When Things Go Amiss – The Launch of a Book

In just a few hours there will be a pre-release party, just one of several events launching the Life Before The Lottery: Living Beyond The Bucket book into the realm of public view. Eight months after the initial Kickstart, the words are written and the printing press finally finished, yet the real work is far from over. But for now, today, it’s time to curl my hair, put on some cute shoes, and raise one of many toasts in celebration to those who have pulled and cheered for this project. I am humbled, grateful, and a little embarrassed by all the support. This is amazing.

The Amazon pre-order link posted slightly earlier than originally anticipated (thanks Amazon robots), leading to a “temporarily out of stock” situation just days before the planned release happening September 22, this Monday. On one hand, I can freak out. On the other hand, it’s actually worth a smile. This book is full of failure stories. Maybe a highly inconvenient time to be “out of stock,” but completely worth a giggle because I could be battling an entirely different problem…a book no one wants to read sitting in a warehouse somewhere in Indiana.

No matter what Amazon does or does not have at any given moment, I have several opportunities over the next two weeks to hug real live souls who have been pulling for this, rooting for this, or are even just plain curious. And for that, I am extremely grateful. It takes a village to publish a book (thank you to the teams of people, brilliant minds, and talented individuals involved in this!) It takes even more to fight fears, distractions, disappointments, self-doubts and naysayers. But we’re here. We made it. It’s happening. I was told to go get it, and it’s officially been “got.” Thank you Lord!

So whether Amazon gets it together in time for Monday’s official online release or not, whether people show up at the upcoming launch events or not, or whether this thing moves or not–I can smile and say the risk was worth it. Check. I am trusting this book and the words in it will make it into the right hands with the right hearts at the right time and be exactly what’s needed at just the right moment. (Or whenever Amazon feels the need to do so. *giggling*)

So cheers to book launches and all that goes with it!

Life Before The Lottery - Amazon Launch

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AMAZON Online Party Sept 22 & 23

It’s officially happening! The “Life Before The Lottery: Living Beyond The Bucket” book is ready to go…and now it’s time to launch this thing. For those not able to attend one of the three launch events in Colorado (listed below), you have options!

Amazon likes a big boom, so we’re hosting an online launch party Sept 22nd & 23rd to see just how far up the rankings this can get. There’s a 24 hour window to do this, so we’re focusing on the 22nd & 23rd. Thank you for helping to get the word out. I’m believing that these words and these stories in this book will get into the right hands with the right hearts at exactly the right time. You can help that happen. Share, post, re-post, tweet and email away the amazon link and let’s see what happens. (http://tinyurl.com/amazonashleebratton)

Amazon Purchase Party Sept 22 & 23rd
Amazon Purchase Party Sept 22 & 23rd

(Kickstarter backers who participated in a package that included book perks can pick up their “thank you goodies” at one of the events. Or for our out-of-stater supporters, fill out the upcoming form coming to your inbox so we know where to send your goods!) This has been an amazing experience, thank you for being a part of this.

Let’s celebrate.

LAUNCH EVENTS

1) The Pre-Release Happier Happy Hour – South Fork
Friday, September 19th 4:00pm-6:00pm
Rio Grande Club in South Fork, CO

2) Official Launch Party – Denver
Friday, September 26th 5:30pm-7:30pm
The Book Bar: 4280 Tennyson Street, Denver, CO 80212

3) Book Release & Signing – Vail Valley
Friday, October 3rd 4:00-6:00pm
The Bookworm of Edwards: 295 Main St, Edwards, CO 81632

AMAZON Link to share:
http://tinyurl.com/amazonashleebratton

Thank you, I stand amazed.
Ashlee Bratton

Are You Pursuing Something That’s Worth Pursuing?

You are a pursuer. The Declaration of Independence recognizes and declares the fact that we were endowed by our Creator for the pursuit of happiness. But what exactly is that? In pursuit of happiness, what are you pursuing?

There’s a lot of things in this world to pursue. Not everything can be caught. (Nor should it.) Every day when we wake up, we are going after something. What is your something? Is it more money? A promotion at work? A bigger house? New car? Better education? Something for the kids? A better bod? Healthier bank account? Better relationships? A new relationship? That cute girl? That amazing guy? Peace? A dream?

Are you pursuing something that's worth pursuing?

In pursuing the publication of this upcoming 30×30 book that’s now just weeks away from launching, I was asked that very question. What exactly am I pursuing and what does success look like to me in the book world? I had a really tough time answering that. It’s almost easier to tell what I’m not pursuing or not wanting than what I do. Sometimes it’s easier to identify what’s not right or not working than what is.

I do not want a ton of books sitting in a warehouse somewhere. I do not want to be the lonely author twiddling her thumbs at scheduled upcoming book signings because no one showed up or no one cared. I do not want to bug and bother friends and family and be a burden in this whole process in any way. I do not want to find a bunch of errors in the final edition after the major print run (although I’ve been told errors will surface no matter what or regardless of how many editor eyes have been through it. *sigh*) I do not want to be axed out of Amazon for a bad book. I really don’t want a chain of bad reviews. I do not want to be seen as arrogant, come off as vain, or become full of myself because of any type of success or self-promotion that’s required to do this. Yuck. I do not want the Kickstarter backers and supporters of this project to be disappointed in any way.

I do not want to fail.

Huh. That was easy to define. Even if every single one of the things mentioned above happened, I know in my heart of hearts this book was worth it. Had to be done. As with a lot of other things in life, it’s so easy to label and identify what I don’t want. But the question still lingers, what does success look like to me on this and what am I doing to pursue it? Because at the end of the day, if I don’t know what I’m pursuing, how will I know when I actually get it?

Is it a dollar amount that will be the signal of success? Is it a number of copies distributed? Is it getting on any certain best seller lists? Is it positive reviews or feedback from the readers? Is it a lead in for the next book? Is it being recognized publicly or attributed some type of “fame?” The answer to these for the moment, at least for me, is no. That is not in my pursuit of happiness.

After much thought, I decided what I really wanted out of this whole thing is change. I would like to see change in people’s lives. Change in their own pursuits. Change in their own directions, perspectives, and dreams. This of course can’t happen if the book never reaches people’s hands to begin with, so for the moment the immediate goal is to somehow get it out there and trust it will get into the right hands at the right moment, hitting the right hearts and producing the right results. I want to hear stories, letters, posts and tales of how this 30×30 project affected someone else. For me, that will be my success. (That, and not sitting on a pile of books in a warehouse. Even better, a second print run.)

...for the moment the immediate goal is to somehow get it out there and trust it will get into the right hands at the right moment, hitting the right hearts and producing the right results.

I’m also looking forward to seeing what type of change this brings to my own world. Writing this book unleashed a new list, new dreams, new desires, and a new beginning. Incredible sacrifices were made in pursuit of the 30×30 book dream. More than I ever care to admit. Something important hinges on this book and I can’t wait to find out what it is and what’s on the way. On that particular note, I really don’t know exactly what’s on the way or what I’m to pursue next…but I’m in motion and excited to go get it, whatever “it” is. So cheers to change, book launches, the pursuit of something that’s worth pursuing and all that goes with it!

Go ahead, pursue something that’s worth pursuing.

QUOTABLE QUOTES FROM PEOPLE MUCH SMARTER THAN MYSELF

The Launch of A Dream: The Launch of a Book

I can see the finish line.

It seems so far away and yet so much closer than I ever thought possible. This last February I pulled the trigger on a Kickstarter project and the troops rallied behind the dream of publishing a book on the 30×30 List. That was February. Fast forward to right now and in 5 weeks, we’re going to launch a book.

Book Launch - coming soon
It’s happening!

Wow. We’re 5 weeks out from launch time! Layout is done, the printers are printing, just signed the warehouse contract today, Amazon’s on board, local book stores are stocking up, and now it’s time to party. I’ve learned about ISBN’s, copyright, legal jargon, pricing, content editing, copy editing, font choices, layout design, epigraphs, social media campaigns, press releases, warehouse logistics, and so much more of the nitty gritty details that go into publishing a book than I ever wanted to know.

But now I know. And now it’s time.

Save the date for one of the upcoming book launch events, grab a friend and come raise a toast to all involved in this beast of a book! Thank you for believing in this project and backing a dream. It’s happening. *pinch pinch* Can you believe this whole process began in February? Thank you for being a part of this. This could never have happened without you. Let’s celebrate!

LAUNCH PARTY
Friday, Sept 26th @ The Book Bar in Lakeside
4280 Tennyson St, Denver, CO 80212
5:30-7:30pm

BOOK SIGNING
Friday, Oct 3rd @ The Bookworm of Edwards
295 Main St, Edwards, CO 81632
4:00-6:00pm (A happier happy hour)

How To Join The Secret Suicide Club

Robin Williams has passed away. That news alone was shocking enough while standing at the pool yesterday…and then the details came out. Suicide has claimed another life.

My friend stood across from me and gave me the news as she read from the alert on her phone, our eyes locking. She’s in the club too. Those who have survived the loss of a loved one in this manner know. They know.

This club is bigger than we think, and every time another member joins, there is heartbreak and the scar deepens. I remember the first time I heard about this club. I was sitting across from this same friend, sharing a beer over lunch and opening up for the first time about some of the emotions I had been dealing with after my world had been ripped to pieces months before. She shared details about losing her dad, identifying and recognizing the part of the journey I was in. After a long pause, she looked me deep in the eyes and said, “Weird little club we’re in, isn’t it?” Stunned, I stared blankly at her. She was right.

It’s a club no one talks about and no one wants to ever join. Unfortunately, it’s an irrevocable forced membership. Every 15 minutes, someone in the United States takes his or her own life. That’s 35,000 suicides every year in this country—and likely more, since many suicides are disguised as accidents. Statistically, only 10% of suicides leave a note. Sadly, suicide occurs among Christians at essentially the same rate as non-Christians. Each suicide leaves behind on average six to ten survivors – husbands, wives, parents, children, siblings, other close friends or family members. Every year, hundreds of thousands of people, including many of our church members, will grieve the loss of a loved one to suicide.

I am one of those people.

Though all deaths are tragic, suicide affects us differently than when someone dies in a car accident or from a terminal illness. Counselors call death by suicide a “complicated grief” or “complicated bereavement,” like death by murder, violence, or terrorist attack. Not only do family members grieve the loss of the loved one, they must also face the trauma of the suicide.

More than other deaths, suicides raise the question of Why? Why did he do it? Why didn’t we see this coming? Why did this happen? Why her? Why him? Why me? In other situations, we can often clearly identify the cause, a drunk driver or a disease, for example. But with a suicide, the victim is responsible for the death, not some outside force. That person is gone now. He can’t tell us why he did it or the reasons he had for leaving us.

More than anything, the biggest question that lingers in the air and haunts our thoughts is, Could I have done anything to prevent it? Scenarios, conversations, last words, and hidden signs flood the thoughts of those in the club. If only we had come home in time. If only we had talked to him that evening. If only I could have “seen the signs.” If only there were signs at all.

Asking why is not so much a search for answers as it is a search for comfort. We assume that having these answers will ease our grief and pain. But the questions are often unanswerable, and we must come to grips with the possibility—the likelihood—that we will never know why it happened. Even without knowing why someone chose to take his own life, survivors can experience God’s comfort and healing. God is a God of the broken.

While grieving, another question comes up, particularly among people of faith: Why didn’t God prevent this? There aren’t any easy answers to this. In short, God honors our human choices, even if they’re bad ones. If we choose to smoke, we might get the consequence of lung cancer. And if someone we love chooses to kill himself, God honors that choice as well. He is the God who makes all things right and can bring good out of any circumstance. This is one of the many mysteries of an infinite all-knowing God that does not make sense to our finite human hearts.

But this doesn’t mean that God doesn’t care about us or our loved one. The Bible tells us that God grieves with us in our loss. Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus, and he stands with us and weeps over our loved one’s death. Throughout Scripture, God comforts the grieving and brokenhearted, and he understands the suffering of grief and loss. He experienced ultimate pain, suffering, and grief on the cross. Where is God when it hurts? He stands with us, grieving beside us. He’s not only in the club, He’s the president and He leads it.

God loves the broken. He is a God of the shattered. Only He can put the pieces back together in a way that is even more magnificent than the original version. Our job is to trust Him to do so. When the journey makes no sense, when the pain is overwhelming, and when the process doesn’t seem to have an end in sight—keep trusting. He’s not done yet.

So as the memories flood back and the tears well up with the discovery of Mr. Williams and his tragic loss, I am reminded yet again that there are now more in the club than just me. We are never alone.

Quotable Quotes From People Much Smarter Than Myself:

Oh, great and just God, no man among us knows what the sleeper knows, nor is it for us to judge what lies between him and Thee.” – novelist Willa Cather, My Ántonia

What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal.Albert Pike

The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.” – Marcus Tullius Cicero

Wrong Question.

You don’t have to look very far to be offended, see injustice, or experience something that seems unfair or hurts the heart. Sometimes it feels that there are more things happening out there that are wrong than right. Lately, as some big fat question marks plaster my world, I’m slowly realizing that there is a possibility that I may be asking all the wrong questions.

The Real Question

When stuff like this happens, when there is a loss, when the unfair and unjust occurs–the question is not, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” If this is the question being asked, then the answers we come up with (if any) will never be satisfactory or come close to satisfying our souls. There are things that happen that we may never know the “why.” How could this have happened to her? Why did that happen to him? Why me? Wrong questions. Instead the question perhaps needs to be asked this way, “What happens to good people when bad things happen?”

Really, what happens to good people when bad things happen?

The answers to this question make far more sense and are far more satisfying, if given a chance.

1. They become stronger.

Junk happens to us all. There’s no getting around it. Whether we consider ourselves good, bad, or somewhere in-between on the deserve-it-scale, there’s no escaping it. Being a “good person” does not excuse us away from being dealt life’s problems or from having bad things happen. There’s no “I’m sorry, that can’t happen to me, I’m a good person” card that blocks us from the hard stuff.

There’s no rule that bad stuff can only happen to bad people, or that good stuff can only happen to good people. But it’s interesting how our minds want to make things work out that way, and when it doesn’t, it’s labeled unfair.

Even more interesting are how the reactions and results of the exact same scenario can be drastically different depending on how one chooses to respond to the inescapable junk tossed their way. The exact same thing can happen to two different people, yet the outcomes can be completely different…and it’s not based on how “good” or “bad” they are or whether or not they deserve it.  No one is immune. No matter how good the heart or how caring the person, something (or even many somethings) is going to happen to try and take them out. We cannot escape the tough stuff, but we can have a say in how we react when it does and who we turn to, which is very much so linked to the end result. We can choose to keep going, give our hurts to the One who does know, and let it make us stronger.

The only way to build muscle is to challenge it. Strength is not built through inaction. We cannot become stronger if we never have to deal with anything, work through problems, or choose to always take the easy road. And if we’re not getting stronger and we try and avoid challenges we’ll atrophy,  become weaker, and eventually not be able to handle even the simplest issues. When bad things happen to good people, it doesn’t take them out, they get stronger.

2. They help others.

When the heartbreak comes or when the hurt happens, it’s the ones who flip it and somehow figure out a way to benefit someone else that are the victors. There’s nothing better than hearing a story of how someone came back from a knockdown or a failure only to use it to help someone else. It’s that much sweeter when despite the wrong, despite the wound, and despite the hurt, something good and loving soars through the dust and the rubble and positively touches others.

There is no better way to combat the darkness in our lives than by helping someone else while we are hurting. We may  not be able to solve our own problems or heal our own hurts, but there is something we can do to help someone else…and chances are they need it more than we’ll ever know. We may not have the ability to help ourselves or fix our own issues, but we definitely have the ability and capability to reach out to someone else who needs it. It’s in showing kindness in the midst of our pain where the breakthrough, the healing, and the triumph takes place. When the bad stuff happens, they help others and that’s when doors can open up for the really good things to happen.

3. They spread hope.

Despite the pain, despite the injustice, and in spite of how wrong it feels–those that survive and come back from the ashes are people that give hope and are examples of God’s goodness triumphing over evil. We need that. We need to know that no matter how bad it looks or how wrong it feels or how deep the injustice, there is hope that something good can come out of it. We need to know that failure is not final. Hope is free. It does not cost anything to hope…but it can cost us everything if we don’t.

Nope. The question is not why do bad things happen to good people. The real answers we need may not necessarily lie in the why, but perhaps may be found in the what…or Who.

A City Girl’s Take On Country Bumpkin Life

Lessons from a greenhouse
Although a city girl at heart, I’ve had the unique opportunity to experience country bumpkin life. I’ve lived in big cities and small towns and been happy in both, each having their different types of blessings and opportunities and lessons to be learned. (I’m on the “bloom where you’re planted” program.) I can see why people can thrive or tank in either setting.

Recently, in my country bumpkin life I’ve thoroughly enjoyed going through an entire cycle of growing food in a garden and all the lessons that go with that — lessons from a greenhouse to be precise. As a city girl I never thought I’d be the type to enjoy playing in the dirt, wrangling hoses and watering systems, or battling bugs. Correction, I do not enjoy battling bugs. Ever.

But as I carried a basket of fresh vegetables picked from said greenhouse, I started realizing all that I’ve learned in the short time I’ve had the opportunity to be a garden girl.  There are valuable lessons to be learned from a greenhouse.

1. Prep work is never fun, but oh so necessary.

Making the decision to grow something—be it flowers, herbs, vegetables or something else is just the initial step–but there’s a lot to be done between the planting and picking of a garden. Besides doing research and gaining knowledge on what grows best when and where, there is effort involved in making the investment to order seeds and equipment and do the dirty work to prepare the ground and soil for planting. You can’t just put seeds in the ground and expect something to grow. I wish.

First the soil must be cleared of all the junk and hindrances of past use. This includes getting rid of rocks, breaking up hard soil, getting rid of any weeds, and then replacing it and replenishing it with fertilizer and filler. Things won’t grow in hard crusty ground. New life and growth happens in soft, rich soil. It must be prepped and tended well before anything goes in it. Just as in real life, if we want good things to happen in our future, we must prep our present and clear it of the junk from our past that will prevent any kind of new growth. We are in charge of creating and prepping the environment in which we want to see growth and change. This requires a conscious decision, can get a little dirty, is not all that fun, but is oh so necessary.  Doing this is the key to getting what we want later on.

2. There are no instant results.

Wouldn’t it be fabulous to just drop some seeds in the dirt and come back the next day and have strawberries and blooms? Unfortunately, that’s not the way it works in the gardening world and that’s not the way it works in real life. I knew this going into this greenhouse endeavor, but I’ll admit it can be a little demotivating to go in every day  and all you’re watering is dirt. For months there are no signs of life or change whatsoever. Without the hope of a future harvest, it can feel pointless. But what we don’t always realize is what’s going on under the surface. In gardening, the seed goes into the soil, has to die, and then it slowly starts the process of germination and growth as it’s watered, tended, and cared for.

When it comes to our dreams and future, it’s very much the same. There may be months if not years of effort in doing the right thing, making choices and sacrifices without seeing one shred of improvement or movement. If we don’t understand this process it can be all too easy to give up when we don’t see instant results. Resist the urge to base progress on current circumstances. Keep watering your dirt.

Just as the farmer and gardener sow seeds in the ground of the kind of product that they want, having to wait and trust that the process will lead to a harvest, we have to sow into our dreams and our futures and be willing to wait and “water” them before we ever even see any progress or results. There are sunny days and rainy days, both are needed for results. Just because it looks dry and dull does not mean good stuff is not happening behind the scenes. Good things take time. Good things are worth the wait.

3. Tend and protect.

It’s so exciting to see the first leaves pop through the dirt. Green on brown is a beautiful combination. The first signs of life are something to smile about and can be extremely encouraging. Yet the work is far from over…but at least after all this time and waiting you can see that something’s happening.  Signs of life!

I almost screamed the first time I saw holes in the leaves of the beloved plants in that greenhouse. Ok, who let the aphids and slugs in? This is where I learned that pests and other attacks will come and you’re not the only one who wants to enjoy the goodies. If these issues are not addressed, they will kill what you’ve been growing and waiting for. Bugs are awful, but they cannot be ignored. In the gardening world, did you know you can put empty tuna cans full of beer that attracts slugs and drowns the little buggars? I didn’t, but now I know. Or that sometimes you have to sacrifice one infected plant and pull it out in order to save the rest of the patch? Sad, but it works. Greenhouse - growth! It should come as no surprise that when going after our dreams and desires and making the effort to cross off our lists and go after what we really want, there will be setbacks and things that come to attack and derail our efforts. There are other parasites out there that are more than willing to enjoy our labor and devour what we’ve been waiting for. If ignored and left unaddressed, they will. It is so important to pay attention and protect our dreams. Stay focused, and be prepared to fend off discouraging words of others, distractions, and counterfeits that are like weeds to our wants. Have no mercy for slugs.

