Questions & More Questions

It rarely happens, but my words have stopped flowing. Not entirely, as I have experienced sudden word-gushes that burst in one direction or another. But the regular flow of words that lands in daily 20 minute journaling sessions and twice-weekly blog posts and daily social media posts…that flow has dammed up, leaving only trickles seeping into the muddy river bed.

For the last year-ish, I have been writing and editing a book. Recently, I have been crafting a book proposal that leads me to make more edits. I have written a guest blog post (coming soon) and a couple of articles that I’ve submitted to magazines; one was rejected (still a win, as I heard back from an actual editor that I was on the right track), the other is pending. I have joined two small writing groups in which we offer mutual encouragement and editorial suggestions, and I am taking another writing class for the next six weeks. All good for my writing and my soul, and would be better yet if I could actually get down to writing.

I suspect I’m distracted, so many good word-related options before me that I’m not sure where to start. Or the energy of being in editorial mode has redirected the flow. Or I may be suffering from a minor case of burn out. In any case, I hope it’s temporary.

I wonder: might you, dear readers, help me unbrick the dam and let loose my words?

What would you like to read? How might I serve you with my writing?

I write about a variety of topics on this blog. I’ll list a few, and some questions, and I welcome your questions.

Christian faith & practice. Everything I am and do starts with my love for Jesus. While Christianity might be my heart’s first language, I try to write in such a way that if you are new to faith or even wary of Christian faith, you will still find encouragement here. Something of a misfit in any circle, I’m in a particularly misfitted stretch of my spiritual journey, a place I never anticipated being. Still, my lifetime of faith whispers that I might be in this place so that, now or later, I will be able to guide others on similar paths.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Health & wellness. I am a vegetarian (leaning vegan-ish). I walk my dogs every day. I’m big on encouragement – Yay, YOU! – and self-care, including taking consistent, gentle care of our whole beings: physical, mental, spiritual, and social. I believe we have to get past the societal taboos surrounding mental health issues in order to be well and love one another well. Gratitude, the pursuit of joy, and time outdoors keep me grounded. And all of this flows from my belief that God created us and everything we see. That life is a gift we get to unwrap and enjoy every single day. That we have the responsibility to care not just for our own wellness, but for the wellness of others, including our planet.

Image by Sathish kumar Periyasamy from Pixabay

Creativity. Creativity could fall under health & wellness since I consider it essential for my self-care, but I write about it enough to make it its own category. Clearly, I create through writing. I also read voraciously, indulging in others’ storytelling gifts. Not an “artist,” I cling to the belief that creativity is good for everybody. That we all have an inner child who longs to express herself. That the product matters less than the process. That creative play adds joyful luster to our lives. Again, my emphasis on creativity finds its source in honoring the Creator.

Image by edith lüthi from Pixabay

Alright, your turn: have these topics and questions stirred anything up for you? What questions do you have? Jot them in the comments below or send me an email: sivricketts@gmail.com. I look forward to hearing from you.

Cover Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Setting Goals & Making Progress

I don’t make resolutions, but I do set goals.

Hmm, aren’t “resolutions” and “goals” two words for the same thing?

Resolutions: a firm decision to do or not do something.
Goals: the object of a person’s effort; an aim or desired result.

So, yes, “resolutions” and “goals” may be interchangeable. Maybe I’m mincing words, engaging in a little word play. But word play is exactly how I spend a lot of my time and effort. Word play works for me, and when it comes to making progress, it might work for you, too.

I choose my words carefully, and science validates just why this matters. Researchers studying people who made resolutions found that among those who worded their resolutions positively (“I want to start running”), 59% stuck to it. Among those who worded their resolutions negatively (“I want to quit watching so much TV”), only 47% stuck to it.

Another study of people similarly motivated to improve their habits found that those who set goals stuck to them at a rate of 42%, while just 4% of those who had vague intentions saw improvement.

https://www.instagram.com/holstee/

What we say and how we say it can help us make progress. 

The word “resolutions” strikes my ears negatively. “Firm decision” also feels harsh. “Aim or desired result,” however, feels positive. I’m choosing positive words to effect positive change.

Last year I made a Not 20 for 2020 list of goals, including aims such as drinking more water and completing several writing projects. While I didn’t manage everything on my list (too many goals, some unmeasurable), I crushed my water goal and surprised myself with my writing progress. Setting positive intentions set me on a course to develop healthy habits.

