I act entitled. All. Of. The. Time.
I am so not proud of this fact, but it is true.
For example, I “need” Starbucks daily or I get cranky. I literally plan out my morning on how and when I’m going to get it. Even if it makes me late. Even if it’s inconvenient. I also “need” a handful of chocolate chips after lunch and dinner. Only dark chocolate will do. Preferably Ghirardelli 60% cacao. Of course, other chocolate makes a great substitute—brownies, chocolate cake, etc. And if they’re not available, I feel a little off kilter, a little growly. Do I sound like a crack addict? Yikes! I also feel completely entitled to buy that funky bracelet and that adorable dress, I mean they’re on sale, and did I mention how cute they are?
What do you "need"? That bottle of nail polish? A bottle of wine? To run another lap? Watch just one more episode of Friends? Read another chapter? Check Facebook, Twitter or Instagram real quick? A certain brand of athletic shorts or yoga pants?
I’ve been semi-aware of this behavior, but not really concerned, because lots of other people like Starbucks and chocolate and shopping, too. Right? But recently, after reading Jen Hatmaker’s book, 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, I was truly convicted. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with chocolate or Starbucks or great fashion finds, thank goodness. These are all gifts from God to be appreciated and enjoyed. But there is something wrong when I feel I deserve those things—that I need them.
So, to get myself back in line, I went on a strange sort of fast for the month of January. If you’ve ever made a New Year’s Resolution, given up something for Lent, or fasted in any other kind of way, we’re kindred spirits. This wasn’t about eating less; this was about being less entitled, more appreciative, more aware of how God has already taken care of all my needs. I decided I would take on three areas.
First, I ate only the following foods: whole grains, fruits and vegetables, dairy, poultry, and seafood. Which I really didn’t think would be a big deal considering I eat oatmeal almost every morning, followed by lunch of a turkey and cheese sandwich on whole grain bread, and I don’t eat red meat. But do you see the glaring omission of chocolate? Still. I thought this would be easy peasy. Until Day Two of the fast when after a Saturday jam-packed with kids’ basketball games and birthday parties all over Southwest Ohio, we tumbled back home around 6:00 PM and my husband, Brett, suggested we order pizza. It sounded heavenly. All I wanted to do was put on my jams, eat pizza, and curl up with the kids and watch a movie.
But that whole grain thing reared its head. I Googled our local pizza chain, and lo and behold they had a whole-wheat crust. Who knew? I’d never been so happy to see a whole grain. So I ordered my own little personal whole-wheat pie with spinach and tomatoes. And I was extremely grateful for it. Surprisingly, even when my daughter ate our favorite deep dish in front of me, I wasn’t envious. I was just so thankful I had the option to eat pizza.
Second, I gave up Starbucks. Yep. Cold turkey. And me, and my Keurig and my Nespresso (I told you I was entitled) spent a lot of time together in January. I successfully used up a multitude of various brands and flavors of coffee pods I’d stashed in the house without having to purchase a single one. My son, Max, is an amazing barista, and made me some delicious mochas and lattes with the Nespresso. On the two coffee dates I'd scheduled, I suggested the local coffee shop, Kofenya, which is amazing, and savored every drop of the java they brewed me. Note to self, I can get better about buying local. Yes, there were Monday mornings when I missed Starbucks like crazy. But every morning, honestly, I was so grateful for coffee—for it’s warmth, and aroma, and flavor, and yeah, the caffeine. And as I sipped my home brew, I thanked Jesus for being the ultimate waker-upper, my perfect source of energy.
Third, I gave up shopping. I only allowed myself to buy food, beverages and household basics (dishwasher soap, toilet paper, shampoo--the boring stuff). We went on our annual family field trip to the mall to exchange ill-fitting Christmas gifts, and I exchanged both my yoga pants and jeans for better sizes. But contrary to tradition, I did not buy a single amazing, spectacular January clearance item. Not the Gap t-shirts for only $4, because I always need another black t-shirt, and another white one. Not that really cute top in the window of Francesca’s that was 70% off. Not even the socks at American Eagle, which they were virtually giving away. And although it took great restraint to not take any of those steals to the register, I came home feeling lighter. My closet is already packed. I didn’t need any of those items. I actually saved myself from having to root through more clothes to find “the right” items later. It felt oddly good. For the rest of the month I deleted every single email from a retailer wooing me with their “biggest ever” clearance events and steered clear of Target, Dollar Tree and TJ Maxx, because why tempt myself like that? And each time I had the urge to just click on that message, browse that website, pop into that boutique, I tried to remember to thank Jesus for His ultimate coverage, for being more fulfilling than a shopping buzz.
