Are you a Prince fan?
In high school there were so many mornings as I was getting ready, when I popped a Prince cassette into my jam box (80’s girl), cranked up the volume, and sang along at the top of my lungs. I’m sure my parents loved that.
Tragically, it was confirmed this week that the cause for Prince’s death on April 21 was a drug overdose. Tragic, because Prince was so talented, so young, and apparently, so very unhappy.
Prince seemingly had it all. All those things we wish for? All those things we dream about—that we think would make life idyllic? He achieved so many of them. Have you ever said…
If only I could play an instrument.
If only someone would notice me.
If only I could sing.
If only I could dance.
If only people found me attractive.
If only money wasn’t a problem.
If only I could get a record deal.
If only I could be in a movie.
If only I could be on the cover of a magazine.
If only I were famous.
If only I could win a Grammy award.
If only I could play the Super Bowl.
If only I had millions of dollars.
Items on our bucket lists Prince achieved. But despite being able to play 27 instruments, winning seven Grammy awards, an Academy Award, selling over 100 million records worldwide, being considered one of the greatest guitarists of all time, living in a palatial multi-million dollar estate, Paisley Park, Prince died alone. He wasn’t happy. He wasn’t content. Because he was missing something.
See, we’re all born with a longing in our hearts—a longing to be loved, accepted, recognized, to use the gifts and talents we’ve been given in a way that will make a difference, get us noticed, earn us applause. This is not a bad thing. This is truly how we were created. God longs for us to seize the day and live life to the absolute fullest. But no matter how much we achieve, there is only one thing that can truly satisfy this longing. This one thing will satiate us completely when nothing else will.
All these worldly things—popularity, fame, money, success—give us a temporary thrill, a temporary high. But the next day we’ll want more. One gig, or sale, or tournament win, or A on our report cards, or client, or heart on Instagram, as we all know, is great, but it’s never enough. Because once we have one, another one looks awfully sweet, and we crave more. Not only will we want more, but our coaches and teammates will be counting on us for another point, our bosses will be looking to us for another deal, and (I speak from experience) our agents will be expecting more book sales.
And although our accomplishments should be celebrated (as we talked about in last week’s blog), none of those things will fulfill us; they aren’t truly what we crave, as Prince could have told us. Author Matthew Kelly says, “You can never have enough of something you don’t need.” But there is one thing that will make us feel full and complete. One person whose applause is constant and counts for everything. Jesus.
Jesus made you and me and Prince and Morris Day. He made us exactly who we are. And when we live a life in relationship with Him, talking to Him, trusting in Him, turning our problems and cares and worries and mistakes and victories and triumphs all over to Him, then not only does Jesus cheer more loudly and clearly than a thousand retweets or a thousand fans, but His acceptance of us for who we are, for who He created us to be is, all we need. Jesus totally satisfies our cravings, fills the empty hole inside that seems to be always longing for something more. Jesus’ love is what we were created to seek. It is His applause we were made to pursue. Because it is completely gratifying. And when we allow Jesus’ love to surround us—we don’t need another anything else, we have everything we need.
I’ve ridden in a limousine once. It was my grandfather-in-laws 90th birthday. The champagne cork was popped at the last three graduation parties of members of my husband’s family. See, there’s something my father-in-law taught me, and that is the importance of celebrating the big stuff.
He was behind the limo and the champagne. He was the one who didn’t just give up smoking, but wrapped up the last pack of cigarettes he ever bought, the unfinished pack that marked his decision to quit, and gave it to his dad for a birthday present. He was the one that when our first baby was born, grabbed my mother in law, hopped a plane from Cincinnati to Atlanta, a train from Hartsfield airport to the hospital and arrived within moments of her birth. My father-in-law, Rick, knew that the high points in life are rare, and deserved to not only be celebrated, but to be celebrated with flair, with a bang!
This is the time of year when the number of celebrations seems a bit overwhelming. There are graduations from everything from preschool to grad school. There seem to be countless parties, and thankfully sheet cake (man I love sheet cake, especially the corner pieces laden with frosting). Tis the season for ballet recitals, guitar recitals, art shows, baseball and softball tournaments, end of school year carnivals, festivals, and class parties. Not to mention, June is the month for weddings.
But don’t let the number of events lessen the importance of any of these events. Diplomas don’t come easily. There are countless pages of homework, flips of flash cards, problems solved, essays written and rewritten, study sessions that go into that piece of paper. Recitals are fun to watch, but they are a fleeting demonstration of the hours of rehearsing that go into the final performance.