This year I made a simple chart with fewer goals and a box for every day of the month. I stuck it in my planner where I will see it everyday. Most of my goals are meant to be achieved daily, like walking; some I intend to fit in a few times a week, like yoga. But I can already see progress in every area as I check off my boxes day after day.

Because progress, not perfection, is the goal. Progress = positive. Perfection = unattainable. Again, I’m emphasizing the positives in words and actions. I won’t check off every box every day, but as I check off most boxes most days I know I’m heading in the right direction.

Image by M. H. from Pixabay

This is Day 2 of a 7-day writing challenge with Hope*Writers. Today’s prompt is Progress. Follow my Instagram for more.

Cover image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Word Play & Dog Walks: Fun-Ambulist

As a writer, I am a total geek for fun words. I have fond memories of spelling and vocabulary lessons as far back as elementary school; also, some not-so-fond memories when, because I was such an avid reader and therefore exposed to oh so many words, my spelling words were marked incorrect because I wrote the alternate rather than teacher-approved spelling – for example, theatre as opposed to theater. Both correct, only one the right answer.

I also have a quirky memory of being in the children’s section of our local library, seated at a tiny table covered with books I had cherry picked from many shelves. I may have been seven years old. An older girl sat down across from me and commented on my book stack. She couldn’t believe I could read the books in front of me. She picked up a biography with the word “colonel” in the title and demanded I read it aloud. I pronounced it properly: “kernel.” She laughed triumphantly, and insisted that I sound it out: “It should be col-on-el, not kernel,” she snickered. I silently stared back at her, proud of myself, pitying her.

Because I enjoy words, I often subscribe to vocabulary emails. Recently I began receiving daily emails from School of Word Play. I don’t actually remember signing up for this list, but so far it has chucked some playful words in my direction. Words like “funambulist.”

I hadn’t encountered “funambulist” before. It looks like fun-ambulist, and I thought it might be someone who walks for fun…like me. However, the correct pronunciation is fyoo-nam-byuh-list and the definition is a tight-rope walker…absolutely never will be me. [The “fun” comes from the French or Latin funis, or rope].

Let’s go, boys!

Still, it’s been making me laugh on my many, many dog walks to think of myself as a fun-ambulist, as a fun-walker, strolling along with our three funny dogs. A neighbor recently hollered at us from her jog on the other side of the road that seeing us with our entourage, our dog-tourage, makes her laugh. In the best way, I assume. We are quite the pack.

Most days Guy and I walk together. When he’s unavailable, I do two “laps” of the neighborhood, taking the two younger dogs first before returning home to swap the middle dog for the older one; the Power Puppy needs more than all the exercise we can give him, so he gets to trot along on both laps.

Power Puppy likes to hold the Old Lady’s leash

Walking these dogs has been one of the great joys of my life in this strange year. I have walked and prayed, walked and ruminated, walked and ranted (to myself), walked and pondered, walked and noticed, walked and wondered, walked and meditated, walked until I’d burned out whatever frustration the day has presented, walked until I’d paced myself back into being present and peaceful.

What’s been adding life (and laughter) to your life in this strange year?

More painted rocks I noticed on a recent walk

Speaking of word play, last night I wrote a list-poem that made me laugh…

Boring Words
Just
Very
That
Really
Right
Stuff-Thing
Then

Exhilarating Words
(The) Whimsical
Funambulist
Futz(ed and)
Lollygag(ged, then tumbled)
Catawampus(, causing a thudding)
Brouhaha (for the)
Nincompoop (spectator below)

Following the Words: Scattered

One evening I heard myself say to my husband, “I feel scattered.” I went on to explain just a few of the dizzying directions in which my brain was spinning:

the books I’m reading–to study the author’s writing style, to challenge myself to learn about life from a different perspective, to unwind before bed;

my writing projects–the few side gigs that pay a few pennies, the assignments that stretch me, my commitment to post on my blog regularly, the personal projects I’m trying to take to the next level;

my thoughts and feelings about the divided state of our country, the political and racial strife stirring up people on the streets but also changing friendships and affecting families, the election, and oh, let’s not forget that we’re in the midst of a pandemic and I have never in my life spent this much time at home;

and the intensely personal thoughts and feelings about the ways in which my sons are struggling through distance learning and the coincidence of their developmental stages with this strange time in history, and my mom’s declining health and how her children are coming together…and not.