Was I perfect on my fast? No way. You want the dirt? Here’s just a sample.
There was the time Brett brought me home a gorgeous single serving carrot cake from Panera. “It’s whole grain,” he told me.
I looked at him.
“It is,” he said. “I asked them.”
He was clearly lying. But he also went out of his way to go inside a Panera, order me a treat mid-way through my fast, even one that contained a vegetable, and looked brown, like whole grains tend to. I savored every morsel, appreciating his gesture of love and that miracle of a cake. I enjoyed half of it that day, and saved the other half for the next day, instead of gorging it down in one swallow, or thinking, “gee, I wish this was a brownie.” It was so phenomenally delicious. I was learning from this fast—when I don’t expect a dessert or feel like I’m entitled to one, I can appreciate the ones I get so much more fully.
A similar thing happened while in Texas. My sweetheart of a host took me out to lunch at an adorable spot called Nostalgia. “The best part of this place,” she smiled, “are the desserts. They come with your lunch.” I inwardly panicked. I didn’t want to break my fast. I’d been so good. But the thing I was learning most from fasting was being grateful for what I had. Being grateful for a store brand dark roast pod in my Keurig, because it was coffee, and I had the pleasure of drinking it. Being grateful for fresh fruits and organic Greek yogurt, because they are delicious and sweet and good for me, and because I always have food on my table and in my stomach. And, so, I made the game time decision to be grateful here too. The Hummingbird Cake contained pineapple and bananas, leaning itself towards the fruit category. Each and every bite of this cake I’d never even heard of before was delicious. And don’t get me started on the rich, sweet cream cheese frosting. On this day, I was so grateful (after over 20 days of no desserts, well except the carrot cake) for a dessert. And yes, I ate peach cobbler with my same lovely friend that night, because, well, when in Texas.
There was the time when my mom made stuffed peppers with white rice. Agh! White rice isn’t a whole grain. Some of you are thinking I’m totally nuts here, but I am such a rule follower (too much of a rule keeper, too stringent, too much of the time). Add that with entitlement to my list of many flaws. Only brown rice counted on my self-induced fast. But this fast was all about being more appreciative. And not valuing a home-cooked meal from Mom, well that’s plain ridiculous. So, I counted every delicious bite, every grain of rice as sheer gift.
There was also the time, when I bought myself a sweatshirt. I wrestled with the idea. I mean, I wasn’t supposed to buy myself anything. I hadn’t even bought my kiddos anything this month. Not one cute notepad or t-shirt. But this sweatshirt helped fund the amazing event I was speaking at, Project Beautiful, bringing hundreds of girls together to remind them of their true beauty. And it reads, Fearfully and Wonderfully Made across it’s soft, cozy self. These words are what I long to share with everyone I meet—that they were created by God to inspire awe, that He created them wonderfully. And so, the decision to purchase was intentional, not entitled, and felt very right.
By the third time we’d ordered pizza in January, Brett finally ventured to try a bite of mine. Our whole family was gathered around the dinner table swapping stories and laughing when Brett exclaimed, “This..really is…very bad!” and spit out his bite. Which of course led to hysterics. My girls were curious, so they tried it too, only to prod, “How can you eat that, Mom?” “It is really gross! You don’t like it do you?”
And it was strange. I was so grateful each time we ordered pizza that I didn’t have to make another run to the grocery in the bitter January air, think about “what was for dinner,” cook, or clean, that I’d never considered the subpar flavor. All I had to do was hang out with my family and eat pizza. And that tasted pretty good to me.
My fast is officially over. I’m interested to see how it will change me. If I will be less entitled, more grateful, more giving. I pray I will be. I also pray I'll turn to Jesus more--for me to turn to my worldly fixes to fill my voids less. Because Jesus is sweeter than chocolate, more revitalizing than caffeine, and quite frankly, as my friend Holly Starr sings, He's "Everything I Need". Because when I decide that I “need” this and I “need” that, I’m truly not the best version of myself. But when I am grateful for the food I have, the roof over my head, the clothes in my closet, my loving family, well then, I can see my true reflection much more clearly.
How about you? Anything you “need” on a daily basis? Have you ever fasted before? How did it work for you? Let me know in the Comments below.
With the new school year, comes a sense of order and routine after the free-flowing days of summer. And each fall, I feel I am expected to be a bit more in control—more in control of what I say, what I wear, how I organize my time, how I manage my money, how I act in public. Being in control most of the time is a very good thing. We shouldn’t shout in libraries, spend more than we make, wear our swimsuits to the office, etc. But sometimes, it’s a very, very good thing to revert, and to let go.
When was the last time you pulled out a box of crayons and drew an imaginary animal or a purple sun? When was the last time you jumped off the diving board or spun someone around in circles in the pool? When was the last time you let out a whoop of excitement in public?
How did it feel? Freeing? Refreshing? Revitalizing?
This summer I took a Zumba class for the first time. Zumba defies letting go of control. I grew up dancing—ballet, high school dance team, and out and out jamming to R.E.M. and New Order at clubs and college parties. But grown women aren’t supposed to shake their hips, do the snake, or wiggle their behinds. Unless, apparently, they’re doing Zumba. The first couple of classes I was like a robot, learning the steps and memorizing the combinations. Somewhere during the third class, I realized when I stopped focusing so hard on getting the footwork right, I could feel the beat, find my groove, and actually do the routines better. But I had to convince myself that it is, after all, okay for a grown woman to shake it (at least in Zumba class). And when I did, it WAS SO MUCH FUN!
Sometimes we need to shake things up to find our groove, do our routines better and experience life more fully. One area I fear I might try to control too much is my faith walk. I go to this church, at this time. I read “this much” of the Bible each morning. I do Bible study on Wednesdays, and do the homework for it at lunchtime when my kids are at school to refocus midday. Which is all great. Because it keeps me in step with God. It keeps me faithful. But what if I redefined walking with Jesus as dancing with Him? What if I let Him spin me and dip me, always trusting Him to catch me, and twirl me back to Him?
What if I shook it up a bit?
What if you did too?
So, I’m challenging myself, and you, to shake up your dance with Jesus this school year. Try a new service, a new station, a new podcast, listen to a different preacher, read a new book, join a new group, pray outside (or inside if you’re usually an outdoor girl), write with a crazy-colored pen in your journal.
Go for a hayride. Eat a caramel apple and don’t worry about the mess. Rake a pile of leaves and then pounce in it. I can’t wait to hear how all of you shake up your school years!
To get your shake-up started, I’m offering my book, It’s Complicated, which just so happens to revolve around four college roommates as they go back to school, for FREE through the end of September. Share with your friends. Click here to download now.
SHAKE UP YOUR GROUP
I’d also love to shake up things in your group by coming to speak to you about how beautiful and beloved you are, because you are made in Christ’s image. Click here to find out more about my speaking. And just message back if you'd like to book a date.
It started out as rain, but as we drove down the winding farmland roads we saw a flash and then felt the tremor of thunder even before we heard it. A summer storm. I flipped my wipers from medium to high, slowing my speed, taking my time. I’m not that strong a driver, so I turned down the radio and chatted lightly with my daughter in the back seat, trying to downplay how tense I was driving in the storm, while straining to maintain focus on my steering.
The winds picked up and there was so much water it was hard to imagine it coming down any harder, until it did. The metallic scent of rain leaked in through miniscule cracks between the windows and their seals.
Then plunk, plunk, the hailstones bounced off our windshield, and our roof, and our trunk. They clattered like a steel drum band, only I didn’t feel like dancing. No, I wanted to be home. I wanted to be cozy in my family room with a vanilla candle burning, but I wasn’t. And it wasn’t safe to drive. And I had precious cargo in the back seat, still chatting away about her soccer practice. I couldn’t go another mile on my own, and I knew it.
So, I pulled over into the park at the side of the road, not under a tree, in case it blew over or lost a branch, but in the middle of the parking lot. The hail still pelted against my SUV and the rain was so torrential we couldn’t see out our windows.
“I’m just going to pull over for a minute and see if the storm settles a bit. I’m going to settle myself a bit too, before we drive on home,” I announced.
“You can stay here as long as you need to, Mom.” Words of wisdom from an eleven-year old.
