselves as well. Rachel lays that out beautifully here (as she does with most issues). I'm so thankful to Rachel for the kind encouragement she has given me this year. I cannot wait until her new book releases this fall.
  • The World Vision Bolivia Bloggers - Every one of these posts changed me. I am so thankful for the words and pictures of these folks. They were beautiful, heart-felt, and challenging. You can check out the individual bloggers here:  Joy BennettElizabeth EstherRachel Held Evans, Jana MelpolderLindsey TalericoMatthew Paul TurnerNish Weiseth, and Deb Wolf.
Huge thanks to everyone in my virtual village for sharing your words with me (well, and the rest of the internet) this year. You enrich my life, you cause me to think, you make me a better person. I look forward to seeing what you have to say in 2012!

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Friday, December 30, 2011

Repost: Who's the Bully Now?

Bullying hits very close to home for me as a mom. And the Christian treatment of the LGBT community hits close to me as a friend. The bill that this post references was changed to exclude the religious exemption. But bullying of the LGBT community continues to happen regularly in the Church. I'm thankful for those who speak out against this behavior and will continue to add my voice to the chorus.

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'Bully' photo (c) 2009, Thomas Ricker - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
They're at it again.

On November 2, an anti-bullying bill was passed in Michigan that had some last minute changes put in it. Once again, people who have chosen their lifestyle are asking for special privileges that will, almost certainly, make other people uncomfortable. Families will have to have difficult discussions with their children. Some may even feel like they need to pull their children out of schools because this group felt the need to strong-arm language into this bill.

Yes, before the bill was voted on, the Senate Republicans in Michigan added language to Bill SB 137 that made an exception for bullying that was a result of a "sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction."

Oh wait. You probably thought I meant the gay folks.

See, when you frame it that way, it sucks to be on the other side. Yet this is how many in the Church have framed nearly all conversations regarding LGBT rights.

We talk about choice of lifestyle. We talk about how it affects our children. We talk about special privileges. We talk about agendas.

All the while ignoring that religion is a choice. That our actions affect LGBT kids and the kids of gay and lesbian parents. That religion is a protected class. That we have our own agendas that we want to promote.

And we forget that we're to consider others as better than ourselves.

We have a word for people who use their power to push around those who are in a position of weakness.

I don't know about you, but I don't want my religious convictions to be an excuse to be a bully.

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Have you ever been the target of bullying? Have you ever been the bully? Have you ever reconciled with the person that bullied you/that you bullied?

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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Repost: Peace at the Laundromat

This is probably one of my favorite things that I wrote this year. Jason got me a new laptop battery for Christmas, but this definitely taught me that my best response to stuff that makes me THIS angry is taking a few minutes to calm myself. With this being an election year, I'll have to find time to launder lots of big items.


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I was livid. A prominent pastor said "Some of you, God hates you." This flies in the face of everything I believe about the God I serve, and it had me all fired up. I watched the full sermon to make sure I wasn't missing anything and it left me even more angry and hurt. I was composing a post in my mind. I was ready to ask some hard questions and make some strong statements.

'Laundromat' photo (c) 2010, Alisha Vargas - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/But I had to take my comforter to the laundromat. My laptop battery is completely fried, so I took some crochet work with me and figured I'd write the post when I got home.

I shoved my giant comforter into the oversized washing machine and plunked the quarters in the slot. Sloshed some lavender scented detergent in the hole and set it to wash. My mind was racing as I sat down and started to crochet.

The project that I was working on was a baby blanket for a close friend. He and his wife are expecting their third child and I want to give them something personal for this little one. Usually when I'm working on a piece, I spend time praying for the person who will receive it. So I was praying for this little one. Praying for her healthy delivery. Praying for her parents and siblings as they make this transition to add a new member to their family. Praying that she will know that she is loved by those in her life and by God. Praying that she will give love to others.

'Crochet: Winter Warmth Shawl' photo (c) 2011, Sewing Daisies - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/The washing machine buzzed, alerting me that the cleaning was complete. I took my sweet smelling, but now extra heavy comforter to the dryer.

I picked up the blanket and started crocheting again. A couple came in and started their own laundry and then sat down beside me. We exchanged brief pleasantries, and then I turned back to my project. They began talking between themselves about jobs and money. Jobs that were ending in two months and money that wasn't going to last much longer than that. As I changed yarn to the variegated yarn that reminds me of the ocean, my prayers shifted from my friends to this couple I don't know.

As the machine dried my comforter, my prayers moved from them to others. For children who are going to bed hungry tonight. For husbands and wives that don't love each other any more. For pastors who have questions about what they're preaching. For my angry heart.

With each stitch, with each prayer, my heart was calmed.
"Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech. They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it." (1 Peter 3:10-11, NIV, emphasis mine)
I put away my crochet and gathered my clean, warm, blanket from the dryer. Wished the couple sitting with me a good evening. Climbed in my van, came home, and wrote a different post.

I hadn't planned on pursuing peace, but it found me at the laundromat.

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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Repost: The Hunger Games and My Stony Heart

This was one of my first posts back after my month off in August. I'll post the same warning now that I did then - this post has some spoiler information in it about the Hunger Games. If you haven't read those books yet, I highly (!!!!) recommend them. Great story-telling, interesting characters, powerful lessons that don't knock you over the head. And the trailer for the movie looks amazing. Anyway, the post isn't really about the books, but about choosing to be vulnerable. But read the books.