4. When harvest comes, pick!

It’s actually not my greenhouse, I’m just in charge of it and have the pleasure of working it. I’m a worker bee with consumption benefits. I may do the daily watering and weeding, but the ultimate decisions and future of the greenhouse is not mine. The authority to harvest and decision to enjoy the goodies belong to another, but I do get to enjoy the benefits and all that goes with it.

It surprised me though that the owner of the greenhouse did not do anything once notified that the flowers were in bloom and the crops were ready. They were too busy. I thought they’d be excited for the news, isn’t this what all this work and waiting has been for? Instead, they were weary and not ready for what it takes to bring it all in. Here was all this time and effort spent on creating this amazing produce and beautiful flowers, and I watched in disbelief as it was ignored and started to pass its peak. All these delicious vegetables and flowers were saying, “I’m ready. Time to enjoy!” Sadly there was no one but myself to enjoy and delight in them…and I certainly can’t consume all of them myself!

It seems like this should come as a no-brainer, but I find that in real life this can happen too. Sometimes we can become so focused on the fight and the project itself that we don’t realize it’s time to enjoy the rewards. If we’re not careful and paying attention, we can miss our harvest. Don’t miss the moment. Or we’re too tired or exhausted when it’s all done and aren’t up for harvest season when it arrives.

It can be difficult sometimes to slow down and truly recognize the moment and enjoy it when it comes, or believe we’re worth the celebration or reward. I am a big believer in celebrating the work and accomplishments of others. Celebrate birthdays, go to graduations, dance at weddings, coo at babies, and take time to acknowledge and love on those that have worked so hard for that moment. There’s too much in this life that pulls us down, don’t ignore the moments or the big (and little) wins that make us smile!

Just like in the greenhouse, often times our harvest and blessings in life can be more than we can use or enjoy by ourselves. I don’t think this is an accident. We are meant to be funnels and channels to get good things to others. Gardening, sowing and reaping are about multiplication–one little seed with the proper care can turn into an entire harvest that many others can enjoy and benefit from.

With the owner’s permission, I took my basket out to that little greenhouse and filled it with greens and goodies to distribute and give away. It was time. The harvest was ready even if the owner wasn’t. If I didn’t do it, it would just all rot and go to waste. How awful would that be? There was plenty for me, the owner of course, and even enough left over to drop off the neighbor’s house and to use as thank you gifts. I loved seeing their faces light up when I came bearing beets, tomatoes, garlic, mint, chives, onions, basil, and kale. There was so much more than I could ever use.

The best part is, it doesn’t stop here. This is a season. One of many. There is a specific season for each task and opportunity and soon it’s going to be time to start the cycle all over again and enter another season. It doesn’t stop with the crops and harvest I have right now, there’s so much more future growth. There will be new dreams to plant, new ideas to cultivate, and new things to enjoy with reasons to celebrate.

Who knew there could be so many lessons from a simple greenhouse? Far from any type of green thumb, yep, this city girl has a lot to learn from country bumpkin life…and is still growing!

30x30 lessons
Harvest – round #7. Plenty to share. Can you believe this is in November?!

Looking For Next Steps

For those that feel stuck….

I know what it's like to be so worried you'll either do the wrong thing or, just as bad, do nothing at all. I imagine you've experienced this feeling before too. It seems that we all have, at one time or another, stared at a roadblock in life and wondered, Is this it? Am I finished? Should I give up? What do I do now? But scripture tells us the Word of God is a "lamp to my feet and a light to my path" (Psalm 119:105). This means that no matter how dark your surroundings, you never lose your way. God will guide you to your destiny. It's never too late.

Here is the key: You have to take a step. New beginnings don't happen on an escalator, they happen along a path. In faith you make progress by taking one step at a time. If you are determined to succeed in life, God's grace will enable you to do what may seem impossible to your natural thinking. God has promised to do His part, but you have an important part to play as well. 

- Joyce Meyer, You Can Begin Again

Quotable Quotes From People Much Smarter Than Myself:

  • “Chords that were broken will vibrate once more.” – Fanny Crosby
  • “You can’t start the next chapter of your life if you keep rereading the last one.” – Anonymous
  • “The new day is too dear, with its hopes and invitations, to waste a moment on the yesterdays.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • “Moses spent forty years in the king’s palace thinking he was somebody, then he lived forty years in the wilderness finding out that without God he was a nobody, finally he spent forty years discovering how  a nobody with God can be a somebody.” – Dwight L. Moody
  • “A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.” – William G.T. Shedd

 

March to the beat … F-R-E-E-D-O-M

With the July 4th holiday come and gone and the parades over and pie eaten, I can’t help but think about the concept of freedom and what it really means year-round. And what it doesn’t. We all know that “freedom isn’t free” and this particular holiday is a celebration with roots reflecting the price paid by those that sacrificed and had a vision of freedom, but what exactly is freedom anyway? And are we enjoying it to it’s fullest extent the way it was designed?

According to Webster’s Dictionary, freedom is a noun and “the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.”

Freedom to me isn’t just fireworks, the right to vote, and rights given in a document. To me, freedom is in and of itself having a choice. If there is no choice and there are no options, then there’s an absence of freedom.

It’s called prison.

I love living in a country where there are choices and freedoms in almost everything we do and I never want to forget that the freedoms we have are not enjoyed everywhere. We are exceptionally blessed to have choices. What we have is truly unique. We have the freedom to live and work where we choose–there is not a preset caste system that determines what we can do and where. If I want to, I can be on a flight tomorrow and fly anywhere within the 50 states by only flashing a driver’s license. No visas, no proof of purpose, no waiting needed. That’s amazing.

There is an enormous freedom and amount of choices available in what I eat, consume, and spend my money on. I can go to different grocery stores, buy different brands of items, eat them at my leisure, or even throw them away. The choices out there in style and fashion alone on how I choose to represent myself is staggering. Is it a sweatshirt and yoga pants day? Or maybe some cute capris and a tank? Or is more of a business suit needed for what I’m doing? In one outfit choice I can change my entire appearance and choose to look chic, hippy, hipster, professional, preppy, athletic, casual, country, foo foo formal, or something in-between. I have the freedom to choose who to speak to, date, marry, and be in relationship with. No prearranged pragmatic marriages here. I may value their opinion, but my parents or family members don’t have the ultimate say in who I’m legally joined to. In today’s culture I have the choice in who I give my heart to and who to experience life with. (Thankfully!) That’s not the case in a lot of cultures. I have the choice of when, who, how, how fast, and how long to have connections with people–and thank God for that! Even the choices and options available in how we maintain those connections and communicate with one another is breathtaking. Dinners, dates, phone calls, email, text, Skype, Face Time, Facebook, social media, snail mail, pillow talk, or whatever kind of talk…there is an incredible amount of options to enjoy our “freedom of speech” in how we connect with others.

I have the choice in what I believe, what I worship, who I worship with, and where and in what I put my heart. Or what I don’t. Precious blood has been shed for this. Many have died to give and maintain this ultimate freedom. I will never fully know all the incredible sacrifices made for me to have and keep this freedom. That is probably one of the greatest freedoms of choice we have. We were wired for freedom, we were designed to make choices. From the very beginning our Maker gave us the power to choose–He did not make robots–He made free-will. The simplistic beauty of choice is so vital to our human spirit and seems so natural that it’s almost too easy to take it for granted.

But sometimes we go amiss in our freedoms. Freedom may be “the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint,” but that doesn’t mean that freedom doesn’t have consequences or results in what we act, speak, and think. Freedom is not independent of consequences. Although freedom entails and is directly connected with choice, it does not mean that those choices don’t have direct or indirect consequences. Freedom is not free. Freedom is directly entangled and intertwined with responsibility. We can have the freedom to choose poorly.

There is such a thing as a wrong choice. It doesn’t take long to see evidence of that. In some given scenarios, some options are better than others or more or less desirable. Sometimes we choose to not choose, and even that in and of itself is a choice. We can choose not to exercise our freedoms at all and in doing so, lose them. We are a byproduct of our choices. Big choices, little choices, everyday choices. Good, bad, and everything in between…our choices shape us and the world around us. Our choices and freedoms are not solitary, they very much so affect those around us.

The best part is, we have the freedom to recognize this and continue making choices to move ourselves in the direction we want to go. Choose to make a list, choose to write it down, choose to catch a vision. We can intentionally make choices to change our situation, or even maintain and keep the situation we’re in. No, we don’t have control over final outcomes or the choices of other people, but the sheer fact that we even have options to begin with is something to value in the highest degree. There is power in choice. There is power in freedom.

July 4th may be over and gone, but our freedoms are not. Be powerful, be free. Make good choices. Make bad choices. Enjoy it! QUOTABLE QUOTES FROM PEOPLE MUCH SMARTER THAN MYSELF:

 

Go Ahead. Let The Inner Princess Out.

Recently I experienced one thing that every little girl dreams about…pretty pretty princess hair. (Okay, girls dream about a lot of things, but I’m referring specifically to pretty princess hair.)

A friend conned me into attending a festival that in order to feel legit, one should really have a child under 10 years old with them. That apparently did not matter to us. Instead, we decided to make a day of it and I was treated to an entire afternoon of  full on “kid fun.” This included riding an elephant, chowing down on a fair-style turkey leg, enjoying a deliciously dripping ice cream cookie, waving at a parade, seeing a magic show, and getting my hair professionally braided (complete with flowers AND glitter.) For those who have not fulfilled this childhood dream, I highly recommend it.

Pretty Pretty Princess Hair
Pretty Pretty Princess Hair

Although not officially on the Next List, there were several events that day that got crossed off an unofficial “mini-list.” (C’mon, not everything can make the official next list. There are however, bonus items that can be enjoyed as opportunities crop up. Actually, now that I think about it. I just might add it to the Next List just so I can cross it off! *te he*)

Little Back Story:
Years ago as a little girl I remember going to this same fair with wide eyes and wonderment wanting to experience all of this. I don’t know if it was the no-frills attitude of my mom or maybe possibly due to parental budget reasons, but for some reason I have good memories of the fair itself but I just never got to have the “whole” experience. There was left a longing for the hair flowers, the exotic elephant ride, and the overall princess treatment.

Fast forward years later and I found myself laughing as we flitted through the festival in the hot summer sun with a checklist in hand. We were on a mission. Giggling, we paid the $4 and rode the floppy eared gentle giant, staked out the perfect spot for the parade, and I tried so desperately to sit still for the intricate hair magic. I may be well into adulthood, but there’s definitely a little girl heart that wants to enjoy every bit of moments like these. That’s the beauty of being a full grown adult — should you choose to release the “inner child”, you have the power to make childhood dreams come true with your very own adult resources. The only thing you need to get is permission from yourself.  It’s important to play. Always remember to play.

Who knows, maybe there are childhood desires that seem so menial but somehow deserve a spot on your list. Put them on there! Maybe it’s a museum, an art class, or a certain kind of animal that needs to be petted or hugged. Maybe it’s touching a slimy sting ray, swimming with dolphins, or getting your face painted.  Ever want to ride in a parade? Meet Mickey Mouse? Win at tether ball? See a shuttle launch? Get a baseball signed at a game? Maybe it’s time to do it.

It doesn’t matter what the childhood dream is, don’t bury it. Resurrect those buried childlike desires. Create that list and let that inner geek out. Go play.

Seriously, go play!

 

 

 

One Year Ago – Remember When…

One year ago…

This time last year I had my entire life packed in a car and leaving everything I knew during an evacuation notice. The fires were here.

Our view last year...
Our view last year…

Today the vines are blooming, the river’s up, and the sun is hitting the cliffs just right that it’s hard to imagine the chaos, fear, and uncertainty that was very much so a reality one year ago. I’m currently unpacking and getting settled in from a recent trip and I can’t help but look at my suitcase and remember jamming it full for an all together different reason, seams splitting with no idea of what really was in it.

I am so grateful that we were spared from the flames that burned over 100,000+ acres of our forest, and looking back I am truly in amazement at the whole thing and can see His hand of protection throughout the entire experience. After eight days in evacuation filled with Red Cross meetings, national guard checkpoints, red-tape politics, and brave firefighters…not one life lost, not one structure burned. God is good.

Little Pyros
Little Pyros

I remember the faces, the fear, the angry attitudes and different perspectives at the time. I remember sitting on the porch of the house we evacuated to, with nothing to do but watch the smoke plume 17 miles away. Sit. Think. Pray. Wait. Everyone reacts to emergencies and fear differently. Soooooooo differently! Ever want to know what someone’s really like, watch them go through a stressful situation. Tough times can bring out the junk in everyone.

This year is a reason to celebrate. Things can change in an instant. So when it’s time for the parade and the summer activities, I know that because of last year, I’ll enjoy them that much more…

How To Mess With A Three-Year-Old

How to mess with a three-year-old: Put the princesses in all the wrong dresses.

I sat on the floor and watched how with one simple action–putting Belle in Cinderella’s dress–caused upheaval and confusion in the big blue eyes of the wee one with the blond curls. So without her looking, I switched them all.

Oh so wrong!
Oh so wrong!

It starts young. The need to play by the rules.  For the boxes to be drawn and the need to fit inside them. Even at a young age there is a need for organization, security, “correct beauty”, and for our world to be right. For a three-year-old, this is especially true in princess world. Belle wears yellow, Aurora pink, Cinderella blue, and Snow White…well, we all know the poofy sleeves and headband she’s famous for. We learn there is a right way for a young lady to act and look, and the not-right-way. Do not, under any circumstance, do it differently. Do not change it.

Then somewhere along the way, someone messes up our dresses. They mess with our order, our routine, and our expectations. On the one hand, it can be extremely freeing and can open up a whole new world. In this case, I managed to sell her little mind on the idea that the princesses were going to have a fashion show and needed to wear each others’ dresses. I explained that’s just what girls do, they borrow clothes and it’s okay for them to wear different dresses. They like it. I could tell that deep down she wasn’t quite sure about this new concept, but didn’t at the moment have any argument to refute my adult logic. I figured I just opened up a whole new world for her….or probably wouldn’t be invited back to the playroom any time soon.

I sat among the tea sets, ponies, and princess costumes and couldn’t help but smile. How often does God, just to mess with us, switch something up. Not to be mean, not to make us cry–but just to be playful and give us new options and help us grow in our own little world of make-believe. Something that we never even thought possible and that seems completely ridiculous is suddenly set in front of us as an option. Maybe in the same way we can either choose to roll with the new scenario and expand our world of play…or kick Him out and not invite Him back.

Either way, it still makes me smile.

 

 

Dear Diary: I quit.

Dear Diary:

I quit.

Ok, maybe I don’t quit, but I am admittedly overwhelmed. Today my head is spinning and I want it to stop. I feel like I’m in over my head on this publishing project and need to see the light at the end of the tunnel. To get my mind off of all things “bookie”–ISBN’s, copyrights, front matter, back matter, acknowledgments, review submissions, Library of Congress cataloging approvals, etc–my editor told me to pick a place for the book launch. That I can do! Things are getting really close to this book dream actually happening. The second round of edits are done, rewrites are being rewritten, it’ll be in layout within weeks, and print bids are currently in process. If everything goes smoothly, the book will be sent to the printer in July, hopefully pallet shipped in August, and then we’ll officially be ready for the launch in September! Whoa.

Just in case anyone is jealous of this little endeavor, below is an excerpt of a conversation regarding ISBN numbers and the process for coding for libraries.

If I am to get a substitute for LoC CIP data, what is better, PCIP (or some equivalent) or LCCN? Help me out here, again, if you would. I heard that with LCCN, through the PCN process, one could follow-up the reception of a LCCN by submitting a copy of the published book to the Cataloguing Directorate, and they might be inclined to add the book to the LoC Catalog if it seems appropriate to do so.  - Comments to Joel Friedlander

For the moment, the book battle ends. Tonight, a date with my pillow. Tomorrow, phone calls regarding locations for a book launch.  Let the games begin!

–Signed, Ashlee Bratton

The Green Monster Fight

“Looks like fun. Must be nice,” they said in such a tone that didn’t make me feel so nice.

I didn’t quite know exactly what to say. They know how hard I’ve worked, I thought they’d be happy for me in crossing off a long-time dream. What do you do when someone asks about something you’ve been working towards and before you can answer, you can tell they don’t really want to hear about it? They asked, but they don’t really want to know. The jealousy is palpable.

I’d like to say that this has been a one-time occurrence and a one-time wound, but I cannot.

I would be remiss if I didn’t touch on an interesting phenomenon I’ve noticed in making progress on my 30×30 list. In choosing to go after goals and enjoy the life and the journey along the way, there will be some that will not smile or cheer you on. No matter how happy some may want to be for you, how much some may love and support you, how big the sacrifices you’ve made, or how hard you’ve worked…on occasion the little green monster will make an appearance and can turn things weird. Sometimes it can come from some very unexpected sources.

It’s true, misery does love company. If someone is not enjoying the same success or enjoyable moments in their own lives that you are being blessed with, sometimes deep down there’s a part of them that, uh, rathers you didn’t. That’s human nature. (Think about it–jealousy and envy go back to the beginning of time. It lead to the first murder between two brothers over sibling rivalry and a fruit basket when Cain killed Abel…and has been going strong ever since.)

Actually, it may not necessarily be that they don’t want good things for you…it may just be that there’s a wee bit of jealousy that it’s not happening for them too. It’s not so much that you “do”, it’s that they “don’t.”

Be prepared that not everyone is going to have the best attitude or be as supportive as you would like them to be once you seriously start seeing success or make any kind of progress on your list or in your life. You’re going to have to make the choice to keep moving forward, or not. It may even be the people you love most or that are closest to you. A husband may not support his wife in her weight loss efforts, gossip may surround the purchase of a new car or dream home, family members may criticize you as you go back to school, some may not support your efforts to get back out there and scope out the dating scene, or a friend may not attend your baby shower. Ouch.

No one sees the years of loneliness or the bad breakups  and heartbreak before the happy wedding day. They’re not witness to the years of sleepless nights, mountains of homework, lack of a social life, or the student loans taken on in order to finish a degree. They can’t always see all the hours at the gym, the 6:30am workouts every Saturday for over four months, and the self-discipline needed while training for a 26.2 mile marathon. There’s no parade while you’re eating in, canceling cable, and shopping garage sales in order to get out of debt. No one sees the endless prayers and countless tears shed in secret. It’s easy to want what someone else has but not be willing to do the work or make the sacrifices that they did to get it.

It's easy to want what someone else has but not be willing to do the work or make the sacrifices that they did to get it.

They may attend the celebration party or see the smiling pictures, but they weren’t around for the difficult decisions, the sacrifices, the hard work, the tears and the effort that came before it. They weren’t there for the fight. They can’t see the surrounding circumstances that lead up to the reason and the need to celebrate in the first place. All they can see is the fun part or the season of celebration…and hate it.

Or maybe they were around for the fight, yet the monster surfaces.

This can be confusing. And hurtful. At no point in my life, or especially on this entire 30×30 journey, have I ever intended for someone to feel bad about themselves or inferior in any way. And if I have caused someone to feel that way, I am very sorry. My intentions in sharing my story are just the opposite. My goal and the desire of my heart is to encourage, inspire, elevate, and motivate into passionate action. In fact, when asked to write this book and publish the 30×30 story,  I had extreme reservations about being labeled as vain, to be seen as bragging, or having anyone think that I was selfish or “better than” anyone. It took me years before I could ever even let someone else read it.

It was an incredibly personal decision to make the choice to publish my story and put myself out there. Honestly, I didn’t want to do it. I avoided the call as long as I could, but in the end had to succumb to the nagging pull on my heart. Nothing in me desires to go through the self-promotion, scrutiny, judgment, and “look at me” or “lookie at what I did” marketing mentality that seems to be required in doing this. How unattractive and ugly. The attention that can go with that type of success makes me squirm. *nose crinkle*

Sometimes I don’t even want to talk about my list at all, that I was blessed to have crossed off 29 of my 30 items, or let anyone know when I cross something off of the Next List. I don’t ever want someone to feel bad because of something I’m doing or have done. Ever. That’s the thing about progress and success–it’s admired, encouraged, and applauded…yet hated and despised at the same time. Success, no matter how small, is tricky.

That's the thing about progress and success--it's admired, encouraged, and applauded...yet hated and despised at the same time. Success, no matter how small, is tricky.

Is that a reason to not move forward, to not change, to not go after the dreams placed in your heart or take steps of faith in pursuit of progress? I hope not. But it is a reason to pause for a moment and be sensitive to situations that others may be going through. Everyone’s story and journey is different. Just like they don’t know the difficulties that you’ve walked through, you also don’t know the internal and external struggles they may be dealing with. We’re all dealing with something.

Don’t worry, in time it will be their season to shine and you may be the one having to fight off the mean green envy beast.

 

Booties, Boudoirs, and Bachelorettes…Oh My!

In a brilliant act of stupidity, what did I do the other night? In a moment of sheer boredom I watched the season opener of The Bachelorette. Forgive me, but this TV show brings back good memories of a certain friend in California who’d bring over bad wine on a Monday night and giggle on my couch while we sat and laughed at our trashy choice in TV shows. After all, if you can’t be judgy with a girlfriend, who can you be judgy with? I digress.

Stupidist show on the planet. Whose bright idea was it to create a modern-day harem and sell it as an idea that a loving, lasting relationship can come out of it…with millions watching? And after umpteen seasons, who really watches it anyways? Apparently the other night, I did.

Dating or looking for “love” from a group of eligibles separated out and kept in waiting just for you, not a new concept. Harems. This concept has been around almost as long as…well, you get the picture, a long time. Check out the book of Esther in the Bible. Although not her choice–as a maiden in the king’s harem she saved a nation, but not by being catty and making out on the beach on national television. Interestingly, her story has redeeming qualities and some very valuable life lessons. (For a good study on Esther, check out Beth Moore’s take on it. Love it!) Not so the ABC version. Sadly, like the train wreck it is, I watched it anyways.

Here’s the pathetic part.  For those that don’t know my background, my singlehood and recent “unattached” status can make some uncomfortable. I’ve had people on multiple occasions tell me I should actually be on the Bachelorette. No joke. Bless their hearts, but really? Ummmm…what part of me shouts out, “I want to be in a harem?” Really. The type of man who is attracted to that type of girl or  would want that type of scenario…not exactly the type of guy I’m looking for! Besides, as a girl who loves to keep her private life private, what part of me shouts, “I want to make my dating life public and make out on national TV?” No parts. Zero. Negative.

Admittedly, like every other girl on this planet, there is a part of me that wants to be affirmed and be seen as beautiful and attractive. We women are wired that way. Our girl hearts want to be seen as desirable, attractive, and worth fighting for.

Admittedly, like every other girl on this planet, there is a part of me that wants to be affirmed and be seen as beautiful and attractive. We women are wired that way. Our girl hearts want to be seen as desirable, attractive, and worth fighting for. I think maybe that’s why I chose to go through with the opportunity to do a photo shoot a few weeks ago. As an event photographer, I’m used to being on the other side of the camera, where I’m more comfortable. This was a big deal for me.

There is a part of me that goes through all the “what-if” scenarios and wants to know–needs proof that if for some reason later on down the road if God asks me to remain single, if for some reason the white dress experience isn’t a part of the program and I’m asked to go through life without a “plus-one”…I need to know that it’s part of His plan and it’s not because I wasn’t cute enough. Sexy enough. Or not attractive enough. Sometimes a girl just needs to know–or needs to be reminded–she’s got it. *wink*

Before judging these statements, there is a constant battle out there assaulting our hearts with every magazine, advertisement, and product placement telling us that very thing. You’re not attractive enough, buy this to become so. Do this to become so. Keep your man happy by doing this or buying that or looking like her. It’s a multi-billion dollar industry.

If we somehow manage to not give in to these lies that bombard us around every corner, we’re seen as vain, haughty, delusional, over confident and conceited. If we do give in to these lies of not being enough, we become insecure, petty, needy, not confident and self-conscious. Either end of the spectrum is out of balance and unattractive. Every woman has beauty, is valuable, and has something to offer. Balance, ladies. Balance. (For more on this subject, check out the book “Captivating” by Stasi Eldredge. It’s a fascinating take on this subject.)

Every woman has beauty, is valuable, and has something to offer.

So anyways, in a moment of needing to validate my own personal cuteness, I had a little fun in a boudoir photo shoot. Never imagined I’d do something like that, but in a weird turn of events, I did it. And it was quite fun. *wicked smile*

Little background: As a wedding photographer, I often get approached to shoot boudoir sessions for brides who want to do a little extra something special for their man. Love the concept, just not my type of photography and not necessarily the type of business I want to promote or make money from. I decided a long time ago when a shoot accidentally took a turn in that direction that I wasn’t going to delve into that side of the business and that’s not how I was going to pay the bills. Not my thing.  However, I did need to have someone trustworthy and professional to refer them to for those ladies who want to spice up and enjoy that part of their marriage. Soooooooo, I chose to check out and test out a photographer who specializes in that type of photography when I booked my bio portraits for the book. Two birds with one stone, perfect. I had to get professional bio shots for my upcoming book…and I also got to step into and have a little bit of fun feeling cute.

These pictures are just for me. Even if not a single soul ever sees the prints but me, I will know. I was beautiful. I got it. *winking* Don’t worry–I know I am worth more than a pretty picture, but I also need to know and remind myself when those attacks on my heart come that God made me beautiful and I am worth it, even if for the moment He doesn’t give me  a solid long-term relationship or a man in my immediate future. Shallow, I know. But I need that right now.

That, and how much fun will it be to gift that man that gets to open the real package a little preview of what’s to come? For now, these pictures are just for me. Later on, for his eyes only. *evil grin*

Fake Smiling. Know When It’s Needed…And When It’s Not.

Fake Smiling. Know When It’s Needed…And When It’s Not.

There are times that come when it is time to celebrate. C-E-L-E-B-R-A-T-E! Admittedly, we’re not always ready or in the mood to party. Sometimes those celebrations have the most inconvenient timing and come when we do NOT want to and have no intention of celebrating…at all. This  can come in the form of a best friend’s wedding, a friend’s graduation, the birth of a baby, or even a loved one’s birthday. I knew a friend who miscarried her baby the morning of her son’s birthday party and still put on a smile and helped blow out the candles that evening with no one ever knowing. Those momentous occasions don’t really care if we feel like celebrating or not, they still come. They still deserve to be celebrated.

It can be a struggle to celebrate and be happy for someone else when we are in the midst of our own pain and in the middle of our own struggles. Part of us wants to stay in and attend our own pity parties, not go to their real ones. But the other part of us in our heart of hearts is truly excited for them, but that doesn’t change our own situation or make it any easier to attend their party or celebrate with them.

We may drag our feet when it comes to attending and celebrating, but be damned if we ever show it, lest we take away from their special moment. But I am so glad for those situations that come along that force us to smile. Sometimes when we’re forced to fake a smile, we actually end up smiling for real.

Although I am not an actress in any sense of the word, I can still put on a good show. Doesn’t take much more than a flash of pearly whites and a flirty giggle to convince most people that things are dandy. My insides may be screaming but for the most part you’ll probably never be the wiser. There is an art in knowing when we need to step up our performance for the benefit or protection of someone else and in knowing when to let down our guard and show our raw and real emotions. There is a balance in taking one for the team and pushing through, and in being vulnerable enough to not always have to put on a show.

There is an art in knowing when we need to step up our performance for the benefit or protection of someone else and in knowing when to let down our guard and show our raw and real emotions.

I recently had a moment where in the midst of celebrating my best friend’s wedding to the amazing man in her life I had to sneak away and step out of the reception for a few moments to collect myself. As much as it’s a privilege and honor to stand next to her and be a part of this wonderful moment, weddings still sting for me.

I know myself well enough that I am the type of person that needs to fall apart in private and then be able to put myself back together in solitude. I thought I had done a good job in using the “I need to go to the bathroom” ruse, but unfortunately a friend totally busted me when she came into the house to use the lou herself. Good friends are hard to find. I may have fooled a dance floor full of people but I had to laugh when she called me out and said, “Your lying lips are telling me you’re fine but your eyes give you away and tell me you’re not.” 

Wordlessly she let me have my moment, handed me a tissue, sweetly cleaned me up and led me through the hallway and back outside to the dance floor just in time for the happy couple’s first dance. I am so glad she did and I am so thankful for her understanding, her strength, and her discretion. I finished the evening bouncing and vogue-ing with the best of ’em. Besides, I didn’t wear smokin’ hot pink shoes for nothing! Did I have fun? Yes. Was it tough? Absolutely. But it was completely worth it. I wouldn’t have missed this celebration for the world.

Sometimes we have to take one for the team and go to the party, fake smile and all. The celebrations and our loved ones deserve it…they deserve both our support and our smiles. Who knows? If we let ourselves, we might even enjoy it and smile for real.

Real or Fake? Can you tell?

 

 

Progress…and what to do when there seems to be a lack of it.

Let’s talk about progress…and what to do when there seems to be a lack of it.

Maybe it’s a job hunt that has gone nowhere. Maybe your kids are getting worse instead of better even after investing in expensive resources to help them. Maybe it’s an addiction that just seems to keep rearing it’s ugly head. Maybe it’s a project at work that you just can’t seem to make any headway on. Or maybe it’s a relationship with a family member or a marriage that just seems to be getting colder and more distant despite your efforts to turn it around.

There is nothing more frustrating than seeing a lack of progress in a situation that has been given so much time and effort and energy already. We are a people and live in a culture that likes to see results. Better yet, instant results. In school we’re taught that if we do the work and put in the effort we’ll get the good grade and move up. Unfortunately, that’s not always how it works in real life. It’s easy to look at a situation that’s not changing fast enough and want to give up on even trying anymore. Seeing a lack of progress often feels like failure…but it’s not.

It’s always the in-between phase that is the most difficult and quite frankly, sucks the most. That part where you’re already invested, you’ve already tried, you’ve already sacrificed…and nothing. The funny thing is, there’s always magic going on in the background that we can’t see. Secret progress that we’re not privy to. Just because we can’t see it doesn’t mean that nothing is happening.

Sometimes deep down we know that change is happening, but if we can’t actually see it first hand, it feels like absolutely nothing is happening. That’s a little how I felt during the editing stages of this upcoming book. I sent the manuscript off to the editor knowing full well that it would be over a month or two before getting it back. But the fact that I couldn’t touch it, couldn’t look at it,  couldn’t work on it, and I couldn’t see who was or view the process or progress while they were working on it–felt like nothing was happening. But there was. There’s been progress on this project even when I couldn’t see it.

I believe God loves working behind the scenes. When our prayers go up and we invite Him in to work on our situation and give control over to Him, it often times feels like there’s way too much time and far too little progress than we’d like. The thoughts start coming–did He hear me? Am I doing something wrong? Why is nothing changing? Why am I even trying? Does He even exist?

And then there’s a suddenly. If we don’t give up, in a moment and in a way that we never could make happen ourselves, He moves. And if we’re lucky, maybe one day we can look back and see some of the behind-the-scenes divine manipulation only He could pull off. Our job is to never give up. Never quit. Even if it seems like absolutely nothing is happening, or especially if things seem to be getting worse rather than better. He is never late. How awful would it be to give up a day or even hours before our breakthrough happens? I cringe to think of how many times this happens.

So keep at it. Keep fighting. Keep on keeping on. Stand your ground and hang on to the tiniest glimmers of hope and smallest signs of progress. Sometimes an inch is far more meaningful in a journey than a giant leap. There will be progress and there will be results as long as you don’t give up.

Don’t give up. Never give up. Your suddenly is on the way.

QUOTABLE QUOTES FROM PEOPLE MUCH SMARTER THAN I:

  • Being defeated is often a temporary condition. Giving up is what makes it permanent.” – Marilyn Vos Savant
  • Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is to try just one more time.” – Thomas A. Edison
  • Giving up is conceding that things will not get better. And that is just not true.” – Aimee Mullins
  • If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” – Frederick Douglas
  • We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road. In that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.” – C.S. Lewis

 

Becoming Living Proof

Becoming Living Proof –

It’s here. The moment you’ve been procrastinating, dreading, and avoiding is here.

You knew it was coming. You could see it in the distance. You did everything you possibly could to avoid it. But the disbelief that God would actually ask you to walk through it didn’t stop it from happening.

We all have experiences in life that we never thought would happen. Things we never thought we would be experiencing. Specifically alone. Maybe there was someone in the picture that was supposed to be there with you. Your stability, your anchor, your hope, your rock and maybe even your trusted partner in crime. That is who the moment or experience was supposed to be with. For whatever undefined reason, they’re not. Never in a million years did you ever picture walking through it without them, let alone by yourself. Alone.

But the person that should be sitting next to you isn’t. Or the person you want sitting next to you, isn’t. What do you do when you are asked to do something or go through something on your own that you never thought you would have to face or be doing alone? There is nothing more crushingly lonely than that. You would give anything, do anything, say anything to not…well, to not.

I had that moment. Actually, I’ve had a multitude of moments like that. These are the moments that I’ve had to take to my Maker with every hurt and confusion written on my heart and pour it out to Him. (Oh, Him and I–we’ve had words.) I do not know why He asks some to walk through this type of pain and these types of moments and not others. It’s maddening and almost unbearable to be surrounded by those who seem to have exactly what you want–what you’ve waited, hoped, and have been believing God for.

I have friends who don’t know what to do with me or to make of me when I have these moments. It’s not their fault. They’ve never had to walk through it. I pray to God they never do. But to those that have, and those that do, and those that will…there is a strength that is built no other way but by going through.

Who knows? Maybe for no other reason than that is why the seemingly unbearable must be bared. I firmly believe that we each have a personal individualized plan for our lives that doesn’t look like anyone else’s, and only God knows the type of strength that is needed to be built to carry out that plan. So in those moments of envy and jealousy that unintentionally spring up when we see others being spared or not being asked to walk through the same thing we are, we have no idea what they are going through or what they are dealing with in their own journeys. We’re all on a journey.

The “why me?” or “why this?” questions that can’t be helped may not ever be answered. Maybe they will, but chances are it won’t be until much, much farther down the road. When those dreaded moments catch us, confront us, and cannot be avoided no matter how hard we try–that is when it is time to take a breath, ask for that specific grace to keep going, and then to keep going. There’s no shame in falling apart. Sometimes it’s needed. When we do there is a Master Builder who can put us back together even stronger, tougher, better than we were before. We are stronger than we will ever know.

And when we meet or come across or see someone else who is going through their own uncomfortable and indescribable tough moments, we will know how to respond. We will know how to understand. We will know how to stand with or sit next to them without squirming. Because we’ve been there. And we made it. We can be living proof. It’s not easy to be somebody else’s living proof that they will make it, that they can make it…but it’s worth it.

Be living proof.

Image

Hooker Make-Up & Pasta Rejection

When’s the last time you stepped out of your comfort zone?

No really, when was the last time? Was it something significant, like starting a business, moving to a new city, starting a new relationship, or maybe ending one? Or maybe something a bit smaller and not so scary, like trying a new type of food, taking a different route home from work, saying hello to that cute girl in class, or even a new haircut?

 

Where The Magic Happens (Hint: Outside The Comfort Zone)
Where The Magic Happens (Hint: It’s Always Outside The Comfort Zone)

There’s just something about stepping out and trying something different that gives a little spark to the soul. It’s always outside the comfort zone where the magic happens.

I had to laugh at myself as I walked into a Noodles & Company this afternoon with my heart set on the penne rosa and allowed myself to be talked into trying one of their new entrees by the clerk behind the counter. It wasn’t just about the pasta. I laughed because I had literally walked in to the restaurant after figuratively stepping out of my own comfort zone earlier in the afternoon to get professional portraits taken for the bio of the “Life Before the Lottery” book being published later this summer.

As a wedding photographer, I am so used to being on the other side of the camera that I couldn’t help but squirm as I was on the wrong side of the lens. I did not enjoy the thought of being the center of attention and having a zoom lens in my face. Apparently I can dish it but I can’t take it. I thought about going about the cheap route and tossing a friend or family member my camera to take the required snapshot. That would have been comfortable…and cheaper. But then I decided to suck it up, buckle down, and actually book professional portraits. I obviously haven’t gotten them back yet, but I’m sure they’ll be worth the squirm.

So there I was, in full professional make-up that looked like hooker-wear and bigger-than-life fluffy hair ordering penne rosa at 3:30 in the afternoon. Fabulous. As I took the first bite of the new entree I immediately regretted caving. Dang it! The clerk was nice enough to see me struggling with my new choice and brought out my original go-to. No harm, no foul. Don’t worry, I didn’t go hungry.

As I sat there starving and sitting alone full make-up and all at the corner table, I decided to pat myself on the back. It’s not every day that one gets the opportunity to step out of their comfort zone on multiple levels. So go ahead, make a left instead of the usual right. Get that new haircut. Apply for that promotion. Call the girl. You never know what may happen. No matter what, chances are it won’t happen in the comfort zone.

It may not have worked out with the new pasta–and who knows, it may not work out with the pictures either–but life is way too short to not take risks. Even if it’s only pasta.

QUOTABLE QUOTES FROM PEOPLE MUCH SMARTER THAN I:

30 Things To Stop Doing To Yourself

30 Things To Stop Doing To Yourself

I read this post yesterday and  absolutely loved it! Not one to often share the work of others on the blog but this post was definitely “share-worthy”. Creating a bucket list lifestyle and living life before the lottery encompasses treating yourself right and learning from your mistakes. This post is a great reflection of those lessons. Thank you to the original contributors!

Written By Marc and Angel
Shared By Lesley Carter, Bucket List Publications

Seriously, stop.
Seriously, stop.

“When you stop chasing the wrong things you give
the right things a chance to catch you.”

As Maria Robinson once said, “Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.”  Nothing could be closer to the truth.  But before you can begin this process of transformation you have to stop doing the things that have been holding you back.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  1. Stop spending time with the wrong people. – Life is too short to spend time with people who suck the happiness out of you.  If someone wants you in their life, they’ll make room for you.  You shouldn’t have to fight for a spot.  Never, ever insist yourself to someone who continuously overlooks your worth.  And remember, it’s not the people that stand by your side when you’re at your best, but the ones who stand beside you when you’re at your worst that are your true friends.
  2. Stop running from your problems. – Face them head on.  No, it won’t be easy.  There is no person in the world capable of flawlessly handling every punch thrown at them.  We aren’t supposed to be able to instantly solve problems.  That’s not how we’re made.  In fact, we’re made to get upset, sad, hurt, stumble and fall.  Because that’s the whole purpose of living – to face problems, learn, adapt, and solve them over the course of time.  This is what ultimately molds us into the person we become.
  3. Stop lying to yourself. – You can lie to anyone else in the world, but you can’t lie to yourself.  Our lives improve only when we take chances, and the first and most difficult chance we can take is to be honest with ourselves.  Read The Road Less Traveled.
  4. Stop putting your own needs on the back burner. – The most painful thing is losing yourself in the process of loving someone too much, and forgetting that you are special too.  Yes, help others; but help yourself too.  If there was ever a moment to follow your passion and do something that matters to you, that moment is now.
  5. Stop trying to be someone you’re not. – One of the greatest challenges in life is being yourself in a world that’s trying to make you like everyone else.  Someone will always be prettier, someone will always be smarter, someone will always be younger, but they will never be you.  Don’t change so people will like you.  Be yourself and the right people will love the real you.
  6. Stop trying to hold onto the past. – You can’t start the next chapter of your life if you keep re-reading your last one.
  7. Stop being scared to make a mistake. – Doing something and getting it wrong is at least ten times more productive than doing nothing.  Every success has a trail of failures behind it, and every failure is leading towards success.  You end up regretting the things you did NOT do far more than the things you did.
  8. Stop berating yourself for old mistakes. – We may love the wrong person and cry about the wrong things, but no matter how things go wrong, one thing is for sure, mistakes help us find the person and things that are right for us.  We all make mistakes, have struggles, and even regret things in our past.  But you are not your mistakes, you are not your struggles, and you are here NOW with the power to shape your day and your future.  Every single thing that has ever happened in your life is preparing you for a moment that is yet to come.
  9. Stop trying to buy happiness. – Many of the things we desire are expensive.  But the truth is, the things that really satisfy us are totally free – love, laughter and working on our passions.
  10. Stop exclusively looking to others for happiness. – If you’re not happy with who you are on the inside, you won’t be happy in a long-term relationship with anyone else either.  You have to create stability in your own life first before you can share it with someone else.  Read Stumbling on Happiness.
  11. Stop being idle. – Don’t think too much or you’ll create a problem that wasn’t even there in the first place.  Evaluate situations and take decisive action.  You cannot change what you refuse to confront.  Making progress involves risk.  Period!  You can’t make it to second base with your foot on first.
  12. Stop thinking you’re not ready. – Nobody ever feels 100% ready when an opportunity arises.  Because most great opportunities in life force us to grow beyond our comfort zones, which means we won’t feel totally comfortable at first.
  13. Stop getting involved in relationships for the wrong reasons. – Relationships must be chosen wisely.  It’s better to be alone than to be in bad company.  There’s no need to rush.  If something is meant to be, it will happen – in the right time, with the right person, and for the best reason. Fall in love when you’re ready, not when you’re lonely.
  14. Stop rejecting new relationships just because old ones didn’t work. – In life you’ll realize that there is a purpose for everyone you meet.  Some will test you, some will use you and some will teach you.  But most importantly, some will bring out the best in you.
  15. Stop trying to compete against everyone else. – Don’t worry about what others are doing better than you.  Concentrate on beating your own records every day.  Success is a battle between YOU and YOURSELF only.
  16. Stop being jealous of others. – Jealousy is the art of counting someone else’s blessings instead of your own.  Ask yourself this:  “What’s something I have that everyone wants?”
  17. Stop complaining and feeling sorry for yourself. – Life’s curveballs are thrown for a reason – to shift your path in a direction that is meant for you.  You may not see or understand everything the moment it happens, and it may be tough.  But reflect back on those negative curveballs thrown at you in the past.  You’ll often see that eventually they led you to a better place, person, state of mind, or situation.  So smile!  Let everyone know that today you are a lot stronger than you were yesterday, and you will be.
  18. Stop holding grudges. – Don’t live your life with hate in your heart.  You will end up hurting yourself more than the people you hate.  Forgiveness is not saying, “What you did to me is okay.”  It is saying, “I’m not going to let what you did to me ruin my happiness forever.”  Forgiveness is the answer… let go, find peace, liberate yourself!  And remember, forgiveness is not just for other people, it’s for you too.  If you must, forgive yourself, move on and try to do better next time.
  19. Stop letting others bring you down to their level. – Refuse to lower your standards to accommodate those who refuse to raise theirs.
  20. Stop wasting time explaining yourself to others. – Your friends don’t need it and your enemies won’t believe it anyway.  Just do what you know in your heart is right.
  21. Stop doing the same things over and over without taking a break. – The time to take a deep breath is when you don’t have time for it.  If you keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll keep getting what you’re getting.  Sometimes you need to distance yourself to see things clearly.
  22. Stop overlooking the beauty of small moments. – Enjoy the little things, because one day you may look back and discover they were the big things.  The best portion of your life will be the small, nameless moments you spend smiling with someone who matters to you.
  23. Stop trying to make things perfect. – The real world doesn’t reward perfectionists, it rewards people who get things done.  Read Getting Things Done.
  24. Stop following the path of least resistance. – Life is not easy, especially when you plan on achieving something worthwhile.  Don’t take the easy way out.  Do something extraordinary.
  25. Stop acting like everything is fine if it isn’t. – It’s okay to fall apart for a little while.  You don’t always have to pretend to be strong, and there is no need to constantly prove that everything is going well.  You shouldn’t be concerned with what other people are thinking either – cry if you need to – it’s healthy to shed your tears.  The sooner you do, the sooner you will be able to smile again.
  26. Stop blaming others for your troubles. – The extent to which you can achieve your dreams depends on the extent to which you take responsibility for your life.  When you blame others for what you’re going through, you deny responsibility – you give others power over that part of your life.
  27. Stop trying to be everything to everyone. – Doing so is impossible, and trying will only burn you out.  But making one person smile CAN change the world.  Maybe not the whole world, but their world.  So narrow your focus.
  28. Stop worrying so much. – Worry will not strip tomorrow of its burdens, it will strip today of its joy.  One way to check if something is worth mulling over is to ask yourself this question: “Will this matter in one year’s time?  Three years?  Five years?”  If not, then it’s not worth worrying about.
  29. Stop focusing on what you don’t want to happen. – Focus on what you do want to happen.  Positive thinking is at the forefront of every great success story.  If you awake every morning with the thought that something wonderful will happen in your life today, and you pay close attention, you’ll often find that you’re right.
  30. Stop being ungrateful. – No matter how good or bad you have it, wake up each day thankful for your life.  Someone somewhere else is desperately fighting for theirs.  Instead of thinking about what you’re missing, try thinking about what you have that everyone else is missing.

In Honor Of…

In Honor Of…

I read an article the other day about a family who is continuing to cross off items on the bucket list of their daughter who was killed by a 20-year old drunk driver. I teared up as I thought what a wonderful way to honor a loved one and how difficult it must be for her friends and family to do that.

Her parents found her list folded and tucked inside a make-up bag with only a handful of items checked off in her short 21 years. Most recently, her parents took her ashes up in a plane during a flying lesson, checking just one of the many things off of her list. They may not be able to “fall in love” for her, but they can run through a poppy field, tour Niagara Falls, drive Route 66, and visit the Smithsonian.

In Honor Of Cristina Chesterman
In Honor Of Kristina Chesterman

There are so many things in life that just seem unfair. Losing a loved one to a drunk driver, the death of a child, a loss to cancer, a school shooting, natural disasters and so many other things that break our hearts and cause us to ask the big question. Why? The injustice of it can lead us through feelings of anger, loneliness, heartbreak, depression, more anger, and often times hopelessness. No matter the cycle of swirling emotions, the big question still lingers. Why?

Questions. So many questions. Where’s God? Why didn’t he come through? Why did He allow this to happen? How come this isn’t happening to anybody else? How come that person is not suffering any kind of consequence? Why?

The haunting part of this young girl’s story is the item on her list to “save a life.” I’m sure as a student going to nursing school she had different thoughts as to what this may look like. Little did she know that her unexpected death would save 5 lives through her choice to be an organ donor. A nine-month old infant, a 55 year-old man in San Francisco, a 64 year-old grandma…and even a family friend received one of her kidneys.

Personally, when I find myself asking these burning questions that just won’t seem to go away the only answer I seem to come to is the gaping reality that I don’t have any answers at all. I am not the answer holder. But just because I don’t have an answer doesn’t mean that there’s not an answer. It just means that I don’t know it…yet. All I can see and all I can focus on is the finite point in time of the pain and the loss, the bigger picture is lost on me. The only thing that seems to help is to know that there is a bigger picture.

In this season where spring is springing and so many are about to celebrate the Easter holiday, I can’t help but think of the pain that went with those individuals surrounding the Easter story. Whatever you choose to believe or not believe, this particular holiday is a marker of new beginnings and fresh starts, forgiveness, and a symbol of ultimate love and sacrifice. The key players in that crucifixion saga I’m sure could not see the bigger picture either. They did not know the lives that would be saved through the tears and the innocent blood shed. There were no bunnies or chocolates in that story, but violence, betrayal, confusion, pain, injustice, and death. Not all that different to what we feel when going through our own losses.

But in that story, the bigger picture is just that. Bigger.

There is a comfort in knowing that there is a bigger picture, a bigger plan, and a broader tale than what can be seen at the moment. Some questions will never be answered, but that does not mean that there is not a bigger picture. We can ask those questions–especially that ugly big one. Pretty sure our Maker can handle our tough questions. But the answer may not come in the form that we expect. We’re not the author of the bigger Story. We’re not even the author of our little story within the bigger Story. Sometimes our piece of the tale is to continue on in the journey even when we don’t know how the story will end or even what the next chapter may entail.

Maybe our part is to continue on through a poppy field, the Smithsonian, or even Route 66.

 

Susan Vieira: 64 year-old organ donor recipient
Susan Vieira: 64 year-old organ donor recipient

 

To read more about Kristina Chesterman, please click here.Kristina Chesterman Memorial Foundation

Kristina’s bucket list:

  • Be in four places at once
  • Go to Venice
  • Learn to play chess
  • Beat someone at chess
  • Save someone’s life
  • Own two pieces of property (one with livestock)
  • Manage or own my own business
  • Get married
  • Have kids
  • Learn to fly a plane
  • Go to four (out of seven) wonders of the world
  • Fly first class on a plane
  • Visit the 50 states
  • Ride in a hot-air balloon
  • Go parachuting
  • Go sky diving
  • Ride a camel
  • Travel to all the continents
  • Be remembered as “the smiley girl”
  • Break up a fight between two guys over me
  • Be in homecoming court
  • Run through a poppy field
  • Tour Niagara Falls
  • Go to the Smithsonian
  • Drive Route 66

A Tale To Be Told…The Whole Story

What’s the story you want to tell?

It happens to everyone. We all go through something tough, something challenging, something that takes us by surprise or something heartbreaking and we have a decision to make. Usually these are decisions we were never planning to have to make in the first place. When it’s all said and done, years later, what’s the story you want to tell?

There's a tale to be told...

No matter what difficult situation you’re in right now or what tough moments you’re currently going through, breathe. Later on it’s going to be a story to tell. This incredibly difficult thing and these tough decisions are just another part of your tale and in time, the thing that you are going through right now is just another chapter and another addition to your story. It will be a part of your overall story that you’ll be able to look back and say, “I remember when….” The good thing is, we all have a choice in what that story looks like. Not in what happened or the circumstances given–that part we have no control over–but in how we handle it and what we do.

I know a friend whose wife left him and his three small kids for their realtor after they just relocated to a new state. How he handled that situation, how he treated her, how he acted during and after the divorce is part of the story that he has to tell his kids…and tell his future wife later on. I know multiple friends who lost their houses during the housing bust. Financially devastated. What they did, the choices they made, and how they handled those losses and how they picked up the pieces and moved forward is now a part of their story. What happens when a family member suddenly passes away, or when a natural disaster takes out everything you’ve ever loved or known? Job losses and how unemployment, job hunting, and maintaining communication and relationships with family during that time frame is part of the story.

Tragedy happens. Difficulties happen. Unfair things happen. That part is out of our control. But what is in our control is our reactions and how we handle those moments. It’s not just about the “getting through” and the “going through” process, but about what we want our story to look like years down the road as we tell it in the other chapters of our lives to the other people in our lives. The struggle is part of the story.

When I flunked out of college I…  When I lost my job I…  When I got cancer I… When my kid went south and became pregnant I… When he got deployed I… When he passed away I… Or when she left me I…    These are the things that combine into the overall story of our lives. These defining moments and surprise decisions are what create our individual and personal story. There’s always a story to tell.

http://blog.whitneyenglish.com/the-struggle-is-part-of-the-story/

Even every day living is part of our tale. When we’re single, how we act and what we do becomes our backstory for when we meet that significant someone. What’s really fun to hear are how two single people’s stories collide and become one tale. At weddings and engagements we always want to know how two people met. We want to know the love story. Oh, how the choices we make determine the type of tale we can tell! When we don’t even know it, we are writing our own story.  (And maybe even the story of someone else!)

The question is–are we doing things that we want to be a part of our story and tell about? Are we creating the type of story that we even want to tell at all? Or are we brave enough to ask ourselves if we’re making choices that later on we won’t want to talk about? Hide that part of the story. In light of our past experiences, our present circumstances and our future hopes and dreams, are we making the choices and decisions that are creating a story we want to tell? There’s always that one moment, that one decision, that one chance that can take the story in a completely different direction. The funny thing, sometimes we know when those moments are and sometimes we don’t.

Who knows? Right now, there may be a decision that needs to be made or a choice that can take you in one direction or another. The question is not necessarily what should you do, the question may be what story is it that you want to tell?

Whatever it is, make it a story you want to tell. Go ahead, make it a good one!

QUOTABLE QUOTES FROM PEOPLE MUCH SMARTER THAN I:

  • The struggle is part of the story.” – Whitney English
  • If you don’t want anyone to find out, don’t do it.” – Chinese Proverb
  • Decide that you want it more than you are afraid of it.” – Bill Cosby
  • May your choices reflect your hopes not your fears.” – Nelson Mandela

The Going Through Process

Life is a process. Boom–that was deep. After going to a recent author’s conference and soaking in tips from the experts like a sponge, I have been thinking a lot about the processes of writing and publishing. Then that got me thinking about processes in general.

The Going Through Process
The Going Through Process

In an age where practically everything is instant and on demand–90 second microwave dinners, instant upload and streaming, instant messaging, even instant degrees–we rarely have to wait for anything anymore. This has lead to the misconception that waiting, for anything, is bad. Waiting is not bad. It may be uncomfortable at times, but it is in the process of waiting that character  or something equally amazing is developed. It’s in the “going through” that we become stronger, wiser, better, and more prepared. Learning to wait well is priceless.

Just like how pregnancy is  a process–a 9 month waiting process where a lot is going on and good things are happening–there’s a waiting period that is needed in order for things to develop and go well. It does not turn out well if that waiting period is fast forwarded, shortened or skipped in any way. But the end product is totally worth it. That’s what I’ve told myself…I’m birthing a book.

In developing the game plan for the book and walking out the steps to go from a document on my computer to a quality book in print I have discovered several things. There’s a reason for the process. True, there are websites out there where in just a couple clicks one can upload a file and have it in print the next week. The trouble with that is that it looks like it. There is a quality that is only developed when the time is taken to go through the actual process of anything that is worth having or doing.

I can choose to skip the process, but then I’d end up with a watered down crap book. That’s not the story I want to tell. I can also choose to do nothing. (I actually did that for awhile. It wasn’t until this last year that I decided that that wasn’t an option and made the effort to dust off the dream.) Funny how we try to do everything other than the actual work. We want to press fast forward or skip button or bail out altogether in order to avoid the actual process of going through.

This book deserves my patience. It is worth the process. It is worth the research, the meetings, the waiting, the edits, the cost, and the time. It is worth the effort. It deserves far more than vanity press or print-on-demand and the crapola quality that goes with it. As much as I would like to fast forward to summer and physically hold it in my hot little hands, I am going to do this right and I am going to wait.

Now whether or not I wait well is the question. *laughing*

QUOTABLE QUOTES FROM PEOPLE MUCH SMARTER THAN I:

Incident Warning! Uh oh, it happened again.

I had another incident. I hate it when this happens. It had been awhile since the last occurrence so when I found myself living it yet again it had caught me off guard and I had forgotten how big of a problem I have.

Incident Warning
Incident Warning

I am directionally challenged. To the point where it’s beyond funny and just plain annoying. I can get lost in a hallway if given the chance. Although in this most recent case I found myself driving the completely wrong direction on I-25 (a highway in Denver I should be very familiar with by now) and didn’t realize it for about three exits as I was driving past the new giant Cabellas and apparently heading towards Colorado Springs. Great. Then I had to figure out how to redirect myself to where I really wanted to go. *sigh* I have issues.

I am very grateful to have friends and loved ones who thankfully don’t share this problem and keep me out of trouble most of the time, but when I’m by myself, look out! (Thankfully God tends to pair the lost with the un-lost! It’s a beautiful thing.) I feel reasonably intelligent in so many other areas but for some reason am missing the gene for this and am quite flawed in this department. Not one of my redeeming qualities!

The thing with being lost is that when you’re lost you don’t really know you’re lost until much, much later. One never really knows they’re lost at the moment they become lost, it takes time to figure out and usually by that point one has been lost for quite awhile. And because one has been lost for awhile it’s usually not that easy to just back up and get “un-lost” quickly.

I guess that’s why I like the idea of the 30×30 list so much, or the “bucket list/life list” concept. It’s an overall game plan or road map that keeps you on track to where you really want to go. Once the list is created and actually in writing (yes, put pen to paper and make it official), it’s a whole lot easier to recognize an opportunity in disguise when it comes up and then make the necessary choices to go down the path to crossing it off. It’s like pulling out the map to make sure you’re headed in the right direction. There may be different roads or options with varying factors, but the overall destination is the same.

My 30×30 list was like a map that kept me going in the direction I ultimately wanted to go, and for that I am so grateful. Surprisingly, I didn’t always recognize an opportunity to cross an item on the list because it didn’t look like what I had originally planned. Opportunities so often come disguised as something we never even considered an option. So often a random opportunity would come up that would need an intentional “turn” at that particular moment or I’d miss it altogether. Multiple times I remember thinking, “Is this it, is this my chance? Do I do it now or do I wait for a  ‘better’ time?”

It’s like coming to a fork in the road–you can continue in the direction you were headed or you can make an intentional choice to go down a different path. Route changers. The destination may remain the same, but the route or the way you take to get there is adjusted. Highway verses back roads. A route change is very different than a destination change. These “route change” opportunities could be sneaky and if I didn’t have a list then I wouldn’t know that now was the time to act. (I can think of 3-4 items on my 30×30 list that wouldn’t have happened at all if I hadn’t jumped on the random opportunity that arose to take a different path. Just because the current opportunity didn’t look like how I originally thought it did not mean that it wasn’t my opportunity to do it now.) There’s just something gratifying about crossing an item off a list. It’s like arriving at your intended destination on time and in one piece. The scenery along the way may not be what was initially expected or there may be a few more U-turns than one would like, but the arrival is oh-so-sweet. It feels good.

You’ll be glad to know that I did figure out how to turn around that day on the highway and I did make it to my intended destination (a dinner at a friend’s house. It was lovely.) At the time I was pulling a U-ie I had to roll my eyes at my own silly mistake and I swore I would tell no one. This little incident just reminded me how much I need GPS and navigational instructions to keep me on track.

Life is always better when you can recognize an opportunity in disguise and know you’re headed in the right direction.

QUOTABLE QUOTES FROM PEOPLE MUCH SMARTER THAN I:

30 Day Update On The 30×30 Publishing Project

30 Day Update: Life After Kickstarter

To all the backers of the 30x30 publishing project…THANK YOU!
To all the backers of the 30×30 publishing project…THANK YOU!

It’s been 30 days since I sat in the chair in my living room staring at the computer screen, pinching myself after hearing the news that the 30×30 publishing project on Kickstarter was fully funded. I could hardly breathe. I can still hardly breathe, but for different reasons.

Over 54 people joined forces in just 30 days to be a part of putting this dream in print. That’s a lot of thank you’s owed. Each one is an answer to prayer, and each one has a unique story as to why or how they got involved. For the moment, that’s for me to know and you to maybe someday find out. Right now my heart is still smiling and my head is overwhelmed with what is next. From my heart to yours, thank you.

So exactly what is next? Just to let you know, it takes roughly three weeks for all the Kickstarter funds to be processed and released–a lot of account verification and financial hoops to go through. To make sure everything’s legit, the funds are frozen and put on ice for a bit. Nothing too ridiculous, it just takes a little time, and for those of us (ahem) who are a little impatient to get started, it felt like three years.

Now that it’s official and the funding is in…it’s time to make a book.

It’s written–over 30,000 words to be exact–there are just a gazillion steps to actually getting it into a product and package that is worth putting in front of public eyes. This last week I met with the design team and we hashed out the preliminary plans including, artwork ideas, official book title, proposed timelines, estimated costs, and immediate next steps. The 30,000 word book monster is being sent to the editor next week and will be officially in que for the first round of slice-and-dice edits, and will then be sent back to me for approval of said slicing. It was fun and a bit overwhelming to talk possibilities on layout of what the pages and chapters will look like, artwork ideas, and what the book will actually look and feel like. If all goes well and according to plan (and everyone meets their proposed deadlines), it looks like this Life Before the Lottery dream will be in print this July! Part of me wants to snap my fingers and fast forward to the day when I see the dang thing in print while the other part of me is enjoying being jittery and the process of walking through the unknown. Weird, I know.

In the meantime, preliminary steps are being taken on the marketing side with things like domain name registrations for the website, launching the “official” Facebook page, and signing up for webinars and getting review lists organized. I’m learning about ISBN numbers, copyrights through the library of congress, and how to write official acknowledgments for the back of the book. All this is new to me and more than anything I pray that I can make these decisions wisely and efficiently. This book is not just about me. It never was…there’s a heavy responsibility to the 54 backers and many many others who supported this project before one ink splotch was ever made. It’s exciting, humbling, and sometimes downright terrifying. I love it!

So to all my backers, it’s really now a “hurry up and wait” process. I look forward to sharing more as we continue to reach new levels in this publishing project. Can you say summer book launch? *big grin*

P.S. The “Life Before the Lottery: 30×30 Project” Facebook page mentioned above can use all the help it can get during this building stage. Like it, share it, and even post your own two cents, pictures, or stories of your own bucket list accomplishments. If you’ve been a part of one of my 30×30 adventures, post it! I’m looking for shared pictures, adventures, and your own “I did it” stories. The more content on it the better. Currently it’s all sad and lonely, so the faster we get to 100 likes (or even 500) all the better…and the more legit we’ll look for the book launch! Thank you for being a part of this journey. Smooooooooch!

Become A Fan
Become A Fan

KICKSTARTER SUCCESS! A Reason To Smile. (And Smile BIG!)

I told myself I would not be a clock watcher. This morning I woke up to post my last update,  plea, and posting in the 30×30 fundraising campaign and then told myself I would NOT sit there and anxiously watch the minutes tick away, wondering if the funds would come in. I would not.

Thanks cookie.
I’m working on it, thanks cookie.

With just hours to go in the fundraising campaign to raise dollars for the 30×30 book publishing project, I was 80% to goal and had roughly $1,400 left to go. In a normal world some might consider that success. After all, $7,100 is a lot of money in just 30 days. But in the Kickstarter campaign world of crowd funding it’s either all 100% raised by the 30 day deadline or no funds are collected or exchanged. Nothing. Not even the funds that were already raised. That’s the beauty and the beast side of Kickstarter.

As I logged out of my computer with 4 hours left and 20% to go, I went to go pour myself a cup of coffee and give my thanks to God, no matter how this turned out. I figured He’s the one that gave me the dream and desire to share the stories and go to print, He could open up the hands and hearts to make this happen. Every single pledge, every single backer to this project is an answer to prayer. I could have easily busted out a credit card and forced this to happen. Trust me, I thought about it. But that is not the tale I want to tell and that is not how I desired this dream to go down. Personally, if He’s not in it and not involved, I don’t want it.

God is never late. But He’s also never early either. As I was taking deep breaths and getting ready to ignore on purpose the last few hours of the campaign, I stood in the kitchen in shock as I  got really good news.  The 30×30 project is officially 100% funded! The phone rang with congratulations and the news that the 30×30 project was 113% funded with $9,635. I could hardly breathe.

It’s really happening. After roughly two years in the making, this book is really going to happen. I have a sneaky feeling that as this project moves forward in the publishing process that there will be more “God winks” and more tales to tell. I am taking the rest of the day to let my heart sing, smile uncontrollably until my face hurts, and do the happy dance while reflecting on all the amazing faces that have played such a key part of this process…and then it’s time to get to work and keep moving. I have a book to publish.

So from me to you, I raise my cup of coffee in celebration and cheers–thank you for being a part of this journey. Nicely done everyone.

Can you say “summer book launch?”

THANK YOU!
What good news looks like…
THANK YOU!
The 30×30 project is 100% funded! It’s happening–THANK YOU!

Lessons from the Broncos

As a Bronco fan there was nothing more painful than watching the team in orange go down in flames against the Seattle Seahawks. (To all the non-football fans out there, the Denver Broncos lost in an 8 to 43 spanking in one of the most embarrassing Super Bowls this last Sunday.) Seattle’s defense was nothing short of amazing, and kudos to every player that touched the field. Their win and first Super Bowl title was well-earned. Bravo gentlemen, bravo.

Super Bowl 2014
What Defeat Looks Like

Today I wore orange.

Nothing is more natural than to want to hang a head in shame after an embarrassing crash and burn. To throw off and stamp out any hint that reminds us of the shameful failure. No one wants to talk about failure, let alone represent it. So I was not surprised when I got a few eyebrow raises and mocking comments thrown my way. All in jest–but their version of reminding me just in case I wasn’t aware, that my team lost. And lost big. Oh, I know. But I’m still wearing orange anyways.

In the sports world, there is an incredibly interesting trend of “bandwagon fans.” People who show up out of no where as super fans when the team is doing well, and then mysteriously disappear and are no where to be found as soon as the team does poorly or there is a loss. This does not just happen in sports. Sadly, it happens when it comes to a lot of things in life. Everyone wants to be your friend when you’re in the spotlight and viewed well by others, but we all know it can be very, very lonely when we’re in a pit and fall on hard times. It’s in those ugly moments when we find out who our true friends are…who our true fans are.

But what about the under dog? People also like seeing “overcoming stories” and cheering on those that rise above adversity. We need to see examples that real people with real problems can conquer the impossible and prevail over the tough stuff. We need it. We crave it. We long for it. We need to know it can be done. We need that encouragement. Sometimes it’s those stories that we remember and learn the most–not the big winners.

Here’s a little reminder from an article I read recently:

Unlike Carl Lewis and Daley Thompson, Derek Redmond is not a name that conjures up memories of Olympic gold medals. But it is Redmond who defines the essence of the human spirit. Redmond arrived at the 1992 Olympic Summer Games in Barcelona determined to win a medal in the 400. The color of the medal was meaningless; he just wanted to win one. Just one. Down the backstretch, only 175 meters away from finishing, Redmond is a shoo-in to make the finals. Suddenly, he heard a pop in his right hamstring. He pulls up lame, as if he had been shot. As the medical crew arrives, Redmond tells them, “I’m going to finish my race.” Then in a moment that will live forever in the minds of millions of people since then, Redmond lifted himself up, and started hobling down the track. His father raced out of the stands, and helped his son cross the finish line to the applause of 65,000 people. Redmond did not win a medal, but he won the hearts of people that day and thereafter. To this day, people, when asked about the race, mention Redmond, and can’t name the medal winners.

Now THAT is something to cheer for.

I have to remind myself of this as I am coming upon a situation that can either be an amazing reason to celebrate, or something that I’ll be tempted to tuck tail and run from. In three days I will either have fundraised the $8,500 needed for the publishing of the “Life Before the Lottery – 30×30” book I’ve been working for two years on, or not. It’s an all-or-nothing campaign on Kickstarter where I have 30 days to raise 100% of the project funds or absolutely no funds are exchanged. Zero. Zilch. Not even the $4,300 that’s already been raised. (That’s the beauty and the beast side of Kickstarter.) Victory or defeat comes in three days. I’m halfway to my pledge goal and well into the 4th quarter.

Deadline for pledges is February 7th at noon. It is then that I will be either celebrating my own personal Super Bowl or crying in my beer.

I know people are rooting for me, for this. There’s over $4,300 in pledges that says so! And it is because of that very thing that I am touched by the support and so grateful to the backers of this project. So no matter what happens on February 7th when the fundraising clock runs out…I will be wearing orange then too.

Thank you to all the fans out there pulling for me.

30×30 Publishing Dream Kickstarter.com Pledge Page
(If you want to be a part, feel free to pledge or help to get the word out–thank you for every forward, tweet, post, and link shared!)

QUOTABLE QUOTES FROM PEOPLE MUCH SMARTER THAN I:

Olympian Derek Redmond’s heroic finish – video

Failure Hall of Fame

With 9 days left to go in the 30×30 Kickstarter publishing campaign, there’s a lot of questions on what is actually in the book. Let me be the first to say that it’s not just my stories. Here are some of my favorites profiled in the section on failure.

  • Henry Ford failed and went broke five times before he succeeded with his motor company. He went on to revolutionize the assembly line and become one of the most successful entrepreneurs of all time.
  • Beethoven’s teacher called him “hopeless” as a composer. He went on to write 9 symphonies, 32 piano sonatas, 5 piano concertos, and 1 opera.
  • Winston Churchill failed the sixth grade. He was defeated in every public office role he ran for. He then became British Prime Minister at the age of 62.
  • Thomas Edison’s teachers told him he was “too stupid to learn anything.” Edison also famously invented 1,000 light bulbs before creating one that worked.
  • Steven Spielberg was rejected from his dream school, the University of Southern California, three times. He sought education elsewhere and became a director of over 50 movies, producing over 111 films.
  • Harland David Sanders, the famous KFC “Colonel,” couldn’t sell his chicken. More than 1,000 restaurants rejected him. He went on to have over 600 KFC restaurant franchises throughout the country.
  • Vera Wang failed to make the U.S. Olympic figure-skating team. Then she became an editor at Vogue and was passed over for the editor-in-chief position. She began designing wedding gowns at 40 and today is the premier designer in the business, with a multi-billion dollar industry.
  • Walt Disney went bankrupt at age 22 and was fired by a newspaper editor because he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” He created 81 feature films with 48 Academy Awards.
  • Fred Astaire’s first screen test, the judges wrote: “Can’t act. Can’t sing. Slightly bald. Can dance a little.” Astaire went on to be the most famous dancer of all time and won the hearts of American women forever.
  • Dr. Seuss’ first book was rejected by 27 different publishers by age 33. He’s now the most popular children’s book author ever.
  • Vincent Van Gogh only sold one painting in his entire life, to a friend. He sometimes starved in order to create the 800 paintings he’d eventually do. Today, his works are priceless.
  • Sir Isaac Newton was tasked with running the family farm but was a miserable failure. Newton was sent off to Cambridge University and became a physics scholar, discovering many of the laws and theories that not only furthered our understanding of the universe, but also gave future scientists the tools to discover how to enter space. He discovered gravitational force and established the three Universal Laws of Motion.
  • Abraham Lincoln failed in business in 1831, lost his job and couldn’t get into law school in 1832, was defeated for state legislature in 1832, defeated for Speaker in 1838, defeated for nomination of Congress in 1843, lost re-nomination in 1848, defeated for U.S. Senate in 1854, defeated for nomination for Vice President in 1856 and again defeated for U.S. Senate in 1858. In 1860 Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States, ending the Civil War and slavery during his presidency.

Every single one of these people failed. Multiple times. Every single one is a success story of someone rising up and overcoming hardship to influence the world around them and is an example of what can be done when failure is refused. Persistence pays off. Facing fear and refusing to give up is what defeats failure. Do not be afraid to fail. Do not be afraid of the tough stuff.

(Pledge on Kickstarter by Feb 6th to help get more of the story out.)

What Happens When The Dream Dies

Dreams. We all have them. As children we dream of being doctors, firefighters, astronauts, teachers, moms, and dads. We dream of our wedding day. Of throwing the winning touchdown. Of performing in front of thousands. But then somewhere along the way something happens. Somewhere in the process of growing up, we quit dreaming. It happens to everyone. Security and safety took the place of risk and reward. It happens to everyone.

It happened to me. It’s easy to give up. Sometimes we even pretend we don’t even want it anymore. We lie to ourselves. It happens to everyone.

I’ve started and stopped writing the 30×30 book multiple times. Even now with 30,000 words written and a game plan in place, I find myself wanting to pretend I don’t care about whether it happens anymore. To protect myself just in case it doesn’t happen. When I don’t know what to do next, when it looks like it won’t happen, when each step forward turns out to be two steps back, or when my efforts seem utterly fruitless…it’s tempting to give up on the dream. It happens to everyone.

But what if God is asking you to dream again? What if your heart’s desires are planted there by God Himself? He is the ultimate dream giver. What if it’s not for your glory, but for His? To inspire others. Feed the hungry. Help the poor. Start a business. Lead a group. Help someone else. It’s never too late. Ever. The world is waiting.

That’s part of what’s behind my 30×30 Kickstarter campaign. I have a dream to publish the 30×30 stories and the concept of living life before the lottery–living out your dreams…and I have 15 days left (or until February 6th) to fundraise and see it happen. It’s an all-or-nothing campaign where the entire $8,500 is pledged and raised or I get nothing. Zilch. Nada. In some ways it seems totally doable. That’s only 242 $35 pledges–and if I think about it, with 254 Facebook friends, I can wrap my mind around it. Completely and totally possible when the goal is broken down and thought about it like that. But then on the other hand when I look at the overall $8,500 goal, sometimes it can seem so far away and completely overwhelming. But that’s the beauty of dreams. There’s a side of them that’s overwhelming, and there’s a side of dreams that can be tangible and real.

I should know. I’ve lived it. The whole story behind the 30×30 list is that I lived out and saw 29 of the 30 things on my 30×30 list actually happen! I am a living breathing example that dreams really can and do come true. Against all odds, we truly can see the impossible become possible. And I am also a living breathing example that we need to keep dreaming. Always keep dreaming.

To Be A $35 Pledger:
Kickstarter.com

 

Dream it.
Go ahead. Let yourself dream.

MERRY NEW YEAR! Uh oh, New Year’s Resolution Time.

There may be more truth to this than not!
There may be more truth to this than not!

MERRY NEW YEAR!

Uh oh, resolution time. For someone who is all about goal setting and knocking out items on the 30×30/Next List/Decade List/Bucket List or whatever title it’s given, I actually am not a huge fan of New Year’s resolutions.

Whaaaaaaaaaat? Shocker, I know. I think it’s mostly because I, like many others out there, don’t keep them. Quite frankly I don’t even remember any of the New Year’s resolutions I made last year…or the year before that, or the year before that. Boo. I guess that goes to show just how important they were. On the other hand, I absolutely love fresh starts and clean slates and for that very reason I love putting a bow on the old year, blowing a kiss (or possibly flipping the bird, depending on what type of year it was) and waving hello to a new one. For me, New Year’s resolutions have always seemed empty and hollow. Even when I do make them and put effort into actually making good ones, I still can’t seem to maintain them. And when I don’t I feel bad.  I don’t particularly like doing things that make me feel bad. Resolution guilt, no thanks. There’s enough in this world that tears us down and gives us reasons to fall apart, I don’t need to do anything to help that.

Although I may be cynical and a bah-humbug about New Year’s resolutions, I am a firm believer in the power of setting goals (both big and little) and then putting the work and effort behind it in order to meet those goals. I don’t know exactly why, but I almost think that putting the resolution label on a goal almost dooms it to fail. It’s the kiss of death. That’s why I loooooooved the concept of the decade/bucket/30×30 list. Just making my 30×30 list was empowering, let alone actually completing 29 of them. Yes, the 30×30 list had a definite expiration date, but it allowed me to have goals for multiple areas of my life in a time frame that also allowed the freedom to be able to pursue them as the opportunities arose.

Looking back at the last six months makes me smile when I realize that not only did I set a vision and create the 39 items for my “Next List,” but in that short six month time frame I’ve actually already crossed off 10 of them! I definitely can’t boast a similar success rate for any of my New Year’s resolutions. Maybe the trick is not to make resolutions for just this year, but to take the time to sit down and to seriously make a wide array of positive goals for the next few years or even the next decade and then see just how many can be crossed off in a year. That way whether it’s one thing crossed off or ten, you’re still making improvements and not berating yourself for the other 10 that you didn’t do. If your goals can be turned into a game or a challenge to see how many can be accomplished instead of the “I will do these five things or else,” you will have a much better chance of success than if you don’t do them or you can’t get them all done and you feel like a failure.

Who knows, I may not get to cross off all the items on my “Next List” like I crossed off 29 items on the 30×30 list, but with 10 checks already under my belt so far I think I’m off to a really good start. So maybe this year my only New Year’s resolution will be to keep going after my Next List. I can’t wait to look back a year from now and see how many Next List items can be attributed to 2014. I do believe this is going to be a very exciting year. Cheers to 2014 and all the good things to come!

Hello Fresh Start.
Hello Fresh Start.

QUOTABLE QUOTES FROM PEOPLE MUCH SMARTER THAN I: 

 

VIDEO Debut – Watch the 30×30 Project Unfold

30×30 List: Living Life Before The Lottery Video Debut

Gearing up for the publishing world, check out the 30×30: Living Life Before the Lottery video.

 30×30 List: Living Life Before The Lottery Video

30x30 List: Publishing Project
30×30 List: Publishing Project
Click Here For Video

As in life in general, the 30×30 list/project/book has been experienced and is coming in stages. I think that’s designed on purpose. Maybe if everything happened all at once we wouldn’t be able to handle it.

So as I delve deeper into the 30×30 book publishing project and the world of book publishing, I am finding that this too comes in stages. Stage one, write the dang thing. Check. Stage two, read it. Check check. Stage three, find an editor, layout guy, author community, and book publishing gurus to tell you about all the other unknown stages and parts needed to actually birth a book. Check and check. Stage four…do it.

Wait. I got stuck on that one. The doing it part actually involves stage 3.5, find funding. So on that note, I have started a Kickstarter project for any and all who want to be a part of the publishing journey. Publishing is not a solo act. As soon as Kickstarter approves and publishes my 30×30 project (any day now), I’ll have exactly 30 days to fundraise the $8,500 it’s going to take to get this thing off the ground and in print. Kickstarter is an all or nothing thing. I either raise all of the $8,500 needed in 30 days or I get nothing. Daunting? Maybe to some. I did the math, and if every one of my Facebook friends donated $33.46, I’d be on my way to the printers. Cakewalk. (Ok, we all know it’s a little more complicated than that, because not every one of my Facebook friends has $33.) Personally, I think it’s quite fitting that the 30×30 book project has 30 days to raise the dough to do it. So let the kickstarting fundraising games begin! I can’t wait to high five my supporters and backers I continue on in the next stage and next chapter of this 30×30 journey.

Check out the video.

http://animoto.com/play/sGpPf0lBzAVcHRBElGmJww

And hunt for the 30×30 project within the next few days on http://www.kickstarter.com

Be sure to let me know what you think. I love thought bubbles.

Phone Sensitivity – Guilty.

While at a Christmas cookie party I found myself barraged with questions which later led me on a journey of self-reflection. It’s funny how something that seems so simple on the surface can be so fully loaded underneath. There are several things on the “Next List” that fit into that category. Without knowing the backstory, they look pathetically easy and almost like a cheap check-off. This is the case with #13, “Kiss goodbye to the dreaded Blackberry.

Don't be jealous....
This is how I roll…don’t be jealous.

One fabulous and lovely girl at the party started innocently poking fun at my cell phone (as she should, it’s a sad beat-up little Blackberry from the ancient days), and I was quite amused and rather relieved when a long-time girlfriend stepped in and ever-so-sweetly yet protectively said, “Uh, uh. Ash is a little sensitive about her phone. Leave her alone.”

This goes far beyond new tech phone jealousy. Much deeper than affordability or upgrade eligibility. I’ve been eligible for a fancy phone upgrade for months. So why the delay? Why the sensitivity? Why not just cross that off the list and get it over with?

Because in my world, it’s not that easy. I wish it were.

Little backstory: First and foremost I had a Blackberry for work back in the day when it was still cool to do so. At the beginning of the year I had given up the yucka Blackberry when a loving and generous boyfriend bought me a new state-of-the-art fancy pants phone when he asked to merge phone plans. Cute. It was a random act of kindness that meant a lot to me. I wish the story stopped there. I’m not a tech person, and it took me a long time to succumb to the Apple bug when I bought a Mac for photo editing purposes. I loved that someone would see the need and step up and take care of it for me, not because I couldn’t do it myself, but because they were willing and wanting to do so. There is just something so beautiful when someone shows they are paying attention and that they care.

Fast forward several months and I am sitting front row at a funeral and later canceling the account and returning to the store the very gift that once made me smile and feel so cherished. Going back to the yucka Blackberry stung in so many ways that I can’t even describe without fighting back tears. And as painful a reminder it is and as desperately needed a new one may be, I somehow just can’t bring myself to purchase one for myself. I wish I could. I’ve even walked into the AT&T store multiple times telling myself that “this is the day,” and have walked out empty handed every time. Maybe some day I’ll be successful. Maybe a small part of me wishes that somebody, anybody else, will be kind enough to know me well enough to be strong–and care enough–to take that bullet for me (because I evidently am not strong enough to do it myself.) But today is not that day.

It does not make it any easier that just a few weeks ago I sat on a friend’s couch catching up with a bunch of giggling girls and looked around and saw that all three girls sitting around me had not just fancy new phones, but iPhones. Of course I would notice them. When I salivated and oogled their new toys like they were candy I couldn’t and shouldn’t touch, I winced to find out that each girl had been given the phone as a gift by their significant other. Random acts of kindness in action. The salt in the wound was when all three acted as if it weren’t a big deal at all. I heard multiple times, “I didn’t even really need one, he just did it. I don’t even know how to use it.” Ouch.

So at the cookie party when I awkwardly fell silent and turned red in the cheeks, I was grateful to not have to answer or defend my questionable taste in phones. The fact that I’m even able to talk about it now to the “public” is for me, a really big deal and a huge step in an attempt to hopefully someday be able to cross off #13 on the list. In my world, this is not just  simply “time to get a new phone,” it really is for so many reasons something I need to have the courage to kiss goodbye. Anyone can purchase a new phone. It’s not hard. But when it comes to supposedly “easy #13” on my Next List, it IS hard for me and I really do have to kiss it goodbye. And if I am the one that has to go in and make that big girl purchase, then quite honestly I’m just not ready to do that yet. For now, it stays on the list.

One Frustrated Cookie

Can You Identify?

Ever had a dream drop down in your heart that you know you were to do, to have, or to experience? It’s actually quite scary when it happens, because the excitement of living out the dream can drown in the very realistic possibility of it not happening. And who wants to live with an unfulfilled dream? Maybe that’s why some people crush it before it can even begin to take shape. Sometimes we think that it’s easier to not even start than to take the risk beginning something we don’t know how to finish.

Destiny and fate are words that don’t quite describe it accurately, but the feeling is something along those lines. It’s that nagging feeling of a dream that just won’t die, no matter how dyer the circumstances seem. The scary part happens when you just can’t see, reason, or figure out how it’ll happen, but you know deep down that it’s on its way and it’s for you.

That’s faith, my friend. Believing in something that you can’t see, feel, or touch…but believing nonetheless.

That’s how I feel about several things in my life, but mostly about this stinkin’ 30×30 book. More than anything I know, that I know, that I know I’m to write this 30×30 book and get it out there. There have been many many moments when I want to throw my hands up in the air in utter defeat. I’m not sure I even want to any more, but that deep down gut feeling that I’m to do this just won’t let me go. Barf!

The struggle lies not just in the writing, but in the actual producing and publishing processes that I know absolutely nothing about. I’m just me, who am I to write a book? Let alone how to publish it. And who am I to give any type of advice to other people…it’s not like my life’s in order or that I have everything figured out.

But when we’re given a dream and a vision, it’s in the pushing forward when we don’t have it all figured out that breakthroughs happen. It’s in doing what we can and trusting that God will come through in the things we cannot. And that’s where I sit right now with this book dream.

As I move forward in this book project my head spins with ISBN’s, layout, editing, websites, marketing plans, and of course…funding. All things I don’t have the slightest clue in. So as a little peek under the tent, I’m in the process of putting together a Kickstarter fundraising project to kickstart the final stages of what needs to happen to get this book dream out and in print. All I have to say is, I don’t know exactly how, but I know it’ll happen. Stay tuned for more on that as I put the pieces together. It’s coming…

I read something this week that hit home in my heart. “We often think receiving what we’ve been guaranteed ought to be a cakewalk, but Scripture shows the opposite is more often true. The most profound things God promised were often fulfilled against the greatest of odds and through the most difficult of hardships. To God, faith is often the point–God does nothing cheaply. Perhaps the divine nature of a promise fulfilled guarantees its expense. We may receive a hundred unexpected things from God with delightful ease while the fulfillment of some of the things we believe He promises us proves virtually impossible. You see, the impossibility is what makes the fulfillment of the promise fall under the God category. God makes promises man simply can’t keep.” — Beth Moore, The Patriarchs

So on that note, all I have to say is that I’m hanging on to this book dream…along with several others. Quite honestly I’ve had it for a while but I just didn’t, and don’t, know exactly what to do with it. I feel that God dropped this book idea into my heart for a reason and come hell or high water, it’ll happen! Who am I to let my fears and doubts stop God from doing His thing. There are some behind-the-scenes reasons why this book project seems impossible, but I am so glad to know that I am hooked up with the One who specializes in the impossible. Can’t wait to see how this whole thing plays out.

One day there will be a book in print. And then I am going to throw a party.

Thankful for random fortunes that make me smile. How did it know? Thanks cookie.
Thankful for random fortunes that make me smile. How did it know? Thanks cookie.

QUOTABLE QUOTES FROM PEOPLE MUCH SMARTER THAN I:

Saying Yes to Loonies n’ Toonies

Saying Yes to Loonies n’ Toonies

Canada invited me up to visit…and I said yes.

Ok, that’s not exactly what happened. What really occurred was an out-of-the-blue invite from a long-time friend to join her for a long weekend up in Vancouver after she saw “Canadian Passport Stamp” on my Next List blog. What a pleasant surprise! I could’ve come up with a million reasons why I shouldn’t and couldn’t go. Instead, I dusted off my documents, set the date, and before I knew it we were giggling on the plane.

This reminds me of a lesson learned from my original 30×30 list…when given the opportunity, jump. Some things go in the “just because I can” category, and this particular cross-off is one of them. More than one item on my 30×30 list was crossed off simply by saying yes when it was time to say yes.  The funny thing is, once my list was officially created, written down, and communicated and not just some idea in my head, opportunities started coming out of the woodwork to actually do them. The thing is, you just never know if and when the opportunity will arise again. Some of the best things in life happen when you choose to say yes when you could’ve said no.

“Some of the best things in life happen when you choose to say yes when you could’ve said no.”

In this particular case, my friend’s parents were temporarily stationed in the heart of Vancouver for a project for the next 6 months and were open for a visit from their lovable daughter…and apparently her friend. (That would be me. Growing up I was kind of the Kimmie Gibler of this family, and I guess even in adulthood nothing really changed. Maybe I’ll expand more on that some other time!) What it ultimately boiled down to was the fact that more than likely I would never have an opportunity to experience Canada quite like this ever again. The excuses had to go.

And I am so glad they did. Over the course of the trip I can now say that I’ve added a Canadian stamp to my passport (little mini lesson: you have to actually ask the customs agent for this…and hope you get a nice one), managed to purchase a Canadian lotto ticket, had a coffee in Whistler and waved to the Olympic rings, have officially eaten a Timbit, experienced a Canadian aquabus, molested some nice Canadian statues, walked over 14 miles in one day while playing tourist at the breathtakingly beautiful Stanley Park, and now know what loonies and toonies are. (For those of you who don’t know, loonies and toonies are Canadian money. Yeah, I didn’t know that either and quite honestly find the money titles a little amusing too.)

More than anything this was an opportunity to take a breath, nab a passport stamp, bust out my camera, say hello to some long-time friends, and enjoy a different part of the world I’ve never been to before in a way I will probably never get to experience again.

And all because I said yes.

True Loonies and Toonies. No joke.
True Loonies and Toonies. No joke.
View from the apartment - hello Vancouver.
View from the apartment – hello Vancouver.
Whistler - Olympic Plaza
Whistler – Olympic Plaza
Timbits - and they come in pumpkin!
Timbits – and they come in pumpkin!
Don't ask. No comment.
Don’t ask. No comment.
Welcome back. Why thank you!
Welcome back. Why thank you!

 

The Suckee Part of Crossing Off East Coast Fall

The Suckee Part of Crossing Off The List

If there’s one thing I can pass along to those creating their own lists, it’s that random check-off opportunities will arise and when they do, no matter how ridiculous, scary, or ill-fit the timing…take them. This is something I am re-learning as I create my “Next List” and am watching unexpected check-off opportunities unfold.

Celebrating crossing off “East Coast Fall” by taking a selfie with the nation’s capitol.

Today I am officially unpacking from a journey that included almost four weeks, 7 cities, 6 flights, 4 states, 2 bus rides, 2 countries and ending in the overall culmination in the crossing off of 3.5 “Next List” items. (The .5 goes to the addition of 3 more states to my “visit all 50 states” goal. Pennsylvania, Washington, and if I really choose to count it–technically Delaware.) I must say, after all that I have an intense date with a stack of mail and a rather overwhelming laundry pile in my future. But that can wait–for now, I write.

This particular adventure, as exciting as it sounds on paper, was an emotionally charged and at times rather draining and challenging experience. As difficult and heart breaking as some parts were, I would not trade them for anything.

You see, not everything on my list is about good times and fun adventures. Whaaaaaaaaaaat? True story.

Due to some ex-boyfriend issues and some painful memories from the past, there are parts of the country and some specific places that I personally made off-limits and have chosen to avoid up until this point. It wasn’t until just recently that I was able to have the opportunity–and the courage–to face some of them head on. Ever dread a high school reunion, an encounter with a past love, or drive past an old childhood house and have to process both good and bad memories and feelings that go with them? Yeah, this trip was kind of like that.

When I put “East Coast Fall” and “Annapolis” on my Next List, they were items that were fully loaded with behind-the-scenes reasons as to why they made the list. I knew crossing them off would mean facing some ghosts from the past as I replaced them with new experiences in the present. Thankfully I was armed with some phenomenal support from friends and family as I did that. Fighting emotional battles like that unarmed is not a wise idea…gather your army and bring your own weapons.

Go ahead, let your freedom flag fly
Go ahead, let your freedom flag fly (Old Glory in Church Falls, VA)

I am a firm believer that we are designed and meant to live in freedom, but that does not come easily and we have to intentionally make an effort and fight for it. Some people choose not to fight, and their world becomes increasingly limited, restricted, and eventually stifling. Avoidance and procrastination can only last for so long until the very method we use to protect ourselves causes problems and hinders opportunities for good things in the future. Fighting for it comes in drumming up the courage and finding reasons to face the tough stuff. And as tough as it is, the rewards are worth it. They are so worth it.

Holy cow Batman! They get a little out of control here on the East Coast, don't they?
Holy cow Batman! They get a little out of control here on the East Coast, don’t they?

If I wasn’t willing to make myself (and sometimes those around me) uncomfortable while facing some of those less-than-pleasant memories, I wouldn’t have been able to create and add new ones to the mix. Like photographing the Washington Monument on the last night it was lit in full scaffolding, getting lost while driving at night in less-than-stellar parts of D.C., running off eleven miles of tears through autumn leaves and cobblestone bridges, wine tasting at a friend’s winery in the afternoon sun in the hills of Virginia, trying three different versions of bad clam chowder, eating world famous crab cakes overlooking the Chesapeake bay, or waiting in line to get your picture taken (and sneak a touch when the guards aren’t looking) with the Liberty Bell.

Construction on the Washington Monument after the earthquake left a unique look among the scaffolding. This was the last night the scaffolding would be lit, never to be seen like this again. (Hopefully.)
Construction on the Washington Monument after the earthquake left a unique look among the scaffolding. This was the last night the scaffolding would be lit, never to be seen like this again. (Hopefully.)

Construction on the Washington Monument after the earthquake left a unique look among the scaffolding. This was the last night the scaffolding would be lit, never to be seen like this again. (Hopefully.)

Freedom  and liberty often comes with cracks
Freedom and liberty often comes with cracks
Cheers from Hillsborough Winery
Cheers from Hillsborough Winery, VA

None of these would have been possible if I was not willing to be uncomfortable for a moment. It’s in moments like these where growth happens. It’s in choosing to take a stand and fight through the tough stuff where freedom and life and new beginnings are found. So cheers to the “tough stuff” items and those who take a chance in order to move forward. And on that note, it’s time for me to move forward on that laundry and mail pile.

This is Mojo's way of welcoming me back after being gone almost 4 weeks...by knocking off the counter and dancing in the mail pile. Thanks buddy.
Mojo’s way of welcoming me back after being gone almost 4 weeks…knocking off the counter and dancing in the mail pile. Thanks buddy.
Walking (the very rainy) streets of Philidelphia
Walking (the very rainy) streets of Philadelphia

East Coast Fall…check!

East Coast Fall...check!

Crossed off a biggie on the “Next List” and celebrated by taking a selfie with the nation’s capitol. East Coast Fall…check!

Construction on the Washington Monument after the earthquake left a unique look among the scaffolding. This was the last night the scaffolding would be lit, never to be seen like this again. (Hopefully.)
Construction on the Washington Monument after the earthquake left a unique look among the scaffolding. This was the last night the scaffolding would be lit, never to be seen like this again. (Hopefully.)
Construction on the Washington Monument after the earthquake left a unique look among the scaffolding. This was the last night the scaffolding would be lit, never to be seen like this again. (Hopefully.)
*Sigh*

*Ding* You are now free to move about the country.

Sliding through the airport at 6:00am on a random Tuesday morning sans coffee, I noticed far more than I probably should have at that hour. As we were going through the standard stripping of shoes, belts, coats, jewelry and metals, I couldn’t help but notice the woman behind me becoming more and more agitated and riled  up. Riled up is an understatement. Close to causing a scene would be a more appropriate way to describe the situation. Those she was talking to were not helping.

The scene of the crime
The scene of the crime

As one who was bitten by the travel bug long ago and had a good chunk of my 30×30 list heavily weighted in the travel bucket, I am no stranger to the airline industry. And as one who had a job requiring over 80% travel, over the years I’ve been stripped down, detained, missed flights, had luggage lost, and have all around been inconvenienced in all the standard ways travelers can be delayed and inconvenienced. Clearly she was upset at the inconvenience of the traveling policies in place at the airport and she was more than willing to voice them to anyone who would listen.

As I slid my trays through the x-ray, I decided I couldn’t keep quiet any longer. I calmly turned around to her and shrugged my shoulders as I said with a smile how grateful I was to be able to have the freedom to fly at a moment’s notice. Slightly louder I voiced how I loved living in a country where we have access to 50 states without visas, green cards, or months of paperwork and  how I couldn’t believe how easily I can go from one end of the country to the other simply on a whim. And with the sweetest smile I could flash, I finished my little speech by saying that if all I had to do for that freedom is take off my shoes and prove my identity with a simple state driver’s license…I was more than willing to do that.

Needless to say that shut her up.

Does the 3 oz plastic baggie liquid rule make sense to most people? Or the shoe stripping and computer check? Maybe not to the average traveler. Can we ask questions and make snide comments regarding the ridiculousness of the inconvenience? Sure. Are there reasons these rules and policies are in place? Two towers and multiple non-disclosed prevented incidences that we’ll never ever know about say otherwise.

Yes, there are a lot of problems in our country. There are a lot of other blogs that can get into that. But if you want to complain about the travel troubles of our country, I highly recommend taking a trip to any other continent and country and attempt to jump through their hoops and abide by their travel policies and then tell me how awful the United States is. I dare you.

I double dare you to do it before I’ve had my coffee.

The tack board that saved the day.

LESSONS LEARNED From Creating The List:
Tell the world and put it in writing. And pictures.

I kept my 30×30 list to myself for a while. For a long while. I’m a fairly private person, and although I can charm a room and engage almost anyone in conversation, I keep my personal life and thoughts locked away. After all, it was just a bunch of ideas created while having a bad day and playing hookie from work at a coffee shop. Honestly, I didn’t really think I’d ever be able to do all 30 items, let alone in such a short time frame. I thought it was a list just for me that no one really needed to know about, but I quickly realized that to do some of the stuff on my list I couldn’t do it alone. Who wants to go on a cruise or go skydiving by themselves? I personally believe that we are not meant to do life alone. Maybe that’s why I was so miserable, I was trying to do life alone to avoid the pain of being disappointed and judged by others.

So I crossed off some things on my list without ever telling anyone what I was really doing. After several of the “easier” items got checked off my list and I was on a roll, I began to tentatively tell more people about my list. I was surprised to learn that people were actually intrigued and interested on what I wanted to do. And the more I talked about it and the different stuff on it, the more others lit up and said, “I’ve always wanted to do that too!” I soon discovered that I was not crazy and that things I wanted to do were actually common dreams and desires for other people. Why not cross things off together? After all, it’s harder to quit when someone else is involved and counting on you.

As I became more and more excited about my 30×30 list and actually brave enough to tell people, a friend let me in on a winning secret of her own–a vision board.

What on earth is a vision board? I had to ask her more about it.

Basically, her vision board was a tack board decorated with important pictures, lists, and her hopes and visions for the future. At first I thought it was a juvenile and cheesy idea–I hadn’t had a tack board since I was an awkward teenage girl and thought I gave up the cut-and-paste décor look when I moved out of dorm life in college. But a vision board is a silly concept with a very serious purpose. Accountability and hope.

Vision Board Example

First I had to choose to actually create it. Vision boards do not create themselves. I’d already created my list. In fact, I posted my list on my fridge, e-mailed it to my family, and I even e-mailed it to myself so it would be in my inbox every time I check my e-mail. But my friend told me that there was just something magical that happens when you create a way to see your goals in picture form with tangible images, and it hits home when created with your own hands and with your own style. She was right.

I remember the night I made my vision board. I still couldn’t believe I was doing it. I bought a tack board with a thick black frame that looked like a picture frame for art, a booklet of colorful photo album paper, and some nice pens. I turned down offers to go out on a Friday night and chose instead to stay home, have a date with myself, bust out my scissors and arts and crafts supplies, and watch my favorite movie as I cut and paste my vision board into being.

As I printed up countless clipart images to represent the various items on my list, I began to organize them into categories. I dedicated a section of my board to travel with an “I heart NY” pin, a picture of the leaning tower of Pisa and a picture of the Italian flag to represent my dream of traveling overseas. In the financial section of my board I put a picture of a cap and gown and an icon of a backpack with dollars flowing out of it to represent school loans and financial provision for my master’s degree. I printed out pictures of beautiful homes to represent my dream to own a home. I raided clipart pictures of dumbbells and skis for my fitness goals, and even created a section devoted to romance. After all, what’s life without love? If I was going to put in the effort of creating a cheesy vision board, I was going to go all out!

There have been a lot of Friday nights in my life, but that is definitely one for the memory books. Something so simple as decorating a tack board and hanging it in my bedroom made my dreams seem tangible and attainable. It literally took the ideas in my head and in my heart and allowed me to see and touch them on a daily basis. I took a picture of my work of art and e-mailed it to my family and friends living out of state so they could see it. When my sister came out to visit a few months later, I asked her to write my list in calligraphy. My chicken scratch handwriting just wasn’t worthy enough for my board. By that point I had crossed off about 10 items and it was fun to literally put a check mark and date next to each one that had been accomplished so far.

My vision board was a way of bringing my dreams floating around in my head and heart into a tangible world where I could see them. To step it up a notch, I found inspirational quotes and scriptures and put them all around the frame. I committed to God my dreams and asked Him for His help. Uh oh, now I committed to God—I better do my part and make an effort! I asked Him to take away anything that needed to not be on the list and then asked Him for His help on just how to go about doing this.

Fast forward several years and I am very thankful I did. Twenty-nine down. Can’t call that silly. Don’t knock it ’till you’ve tried it. Cheers to tack boards, vision boards, and dreams that come in clipart!

My Question To You:

What is your vision board going to have on it?

If you were to have a date with yourself, what would that look like?

What’s stopping you from creating your own vision board?

What are you going to do about it?

Someone's Dreams

Quotable Quotes From Those Much Smarter Than I:

  • And then God answered: Write this. Write what you see. Write it out in big block letters so that it can be read on the run. This vision message is a witness pointing to what’s coming—it can hardly wait! And it doesn’t lie. If it seems slow in coming, wait. It’s on its way. It will come right on time.” – Habakkuk 2:2-3 (Message Bible)
  • God is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” – Ephesians 3:20
  • “God has not called us to stay the same and be stagnant, but to abound more and more.” –Psalms 115:12
  • “Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen. It gives us assurance about things we cannot see.” –Hebrews 11:1

 

Tick Tock. Outrun the clock…

Lesson Learned: I Am An Excuse Maker…and I Am Out Of Balance

This is where time belongs...in your hands.
This is where time belongs…in your hands.

After I made my list I quickly discovered that there were multiple items that could be grouped into categories. In honor of the movie “The Bucket List”, I called them category buckets. I had a financial bucket, a travel bucket, a fitness bucket, a romance bucket, and a “just because” bucket. But some things on my list conflicted with other things on my list. My travel bucket conflicted with my financial bucket and my quest for adventure conflicted with my need for peace and stability. Right there I had a reason to give up, I couldn’t even agree with myself on what I really wanted! But I’ve dealt with a lot scarier things than conflicting interests, so I continued the balancing act and kept attempting to squish all the excuses that kept popping up. And I was full of excuses. But one of the ones that kept rising to the surface was the issue of time.

Little known secret I discovered…I have been given the same amount of time as everyone else. My day has the same 24 hours in it as the person sitting next to me. We’ve all been given 24 hours to our day, seven days to our week, and twelve months to our year. No one has been given any more or any less time. Period. Time is the great equalizer. No matter what your age, salary, occupation, background, childhood experience, family size, or gender…we all have the same 24 hours in a day. It’s how we use it that makes all the difference.

Time is an extremely valuable commodity. Just like money, we spend it. The things, reasons, and amounts that we spend our time on vary from person to person and situation to situation. We spend our time in a similar way we spend money—we spend it on necessities, pleasures and entertainment. (And we probably waste it on unimportant things more often than we’d like to think or admit.) Some of us are very good time managers, while others are not. Just because you are good with your money does not necessarily mean you are good at handling your time, and visa versa. And very often if we have a lot of one, we tend not to have a lot of the other.
Image
I am not an expert in money management, nor time management. But they both play significant roles in the ultimate outcome of successfully achieving any type of goal. For example, I am admittedly a travel junkie and my 30×30 list was heavily skewed towards travel and adventure activities. With credit card waving wildly in hand I could’ve had half my list accomplished in 60 days if I wanted to (and trust me, I thought about it.) But I would’ve been in debt up to my eyeballs and that would not have helped me with the other items on my list in my financial and health buckets. Debt creates stress and stress creates health problems.  I may have won in one bucket but completely tanked in the other two. If I went completely out of balance in one category, I would’ve jeopardized the success of my other goals in other categories. After creating my list I saw that I my financial bucket was quite full. I had umpteen # of travel related items, a desire for more education that would probably come with a hefty price tag and student loans, and goals of having my car loan and credit cards paid off.

I remember staring at my list and thinking that I had just written an impossible list of conflicting goals. On the one hand I had some very expensive dreams, and on the other hand I wanted to be financially more responsible and debt free. This required a bit of strategy.

I needed a game plan. I needed to get a handle on my financial bucket before I went out and played and crossed off things in my adventure bucket. Initially I sat down and had to figure out the ugly truth on where I stood financially in order to know exactly how big of a hurdle I had in order to meet my goals of becoming debt free. Not very fun but extremely necessary. So I spent the first few months and years focusing on my financial goals and paying off my credit cards and developing a game plan on how to pay for a master’s degree. Then later on I couldn’t stop laughing as things fell into place to pursue some of the travel items on my list. I was able to truly enjoy them since accomplishing one item in one bucket wasn’t burying me in another.

It may not be very fun, and possibly a bit humbling, but learning to crawl before you run is far better than tripping and falling on your face because you never mastered the fundamental basics of moving forward. If I had not been financially healthy first, I would have been forced to decline the opportunities that arose to go rafting in the Grand Canyon, cruise the Mediterranean, or see a Broadway play in New York because I would not have been able to afford them…or anything else for that matter.

So my question is this–what are you spending your time on? It would be interesting for just one week to record or take special note of exactly how much time we spend on the various activities throughout our day.

Answer Me This:

What is the average time you spend getting ready in the morning?
What is the average time you spend commuting to work or school?
What is the average number of hours you spend working?
What is the average number of hours you spend watching TV?
What is the average number of hours you spend on the internet or playing video games?
What is the biggest time sucker in your day?

Ok, so what needs to change?

Uh oh, somebody got a tattoo.

Uh oh, somebody got a tattoo. *Te he*

Image

In all fairness, I already had one. I just got it expanded and upped its cuteness factor. The original artwork was less art and just…well, old ink. Not a regret by any means, it just needed a little updating and TLC with an ink master. So onto the Next List it went.

Why? Really, I get asked that a lot. Whyyyyyyyyyy? Oh yeah, I see the judgment and snarky attitude behind the question. No, this item doesn’t go under the “just because I can category,” there was actually a lot of thought and effort involved in this one. And an appointment. Fully sober. With a pre-sketch. I will admit the actual re-inking took place in Vegas, but where else is one supposed to find a legit tattoo artist?

The whole re-ink experience did not exactly go as I had pictured. This seems a little scary since the decision–good or bad–is permanent. Believe it or not, there are expectations that need to be met when getting a tattoo.

Tat Lesson #1: Pick your shop and your tattoo artist wisely.
I researched and reviewed many tattoo shops in the area and was very specific for what I was looking for. I wanted a shop off the strip, had been around a long time, was appointment only, and of course clean and hygienic.  When I had picked the shop and called to make an appointment, they put me in touch with one of their shop artists after I described what I wanted. With a little back and forth with texts and pictures with the artist to secure the appointment, I finally had a date to check another item off the Next list. I was a little less confident though when my chosen artist wasn’t on the website, didn’t have an example album of his work in the shop when we went in the day before to check the place out, and upon arriving the shop looked closed.  I knew this whole thing was a little risky, but it was a risk I was willing to take. I just wanted to make it a calculated risk. Don’t worry, turns out he wasn’t on the website because he was the newest guy to the shop coming from a different shop in the area, had been tattooing for over 23 years, the shop wasn’t closed (just dark, it was an 8:00pm appointment after all), and his name was imprinted in the window and the logo. Relax. If getting a tattoo wasn’t a little sketchy it wouldn’t be as much fun.

Tat Lesson #2: Brush up on your social skills
I was on the table for over 3 hours. That’s a lot of time to stare at a ceiling and the same wall. You want to be nice to your artist, keep him happy, engaged, and awake (just kidding). Really, I now understand why people have ongoing relationships with their tattoo artist–you bond. This guy found out the backstory on the original tattoo, why the new one was important to me, made suggestions to improve the artwork, found out about some of my 30×30 and Next List items, what I wanted to do next…and all with a needle in his hand. Just know that it’s going to take longer than you think. It will always take longer than you think. That’s ok, you don’t want to rush greatness.

Tat Lesson #3: Know what you want
Don’t be that girl and don’t be that guy who goes into a shop and picks something off a wall. C’mon, this is permanent. Put a little thought and meaning into something you’ll have forever. Or until the next laser surgery. My tattoo artist entertained me with funny stories of what people had chosen…or how. (These stories were part of tat lesson #2: social skills. Yes, I completely laughed at other people’s expense.) I walked in with examples of two different sketches of the style I was looking for, along with giving him pictures ahead of time of my original tattoo. Unexpectedly, during the pre-consultation he actually talked me into a little something different than what I originally had planned. His suggestions made sense. He’s the expert, he’s been doing this for over 23 years, he’s seen the stupid decisions and mistakes, and he helped create something that I would ultimately be happier with down the road. Way to go tattoo man!

Tat Lesson #4: Know that it’s going to hurt
I’m not just talking about the actual pain of getting it done, needles and all. I’m talking about the after-care. I was tender for over a week and had to choose my wardrobe carefully. Good thing I was just seeing friends in California the next few days–sweats it was! I did bring a friend to this little artwork session, but even they couldn’t handle it the entire time. Just know, no pain, no gain. Watching the process of the body healing is quite fascinating. Like a good girl, I followed the after-care instructions to a T. I really do like my new addition. I’ll like it even better when it’s fully healed.

So what did I get…and where? That’s for me to know and only an invited select chosen few to find out! C’mon, you really thought I’d post a picture? No way! I’m not that kind of girl. Sheesh.

The feeling of invisibility. Not being seen, not being heard. Being ignored. Being forgotten.

I walked through the hallways of the nursing home my Ginnymom has been living in since January after a series of strokes left her unable to stay in her home, and I realized part of what makes visiting her so difficult is walking by all the lives and wrinkly faces far past their prime. (I realize not everyone has a Ginnymom. For those of you who are unfamiliar with what a Ginnymom is…my adorable eighty-nine year-old grandma.)

It is human nature to want to connect, to be heard, to be loved, and to be valued. What do you do when someone seemingly is unable to do that? Is unable to respond? When there is no interaction and no way to communicate, it is far too easy to become invisible and fade into the background. Nursing homes seem to be a collection of people and lives who have faded into the background of a young and bustling society that has left them behind. The thing is, their value as a human being hasn’t changed, just their physical ability.

You don’t have to be old and in a nursing home to feel invisible though.

I had the opportunity to go to California a few weeks ago and visit and reconnect with friends. I drove past my old apartment, waved to my church, and had the chance to eat at some of my favorite restaurants. But the best part of the trip was seeing my friends and getting updates on each of their lives since I had left. I was quite surprised to find each of them in their own way and situation admitting their struggles with loneliness.

Some were married, some had gotten new jobs, others had recently become new moms. Each one in a different situation and life stage, but surprisingly all going through their own version of invisibility and loneliness. Not at all what I was expecting, but real nonetheless.

I remember how miserable and alone I felt during the time I created the 30×30 list. I felt invisible. Even though it was my list, it got me to focus on something other than myself. It created vision, reasons to interact, and it gave opportunities to move forward. The list created a connection to others around me in ways I never could have imagined.

Feeling invisible, forgotten, or left behind? You’re not the only one. Take a moment to look around and it won’t be hard to find someone else facing the same thing.  We have the power and the ability to reach out and help others in ways we cannot help ourselves. So do. Find a way to be kind. Step outside your comfort zone and get beyond yourself. Go be good to someone. You’ll be surprised at who really needs it.

kindness

Ok, deep down what I really want is…

What would you do if given an unlimited amount of time and an unlimited amount of money? What would you want and what could you accomplish? Uninhibited, what would you do? Those can be scary questions.

These were the type of questions asked when creating my 30×30 list. It can be an uncomfortable and somewhat dangerous thing being truly honest with what you really want. Because that would mean you might actually have to make an effort to go and get it. Uh oh. It’s definitely easier not to ask yourself those type of questions, but life won’t ever be fulfilling if you don’t. I know, I was there.

I was miserable. Sitting in that coffee shop years ago playing hookie from a job that was unfulfilling and living in a city I felt was killing my soul, I realized I was 24 years old with a lot of life ahead of me. The question was, what did I want that life to look like? That was the first question. After taking some time to answer that first question on “what” I wanted, it was time to take a moment to think about the “how.” Thennnnnnnn I decided that maybe that wasn’t such a good idea after all. It’s not a good idea to get bogged down with the how. Focus too long on the how and you can get distracted and scared away from the what. Quite frankly, the how portion is where God gets to come in and do His thing. Don’t be fooled, God is not just some giant slot machine in the sky or a magic genie at your command. Get Him involved when you’re developing the “what” part of your list, then genuinely ask and trust Him for the “how” portion.

Fast forward several years later after crossing 29 of my 30 items and I am proof that He did. And that can be the other scary part…asking God. What if I ask for something and I don’t get it? What if the answer is no? I’d rather ask Him for a lot and only get half of what I asked for then ask Him for nothing and get all of that. Not only is it scary to admit to ourselves what we really want, it can feel slightly ridiculous or even intimidating asking God to enter the picture. It can feel like He’s so big and “up there,” and who am I to bother Him with my silly wants and desires? The truth is, He would like nothing better. God loves being involved with the details of our lives. After all, He’s the one that gave us those dreams to begin with. He’s just waiting for us to ask Him. Waiting, waiting, waiting. Sometimes we feel like we are waiting on Him when really He’s just waiting on us to get Him involved.

So do it. I dare you. I dare you not only to create your list, I dare you to give it to God. Tell Him. Submit your list to Him and trust that He will give you the right things at the right time. And if He says no, there’s a good reason. Trust me, I know. The one thing unanswered on my list–the one thing I just couldn’t make happen no matter how hard I tried–was the best thing that never happened.  God sometimes answers us directly, sometimes He answers differently, sometimes He answers by delay, and sometimes He denies our prayer. No matter what the answer, it’s ultimately for our benefit. Number 29, own my own home, would’ve sunk me had it actually happened. I lived in California during the whole housing boom and bust, and if I had gotten my way, I would be busted right now. It wasn’t fun, but I thank God for His “no.”

Not a fun answer. But sometimes the best kind.
Not a fun answer, but sometimes the best kind.

Honestly, the whole home of my own thing is a slightly raw subject matter in my world. Is there a house in my future? Absolutely. Do I know when I’m going to get it or when it will happen for me? Not a clue. That’s not really up to me. But that desire is still there, I’ve given it over to the One who knows what He’s doing, and I just rolled that item onto my Next List. Oh, and don’t worry, I’ve created a secret mini list of must haves on this future house of mine to keep the hope alive. It includes a nice big yard for Scottie dog, double sinks in the master en suite, a soaker tub, and a fantastic porch/deck to put a porch swing or some adirondack chairs. HGTV is one of my favorite channels and I keep an Amazon wish list of decorative items to fill it. It’s always good to have a detailed blue print of what one wants. *Big smile*

Quotable Quotes From People Much Smarter Than I: 

Ever had the feeling of being left out? I’m having it right now.


Ever had the feeling of being left out? I’m having it right now.

Who chooses to be left behind and left out on purpose? This girl. At this very moment my two best friends who I’ve both known for over two decades are in San Francisco right now…and I am not. I love girls’ trips. I just like them better when I’m actually on them. And as I’m sitting at home on the couch watching TLC’s last episode of “What Not To Wear” on a Friday night, I can’t help but think that I was supposed to be on that trip.

Little background: A few years ago when I created this 30×30 list, one of these two fabulous ladies conned me into training for a full 26.2 mile marathon…and I was dumb enough to do it. (See previous blog post on that whole crazy experience!) I had never run more than two miles in my life, so you can only imagine my reaction when given the push and challenged to run 26.2.

After hooking into Team In Training (an organization whose mission is to find a cure for Leukemia and blood cancers), I reluctantly committed to going to 6:30am workouts every Saturday morning for over four months, wearing through multiple pairs of sneakers, fundraising over $5,000, and choking down more Gu and salt packets than I’d care to admit. The friend that convinced me and supported me to take on that experience also trained for her first full marathon as well. We picked a race, trained in two different states for it (her in CO, moi in CA), and then met up in Florida to cross the finish line together. Ok, I’m super slow, so she actually crossed before me, but it was still pretty fantastic. This was an experience I will never forget, nor will ever be able to truly express to her how special it was. And the best part? The other friend flew out to support us! I thank God for friends like that.

The short one...I blame her.
The short one…I blame her.

Fast forward several years later, and the other friend who flew in and supported us on the sidelines trained this year for her own race, fundraising and having her own Team in Training experience after watching her father fight and survive his own battle with blood cancer. I am so proud of her and have seen what her and her family have been through, so you can only imagine how excited I was to join both of them in San Francisco and support her as she crossed that fabulous, hard-earned, finish line. This was a girls’ trip, a celebration of life, and a way to support amazing friends as they go after their own dreams.

But I’m not there. I’m here.

In life there are disappointments and detours that take us in a different direction than what was originally planned. In life, there are moments that require the tough choices and for us to do things that are not enjoyable at all and sometimes downright uncomfortable, but ultimately for our benefit. I fully admit this is one of them.

Due to some family needs and obligations I am having to wave from afar and cheer them on from my home in Colorado. Don’t feel sorry for me. This was a choice. A hard, difficult, and not-so-fun choice, but a choice nonetheless. You see, my parents are celebrating their 40th anniversary with a looooooong awaited trip to visit wine country in California. In order for them to be able to do that, I had to stay and hold down their business, keep an eye on the funny farm (three dogs, two cats, a horse and 5 acres of property), and be around to take care of my elderly grandmother.

Am I sad that I’m not in California too? The brat in me says “absolutely!” I should be wine tasting with my two best friends, “cheersing” their hard earned accomplishments on their own lists. Would I make the same decision again if given the opportunity? *Pausing only slightly* You bet. I am so blessed to have parents who love each other and have fought to stay together through the tough stuff, who actually want to celebrate their 40 years together, and have worked hard enough to have a life that needs to be looked after and cared for. Since we were all evacuated for 8 days due to the fires this summer during their actual anniversary (I remember the morning my dad wished my mom happy 40th on the way to a Red Cross meeting with the smoke plume looming in the air), I am honored to do my part in order for them to be able to get away. There is no way I would even dream of taking that away from them.

What it really comes down to is this–in order to be able to support my family and give back to them I had to swallow my selfishness and temporarily put my own wants and needs on the back burner and choose to support my friends from far away. The best thing about friends like that–they love me enough to not have it any other way either.

Busted Without A Blueprint

See it. Say it. Do it. Sounds like three easy concepts, but in reality doing them can be a bit trickier. But there is some truth and power behind those three phrases. If you can’t see it, or if there’s no vision, how are you ever going to be able to speak the words and do the actions in order to make it happen?

A man with a plan...I dig it.
A man with a plan…I dig it.

In order to build anything, you need a blueprint. Sitting down and creating your list (whatever you choose to call it), writing it down, and putting pen to paper is like creating a master blueprint of where you want your life to go. Drawing up a blueprint is sometimes a lengthy and detailed process, but oh-so-necessary. Blueprints are essential if you want to build anything lasting and worthwhile. (I should know–growing up in a household where my dad was a realtor and my mom was an interior designer, I’ve seen my fair share of blueprints!)

A contractor building a house needs to be able to first visualize and have a concept on what the house will look like, then create blueprints and write down the specifics regarding the dimensions and details of the house to be built. How big? How many bedrooms? What kind of style? What’s the purpose? Then the contractor has to speak and communicate to the other parties involved in order to share the vision, obtain the materials needed, and get the other workers on the same page so they’re all building the same house. If one construction worker buys materials for a Victorian home, another a log home, and another is trying to build a ranch style bungalow, there will be a mess.

Get the tools. Use them.
Get the tools. Use them.

And then finally there has to be action behind the blueprints, contracts, and purchased materials. Someone–or multiple “someones”–need to actually do the work in order for the house to be built and become a reality. If no one lifts a hammer, there will never be a home. Action cannot happen without proper communication, and communication never begins unless there’s a dream, a goal, or an objective. Without communication to keep everyone motivated and on track as they work, there will only be chaos. Without the combination of action, communication, and vision there will be no house, no finished product, no dream realized. It takes all three.

Ever driven by a neighborhood or a business that had been started but never completed? I’m always  sad when I see dilapidated or unfinished buildings. There’s always a story behind it, but somewhere along the way this process of visualizing, communicating, and doing at some point broke down. If that’s just a physical representation, how much more of our own dreams are abandoned and unfinished in our own lives?

Are there any unfinished properties in your own world or unfinished dreams in your own heart? Are there things that you started but then never completed because something didn’t align in one or more of these three areas? Your list is your blueprint.

Because you are...
Because you are…

Sometimes we don’t even want to look in the direction of our abandoned dreams because it’s too painful. But if we can take a breath and find the courage to dig deep, break ground, and begin the process of seeing the dream once again, new life and new resources and new encouragement will begin to breed. You can begin to reconstruct an abandoned dream, or begin construction on a brand new one. But we have to be the head contractor of our own dreams and begin the process. Your list is your blueprint. We have to draw the blueprints and communicate to others who need to be involved in the process.

No one else is going to build your dream for you…they can’t, they don’t know what it looks like. But you do. Figure out what it is you want and then set your mind to do three little things—see it, say it, do it!

QUOTABLE QUOTES FROM PEOPLE MUCH SMARTER THAN I:

When all your plans go to pot…

The derailment of plans and good intentions. It happens. Even after completing 29 of my 30 items on my original 30×30 list and creating and beginning the Next List, I still find myself getting derailed and disappointed. After taking on the self-imposed 30 day blog challenge to fall back in love with the list I seemed to have found a second wind to get crackin’ on the new Next List. During the blog challenge, not only did I create and pen the items on the Next List, I’ve been able to knock out a few fun things here and there, which has been quite encouraging.  So far I’ve crossed off 7+ of the new items on the Next List…and it’s been less than two months! People have been sending in their own lists, which I absolutely love! I even saw some light and movement on the book publishing front. Woo hoo! That my friends, is progress. And progress feels good.

But then in the course of one week there were a couple of setbacks that took me by surprise. Both on some upcoming plans for the Next List and on the headway made in moving forward with the book. One step forward and two steps back. Just when I think things are opening up–boom. Doors slam. Guess I need to start knocking on other doors.

A couple weeks ago I pulled the trigger and made plans to cross off “East Coast Fall” off the Next List, lining up a much needed trip with possibilities to cross off multiple Next List items all in this one trip. How can you not be excited about that? The plan was to stay with my aunt in DC and check off a few states on some day trips while out there for two weeks, heading up with her to Boston and/or Philadelphia during the weekdays to go see friends. I was excited at the possibility of visiting  and crossing off Delaware, Pennsylvania, Jersey and even good ol’ Massachusetts.  (I’m working on visiting all 50 states–so far I’ve got 30 down and will be on track if I cross off 2-3 a year. Any chance I get to cross another state off the list, I’m in!)

But as life would have it, it looks like my initial plans to play tourist are fading fast. Unbeknownst to me, apparently my aunt and tour guide has obligated and committed herself to dog sit for a high maintenance pooch pretty much the entire time I’m there, which puts the ki-bash on any travel trips and adventures that I had my heart set on. *sigh* Due to some other factors that have changed, I now have lost my connections to stay in Phili and Boston, along with having my wheels and planned mode of transportation yanked. The thought of renting a car and driving solo in an unknown city’s traffic just to cross off items by myself is completely unappealing and makes me scrunch my nose. And if you know anything about my sense of direction and driving skills (or lack thereof), it is not a good idea to turn me loose in any poor unsuspecting city.

Ewwwwww.
Ewwwwww. No thanks.

Look at me. Whining and pouting about something that in the grand scheme of things is not a real problem or worth worrying about. Who wants to hang out with the whiny girl? So I am choosing to make an attitude adjustment. Time to recalculate. Even if this trip is nothing like I originally planned and all I do is sit in a town home with yucka foo foo fido, I will still find a way to enjoy myself and redeem this trip. (Don’t get me wrong, I am a doggie love-ah, but not when one unexpectedly and unnecessarily wrecks my vacation and travel plans.) But I have decided to move past the pity party and am determined to be grateful for the opportunity to wave to our nation’s capitol (even if it is from a distance), and I will be open to whatever twists God has up His sleeve on this one.

When all is said and done, maybe this disappointing turn of events will give me a reason to re-visit someday and try again. Can’t complain about that.

QUOTABLE QUOTES FROM PEOPLE MUCH SMARTER THAN I: 

Bonus Blog 4: I’m the reason GPS was invented

I am the reason GPS was invented.

As a thoroughly directionally challenged person, I am the reason why GPS was invented. It’s comical really. Whether driving or walking the streets of downtown, it’s not hard for me to get turned around. I’ve been in the middle of a city and had friends ask me which way back to the hotel, and when I point, they laugh in my face and start going the opposite direction. It’s that bad. I’ve come to realize that it’s just the way God made me and something I’ve learned to live with…and laugh at. I may have many talents and giftings, but I am missing the internal compass that I envy in so many others. I just want to hug and say thank you to the person that invented maps and GPS. The satellites in the sky know just how to boss me around and point me in the right direction, even when I make a wrong turn. Gotta love that recalculate button.

Really.

Although I am admittedly directionally disabled in that realm, I’ve always striven to be on the ball and put together going in the right direction in other areas of my life. Little miss goodie two-shoes always has a plan. Graduating from college suma cum laude and departmental scholar in the honor’s program, working for a fortune 500 company at age 23, starting my own business at 29, completing 29 of the 30 things on the 30×30 list, throw in four degrees and financial independence from the parental units for over a decade and I thought I was on track. Sounds good right?  Don’t pat me on the back or be impressed just yet.

Thanks--I need all the help I can get
Thanks–I need all the help I can get

One of the many takeaway gems I learned through my 30×30 list is the importance of being able to change directions and handle the detours. Life is full of things that can derail us from the original intended direction we were heading. Divorce, job loss, loss of a loved one, financial setbacks, natural disasters, loss of a home, health problems, disease, a miscarriage or loss of a child, a bad break-up and so many other things can knock the wind out from us and stop us in our tracks. Maybe some things are within our control and consequences of choices we make while others are not. Either way, life happens. It’s not a matter of if, but when.

But when it does, the real question is how do we handle it? How do we even begin to pick up the pieces of something so dearly shattered?

Six months ago today I got a phone call that did just that. One phone call changed everything. Six months ago today the voice on the other end of the line told me that they found my boyfriend dead in his own home. Nothing can ever erase the memories of that day. No amount of tears covers that kind of loss.  I was left without a goodbye and without answers. Those are the kind of days that change your course of direction.  Those are the kind of days that scatter pieces of your heart in every direction leaving you with the choice and decisions of how to gather them up and put them back together. Some people never do.

But there is hope and there is life after those kind of days. Most often it’s found literally one day at a time. And over time the wound begins to heal–and that is a process with its own kind of pain. Sometimes God answers our questions, but most often He keeps His mysteries closed. I am not smart enough to understand the why behind “those days,” at least not on this side of heaven. But I know that good can come out of any circumstance. Any circumstance. And it is in the pressing on and pressing forward that strength is built. And strength is needed to change directions. Sometimes a lot of strength.  Sometimes more strength than what we have. It takes strength and God’s grace to alter one’s course. But I have learned it is in the very movement and action of changing course that can make all the difference. That’s probably why I loved my 30×30 list and love my  Next List even more–it’s like a map that keeps me focused on where I want to head, yet can be changed and altered according to the needs of the map holder. Just like in real life I can get turned around and confused and need direction from above. But I can set it down and take a breather from the journey when rest and recalculation is needed and then pick it back up and get back on course later on.

Yep, I want to hug the person that invented maps and GPS. Without them I’d be lost.

Bonus Blog #3: At Some Point It’s Time to Put My Big Girl Pants On

At Some Point It’s Time to Put My Big Girl Pants On

When people ask me about what was on my list, the first things I rattle off tend to be some of my travel adventures. Swimming with dolphins, rafting the Grand Canyon, or being a jet setter and flying somewhere and back in one day just because I can. But what doesn’t usually come up in conversation are what I call my “non-sexy” items. The one’s on the list that are like vegetables–they’re good for me and I know they’ll make me stronger, but they don’t always taste good or are as much fun to talk about. So today I’m talking about finances.

On the original 30×30 list were a lot of travel items and adrenaline experiences, and honestly I could’ve decided to whip out a credit card and get almost all of them done in 3 months. That was one option. Not a good one though. Also on the list I had decided to put “be debt free.” Uh oh, now I was really in trouble. How on earth was I going to accomplish my 30×30 list (with some very expensive dreams) and also become debt free at the same time? Honestly, I couldn’t. But God could. I submitted my 30×30 list in prayer and asked for His help and wisdom in this whole process. I figured if He was the one giving me the dreams, He would be the one to give me the tools, wisdom, and resources to be able to do them…in His order and in His timing. And He did!

Boo
Boo

Setting out to pay off my credit cards and school loans was something that I wanted to accomplish but not something I was looking forward to actually doing. I sat down one morning with a spreadsheet and an internet connection and looked up what I owed on each loan and each credit card, and then used online calculators to determine various payments and payoff dates. I did not like staring those big numbers in the face. But if I didn’t know where I was currently at, how would I know how far I had to go? At the time I had a car loan, student loans from my bachelor’s degree, and about $3,500 in credit card debt. I first calculated how much extra it would be each month in order to pay off my car loan a year early. Surprisingly, it was only an extra $55 a month. Then I decided that a percentage of every extra bonus I received from work would go towards my other debt. To keep myself on track, every quarter I labeled the various debts and totaled them into “Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter.”  I would revisit that spreadsheet and update it with the new amounts every 3 months so I could see the progress I was making. The first time I was able to label a column “paid in full” I thought I was going to fly to the moon. There were many more columns to attack, but this kept me motivated to continue with my game plan. Some quarters were better than others, but by the time I was 27 years old I was completely debt free and had opened a 401K to boot. Not bad for a twenty-something little girl.

I remember how liberating and freeing it was to make that final payment. This lined me up to be able to accomplish some of the bigger ticket items on my list. I had a personal party and took myself to the nail salon to celebrate. I was officially debt free! Sadly, I was debt free and got to enjoy it for only 20 days. I decided to go back to school and get my master’s degree and signed the paperwork for my school loans less than three weeks after making my final payment. It wasn’t exactly how I had pictured it, but it was time to put my big girl pants on. By paying off my bachelor’s loan, my car, and all my credit cards I had lined myself up to be able to go back to school and get a master’s degree (one of the hairy scary goals on my 30×30 list.)

So was I surprised that I put “be debt free/pay off car & school loans” back on this next list? No. I don’t believe we’re meant to live in the bondage of debt. It causes stress, can hinder relationships, and can limit you from going and doing other things in your future. Admittedly I felt kind of dumb for getting in debt again and needing to put “pay off loans” on the list one more time.  If I can do it once, I could do it again. But managing money and being financially responsible is an ongoing thing and a constant work in process. Financial balance and freedom is an ongoing battle. But this debt I had now was different than the debt I had in my 20’s. I had taken it on with prayer and a plan in place, had set up healthy habits and started putting into practice things like automatic savings and tithing.

The thing about life lists is that when you get serious about doing something, set your mind and become determined about allocating your resources (time, energy, finances, prayers, etc), it’s amazing how things begin to line up and fall into place. When we give our plans to God He truly is faithful to give us the desires of our hearts and take care of us…He just usually does it in a way we would never expect. More than likely it won’t ever look like or happen how it’s pictured in your head. And that’s ok! Be determined, be flexible, and give God room to work. Do your part and He’ll do His. It’s a partnership–it takes both you and God. You can’t do His part and He won’t do your part.

A reason to smile
A reason to smile

Two weeks ago I made the final payment on my car and received the title in the mail yesterday (the big girl car that was on my 30×30 list). And yesterday I went online and made the final payment on my school loans from my master’s program (MBA–also on my original 30×30 list). Busting out the calculator I added up over $90,000+ in loans for the 3 cars and 3 degrees I bit off and had taken on over the last decade. That’s not including all the travel, rent, and daily expenses of living on my own in southern California for seven years. I may have taken on all that debt on my own, but I certainly didn’t get out on my own. Praise God–yesterday I paid it all off…again! It wasn’t fun. It wasn’t sexy. There have been a lot of bumps and derailments along the way,  but I decided to be debt free and to owe no man anything but love. *smiling* Now THAT is a good feeling. I have not only put my big girl pants on, but for the first time they actually feel like they fit.

Quotable Quotes From People Much Smarter Than I:

Bonus Blog 2: Crossed another one off the list!

Question: Ever put things on your daily to-do list that you’ve already done? I know it’s cheating, but I do that. Probably more often than I should. If I’ve taken out the trash, I will mark it on my daily list just so I can cross it off. It’s satisfying. There’s something motivating about looking at a to-do list that has some to-do’s already done.

I also find that there are some things on the next list that fall into the “just because I can” category. Things that aren’t necessarily difficult or have a significant reason behind them but earned a place on the list because I do actually want to do them at some point and for some reason just haven’t. Like visit Durango, Colorado.

Durango, Colorado
Durango, Colorado

Durango is a cute little mountain college town with main street shopping and an overall great little getaway. Durango is only 99 miles from where I live. So why haven’t I been there since I was 12? I don’t know. No particular reason. Why did it make the next list? Because it would be just silly for me not to go and enjoy this adorable mountain town while it is so close and easily accessible. I don’t know the future and I don’t know how long I’ll be graced living in this particular area, but while I’m here I’d like to keep a tourist mindset and enjoy all the perks this area has to offer.

That was actually part of the mentality in birthing the original 30×30 list years ago. I was miserable and this close to pulling the trigger to move out of California when I asked myself, “What would I regret not doing while I had the opportunity and proximity to do so?” As I penned those items the list quickly grew to things that weren’t just California based, but to what I really wanted to do overall. And then I capped it with a deadline to do those things before turning 30. I’m the kind of girl that can procrastinate with the best of ’em–I need deadlines. It worked…I crossed off 29 of those 30 items!

So yesterday as I was running errands in Pagosa Springs (the next town over, just over Wolf Creek pass), I sat in my car while waiting at the bank and looked at the clock. I was already halfway to Durango, do I do it? *evil grin* Yes.

So I did. I pumped up the tunes and cruised the remaining 50 miles and found myself parking along Durango’s main street. As I walked up and down the street with my iced chai tea, I paused as I saw the old time photo shop. I smiled as I remembered being 12 years old and dressing up in pioneer style and posing for a funny family photo. We traveled often with another family and I remember having so much fun on that vacation in Durango. Good times. Did I plan on going to Durango by myself when I put it on the next list? Absolutely not. But I had an absolutely fantastic random afternoon crossing off an item on my list…just because I can.

Bonus Blog 1: Continuing the cross-off…

It’s time to celebrate in my world. Yesterday the 30 day self-imposed blog challenge was completed, which was a big win in and of itself, but that’s not the only reason to smile and do the dance of joy. Today I crossed off an item on the next list–one that I thought would take awhile to do due to the nature and difficulty of the endeavor. No, not hiking a fourteener (I attempted that the day before and failed. Big bust. More to come on that amusing story later.) Today is about Wheeler.

Wheeler Geologic Area - Near South Fork, CO
Wheeler Geologic Area – Near South Fork, CO

Wheeler Geologic Area. This natural wonder of rugged terrain and beautiful geologic formations is hidden in the 1.86 million-acres of the Rio Grande National Forest and is only accessed through 28 miles on a difficult to expert level ATV 4×4 trail or a 14 mile hike. For the past 1 1/2 years I’ve lived in Southern Colorado just minutes from the highway turnoff to Pool Table and Hanson’s Mill–the access trails that lead to the trailhead–and I just couldn’t quite seem to ever make it happen. Wheeler Geologic Area has called my name and beckoned to me and yet at the same time eluded and evaded me, somehow remaining just out of reach. Until today.

Let me take a second to brag on God and the mysterious way He sometimes works. For the last 1 1/2 years my office at the South Fork Visitor Center flooded with tourists who I’ve pointed in various directions, telling them where to go to enjoy the best parts of the area. Ironically some of the very places I would send people with such authority and confidence I had actually never been. Wheeler in particular. I have an unofficial list of places I want to visit and experience in the area while I have the opportunity and geographic incentive to do so–a secret list. Although not everything I want to do has made the official “next list,” Wheeler was a big enough gem to officially make #25. But I don’t own an ATV or know of very many people that are physically capable or willing to hike 14 miles on a whim.

So imagine my surprise just one day after miserably failing in the attempt to hike a fourteener (#26 on the list) of getting a 7:00am phone call with an opportunity to go to Wheeler that day. The local ATV group (aptly named the Silverthreaders Outdoor Club with most members of the retiree 65+ variety) was heading out at 9:00am and one of the riders had an extra seat! Whaaaaaaaaat? After almost two years of trying to beg, borrow, bully, and bribe my way to Wheeler I had an immediate and surprise invitation to go in less than two hours. I love it when God opens doors!

Two hours later as I sat on the back of a roaring and rumbling ATV trekking the 28 miles to the coveted destination, I had to laugh. When I put Wheeler on the list I had envisioned hiking in and experiencing this wonderment with a group of good friends, celebrating our athletic journey and determination–maybe even on a camping trip with s’mores and stars and good beer. Instead I found myself sharing the adventure with a group of generous and well-seasoned outdoor lovers with more wrinkles, grey hair, and good stories than an AARP convention. Today’s reality was completely different than the vision I had in my head when putting it on the list. But I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

It reminded me of the lesson I learned when completing #29 on my 30×30 list…hot air ballooning. As a twenty-something putting “hot air balloon ride” on the list I had envisioned more of a romantic experience with a special someone, maybe in wine country or an exotic vacation location, and not what really happened.

For the hot air balloon experience I had always envisioned an incredibly romantic date with champagne and kisses and lots of bright colors and flames. (Can you tell I’m a hopeless romantic?) Reality was, at the time I was just months away from turning the big 3-0 and so stinkin’ close to crossing off the final items on the list, but had chosen to enter back into singlehood with no special someone to fulfill  the romantic balloon dream in my head. (That’s a whole other story.)

I had a decision to make. Was I just going to let that item slip by because in my dreams I had hoped someone would surprise me with it? Was I willing to risk not crossing off one of the very last items on the 30×30 list that I had been working on for years just because it wouldn’t be how I envisioned it when I penned the idea years ago?

I had to make a decision. I could wish and hope for someone to plan my balloon adventure and run the risk of being disappointed when it didn’t happen, or I could choose to face the current disappointment of doing it differently than how I originally imagined. Face it, there are things within our control that we have the power to manipulate and change, and there are things that are out of our realm of influence and we just have to make do with what we have been given. I realized that I had been given an incredibly fabulous set of friends who had enjoyed the 30×30 journey with me and had been extremely supportive throughout the years—why would I not want to include them in one of the last items on my list? No doubt some of them had lived their dreams vicariously through me as they encouraged me to keep ticking them off the list. Why would I want to disappoint them by giving up on the last item and not finishing what they helped me start? I had wanted the balloon ride to be a special, romantic, and a private moment when in reality I had the power to make it a memorable event to share with lots of people I cared about.

As I kept thinking about it the more I got excited. I had the power to turn a disappointment into a celebration. It was then I decided for my 30th birthday I wanted to celebrate it with all my friends in a hot air balloon. Why stop there? Why just make it about me when we could celebrate the birthdays of all my friends who were also born in the Fall? We could all have a big balloon for our birthdays! To my surprise, as the save the dates went out an overwhelming response of support flooded back in. There were people who had no intention of going up in a balloon themselves but wanted to come anyways and help celebrate with both feet firmly planted on the ground. I lovingly nicknamed our non-flyers “cooler jockeys.” One friend said she was so excited to help cross off one of the last 30×30 items and she couldn’t wait to find out what was on my next list! And so what began as a rather disappointing goal started turning into an opportunity to not only celebrate the end of an era with loved ones, but to literally look towards the sky and kick off the next set of adventures, along with the next decade! Yes, we even made t-shirts.

A fellow 30x30 balloon participant...and fall birthday baby
A fellow 30×30 balloon participant…and fall birthday baby
30x30 hot air balloon celebration
30×30 hot air balloon celebration
30x30 Celebration T-shirts
30×30 Celebration T-shirts

So today I sat on the back of an ATV for 28 miles crossing off a much desired item on my list in a not-so-desired way and couldn’t help but laugh. Had I not learned my lesson from my balloon experience? It won’t always look like the picture in my head. Again, it won’t always look like the picture in my head. I thought that I learned long ago that God will fulfill the desires of my heart…but it doesn’t mean that He’ll do it like how I pictured. Actually, more often than not He won’t. God is way too big and way too amazing to be put in a box and limited to my small imagination. Maybe one day I’ll finally learn that for good.

Waving to Wheeler
Waving to Wheeler
Fellow Wheeler participant
Fellow Wheeler participant
Cow parade on the way to Wheeler
Cow parade on the way to Wheeler
Wonderful Wheeler Participants
Wonderful Wheeler Participants28 miles on one of these

QUOTABLE QUOTES FROM PEOPLE MUCH SMARTER THAN I:

Day 30: Navigating through the fog…

Thirty-one days ago I took on a self-imposed 30 day blog challenge to get moving in the right direction on finishing the unfinished project of writing a book on my 30×30 experience started years ago. It all began with a bad attitude in a California coffee shop, turned into a list of 30 things I set out to do before turning 30, and ended with 29 of the 30 items being checked off…and one very happy, very blessed girl. Fast forward two years later and I was in a fog on where to go next–both on the book and on the next chapter in my life adventures. Stuck and not knowing exactly how to move forward on the 30,000 word book monster, I was inspired by a friend who had taken on the 30 day blog challenge and thought I’d join the ranks of those who blog. Thirty-one days later, it’s time to take a brief look back over this online journey.

Let’s see–several stories were told about memories and lessons of items on the completed 30×30 list, along with a few painful flashbacks, followed with some personal victories and wins in my current situation, and finishing with some admitted challenges along the way. Throughout the last thirty-one days of this blog challenge my next list grew from ideas in my head, to eight items written on a sheet of paper, to thirty-four items publicly posted in the blog…and it’s still growing. This is a really  big win. So how does that work into the ultimate goal of falling back in love with writing and finishing the 30,000 word book monster? It’s currently off to an editor for round one editing and I have a standing appointment on the calendar in September to discuss the next steps in the editing process…and there’s currently talks in the works for the book cover. I do however still need to connect and follow up with some other bookie items and contacts that I’ve been avoiding and procrastinating on. That will come. But more than anything, I am closer to the overall goal than I was thirty-one days ago. That is a big win.

Interestingly, I headed out to walk the pooch the other morning and found myself in the most beautiful cloud of fog that engulfed the canyon that I walk almost every morning. Everything but the steps right in front of me remained hidden. The cliffs, the river, the familiar pastures  and fence lines that I know are there, and even the road ahead. I smiled as I realized that sometimes in life when the fog settles in you can lose sight of the big picture and what’s ahead. This is not always a bad thing. There are times when it’s okay to slow down and focus just on the steps in front of you and not necessarily on the distance you need to go. Sometimes you need to stop altogether and dig your heels in just not to lose any ground. This is the time to breathe deep. Eventually the fog will lift. It always does.

The foggy view

I realized I was in a fog with my book project. I had been too concerned with the big picture and all that needed to happen that I was distracted with the overall view and the end result. The “I don’t know what to do” fog forced me to slow down and focus on the smaller tasks right ahead. It’s okay to feel lost and a bit disoriented, but all will right itself when the fog lifts. And the fog will lift. Fog is always temporary. When it does eventually lift, it usually leaves things refreshed, hydrated, and glistening when the sun comes out.

I look forward to the sun coming out and shining on this project. Keep checking in to find out how it’s all coming along. This isn’t just about the 30,000 word book monster anymore. This is about the next list and the journey of progress towards shaping the next chapter. Cheers to the next list, the next chapter, and all that goes with it!