My son graduated from 8th grade last night. He has spent the last nine years in his grade school with the same group of kids. During those years he’s gone from reading Jack and Annie to John Green. Moved from playing Old MacDonald on the piano to Ed Sheeran on the guitar. He’s also grown about four feet taller. So, yes, we went out to dinner, took tons of pics, and I made cheesecake, because it’s his favorite.
But there are other things we need to celebrate, too. Learning how to ride a bike, getting a driver’s license, mastering a headstand, finishing a major project—the work that went into it, the obedience to see it to completion, the satisfaction of typing “the end” or pushing send or turning it in or zooming through the neighborhood on wheels. We should take time to celebrate an acceptance of a new job, an award or scholarship, a position on a team, because it signifies an intentional “yes” to move forward to take the next step.
There are so many go to the grocery days, mow the lawn days, crank out the edits days, work an extra shift days, run one more lap days. So on the oh-my-goodness-this-is-so-exciting-days we need to celebrate.
This is the day the Lord has made;
We will rejoice and be glad in it. Psalm 118:24 NKJV
How you celebrate is truly up to you, but do it big, do it grand. Don’t just tell your family about the job offer you’d been waiting for at the breakfast table as everyone is grabbing their granola bars and dispersing for the day. It’s not braggadocios to say, “I’ve been working on this for months and I can finally play the song, got my article published, broke my record, or completed the marathon.” The people who adore you will want to congratulate you. Let them. This is a chance to revel in the ways God is faithful, in the times He helped you push through the walls, kept you keeping on.
Don’t just type an email to your sister who finished her final class for her masters program or to your girlfriend who got engaged. You don’t need to send a town car or pour the bubbly, but you do need to do something special—something that signifies how awesome it is that she was faithful and used the gifts and talents God endowed her with or that God is faithful and brought the person into her life she’s been waiting for.
Think through who achieved what and then put some thought into how to celebrate. You could treat someone to a meal or a cup of coffee. You could make a poster, decorate their front door, write congratulations with washable paint on their car windows. Do they like music? Block out their calendar and take them to a free concert in the park or grab their phone when they’re not looking and download some new tunes onto it that you’re pretty sure they’ll love (pay with your Apple account of course). Do you have a green thumb? Plant flowers in their window box. Do they love to cook? Tie a bow on a fresh pot of live basil for them to snip all summer. Did they finish a really exhausting season where they gave it their all. Make cupcakes with frosting in their team colors. Be you. Be original. Be sensitive to the person you’re celebrating (if they hate crowds, please don’t throw them a giant surprise party). But do revel in life’s milestones and accomplishments.
God created this day. He’s the one who brought you or the person you adore this far. He gave each and every one of us skills and drive and motivation and time and resources and maybe even a few lucky breaks to get us where we are. And God created us to rejoice. So don’t do it half-heartedly. Be all in and go all out for your celebrations. There are plenty of days, but this Day, this one deserves something extra special. Rejoice in it.
You may have noticed there was no True Reflections blog last week. I missed you all, but I was taking a break. I was resting. When was the last time you rested?
I mean really rested. For more than five minutes? When was the last time you turned off your phone, sat, gazed, breathed, and didn’t look at the clock for hours on end?
“When could I possibly,” you ask? I ask myself that sometimes, too—like all the times. This weekend our calendar includes dinner with friends, eleven soccer games (three of which are out of town), a graduation, church, a wedding, a visit with my mom, and a team meeting. It is physically impossible for us to get to all of these things.
But we’ll try.
And then we’ll be full and happy and connected and stimulated and… exhausted! I think for most of us in today’s world, this is a typical snapshot of a day-in-the-life.
And I am so grateful this is my life, because I love my friends, kids, and family. But it is impossible to maintain this kind of momentum. I didn’t even mention the fact that we should try to squeeze in eating, bathing, and sleeping somewhere in the mix. So how do we find rest in the midst of mayhem (awesome mayhem, but mayhem none the less)?
We have to be intentional.
We need to schedule down time just as intentionally as we plan workouts or conference calls. There are two kinds of rest that we need to make time for:
Both are critical to our mental and physical wellbeing, but it is the latter that I’m talking about here. The get away from it all, put your phone away too (crazy, I know but so freeing), let your brain and all the thoughts in it, your heart rate and your body s-l-o-w down.