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While I was on my sabbatical, I read through the Hunger Games trilogy. Admittedly, I was a bit unsure about reading them. After all, I hated the last huge YA novel that took everyone by storm (15 pages of Bella's whining was quite enough for me, thank you very much). After being disgusted by the Bella, Edward, Jacob love-triangle, I had my doubts about the Katniss, Peeta, Gale love-triangle.

But this trilogy was just plain kick-awesome. I don't think I read them with the speed that my daughter did, but I devoted large chunks of time to reading them instead of doing things like fixing food for my children or talking to my husband. So yeah, I guess you could say that I liked them.

In the third book, the various districts decide that they've had enough of the Capitol's tyranny and they stage a rebellion with Katniss Everdeen (the heroine of the trilogy) as the leader. As the rebels work their way toward the Capitol, they must go through the various districts, each one known for a particular item that it produces or manufactures.

What struck me was when the rebels are in District 2, the district that houses much of the Capitol's military and police force and where they quarry rock. In order to control this district, the rebels must overtake the Nut, a mountain in the center of the district where most of the quarrying is done, and this means a large-scale explosion, which inevitably kills a number of people.

'The Ten Commandment Stones 4' photo (c) 2010, Sheona Beaumont - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/I love Katniss because while she yearns for freedom, she is deeply troubled by the death that must occur in order for that freedom to be secured. After the explosion at the Nut, she is reflecting in one of the more spectacular structures remaining in District 2, a large marble building that is used for Capitol business conducted in the district. Katniss walks the halls, looking everywhere at the marble and has the following thoughts,
As I descend the stairs, I can't help brushing my fingers along the unblemished white marble walls. So cold and beautiful. Even in the Capitol, there's nothing to match the magnificence of this old building. But there is no give to the surface -- only my flesh yields, my warmth taken. Stone conquers people every time. (emphasis mine)*
Despite the beauty and durability of stone, it proved lethal to many of the residents of District 2 in that chapter.

When I saw that line, "Stone conquers people every time," I couldn't help think of the stone tablets that Moses brought down from the mountain. Laws carved on stone, meant to teach people how to live. They existed to show people their need. The need to be good, good, good. The need for a Savior.

But those tablets were not where life is born. They are not the source of comfort. Life came from One who came and bled and died and rose again for you and me. Comfort comes when we realize that following those stone tablets can never be enough.

A heart of stone will conquer you. It will leave you cold and unbending. It will leave you unsatisfied. It will leave you alienated from others and ultimately from God.

A heart of flesh can be more easily damaged. It is vulnerable. But it is pliable and warm. It can receive and give comfort. It is where life can be planted and it is where love can flourish.

Let's not be conquered.

*Excerpt from Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins, page 209

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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Repost: Winning Baby Dedication

I don't usually do straight up humor pieces here, but after a baby dedication at church one Sunday, this one just had to go up. Generally, if you're looking for funny, I'd encourage you to check out Matt Cannon or Tamara Lunardo, but if you missed this one, you might want to stick around here for a second, because I think this one was pretty funny. (Also, props to my friend Rich for his editorial advice on this one, which I really think helped it go from amusing to funny.)

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'baby bentrup' photo (c) 2007, christina rutz - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
I know that parenting is a competitive sport to some, though it usually doesn’t start until the child is old enough to walk, talk or kick a soccer ball in any direction other than toward an unsuspecting window.  However, I recently saw this same competitive nature applied to the Baby Dedication. At our church when all of the parents and babies are up on stage, a microphone is passed among them and the parents have a chance to introduce themselves and their progeny. At a recent baby dedication, one of the fathers introduced his wife and his beautiful child. A little further down the line, a father introduced himself, his lovely wife and his beautiful daughter. Later, another father introduced his wonderful wife and his beautiful child who was only 17 days old.

Fortunately, the one-upmanship seemed to be limited to things like how amazing the family members are and how young the baby was. But then I started thinking about ways that parents might push the envelope a little too far.

Winning: The father waxes poetic about how charming his wife and child are.
Bi-winning: The father waxes poetic about how charming his wife and child are, and then throws the mic at the next set of parents, a la Eminem at the end of 8 Mile.

Winning: The mother schedules an induction the day before the baby dedication.
Bi-winning: The mother schedules a water birth in the church baptismal during the service.

Winning: The baby wears her great-grandmother’s antique christening gown.
Bi-winning: The baby wears a wig, full make up, and a sequined gown with 15 layers of tulle. At least, we’re pretty sure there’s a baby in there somewhere.

Winning: The parents sit in the front row so they can get a prime spot in the middle of the stage.
Bi-winning: The parents sit in the back of the church and ride a Segway to the front while Europe’s “The Final Countdown” plays.

Winning: The father mentions how strong his wife was during her long, difficult labor.
Bi-winning: The dad brings the birth video on stage to further illustrate his point.

Winning: The parents bring all of their children up on stage to share in the moment.
Bi-winning: The parents hire all of the Duggar children to go up on stage to share in the moment.

Winning: The parents keep the child quiet during the dedication using a pacifier.
Bi-winning: The parents keep the child quiet during the dedication using a taser.


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Have you ever seen parents compete during baby dedication? What is your favorite baby dedication story?

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Monday, December 26, 2011

Repost: Lessons Learned

This was a post that didn't get a lot of play when it first ran, but it was an important one to me. It was good for me to think back of the season we had just been through and evaluate what I had learned from it. Jon Acuff is promoting that Finish Year at his blog. I encourage you to go check it out and share what you want to do with others. But while we keep our eyes on the goal, don't forget to enjoy the journey as well and take as much from that as you do from the result.

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A Class Room as it was back then.photo © 2007 Michel Filion | more info (via: Wylio)
I intended to blog yesterday. I had a topic picked out and was starting to work on a post (I know, I'm supposed to be ahead here. I get it.). I got a few paragraphs in and got a call from Jason.

About a month ago, he applied for a new job and we've been waiting anxiously to see if it came through. He was calling to let me know that he did indeed get the job. In that moment, my day was pretty shot because all I wanted to do was celebrate this achievement. That good news was enough to pretty much set me in a happy place all day long. (Also, not having my own laptop makes me a little crazy. Why is it so hard to concentrate on writing while using a different computer???)

I haven't written a whole lot about Jason's year and a half of school, since that's more his story that mine. But after yesterday's good news, I did start thinking about what I want our kids to take away from that long, difficult season. I came up with a few thoughts that I think are probably good reminders for me too.
  1. Education matters. Despite my hubby's excellent work ethic and job loyalty, because he hadn't finished college previously, a number of jobs that he was well qualified for were unavailable to him. Finishing a degree allowed him opportunities that he simply didn't have before. But even if the previous 18 months had not resulted in a new job, learning is never wasted. Jason's degree doesn't really have much to do with his former or new job, but the knowledge that he has still has great value.
  2. Dreams don't have an age limit. Many of Jason's classmates were very, very young (possibly embryonic) when he was in school the first time. He had some professors who were finishing up doctorates who were younger than him. But this has been something that he has wanted to do since we've been married. I'm so proud of him for not allowing his age to be an obstacle for pursuing his degree.
  3. Dreams require sacrifice. The past 18 months were hard. Working full-time and going to school full-time would be hard already. Add caring for a family to that mix and it's damn near super-human. The end result though was definitely worth it, but the season was hard on everyone and it's a good reminder that dreams don't happen without some blood, sweat and tears (or at least, the tears part. I don't think we had much bloodshed.).
  4. Other people are important for success. This year was tough, but none of us did it alone. We had to support one another right here in our family. But beyond that, we had the encouragement and help of our family and friends. The only person who could do Jason's work was Jason, but I don't believe that any of us can achieve our full potential without the help of others. We need community.
  5. Achieving your dreams is fun. Despite all of the work and sacrifice and loss of sleep and all of that, when you see something that you've poured yourself into come to life, it is exciting. It's easy to lose that sense of joy in the midst of the difficulties, but when we're pursuing our passions, we need to remember to have fun as well. To quote Dr. Seuss, "These things are fun and fun is good."
What dream are you working toward? Do you have any lessons that you have learned in pursuit of your goals?

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Saturday, December 24, 2011

Hark

'I 'm Listening' photo (c) 2007, Steve Johnson - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/Tonight we'll sit in our churches. We'll half listen to the sermon while smile at the children adorned in their fluffy dresses and clip-on ties. We'll read our bulletins during the announcements. We'll "ooh" and "aah" at the soft candlelight as we sing Silent Night for yet another Christmas eve.

Hark! The herald angels sing!

Our minds may wander to the people that we'll be seeing and our complicated relationships with them. We'll think about the co-worker who slighted us. The family member who annoyed us. The church member who offended us. The friends who we've drifted away from. The distances that we feel between us and our fellow man.

Pleased as man with man to dwell.

We may feel uncomfortable about the sacrifice of Christmas. Easter is easier. Giving up your life is huge. It's the kind of grand gesture that is the stuff of love songs and epic poetry. But it's not a path that many of us will have to follow. The example of Christmas is something that each of us is called to every day.

Mild he lays his glory by, born that man no more may die.

Our thoughts may dwell on the ways we've failed over the year. Promises that we've broken. Harsh words that we've uttered, or merely thought. Selfish acts. Unloving acts. Hurtful acts. Our hearts break at the ways that we have fallen short of God's expectations for us. Of our expectations for ourselves.

God and sinners reconciled.

The waiting is nearly over. Our minds race with anticipation, with fear, with regret. But as we go through this day, let us not forget to listen. And in that listening, let us find peace.

Hark! The herald angels sing,
"Glory to the newborn King!"

Hark.

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Friday, December 23, 2011

Repost: House Rules

Today's repost is yet another one from the One Word at a Time Blog Carnival. I found this particular link up through my Twitter friend Kathy. I don't always participate, but taking one word and trying to find an interesting way to talk about it is a wonderful challenge. I'm always interested to see how others will approach the word. If you're looking for an interesting writing prompt and link-up, I definitely recommend checking out this carnival. It runs every other Tuesday. Be sure to check it out!

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Free parking revisitedphoto © 2008 Alan Cleaver | more info (via: Wylio)
In my list of "things I can't wait to do once Jason graduates and goes back to day shift," one item that is near the top is playing more games as a family. It's absolutely one of my favorite activities to bring us together. There are lots of games that we play here, but the one that we love most is Monopoly. Now that the kids are older, we can all play together, but if you ever stop by, we don't mind team play.

If you do play a game of Monopoly with us, one thing that we'll have to discuss is the house rules. While we mostly play according to the instructions given to us by the brothers Has, we definitely have some house rules. If you have to pay a penalty (any taxes, the fee to get out of jail, etc.), the money goes into the middle of the board and can be won by landing on the Free Parking space. Also, we play that if someone lands on and purchases two properties in a set, they have the right to buy the third from someone else if it is available. And I'm not 100% sure that we mortgage properties the right way.

We have house rules because we want to be able to sit down and finish a game in a couple of hours rather than over the course of 3 days. They work for our family with no arguments or frustrations. They ARE the rules. In fact, it feels kind of weird to play by the real rules if we happen to play outside of our home.

I think it's easy to do this with our faith as well. We come up with rules that work for us. They help us live better, make wise choices for our families, live peaceably with our neighbors. They're based on a Christian ethos, but they aren't necessarily the rules that are provided in the manual.

The problem arises when we expect people to play by our house rules. We know that they work for us, so we expect them to work for everyone. And sometimes, when someone rejects our rules, we feel like they're rejecting us. We get so wrapped up in the how of our faith that we forget the why of our faith.

Let's play together so we can grow as a family.

Be devoted to one another in love. 
Honor one another above yourselves. (Romans 12:10, NIV)


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What game do you play that has different house rules? 

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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Repost: Let's Do Lunch

I celebrated communion last night at 12:30 AM over coffee and blueberry pancakes. I'm dead tired today, but it was totally worth it. I don't think we can fully appreciate what God longs for in a relationship with us if we aren't finding that relationship with others. And sometimes that relationship needs to happen in the wee hours.

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the elementsphoto © 2005 Bjørn Bulthuis | more info (via: Wylio)
I love to eat. If we're getting together, odds are good that I'm going to ask to meet over some sort of meal. Partly because food gives you something to do if conversation lags, but mostly because I just really enjoy a good meal. Gathering with people that I love around a table is my idea of a great time.

I think that's why today is my favorite day of Holy Week. Today is the day that we celebrate the first communion. There's something about this that is profoundly moving for me each time I take communion, and it's heightened each Maundy Thursday.

I just love the idea of the disciples gathered together for this meal. No doubt they ate as a group all the time, but they knew that this meal was special because of Passover. According to the passage in John 13, this was also a special dinner because Jesus took time to wash his friends' feet before they ate, placing himself in the role of a servant.

But I mostly I think about the event itself. Friends gathered together to participate in a tradition, one they had done their whole lives. Sitting around, talking, laughing, catching up on the latest stories. Can you pass this? May I have some of that? People who are comfortable with one another, who love one another, who have a common ministry with one another. Honestly, this is about a perfect night for me.

And then Jesus switches it up. He breaks the bread and passes the cup and tells his closest friends that this night he is establishing a new covenant with them. He is the spotless lamb and his sacrifice will save not only the firstborn, but all of God's children.

My favorite definition of the word communion is "intimate communication." When I think about that first communion meal, I am sure that there was intimate communication happening at that table.

The celebration of the Eucharist is beautiful to me because of the reminder of the intimate communication that we are able to have with God as a result of Jesus's death and resurrection.

And it is a reminder of the intimate communication we are to have with one another.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35 (NIV)
As we prepare to celebrate Easter, let's take a moment to reflect on our communion with God and with one another.

And if you're ever in town, give me a holler. We'll do lunch.

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Do you have a favorite place to cultivate relationships? 

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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Repost: A Velvet Crumb

March was kind of a banner month around here. I was invited to guest post for both Rachel Held Evans as well as Hemant Mehta, and I came out as gay affirming. Things were definitely kind of crazy around here for a bit. In the midst of that, this post kind of went by the way-side. So I'm bringing it back for another look.

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'the remains of the cake' photo (c) 2005, Kai Schreiber - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/
When you read blogs about blogging, one of the rules that folks tend to give is to make sure that you have an attention grabbing title. This is an area where I'm not particularly adept, so I'm always on the lookout for phrases that catch my attention. Something that says, "Hey, that looks like an interesting post, I should definitely give it a read! And then pass it on to all of my friends! And subscribe to the RSS feed!"

So yesterday when I was sitting in the green room at church, I was delighted to hear the phrase "a velvet crumb" tumble from the lips of my best friend (he was eating a red velvet doughnut and noticed a crumb on his shirt). I made a mental (and verbal) note that this was a fantastic title and I should absolutely blog about it.

Come home, bust open the laptop, plug that title in, because it's awesome, and...nothing.

Because you can't write about a velvet crumb (the Velvet Fog is a whole other matter). Well, maybe YOU can, but I can't. There's just nothing there. I mean, it's a crumb for heaven's sake.

A cool title doesn't mean anything if there's not content there to back it up.

I think I sometimes do that with my faith.

I get all chatty about God being love, but then I don't act in a very loving way toward the person who pissed me off with a Facebook post that I disagree with. I talk about helping the poor, but I really just want an iPod Touch for myself so I can play Words With Friends. I will go on about how we should avoid dogma, but just think about challenging a belief that I hold to strongly.

The ideas sound good. But the content? There can be a lack at times.

But sometimes they match up. Sometimes I practice what I preach. I behave in a way that is loving with people that make me angry. I use my finances in a way that are unselfish. I hold loosely to an idea that feels like it should be held tightly.

Sometimes the velvet crumb is actually a story worth reading.

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What do you do when you find that your content isn't living up to your title? What is your favorite blog/book title?

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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Repost: Living or Dying?

I originally posted this on February 21. I don't necessarily always feel the same way even a year after I post something, but this one still rings true to me. I hope it will for you as well!

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In church last week, I was sitting with Rich and Misty before the service started. There's always music playing during that time and one of the songs was "Live Like We're Dying" by Kris Allen. We were talking about the song and got to talking about the message a bit.

Now, I really like the idea of living fearlessly. A lot. We spend a lot of time living cautious, careful lives and as a result, we miss out on a lot of opportunities to form relationships, to pursue dreams, to extend grace. So in one sense, I totally get behind the message of the song.

But I don't think I like the title.

One of my favorite movies is The Shawshank Redemption (and it's another reason why Stephen King will reign supreme in my heart, even though the short story isn't nearly as powerful as the movie - still pretty amazing). I love the whole idea of freedom (physical, emotional, spiritual) and this movie just deals that up in spades.

My favorite line in the movie is said by Andy Dufresne and then repeated by Red, "Get busy livin' or get busy dyin'."

There's something about that sentiment that resonates much more closely to my heart. That we have a choice between living and dying.

I think the reason I don't want to live like I'm dying is because that seems to have this ulterior motive. I'm only making these choices because I have a limited amount of time available. I'm only being nice because I'm trying to make good before I'm judged. Not that any of those are necessarily bad things, but I just wonder if there are better reasons to do things.

To play with my kids just because they asked me to and they're pretty fun to hang out with.

To talk to my husband because I love hearing what's on his mind and finding out all of the new ways that he can amaze me.

To grab tiramisu with a friend because we love the way it looks and tastes.

To make music because it's fun and it feeds my soul.

To write because it might make someone look at an issue in a way they hadn't considered before.

To live like I'm living.

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How can you "get busy livin'" today?

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Monday, December 19, 2011

Repost: Stuck in the Mud

I'm taking the rest of the month off from writing new material and am going to repost something from each month. I hope you don't mind a little walk down memory lane. This one was originally posted on January 24, 2011 for the One Word at a Time Blog Carnival.

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It’s winter here in WV. While I like winter way more than I like the summer (I hate being hot, like, a lot), it’s still not a favorite. It would be one thing if we got a lot of snow. Then I could sit here and write about the redemptive something or other about snow and how it covers sins and is all white and beautiful. It would be poetic and eloquent and you would weep. I’m getting misty just thinking about it.

But generally speaking, we don’t get a lot of snow. Usually some, but it turns to slush within a day or two. And then everything else turns to mud. Sticky, cold, disgusting mud. And if we’re lucky, the mud gets mixed in with the salt and cinders so it’s extra fun. Gritty, corrosive, gooey mud. It’s much harder to write a post that makes someone cry about that stuff. Unless you’re just deeply offended by mud. But those aren’t really the tears I was going for.

'When Dirt Meets  Mud' photo (c) 2010, Orin Zebest - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/The thing about this mud is that it gets everywhere. It’s tracked into the house. It’s flung up all over my minivan. It’s all over the sides of my cute new boots. And no matter what I do, it’s there all winter long. Even if I manage to eliminate it for a little while, it will be back. There’s just no escaping it.

You know what else I can’t escape? God’s love.

It’s sticky. No matter where I go or what I do, it clings to my heart. I might try to scrape it off by rejecting the gift of grace, but the remnants remain.

It’s messy. Relationships are never neat or pretty and my relationship with my God is no different. Every time I think I know how things are “supposed to be” with God or with other Christians or people outside the Church, God shows me just how wrong I am. His love coats everything that we want to tidy up and messes it up.

It’s corrosive. My heart is hard. It can be stony and stubborn. But when God's love is applied, it eats away at that hardness. It might make me more vulnerable to hurt and pain, but it also allows me to experience far more joy and peace.

Sticky, messy, corrosive love. I may tear up a little bit after all.

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How have you seen love stick to you and bring about a change?

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Sunday, December 18, 2011

Stuff I've Been Reading

I'm posting this from my hotel room in Charleston, WV, after last night's premier of the Gluteus Miximus. But I don't want you to miss these awesome posts from the week. And I don't really want to drive back home. This would be a good time for that teleportation device that Sara mentioned last week in the Tell Me About You post. Anyway, enough chatter, on with the linkage!

  • Dianna Anderson wrote a fantastic response to the "I'd rather have a Proverbs 31 Woman than a Victoria's Secret Model" campaign. I don't think these guys had any negative intent, but she breaks down some huge problems with it really well.
  • I love it when Tamara Lunardo gets to writing poetry. This woman is a wordsmith of the first order.
  • Tony Alicea wrote about how even well-meaning labels can be problematic. (And yes, it's not lost on me that the word that I used to describe Tony when he guest posted here this summer was "nice." I still think that he is, but this post is good, because no one likes to be a single label.)
  • Rachel Held Evans has been finishing her book, but she took a minute this week to bang out this gorgeous post about the place of women in the Church. 
  • I cannot wait to hear the whooping and hollering from Shawn Smucker's family in a couple of days. This post made me cry those good, good tears.
  • This is not from this week, but I only discovered it this week. In case you haven't guessed, I love to mock Klout. Some friends and I were chatting on Facebook about it, and my publisher pointed us to this. For the record, my Flout score is 250000. Top THAT. (It should be easy, since you get to set your own score.)
What have you read/written/watched/listened to this week that moved you? Link up your favorites!