What’s going on in your life?
Any storms blowing your way?
Maybe it’s just light rain now, or maybe you’re deeper in. Maybe you’ve got a full on thunderstorm rocking your car and hail threatening to crack your windshield.
Because life isn’t perfect. God doesn’t promise that it will be perfect. But He does promise that He’ll stay with you.
And remember, I am with you each and every day until the end of the age." Matthew 28:20
But Jesus can’t stay with you, if you don’t let Him. If you keep going, if you don’t pause to rest, to catch your breath, to regain your calm. If you keep driving into the storm, the storm will shake you. It’s never too late. You can pull over now and now, and yup, there’s still a chance. Pull over now!
In our hectic, over-scheduled lives, it’s like we’re in a race to get to the next destination, even if it’s killing us to do so. Veer to the berm, find a safe spot, and pull over. Inhale Jesus’ love and His grace, His strength and His peace, which is way more fulfilling and satisfying and soothing than anything the world can give you. And when you’re ready, you can start your engine again. There’s no need to fear, because He is with you. All the way.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. John 14:27
What are your little addictions?
Some of mine include: Starbucks, music, nail polish (no chips please, different colors on toes and fingers), exercise (I don’t care with who, or what or when, but I crave it), my phone (sad but true).
What are some of yours?
Maybe your addiction list includes; nachos, getting all A’s, your job, the beach, your sport/instrument/club/activity, Instagram, your best friend, a TV show, fashion, your boy friend…
Our lists could go on and on of the fun little interests, innocent cravings and even important responsibilities and relationships we’re “addicted” to. But when does a passion or interest become an “addiction”? When do these things that fill our minds and hours become modern day idols?
WHEN WE OVERDESIRE THEM.
See, it’s not the desiring that’s a problem. God created coffee beans and cocoa beans and the guy you have a crush on. He created your brain and your body and wants you to use them to glorify Him.
But when our little addictions conflict with or create tension with our family, our wallet, our values, our faith, when our “addiction” becomes more important than God, when we OVERDESIRE it, we’ve got a problem.
How do I mean?
I often plot out my morning to include a stop by my local Starbucks. I love my coffee. I get excited every morning when the aromatic smell wafts towards my nose, when the bold, rich flavor hits my tongue. And this is okay. God wants us to have pleasure, to enjoy this world and this life. He gave me taste buds that are receptive to the flavor of an iced venti with mocha and nonfat milk. But when I skip my quiet time with Him in the morning to make sure I get a coffee, when I’m late getting my kids to school or I show up late to a meeting, because I “needed” a coffee, this is an over desire. This is a problem.
Do you have a friend you adore? Someone who makes you laugh and truly gets you? It’s great to spend time with them, to text them throughout the day about funny things, things you’re stressed about, or to plan adventures or weekends together. But when you lie to someone who’s close to you, so you can go somewhere with that friend or to cover up for that friend, there’s a problem.
See the pattern? So how do we rein in our addictions? How do we keep our pleasant little every day desires from becoming something we obsess over?
First, ask ourselves if we are seeking affirmation from these things we adore. Because we do sometimes, don’t we? We seek affirmation from the coolest nail art to the fastest time on the 10K to the most followers on Twitter. We do. But truly our entire identity, all of our affirmation should come from Christ who created us.
That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original. Gal 5:26 MSG
Once we wrap our arms around this truth, we need to turn it over to Him in prayer.
Once we wrap our arms around this truth, we need to turn it over to Him in prayer.
When I have a morning where going to Starbucks will stretch my wallet, make me late, or cause unnecessary stress as I try to squeeze it into a tight schedule, I can pray, “Jesus, You are the only thing that truly satisfies me. Please let me drink you in this day, and feel you working in and through me. Let me taste Your goodness. Amen.” And then I can brew myself a cup in my Keurig and be thankful.
When your boyfriend or friend wants you to do something that compromises your values -- whether that’s gossiping or drinking or blowing off an assignment, and you’re craving their acceptance, pray something like this, “Please Jesus, I long for companionship, for love. I know that You are my constant companion, that You love me always. Please remind me of that love. Please fill me up with it. Let me realize it is better and fuller and more satisfying than any earthly relationship.”
And then read Bible verses (better yet, memorize a few) that will remind you of these things, that Jesus is enough. That in fact He’s everything we need. That we should crave Him, long for Him, seek Him and seek to please Him, and we will be valued and loved and treasured.
Here are some that help me:
For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made ~Psalm 139:14
God not only loves you very much but also has put His hand on you for something special ~ 1 Thessalonians 1:4
It matters very little to me what you think of me, even less where I rank in popular opinion. I don’t even rank myself. Comparisons in these matters are pointless ~1 Corinthians 4:3
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. ~Galatians 5:1
My characters in my new novel, It’s Addicting, encounter these very types of addictions -- the fun things that seem innocent enough. Follow college roommates Kat, Claire, Hannah and Palmer as they learn, explore, grow, discover and sometimes fall prey to their over desires in this third installment of the Status Updates series.
What about you? Have any addictions you'd like to share?
I’m on spring break in the mountains of North Carolina, and it’s gorgeous. Well, the mountains are spectacular. The weather? Not so much. Forty-four degrees and cloudy isn’t ideal for hiking and cookouts, but our family certainly isn’t going to let a few clouds stop us. So, today, we’re at the indoor pool, swimming and splashing while it rains outside.
At the edge of the indoor pool sits a hot tub, so close to the edge of the pool you can reach out and touch it. Directly above the hot tub is a sign that reads MUST BE 16 OR OLDER TO ENTER HOT TUB.
There are three children, clearly under sixteen, I’m pretty sure under the age of six, whose bodies are in the pool, but they’re dangling their arms into the warm, bubbly cauldron of the hot tub. It’s so tempting. I’m sure their bodies are chilled from the damp week, and how can a warm bubble bath possibly harm them?
I know these are just kids in swimsuits, hair slicked back from the water, but I see Eve staring at that shiny, juicy apple hanging from the limb of a tree.
I know. I know. You’re a great swimmer. You take really hot baths at home. You’ll just be in for a minute. Other kids are in there. You saw them. You eat fruit all the time. You’re allowed to eat every other fruit in the entire garden. What could it hurt? This once? You might really learn something, gain something from it. The pretty serpent said so.
Hot tubs lower your blood pressure, and when you’re under sixteen that can equate to throbbing headaches, dizziness, nausea, even passing out. Passing out in water equals bad. And, we all know what happened to Eve when she ate that ripe piece of fruit.
I’ve experienced Spring Break temptations shouting out from every poolside, restaurant, bar, cute boy, beach, street and hotel first hand. And you don’t have to be on spring break to be surrounded by temptations. They’re everywhere. So wherever you’re headed for spring break, or if you’re on a staycation, or if you’re just in your normal daily routine, you will have opportunities today and tomorrow and the day after that to make good and bad choices. They’ll look fun, interesting, safe enough, potentially exhilarating, dare I say tempting, and like they couldn’t possibly hurt you.
But as someone who’s regretfully eaten a couple of pieces of forbidden fruit in my past, I want to let you know, there isn’t a single dangling apple I’ve ever tasted that didn’t give me a terrible “stomachache” not to mention remorse. Rules exist for reasons. We’re not ready to drive until we’re 16 or drink alcohol until we’re 21. There are speed limits and number of people in a room limits and city limits all for good reasons, even when we can’t see what they are.
God is strong and He wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use, so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. Eph 6: 10-11
Look for the signs that say, “warning,” “attention,” “caution”. They aren’t always in print or mounted on walls, but they’re usually pretty visible. Listen to God’s voice. Do your temptations contradict His word, what He’s called you to do? If so, you might want to think twice before you dive in or reach up.
Where are you headed for Spring Break? Do you think you’ll run into any temptations?
With the end of summer and the start of fall, there seem to be an overwhelming number of picnics and cookouts. Celebrating everything from team victories, to pool closings, Labor Day and new school years. All of them have one thing in common. Food.
Food is something my family loves.
But we have issues.
You see, both of my sons are gluten free, one of my daughters and my youngest son both have nut allergies and my oldest daughter and I don’t eat red meat. Talk about high maintenance! We’re picky and hard to feed, for various reasons, but mainly, so we can all stay healthy and safe.
We recently attended a cookout that was lovely. Our entire family had fun playing corn hole and chatting with friends, but we came home HUNGRY. How could that be? Because of our dietary needs, there wasn’t much for any of us to eat that was “safe”. When we got home, and I scoured the fridge for something to serve, I couldn’t help laughing and thinking this is exactly how it is living life in this world as a Christian.
We go about enjoying this life, attending school, work, sporting events, concerts, and yes, even cookouts, with everybody else. But we’re pickier, and sometimes can’t take part in what everyone else is consuming. I mean we could, but we’d end up not feeling well, off balanced, nauseous, or out of sorts. The cafeteria line of life is full of tempting choices; music and movies, magazines and word choice, what we say about others, how we treat others, how we treat and talk about ourselves. Some of these dishes are tasty – like gossip, but leave a bad aftertaste. Some of them, like listening to Toby Mac (instead of Drake) are like dark chocolate – hard to believe it’s good for you, so delish. And others are more like carrots, not the most popular choice, but crunchy and good for the way we see things. What if we all filled our plates with these choices everyday?
Don’t get me wrong. Christians don’t need to fast through life, but we do need to be picky as we go through the buffet line, for our own safety.
So roll up your sleeves, put your mind in gear, be totally ready to receive the gift that’s coming when Jesus arrives. Don’t lazily slip back into those old grooves of evil, doing just what you feel like doing. You didn’t know any better then; you do now. As obedient children, let yourselves be pulled into a way of life shaped by God’s life, a life energetic and blazing with holiness. 1 Peter 1:13-16 MSG
Sometimes this is awkward. Sometimes it’s downright difficult. It's usually uncomfortable. “How would you like your burger cooked?” is a difficult question to answer if you’re vegetarian. You don’t want to offend the host. Yet, you know the hamburger goes against your values.
How about this one…
“You have got to try the brownies, they are the best thing ever!”
You want the brownie. It’s gooey and chocolatey. You’re sick of having to pass up on all the “good stuff” because you’re gluten free, and even sicker of having to tell everyone you’re gluten free. But you know if you eat it you’ll have stomach cramps for days.
When we’re at the picnic of life, what should we do when someone says, “You have got to see Hangover 7, here I burned a copy for you.”? How do we react when a friend suggests to eat at the back table in the dining hall, so Katelyn, the clingy girl can’t find you?
As Christians we are encouraged to take the things that are good for us, and leave the things that aren’t in their serving dishes and crock pots. If that means leaving the party a little hungry, that’s okay. We can always go home and find something that satisfies our cravings. Christ will fill us up with love, strength and courage--all of the things that make us truly fulfilled.
What’s your favorite cookout food?
When I was on my high school’s dance team, our motto was “Teamwork Makes It Happen”. Not very catchy, but there’s a lot of truth in that phrase. On dance team it wasn’t about an individual’s abilities, it was about dancing in sync, together. The perfect example was the kick line. Everyone’s kicks had to be the exact same height, so it appeared as if one giant leg was going up then down, while the other giant leg followed suit. Shorter girls had to stand on tiptoes to make their legs reach. Uber flexible girls actually had to lower their kicks to line up with the team.
Have you ever been part of a softball team? A play? A fundraiser? If so, you know the risks of putting yourself out there. You’ve had to rely on others. You understand the challenges of working collectively for a common good.
I haven’t been in a kick line for a looooonnnnggg time, but this past fall I was invited to be on a team to launch a new line of young adult fiction books. By now, you’ve probably heard me chat about Playlist Fiction. Ever wonder what authors talk about when they get together? Everything, really. But recently, one of the other Playlist authors, Laura Kurk, and I were chatting about the excitement and uncertainty of banding together to create something new. Here’s an inside peek at our conversation.
LS: I remember when our agent suggested forming a team of authors to launch a new line, to include your novels, my novels, Jennifer Murgia’s latest title, Stephanie Morrill’s newest book and debut author Rajdeep Paulus. I know what was going through my mind. What was on yours?
LK: Writing is a lonely profession. It takes physical, emotional, and spiritual boundaries to maintain the integrity of our thoughts and ideas while we work.
I’m usually okay with this, being an introverted soul. But sometimes I feel too alone. I’ve dreamed of having a team of like-minded people who would offer support, guidance, and friendship. I said yes, without hesitation.
LS: Me too. It was an incredible idea to have a support network within the solitude, to not have to go these books alone. But there was still a major unknown. None of us had worked together. All of our writing styles were a little different. What were your concerns?
LK: The same all students have when they hear the dreaded words, “Group Project.” I was always the kid who took on the biggest part—because I wanted the project done right. But, it turns out, I think we were all the kids who took on the majority of the work for group projects.
LS: So, was that because we were overachievers, or because we enjoyed writing essays?
LK: Ha! Both. But the great thing about our team is we overachieve for each other. I’ve never really been on a team, so this is my first experience with seeing other people sacrifice their time and talent for each other. It’s overwhelming. Makes me wish I had played t-ball or something.
LS: T-ball was not my best experience. Let’s just say I sat the bench. A writing team uniform fits me way better. I think the two major factors that have led to the success of our team are communication and a common desire to succeed as a whole.
LK: We’ve avoided any of us carrying all the weight.
L S: Right. We share it. Our communication from the get-go was key. Remember the dozens of emails about expectations and content for the line?
LK: Back and forth, plus the conference calls. We agreed on a mission and a feel. We agreed our books would be unique, real, and match the rhythm of our readers’ lives. We incorporated that into everything from our plot lines to the Playlist Fiction website.
LS: And once we identified ourselves, we all took responsibilities based on our strengths. You developed our Twitter account. Jennifer worked with the designer. Rajdeep created the count down graphics and manages our Playlist fan mail. And what would we do without Stephanie who writes the newsletter and runs all the spreadsheets? It was remarkable to watch everyone play to her areas of expertise. We had all poured ourselves into our novels. We longed for them to reach readers who would identify with our characters and gravitate to our plots. The more readers engaged with the Playlist Fiction brand overall, the more opportunities we had to touch those readers.
LK: We were all invested.
LS: All for one and one for all. What hopes did you have for the team?
LK: I hoped I would develop relationships with people who shared my faith and my goals. I hoped for friends who would understand why writing is spiritually fulfilling for me, and who would hold me accountable with the words I choose. We’re not just a team. We’ve found friendship, validation, accountability, a louder voice, a bigger splash. We’re even prayer warriors.
LS: It’s awesome isn’t it? It’s powerful for me to see how much stronger we are together than alone. But when you gain something, you tend to give something up. What did you sacrifice to be part of a team verses publishing your novels under a solo contract?
LK: I think there’s a misconception that publishing solo with an existing publisher means you can sit back. Authors have to market themselves constantly, so the team has been a blessing. The sacrifices I’ve made have been easy. The amount of work we’ve done to build recognition for this debut line of fiction has been mind-blowing. We’ve worked a lot of late nights.
LS: Which resulted in a lot of late night e-mails. Some of them made me laugh so hard I almost peed my pants. Others brought tears to my eyes. We swapped lyrics from everything from the Mickey Mouse Club House theme song to old Depeche Mode tunes. We shared stories about our siblings and children, admitted indulgences and weaknesses. We became good friends.
LK: I love how we support one another. Often you see writers who grab attention, because attention translates into sales. Our team members are more concerned with making sure we all find success. We work like this because we believe in the message of hope and healing we each have for our audience. We write for young adults. We found each other because we all felt there was a lack of hopeful fiction for teens.
LS: I’m praying we’ll provide some of that much needed hope.
LK: I believe we are. But despite the encouragement from one another, it does take maturity to keep this team in tact.
LS: Definitely. All teams do. None of us can be scorekeepers. We can’t say, “she did this and she didn’t do that while I did this.” Just like soccer player can’t say, “I scored and she missed my pass and she should have stolen that ball.” Each author has the integrity to give our team her personal best. As a team, we respect and honor the time and way we each achieve this. On any given day one author could be promoting the line, while another is dealing with family issues and yet another is frantically editing her next novel. The following week those roles can and do switch. What’s beautiful is how much we lean on one another, draw from one another, learn from one another. Like you said at the beginning, writing can be a lonely endeavor. But our team offers a community to share the writing journey.
Jesus didn’t leave one disciple high and dry to share the gospel. He introduced them to one another, had them dine together, travel together, so when it was time for Him to ascend, the disciples were prepared to work as a team. I believe God brought our Playlist Fiction team together to share the stories He’s put in our hearts.
Are you part of a team? How do you think God’s equipped you to be an important team member?
I recently had a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle marathon with a six-year old. Granted I knew who the turtles were, some kind of super heroes who ate pizza and shouted, “Cowabunga!” But, I’d never actually watched an episode.
The thing about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is—they mutate.
Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello and Michelangelo began as four ordinary turtles in the sewer system of New York City, but after coming in contact with OOZE they mutated into these cool ninja-like heroes and were named after Italian painters. But the problem with OOZE is it doesn’t always have positive effects.
There is an episode (trust me, I watched eight in a row) where the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles mutate into creepish, monster-like versions of themselves. Instead of bringing peace they bring destruction. Instead of working together (“turtle power”) they attack one another.
I find myself mutating sometimes too. I don’t have to come in contact with TGRI (the chemical nickname for the OOZE) to turn into a monstrous version of myself. All it takes is something small and quirky. It might be the train gates clanging shut just as I approach, followed by the longest cargo train ever crossing the tracks to mutate me from my smiley self to an impatient grouch. Or if I spill my dark roast with mocha down the front of my white shirt, I mutate from feeling stylin’ to feeling like an ugly beast and growling a bit for good measure. If I hear a friend has been talking behind my back, I mutate into someone with a hole in my gut, who snaps and says unkind things in return.
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles needed fragments of Vortex Crystal to stabilize their mutations. I need The Word.
Snub evil and cultivate good; run after peace for all you’re worth 1 Peter 3: 11
I read that, and I’m a bit less monstrous. I feel more comfortable in my own shell and don’t’ feel the need to bad-talk those who have bad-talked me.
OR Our God gives you everything you need, makes you everything you’re to be
2 Thessalonians 1:2
And then I’m less grouchy, less negative and less worried if I’m late for a meeting or have dark brown spots down my blouse.
God’s Word reminds me I am not alone, I am loved, I am capable, God will give me strength and stand by my side. I can breathe deeply, shake it off, cross the tracks, take a sip and walk proud, knowing I am stabilized.
Only the Vortex Crystal can save the turtles? What stabilizes you?
I decided to start this blog as a way for me to work out some of the things going on in my head. Like my eating disorder. Somehow it seems less harmful if I say “eating disorder” like my doctor does, instead of ANOREXIA or BULIMIA which sound so vulgar and catastrophic. But the words “eating disorder” also make what’s going on with me sound so sterile and almost insignificant. Which it’s not! Because even though I’m “on the path of recovery”, I’m guessing I’ll never be normal about food again. I can’t look at a cheeseburger or a Cadbury egg without calculating fat grams and calories. I’m not allowed to diet, because it could spin into something ugly. So, even though I look normal, or at least normalish, I’m still eating, but trying to make that not be way too much food or way not enough food. It’s complicated!
Then there’s my boyfriend, Beau, who’s not actually my boyfriend because even though he says he likes me and I’m nutso over him, his parents say we can’t date. Well, we couldn’t date during basketball season. You guessed it, he’s a basketball player. As of last weekend, the season is officially over. So, we’re allowed to date again, only we’ve been on this break the last few months, so we don’t know what to do, how to do this dating thing. Sometimes I don’t know how to act around him – like how much of myself to reveal or how cool to try and act. But I’m completely mesmerized by him, and well, it’s a mess.
I also need to talk about God, because even though I know He’s always been there for me, I was ignoring Him, and that turned out to be a major mistake. I almost lost my friends, my slot on dance team (which is where I truly feel alive), Beau, everything, because I thought I could do it all by myself. I figured out the hard way, the ultra hard way that I can’t do everything by myself. I’m not even supposed to. God wants me to depend on Him. And, as long as I do my part, which means trying my hardest to be the best Melissa Rollins I can be, and talk to Him about it, He’ll take care of the rest. It sounds easy, and I’m really trying, but some days are harder than others.
So, I have to trust. Trust that I’ll figure out all this stuff about food and boys and God and somehow maintain good grades and keep my dance coach happy. Like I said before, it’s impossible to do it alone. But, I do believe, with God all things are possible.
Philippians 4:13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!
Melissa Rollins is juggling all the balls in the air; dance team, freshman year of high school, new girl friends, a new boyfriend, grades. And it's all going quite well, it always has, until there are too many balls in the air to juggle anymore. She feels like her life is spinning out of control. How can Melissa be accepted and appreciated when there are so many pressures to be perfect? How can she gain back a little bit of that control?
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