Remember, God created Sabbath. He wasn’t exhausted when He created the world, He is God, so it didn’t tax or stress Him. At all. But when He was done, God invented the day off to teach us that all good work needs to be followed by rest. God’s creation of Sabbath was just as important as His creation of land and sea, animals and plants. He knew what we sometimes forget—without rest, we can’t process all the great stuff that happens during the busy times.
By the seventh day God had finished his work.
On the seventh day He rested from all his work.
God blessed the seventh day. He made it a Holy Day
Because on that day he rested from his work, All the creating God had done. Genesis 2: 2-4
As Priscilla Shirer says in her book, Breathe, “In the midst of a universe that cannot exist for a second without constant motion, God transcended the order of nature. He stopped. He rested. And He prescribes the same for you and me.”
My husband and I just got back from one of these brilliantly, spectacular slow downs. We escaped to my mom’s place in the mountains for a couple of days while my incredible mother stayed with our kiddos. In the mountains it’s next to impossible to get a signal. There’s no cable. There’s not even a coffee shop (don’t panic, we packed our Nespresso). However there are breath-taking mountains, a still lake, winding walking trails, the sound of birds singing, and Brett and I had each other. We spent our time walking and talking, sharing, reading the Bible, watching Nicholas Sparks movies, cooking delicious food, listening to a great sermon series, and just staring out at the view.
And in this time and space my husband and I exhaled. Together, we exchanged stories that in our whirl and swirl of daily life had never surfaced. We shared hopes and aspirations. We listened to and worked out each other’s issues, stresses, concerns. And we took time by ourselves, too. I journaled about where I’ve been this past year and where I’m headed. I made plans, jotted down goals, dreamed.
Amazingly, when my life wasn’t so noisy—and I just don’t mean actual noise, but the noise of busyness and distraction—I could hear more clearly. I could hear my husband more crisply. Without the clutter in my brain, I could hear God’s voice reminding me how much He loves me, how much peace He offers, how He’s got my life safely guarded in His hands. When I’m too busy, it’s harder to find time to hear His voice. But in the stillness it surrounded me. And it reminded me of my true reflection, that I am a daughter of Christ.
It’s summertime folks. And that can mean trips and camps and conferences and getting caught up on all the things we don’t get to during the other parts of the year. But it is also a time where it may be easier to carve out some space to just be. Whether you take one personal day or a handful of vacation days, I urge you to find a beautiful spot—a rooftop, a dock, a field of wildflowers, a beach, a park bench with a peaceful view—and sit and unplug and rest and unwind and breathe and listen. Take time off. You don't just deserve it. You need it. It's part of what God created you to do. And if you're worried about what will happen to all of the items on your to do list while you're taking time off, I promise, God has them under control. He's got you covered. I also promise you will not regret resting.
Do you have any plans to unwind this summer? I’d love to hear about them in the comments section below.
Do you know that old Rod Stewart song, “Every Picture Tells A Story (Don’t It)”? I’m understanding more and more that every person has a story, and they’ll tell it to you, and it will blow you away. All you have to do is ask.
I recently experienced an amazing event in Nashville called STORY. The experience was filled with presenters sharing their stories and inspiring attendees to explore and share theirs. Abigail Washburn the Mandarin speaking, banjo playing woman from Illinois, who just returned from a tour along the Great Wall of China with Yo Yo Ma was a stand in for a sick presenter. What? This was the sub?
And Jeremy Cowart, celebrity photographer who has taken photos of everyone from the Pope to the Kardashians to Sting, yet uses his celebrity to launch amazing humanitarian projects such as Help-Portrait, which offers free portraits to people who have never had their picture taken, and campaigns in Haiti, Rwanda, and Uganda to raise awareness of the devastation these people have endured and funding to help them rebuild. This guy was the guy who struggled through high school. This was the guy whose mantra growing up was, “I can’t”. But his parents repeated to him, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” (Phil 4:13). A reminder of truth that WE CAN, despite what the world tells us, despite what our achievement tests score us. Look what he’s become! Think what you can become.
Jon Guerra appeared on stage plucking his acoustic guitar and breaking into a soulful melody “We are stained it’s true, but when Your light shines through, we all look like stained glass windows to You.” And there was the lady who played the bassoon and the woman I bumped into at an after party in a warehouse who made a cotton candy tree full of wishes. And James Rhodes, world renowned classical pianist and composer, who played Chopin so beautifully it made me weep, then proceeded to share openly his story of being sexually abused as a child and how music saved him.
Not to mention the fact my sweet friend who I attended Story with and I, stayed up late in an artsy Nashville hotel wearing our pj’s watching Taylor Swift videos. We all have stories.
I could go on and on. But you get the idea. Stories. We all have them. Each and every human being was knitted together in our mother’s wombs (Psalm 139:14) by God, our Creator, with skills and fears, hopes and hiccups, weaknesses and joys, leaps and bounds, whispers and screams. And God takes all of those marvelous little details and writes our stories. It’s like an Encyclopedia Brown mystery, in that God gives us the opportunity to choose if the hero (you or me) will pick A or B, will they give up or keep going, will they try harder or stop trying, will she dream bigger, smile broader, take a different path when the first one is blocked? Will he or she trust in the Author of their story for a happy ending even when the villain seems menacing and the tornado is twisting and they’re locked in a closet? Will they tap into the courage and peace their God has to offer? Will you?
What’s your story? What’s the story of the person next to you, the one you’ve never talked to, the kid who sits in the back of class, or the woman on the far side of church, or the person who always shows up late and leaves a minute early at boot camp? Are you willing to ask them? Are you willing to share yours? Because when we hear other people’s stories, we see their true reflections, often for the first time. And when we share ours, we let other people see ours. And they are all beautiful.
I have always loved music. Always.
Growing up, every cupboard, shelf and rack in our home was filled with the records my dad collected. I’d memorized the Wizard of Oz soundtrack before I could ride a bike and learned most of the lyrics to the entire Beatles catalogue before entering junior high. I still listen to music when I’m freaked out, chilling, excited, tired, pumped up, worked up, working out, baking, driving, you name it. And, I always sing along. Always.
Unfortunately, for those around me, I’m not that strong a singer. That fact hasn’t dampened my love of music, not one little bit.
A couple of years ago I attended a Chris Tomlin concert. In the middle of the show, Chris Tomlin took a break and Louie Giglio came on stage and spoke. It was a-mazing, and at the time, I’d never experienced anything like it. The mixed media of an inspirational singer with an inspirational speaker, well, it spoke to me.
Being a speaker myself, a thought, like a single brightly colored thread, wove itself through my brain. "What a cool way to speak," I thought, “as part of a concert, you know a ‘we interrupt this fantastic concert for a word about how much God loves you,’ and then ‘back to our regularly scheduled program’.” But the thread was thin, and my brain was packed.
A few months later Holly Starr, a Christian recording artist I’d gotten to know via Twitter was cruising through Ohio. We connected while she was in town, and I instantly felt like God sent her into my life for a reason. Her songs were beautiful and powerful, but even more incredible than her music was her faith. She shared with me how she became inspired to become a worship leader after seeing a Chris Tomlin show! WOW! Another thread, a thicker one, more coarse and tactile, wove its way through my mind and intertwined with the first, what if Holly sang and I spoke?
I’m blown away by how God prepares us, how intricate and well thought out and executed His plans are. Because, in just two weeks, Holly and I will be doing just that. We are thrilled to be sharing the message that our true identity is in in Christ – not from how much money we make, or what we drive, or how many followers or likes we have, not from what brand of shoes we wear, or how fast or strong we are, or what size we wear. The reality is, we were made in God’s image, meaning we are exactly as we are supposed to be, and we are perfect in His eyes.
Our sponsor, Sisterhood Magazine, helps us present the Through My Father’s Eyes Tour. Those two idea strands, the two seemingly random ideas, God has woven them into beautiful fabric.
We’d love to have you join us in this celebration. If you live near Bismarck, ND, we’ll be at Calvary Chapel at 7:00 PM on September 13. If you live near Ames, Iowa, we’ll be at First United Methodist Church at 6:30 PM on September 20. We’ll also be on the Finding Balance webinar together October 7 from 12:30 PM – 2:00 PM . Holly and I still have a few openings mid-September if your church or organization would like to partner with us in sharing this important message of true beauty.
After all of these years of singing to myself I can actually say, “I’m going on tour.” I promise you I won’t sing. Cool how God works. Always.
What’s your first memory of music?
Life is full of choices. This morning you probably had to decide what to wear, what to eat for breakfast, and what music to listen to while you were getting ready.
You may have noticed, as you get older, the choices you make will have a greater impact on yourself and on others. Some of your decisions are more difficult, have more serious outcomes, like what school to attend, which classes to take, who to hang out with, should you date, what should you do when your friends make bad choices and so many more.
Will you make the right choices?
To make the right choices you need to equip yourself. There is an incredible free resource for teens and their parents to help guide you through some of these decisions through faith based living. It’s aptly named Choose Now. Choose Now discusses relevant topics including; FRIENDSHIPS and DREAMING BIG and GIRL TALK and DATING and FITNESS and HOLLYWOOD and BEAUTY, but not just about those things, but about how we make the right choices in all of those areas, the choices God longs for us to make, the choices that honor Him. Choose Now has columns by some of my favorite writer friends like Laura Kurk, Nicole O’Dell, Stephanie Morrill and Bethany Jett and podcasts discussing everything from frenemies to Spring Break from the latest nail polish colors to sex.
“If you’ve gotta start sometime why not now, if you’ve got to choose somewhere why not here?” Toby Mac
I’ve been blessed to be writing a column on Choose Now about True Beauty, one of my favorite subjects, for over a year. But as a result of me being a part of this ministry, I’ve been blessed by the insights of all of the other contributors. It’s too great a resource to keep to myself. I know too many young women and their parents who are grappling with all of these same issues. So if you’re a teen searching for answers or a parent of a teen longing to give her personal space, but also wanting to guide her in positive decision-making, this is a site you’ve got to check out. You owe it to yourself.
Here’s the link that will get you to all these free resources in one great place.
And if you like what you see, how this ministry guides teens and their parents to follow Christ’s plans for us, to embrace His love and the roles He’s given us, to stand up for what we believe in and the promises He gave us, here’s how you can help further this ministry.
FURTHER THIS MINISTRY BECAUSE REAL LIFE HAPPENS
What decisions are you facing today? How do you plan to choose?
Wise men. Kings. Magi. The story of these men amazes me. But as with anyone, what truly blows me away is not what they did, but what God did through them.
What do we know about these majestic gift bearers? We refer to them as kings. They were revered like kings and wealthy like kings. They dressed and traveled like kings, but truthfully, they were of the scholarly order of Magi. This means they were highly educated men in the field of astrology, revered in their towns. When they came and spoke, large crowds gathered. Their nuggets of wisdom would have been tweeted and retweeted and posted and pinned.
We depict them as a trio. But the Bible only states three gifts; it doesn’t mention how many people brought them. Who’s to say a few of them didn’t go in on the gold? It was pretty pricey, after all. We’ve even assigned names to them; Gaspar, Balthazar, and Melchior, which if your going to give great men names, why not give them great names?
These magi left their families and friends and the communities that looked up to them to travel for what scholars say took up to two years. They invested riches to hire the caravan necessary to tend to their animals, prepare their meals and travel with them. They didn’t have a map. They didn’t even have Siri to tell them to turn left at the third sand dune. That’s one heck of a road trip. All to see a new king, they’d never even met.
Their faith is awe-inspiring.
But as I said, it’s not what the magi did that blows me away, but what God did through them.
1000 years before they tied their saddlebags on their camels, the Psalmist in Psalm 72:10 -11 wrote: May the kings of Tarshish and of the coastlands render him tribute; may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts! May all kings fall down before him, all nations serve him!
And 700 years before they gift-wrapped the frankincense with the perfect bow, the prophet Isaiah wrote in 60:6 A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall bring good news, the praises of the Lord.
That means God had it all planned out. Down to the most intricate detail. He knew where the wise men needed to come from, where they would be going, what they would need to pack and how they would get there. All they had to do was follow the star.
This is so mind boggling; because it means God does the same thing for you and for me. Centuries before we were born He had created plans for us. Not just any plans, but plans to prosper. Like the prophet Jeremiah says.
What lies ahead for you in 2014? What uncertainties lay in your heart? Are you freaking out about how you did on exams? Trying to decide what to major in? Wondering if you’ll start in your next game? Are you in a relationship and wondering if it’s time to take it to a higher level, or maybe to end it all together? Are you not in a relationship and wondering if you’ll ever find a soul mate? Maybe you’re moving and frightened of the unknown? Or panicked about an internship or job search?
No worries. God’s got this. All of it.
And not just the big picture stuff, but all of the intricate details.
He’s had it all planned out for hundreds of years. He knows where you’re coming from, where you’re going, what you need to bring with you and how you’ll get there. He’ll even give you all of the resources you need to make the journey.
All you have to do is follow the star.
The star that is Christ Jesus.
Last Friday we hosted a dinner for ten Fulbright Scholars from Afghanistan. Not your typical Friday night in our house.