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Friday, December 16, 2011

Gift Me

I’m always a little bit hesitant to talk love languages because I have the most selfish-sounding of all of them. Because my primary love language is gifts. Which basically boils down to, “If you want to show me that you love me, give me stuff.” It’s kind of embarrassing.

Of course, it means that Christmas has a special place in my heart. Sure, there’s the Peppermint Mocha coffee goo that I put in my morning joe, the plates of Christmas cookies that are passed around at family gatherings, the unending stream of Christmas music in my car, the rehearsals for church services. These are all wonderful parts of the Christmas experience and I look forward to them every year.

But what I really love is that on Christmas morning, I’m going to get a present. It might be something small, it might be something not so small, but there’s going to be some gift sitting under the tree that has my name on it. I will open it, and I will feel loved.

'Presents' photo (c) 2007, Allie Towers Rice - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/There is just something about receiving a gift that makes me feel treasured. It means that someone was thinking about me even when I wasn’t around. It means that someone knows me well enough to know what will make me laugh or what I will use or what I will enjoy. It means that someone sacrificed something that they could have had for themselves to make me feel special.

It can be easy for me to look at receiving gifts as a strictly selfish thing. But that first Christmas, we were given the most extravagant gift. The Giver thought of us before we even existed. He knew us well enough to know that it was something that we would need every day. And it came at great personal cost.

It’s a gift that God wants each of us to receive.

The gift of Love, made to walk among us.

Let us receive it with arms open wide.

I’m writing this as a part of World Vision’s 12 Blogs of Christmas. As we contemplate gifts this Christmas season, please consider giving extravagantly to someone in need. World Vision has an amazing gift catalog where you can purchase practical gifts of goats and chickens and ducks that will provide families with milk, cheese, and eggs. You can also make donations to give someone access to clean water or give a woman a loan to start her own small business. There are gifts for every budget and every passion that you may have. No matter what you choose, you will be helping someone make their life better, and that is a gift of love as well.


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Where do gifts fall on the love language scale for you? What is a gift that you've received that stands out?

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This post is cross posted over at the World Vision Blog today. I received no compensation for this post - I just really love the work that WV does!

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Thursday, December 15, 2011

My Favorite

I don't use the word favorite the way that it's supposed to be used. It's supposed to mean "preferred before all others of the same kind." But I tend to be a lot more generous in my use.

My favorite book is John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany. Unless it's E. B. White's Charlotte's Web. Or maybe The Stand by Stephen King.

I probably have 20 favorite movies. Not favorite movies for a particular mood or favorites in different genres. No, even within those, I still have more than one favorite.

Same with foods, television shows, holidays, bands. If you ask me for my favorite song off of a CD, I'll give you three. If you ask me for my favorite time of day, I'll give you a choice. If you ask me my favorite hair coloring product, I'll list the last half a dozen colors that I've used. I'll make favorite things lists that rival Maria von Trapp's any day.

I'm not very good at the favorite game.

But there is one constant favorite. A favorite that has been the same for more than half my life. A favorite who, despite his advancing age, has been my best friend, my biggest supporter, my hardest laugh provider, and most amazing husband ever.

Today is Jason's birthday, and I want him to know, that of all of my favorites out there, he is my most favorite favorite.



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Tell me about some of your favorites. Favorite people, foods, art, whatever. Just favorites.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Tell Me About You #4

'Super Happy Dev House - What would MacGyver do? Image701' photo (c) 2007, Roland Tanglao - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Yes, it's time again for another "About You" post. Reading through the comments of previous entries, I'm reminded just how much I adore doing these, so here we go.
  1. You're MacGyver and you're not in any peril. But sitting around is just super boring. So what do you design to help with life's mundane tasks and what materials do you use to make it?
  2. What is The Devil's last name?
  3. Christmas movie The Polar Express: creepy or magical? If creepy, what part in particular? If magical, what is wrong with you?
Also, today is my mom's birthday! This lady had to live with me for years and managed to survive nevertheless. I love you mom!

Okay, answer up, folks. And feel free to wish my mom a happy birthday!

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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Bear Down

"Push, push, push, push!"

My neck hurt from straining too hard during the first hour of pushing. My left hand was swollen twice its normal size from where the IV had caused a negative reaction. I was exhausted beyond what I could imagine. My body was screaming that it wanted sleep and food, but not that it wanted to get a baby out. The drugs had completely blocked my ability to feel any of my body's natural urges to bear down.

Yet in the background, there was a cacophony of voices yelling at me to push. So for hours and hours I did that. I pushed and pushed and pushed. My daughter was born and it was amazing, but even after the hours that I spent pushing, I never really understood what it was that I was supposed to be doing.

'Bear Down' photo (c) 2011, Valentino Valdez - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/Then my son was born.

I waited too long to ask for the epidural and as the anesthesiologist was putting in the block, I felt this incredible pressure. I told the nurses that I thought that I needed to use the bathroom, and instead of a chorus of voices telling me to push, I was being instructed NOT to push, but instead to blow. Soon the obstetrician was there and I was able to follow my body's natural instincts and deliver my son.

The difference between pushing and bearing down in birth was simply amazing.

Both required work. Giving birth is never a completely effortless event, even in the best circumstances. But working with my body was so much easier than working against it.

When I was pushing simply because someone was telling me that I needed to, I was ineffective. I ended up with injuries, some rather severe. I was exhausted, frustrated, frightened, hurt.

But when I bore down, I was doing what my body was supposed to do. I took advantage of the force that was already acting in me and used it to to do the work that needed to be done. There was pain, there was labor, but the process was so much sweeter.

There are so many areas in life where we're tempted to just muscle our way through. People shout at us to push. To pull ourselves up. To be self-reliant. And we know that in order to see our dreams come to life, we have work to do. So we do what we're told, even if it doesn't feel right. We struggle and work and strain to reach our goals.  But even in our successes, we can end up exhausted rather than exhilarated by the journey.

And then there are the times that we bear down. We follow where our dreams are taking us rather than forcing them to fit our mold. We find people who offer us enthusiastic encouragement and gentle direction rather than those who simply give us the same rules that they followed to achieve their dreams. There may still be struggle and pain, but it is purposeful. It is pain that we can use.

As we bear down through that pain, we can give birth to joy.

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Is there an area where you've pushed when you needed to wait and bear down? Have you experienced the difference?

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This is a part of the One Word at a Time Blog Carnival hosted by Peter Pollock. You can read more submissions and add your own here.

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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Post at Provoketive.com

I'm back at Provoketive today, this time with a featured article!

You might be surprised to find out that I oppose gay marriage.
Recent comments by presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann have stirred up the discussion about gay marriage once again. While speaking to a group of high school students, she said that gay people could get married, just not to someone who was the same sex. “They (same-sex couples) can marry a man if they’re a woman. Or they can marry a woman if they’re a man.” 
Later she went on to add that “there are no special rights for people based upon your sex practices. There’s no special rights based upon what you do in your sex life.” 
And there it is; the reason why I oppose gay marriage.
Head on over to Provoketive to read the rest of my post and to share your thoughts.

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Stuff I've Been Reading

Hello, my friends! I hope you've had a great week. Here are some of the best things that I've read this week. I hope you find something of interest here as well.
  • Preston Yancey wrote a beautiful poem this week as a response to the "I'd rather have a Proverbs 31 woman than a Victoria's Secret model" meme that went viral this week. I was happy to see this piece go a bit viral as well.
  • My friend Bekka Favelle guest posted at A Deeper Story about asking. One of the most poignant essays that I read this week.
  • World Vision is hosting the Twelve Blogs of Christmas to help get the word out about their gift catalog. I absolutely loved Ed Cyzewski's contribution about gift giving.
  • This post by Kathy made me cry a wee bit, because I have a deeply non-themed Christmas tree that I absolutely love precisely because I love what the ornaments represent to me
  • I love that I'm a part of a blogging community that isn't afraid to address difficult questions head on. So I really appreciate that Knox McCoy took on one of the great questions of a generation: Who was the better uncle on Full House?
  • Wes Molebash now has a website for his new graphic novel. Wes is all kinds of amazing and some day I'm totally scraping together the cash to have him draw me rocking a keytar (I figure that's the first step to actually owning and rocking a keytar). Seriously though, check it out. It's very cool.
  • On Monday I asked you to help me raise $100 for Nuru (and CASTW) by the end of the year. You raised $170 THAT DAY. I am grateful times a million. If you'd still like to make a donation, this wish will be open until the end of the year. I'd love it if you'd consider a donation to them. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
What have you read/written/watched/listened to this week that moved you? Leave a link in the comments!


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Friday, December 9, 2011

Strong

'Strong as a Bull' photo (c) 2007, irene nobrega - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

You have probably seen the Rick Perry ad talking about gays in the military and our Christian president's war against religion and the left's hatred of praying children or something like that. I don't know. I watched it once, hurled some profanity at my cat, and then ate an orange and felt better.

Honestly though, thinking back over it, one of the things that is most annoying to me about the ad is the title: Strong. There is a statement near the end that faith has made America strong. But how that ties into what Governor Perry mentions isn't really how I picture strong faith.

Instead I think about my friend Billy and his work with Nuru International. That group of Christians decided that just having faith didn't mean much if they didn't put feet to it. I love that they have been motivated by their faith to improve the lives of thousands of people in Africa. This is strong.

I think of the women who started The Good Woman Project, teaching women to embrace every part of what it means to be a Christian woman (and yes, they mean EVERY part). Through stories and mentoring, they are giving women an opportunity to be real, honest, and good. This is strong.

I think of all of the amazing people who contributed to Not Alone. These folks refused to allow the stigma of depression dictate their ability to share their stories. Rather than fear and isolation, they chose to be public with issues like substance abuse, sexual abuse, self-abuse in order to allow others to find healing. This is strong.

I think about friends dealing with terminal diseases. Parents of children with disabilities. Children who have endured abuse. People going day after day to a job that doesn't really fulfill them. All of them reacting with grace and dignity. This is strong.

Strength is found in building people up. Strength is found in sharing our burdens. Strength is found in working together.

Faith isn't about making America strong, it's about recognizing our weaknesses and allowing God to use us anyway.

This is strong.


Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
~Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, NIV

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Who are some people who are strong in your life? What do you do that makes you strong?

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Thursday, December 8, 2011

Interview with Shawn Smucker

Regular readers of this blog will remember Shawn Smucker, author of My Amish Roots, from his guest posts in February and in August, not to mention his numerous appearances in my Stuff I've Been Reading round-ups. Shawn is a remarkably talented and thoughtful writer and he is a smart and funny friend. And while I find his taste in cereal questionable, I can overlook that because he wrote one of my all-time most favorite essays on the internet.

When Shawn said that he was releasing a book about his Amish heritage, I was excited to read it, even though I have an uneasy relationship with both non-fiction and history. Of course, Shawn did not disappoint. He is a beautiful story-teller and this book was no exception. Shawn weaves his own story into that of his ancestors and in so doing, shows the ways in which we are the same and which we are different. I loved reading the excerpts from various diaries and experiencing the sadness and joy that his extended family went through for more than 200 years.

I asked Shawn a few questions about writing and his family and cereal and I'd love to share them with you here. Enjoy

Alise: What was your research method for this book? How much was found in journals and how much was found through oral tradition?


Shawn: I spent a lot of time with my grandmother’s brothers and sisters. That’s where most of the stories came from. But I also got some great information from my great-great-grandfather’s journal from 1893 – 1896 (this is included in the back of the book).

Alise: You’re a regular blogger. How does writing a book like this compare to blogging? What are the similarities and what are the differences?

Shawn: I don’t feel like there’s very much of a comparison. Both have their challenges. It’s tough coming up with something to blog about every day, but it’s also a challenge to maintain the momentum required to complete a 75,000 word manuscript. I think that what I liked about writing the family history was that I got to experiment with some different forms of writing, different voices, things like that.

Alise: What did you discover about yourself as you wrote this book?

Shawn: There is a deeper connection between me and the physical landscape of my hometown than I ever imagined. Maybe it’s because we’ve lived here for over 200 years. Maybe it’s because having such a large extended family gave me a huge sense of belonging as a kid. I’m not sure, but the rolling fields, the farmland, the streams and forests, have started to feel like just another relative.

Alise: How do you think your storytelling compares to that of your ancestors?

Shawn: Ha! For some reason, that question made me laugh. They were very stoic, very basic. My great-great-grandfather’s journal is a series of one-sentence days. I wish I could talk storytelling with them.

Alise: What do you hope to pass on from your children, not just about your roots, but about your own story?

Shawn: My great (x10) grandfather left his home to come to a new world. My great-great-grandparents both lost spouses before meeting each other. If anything, I’d love my children to inherit this resilience and sense of adventure.

Alise: Do you feel like your ancestors would agree that Lucky Charms are a superior cereal, or would they be more reasonable and recognize the inherent greatness of Golden Grahams?

Shawn: To be honest, I don’t think my Amish ancestors would be down with anything having to do with charms or gold. Guess we’re still deadlocked on that one.

Thanks so much for stopping by Shawn!

Please be sure to stop by Shawn's site to order your autographed copy of My Amish Roots in time for Christmas. You can also hook up with Shawn on Twitter and on Facebook. If you want to win a copy of Shawn's book, he's giving away two copies every Friday in December! Just head over to his blog and sign up to be on his email list.



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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Rolling in #KloutBoogers

'He's too tiny to measure up.' photo (c) 2006, Patty O'Hearn Kickham - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

I joke regularly about Klout. Of all of the ways that we measure our online influence, it is, by far, the most ridiculous. One tweet about a terrible product from JCPenney somehow translated into me being influential about Justin Bieber. My latest obsession has been to become influential about boogers (and after a discussion with my friends Joy and Tamara, more specifically, #kloutboogers).

For the most part, I can look at things like this and understand that it's all ridiculous. That my influence has nothing to do with how many retweets I get or how many Facebook likes I have.

The fact is, I care about those things way more than I should. And if it were just my own need to know, that would be one thing. It might be crazy, but at least it would be the kind of crazy that is mostly harmless.

But it's not.

My caring is heavily tied to comparison. How do I measure up, positively or negatively, to others? How are my stats? How are my comments? Who is retweeting me? How many shares on Facebook? How do I become as popular as him? How do I stay more popular than her?

But the problem is, it will never be enough. Never enough subscriptions or comments or hits or shares. Never enough book sales or interviews or guest posts. There will always be someone who has more #kloutboogers than I have (you know, if that ever becomes a thing).

One of the dangers of all of this comparison is the risk of watering down my story. Of only showing the parts that make out to be the hero (or the victim, if that serves my purpose better). Of writing things that I think other people want to hear rather than what I know I should be sharing. Of chasing numbers instead of relationships.

In the Revised Alise Standard Version, Mark 8:36 could read, "What does it profit a blogger, if she be rolling in #kloutboogers, but lose her own soul?"

I think maybe my soul is worth more than some #kloutboogers.

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Where is a place where you feel like you don't measure up? And if you could invent a category to be influential in on Klout, what would it be?

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I'm linking up today with Joy in this Journey for Life: Unmasked. You can read more submissions and add your own here.

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