In other words, it’s a lot. Everybody’s dealing with a lot right now, but this is my heap of extra to pitchfork my way through in search of a needle to stitch together a patchwork quilt of goodness.

The next morning, as the foggy mental fatigue continued to hang heavy on me, I did what I do: I started writing. I decided to follow the word scattered, to listen to the images it offered and what they had to say to me.

I feel scattered…
…like the multicolored metallic glitter confetti strewn across the parquet wood-tile floor of my teenage bedroom after I tore open a belated birthday card…
No, not that bright.

…like the dots and frizzles of crepe-paper ribbons launched from the midnight canon on New Year’s Eve in Times Square, paper melting and colors bleeding into sludgy snow drifts, ground into the treads of shuffling boots and sneakers and spiked by the impractical inches of sparkly high heels impaling the neon dark dawn of another cold year…
No, not that wasted.

…like the wild ping and ding and plonk and buzz and whap-slap of pinballs bouncing and banging a dizzying hypotrochoid roulette through an arcade game…
No, not that loud.

…like fire ash twisting in the late-summer breeze, tangling with the twigs of sunlight creeping through the apocalyptic orange smoke sky, impossibly snowing grey soot on our white roses…
No, not that tragic.

…like the crisp underfoot crunch of fallen autumn leaves carpeting the ground, sun yellow, rusty red, burnt orange, vibrant and colorful and withered, contributing their seasonal decay decoration to the loamy compost which will energize more life to burst forth from the ground…
Yes, organic potential, scattered like that.

Not the best piece of writing I’ve produced, but that wasn’t the point. The process itself was helpful. For a time I lost myself in playing with words and images. It felt freeing to be able to see, and then reject, what scattered could but didn’t mean to me: no, not wasted like crepe paper confetti on New Year’s Eve, or loud like pinball machines in an arcade. Not bright, not tragic.

But yes, scattered like fallen leaves, natural, not artificial, still scattered, but promising. Each factor in the multiplicity of ideas and anxieties boggling my brain and soul might come together for exponential growth. Some thoughts, like those fallen leaves, will crumble into dust and blow away on the breeze–not everything needs to lead to something or even mean something–but others may contribute to the rise of something new.

Though feeling scattered remains uncomfortable, the process of following the words led me to hope. And for that, I am grateful.

Cover Image by Martina Janochová from Pixabay

Getting Crafty: Working and Playing with Creativity

Do you have a craft, a skill you exercise regularly to make something?
Do you consider yourself crafty, making things for fun or profit?

Yes, I know, “crafty” also means deceptive, but that’s not this post.

My craft is writing. I work at it diligently most days of the week. I employ different techniques depending on the time of day, the day of the week, or the purpose of the writing.

I journal, more like a brain dump of everything on my mind and heart.
I blog, intentionally putting together words to encourage others.
I write letters, sending a little sunshine via the USPS.
I write prayers and Bible studies to connect with God.
I write to work through my thoughts and feelings on various issues.
I write notes and reviews about books I’ve read.
I write for organizations and individuals who pay me to write for them.

I practice writing. I read good writing, fiction and non, to learn from others. I take writing classes (a new class begins tonight – eek, I’m both excited and anxious).

And sometimes I need to do something differently crafty to differently spark my creativity.

Occasionally over the last year, I’ve spent a Sunday afternoon creating a collage. Just for fun, just for me, just because.

I set a timer for 20 minutes and quick-cut scraps from a colorful magazine I’ve read. I look for colors, words, images that grab me for whatever reason. When the timer beeps, I shuffle the cut pieces, looking for connections. Sometimes colors work together. Other times, words bump up against words to create new meaning. I trim edges and shuffle some more. And then I grab a glue stick and a piece of paper to use as a foundation and arrange the snippets into something new.

It’s not rocket science. I’m not attempting to win an art prize. I’m just having fun. And sometimes, fun matters most. It breathes fresh life into my lungs and returns me to my writing craft with new things to say.

In the comments, tell me a little something about your craft. Or tag someone whose pursuit of their craft you admire.

This is Day 2 of a 7 Day Writing Challenge with Hope*Writers. Follow me on Instagram for more.

Lent 2020: See What We Can Do

“Look!…See what we can do with our very own hands!” They were quite pleased with themselves.
But God wasn’t pleased with them…. They were trying to live without him, but God knew that wouldn’t make them happy or safe or anything.