My husband is a professor and was running a workshop for 70 Afghan scholars last week. Part of the weeklong visit was a dinner in an American home. We were blessed to be chosen as one of the host families (my husband running the program certainly helped).
Eight men and two women who all speak English, who all have graduated from college in Afghanistan, who all are in the United States for a two year master’s degree in various areas of expertise at Universities all across the states (ranging from the state of Washington to Washington D.C.), who all have been handpicked by the U.S. Department of State to receive these prestigious scholarships shook hands with me, my four kids and my hubby, thanked us graciously for the simple dinner of pasta and salad and shared their stories.
I specifically wanted to speak to the women. They were physically captivating with their olive coloring, large, dark eyes, and thick black hair. But these women blew me away with their inner beauty. One was a dentist in her homeland. She’s come to the States to get a Master’s in Public Health Policy, so she can return to Afghanistan and create better health care policies for her people. The other left home for the first time in her life to pursue her MBA in Finance in Rochester, New York, with dreams of helping non-profit rescue missions with their finances. One said, “I’ve been dreaming of this day since my first year of high school. I worked so hard for this scholarship.”
Yes she did. In a country where men and women are not treated equally, where education and employment opportunities for women pale in comparison to what men are empowered to do, these women fought the odds and went against what was expected of them achieving what some perceived as unachievable.
I take the fact that my daughter attends high school for granted. And living in a college town, it seems the opportunity to attend college is readily available. Needless to say, I was overwhelmed. These women will live for two years in a foreign land, away from their family and their food and their culture, speaking a second language, relying on buses to get them from small apartments to classes, to chase their dreams—dreams of hope and of change.
That kind of bravery in dream chasing deserves to be noticed. So, whatever dream you’re tossing around in your head today, think to yourself:
· Would I move to a country on the other side of the world to fulfill it?
· Would I leave family and friends and the familiarity of my culture to fight for it?
· Would I work years and years to achieve it?
If it burns that deeply in your heart, chase that dream with full force and enthusiasm. Light up the sky with the sparkling firework of your dream. And look to the example of these women as inspiration.
What's your dream?
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 can begin again.” New Year’s Day by U2
I spent New Year’s Day 2013 soaking in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.
Barely visible amidst Elvis’ outlandish purple Cadillac with “EP” blazed on every seat cushion, tire and door (no lie), John Lennon’s neon green silk Sergeant Pepper’s uniform and Katy Perry’s memorable peppermint dress were my two favorite artifacts in the multi level, glass pyramid of a museum (a copy of the Louvre in Paris).
My favorites weren’t bright or shiny or glitzy or even psychedelic, like all the items I believe rock stars own and save and cherish. They were small and flat and plain. They were rejection letters.
As a writer I get my share of rejection letters. You might think looking at others’ rejections would be torture. But, actually it’s the opposite. You see, these weren’t random rejection letters written to bands you’ve never heard of like Carl and the Crazies or the Keyboard Lizards, these were rejection letters written to U2.
In 1979 RSO sent a letter to P. Hewson, Bono’s real name, stating the demo tape he mailed “titled U2 is not suitable for us at present". The letter was written on Bono’s 19th birthday. I hope he got a decent cake.
Around the same time Arista Records sent U2 a form rejection letter, the kind they sent to hundreds of bands with just a preprinted signature, and without details of why the band was being turned down.
But those rejections did not make U2 quit. It gave them fodder to begin again. To make another tape, to send it to another label, to try again.
One year later, Island Records signed U2. They went on to become one of the biggest selling bands in the world. Over 7.2 million fans attended U2’s 360 Tour, more than any other fans attending any other tour - ever. U2 has won more Grammy awards than any other band, ever. 22.
But what if Bono and the boys had listened to RSO or Arista? What if they took those rejections as signs they didn’t have what it takes? That they weren’t good enough? That their sound wouldn’t resonate? That they should give up?
What hill are you climbing today? Who’s told you “no” recently? What roadblocks are you encountering?
What if instead of listening to the negativity, you tried one more time – took the SAT or LSAT one more time to improve your score, auditioned for one more play, ran one more race, applied to one more internship or job, sent one more song to a record label?
Hills are rarely easy to climb. Sometimes they reveal themselves as careening mountains.
But the view from the top of the mountain is glorious.
I waited patiently for the Lord
He inclined and heard my cry
He lift me up out of the pit
Out of the miry clay
I will sing, sing a new song
Psalm 40 by King David and revamped by U2 in their song “40”
What new song can you sing today? Where can you begin again?
Laura L. Smith