God gave us bright brains and capable hands and put us in groups to accomplish life together. And we need to remember that He is the source of all good things, including all of our creative abilities.

We may not be building the Tower of Babel, but we do stuff all day long. Lots of intricate, complicated, amazing things. Have we lost sight of God in the process? Better question: How do we keep sight of God in the process?

When people got cocky and tried to build a tower to heaven, a tower that would speak volumes about their abilities rather than God’s provision, God gave them the gift of languages. Quite a gift, and also a confusing problem, especially in the beginning.

Communication still gets confusing. We often communicate ineffectively, and it gets in the way of our ability to accomplish things.

However, when we look to God for His plans. When we seek to honor Him rather than ourselves. When we honor one another and the beautiful gifts they are to us and to the world. Then, I believe, God will make clear our communication and we will work together to do all the amazing things He has dreamed for us.

 

During Lent 2020, I’m reading and reflecting on The Jesus Storybook Bible. If you don’t already have it, I highly recommend it. You can purchase it here. Please note: as an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases.

Lent 2020

I’ve been reading, studying, digesting, listening to and learning from the Bible over my entire life. I’ve been glad and mad, confused and convicted, by its words. I’ve had conversations and arguments with God and others about what it says and doesn’t say. I’ve read scores of books about the Bible. I’ve attended Bible studies, taken classes on the Bible—I have a seminary graduate degree—and written about the Bible.

One of my goals for 2020 is to interact with a different translation of the Bible. I need to shake things up. I’m still studying and reading and writing about the more traditional/adult versions of the Bible, but the Spirit is nudging me to bring some joy back into my dedicated time with Him.

So here I am, during Lent, picking up one of my very favorite Bibles: The Jesus Storybook Bible.

We discovered this Bible when our youngest son was four years old. As I read the first few stories aloud to him, I delighted in the words and illustrations. This is no ordinary kids’ Bible. This is a work of art.

I have since recommended this Bible to everyone I know who is even slightly at all interested in the Bible. Because of my enthusiasm, our church preschool gives one to every graduate and our sanctuary pew racks contain copies, indicating to families that children are always welcome. It is also our go-to new baby gift.

This Lent, I’m going to read for five minutes a day, as many stories as that allows, and then write for another five minutes about what stood out to me, and then I’ll share posts a few times a week. A sort of lectio divina light, playing and creating with God. Play with me?

Please note: As an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases. 

Advent 3: Preserve Peace (2019)

True confession: I worked on this post yesterday and got confused on my dates. I thought today would be December 14 and so the invitation should read: “Preserve Peace.” My partner in creativity made two beautiful images, only recognizing my mistake after she had them ready.

Thing is, I think Jesus does that sometimes. He directs us to what we need even if it’s “out of order” from our expectations. I needed to dwell on peace this weekend, and so that’s what God gave me.

May God always give you what you need, and may you have ears and eyes to receive His truth! Side note: we put our devotional cards in biblical order, but please feel free to shuffle the deck to get what you need from Jesus (to get your own set of cards, click for your FREE download).

Cranberries are one of my favorite holiday season tastes. They’re in everything: cheese, salads, pastries, savories and sweets. I typically make cranberry sauce the Monday before Thanksgiving and Christmas, always making sure we have more than enough to go around the table for a few days. My recipe includes lots of ginger, orange juice, and orange marmalade to finish. The results taste sweet and tart-bitter and never fail to please the pucker.

I’d never thought to wonder why jam can be called “preserves.” It seems obvious that the fruit has been “preserved” in a different form, right? Yes, and because early cultures used sugar as a preservative to keep fruit from spoiling.

I did a quick google search on preservatives when I saw the Advent invitation to “Preserve Peace.” Jesus made peace between God and humanity and, as we follow Him, we are called to be peacemakers, to make peace where conflict reigns and to keep peace when it is fragile.

We are the sugar preserving the fruit, the marmalade in the cranberry sauce. In other words, Jesus invites us to be delicious and make life tastier for everyone.

 

Creative Collaboration

One of the great joys of my professional life over the last many years has been my ongoing partnership with my friend Nancy, aka The Creative Resource. I write/edit words and she makes them pretty. I hatch ideas and she makes them real and, in most cases, even better than I imagined. She is a fabulous photographer, graphic designer, artist, hand lettering extraordinaire; she is also a woman of deep faith with a kind heart of gold. And she loves dogs and coffee, which makes her an all-around terrific friend.

We have both moved on from our side-by-side week-in-and-out roles; in fact, she moved more than an hour away. But that didn’t stop us from continuing our collaboration.

Last year we created a set of devotional cards—her hand lettering art on one side with a Bible verse and a prayer written by me on the reverse. We sold them at our church craft fair and book shop to great response. People appreciated them as attractive countertop reminders to pause in each day and remember what’s important. They also make great stocking stuffers.

So we decided to produce another set: To Do Cards take two.

This set is so fun (if I do say so myself)… Each card features two words spoken by Jesus in Mark’s Gospel. Nancy did a beautiful job hand lettering them in on-trend black and white, an classy fit with any decor. Though they are currently arranged in the order they appear in Mark’s Gospel, you can use them in any order as they strike a note in your heart. They are numbered but not dated, though if you start with Day 1 on December 1 (this Sunday! How in the world did we get to December already?), you’ll begin the month—and Advent—by making preparations and end on Christmas Day by asking Jesus to stay with you, an Advent calendar of sorts designed to fill your heart with love rather than your mouth with chocolate.

To Do Cards take two are available to you as a FREE download. All you have to do is give us your email. We promise not to spam you; we’ll email you just a few times a year about other inspirational creative projects we’ve cooked up. Please feel free to share this post so others can get in on the fun as well.

Merry Christmas already!

Loop-de-Loop

Two weeks ago, I fell while running. Since the only broken skin was on my hand, and the only bruise a purple pin-prick on my chin, I thought I would be fine.

I took a day off, mostly because Guy asked me to. That led to three days off, because ouch my body hurt. Since then, I’ve walked the dogs on average four miles most days. I haven’t run yet.

I didn’t expect to be so sore, that my muscles would seize up first on my left side, where I landed, and then migrate to my right side.

I didn’t expect my heart and soul would hurt, too.

It took me a few days to figure it out: that when I took a literal fall on my face, I metaphorically hit the ground as well. The trauma in my body reignited the grief I have been working through for a while.

I will be fine. I am fine. Some days, however, I don’t feel fine. I’ve had to remind myself: grief isn’t linear.

The well-accepted stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance—are all part of the process, but they don’t line up one after another. David Kessler, who worked with Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, writes that, rather than acting as yield signs, the stages help us understand grief’s landscape; grief itself is unique to each individual.

Years ago, I attended a seminar in which a woman talked about helping kids deal with grief. She and her daughters witnessed their husband and father’s death. They’d bought him a hot air balloon ride for a big birthday celebration. His best friends joined him. Their families were following along on the ground when the balloon hit a power line and exploded. Everyone on board died.

I’ve sat through thousands of hours of instruction, and this lesson stuck more than others. She drew a messy squiggle on the board and said: “We think grief should be linear, that we move through stages and that’s that. No. Grief isn’t even a roller coaster, with twists and turns that come to an end. It’s this mess, and while sometimes it mellows, it never really ends.”

Recently, Shauna Niequist (@sniequist) posted to Instagram:

A reminder about grief: it isn’t linear, doesn’t honor the calendar or the clock or the weather, doesn’t obey the laws of logic or effort. It’s unpredictable. And sneaky. And it lives right alongside joy & hope & good work, & sometimes it’s so quiet you think it’s gone, & then out of nowhere it knocks the wind out of you on a Sunday morning or a Thursday afternoon. And sometimes it feels tender, like sadness, but other times it feels enormous & powerful, like rage or fire. I have walked through some soul-altering losses in the last several years, and I’ve been very intentional about walking through them privately—wise voices in my life have reminded me over and over that our private real-time, real-life wounds are not supposed to be bared in public, but rather tended to with honesty & love & truth-telling in private. That’s what one whole part of my life has been focused on these last couple years: allowing wise people who love me to tend to my broken heart in private. This part of my life & healing will remain private, but I do want to offer this to any of you who are also grieving something right now, maybe as a handful of comfort or hope: some days a very tiny, brave corner of your heart will burn with the faith that it is, someday, going to be okay…& then other days your chest feels like it’s been blown open by explosives, a ragged open wound. I have absolutely felt both, and quite recently. You’re not alone. Keep going.

Shauna’s last two words are the title of the post I wrote about falling.

I can’t go on. I’ll go on. Let’s keep going.

 

Cover image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay