Tag Archives: inspiration

Start Somewhere

cover-start-somewhere-spread-lightI received a letter the other day. It wasn’t to me individually, although it felt like it was. It was written in a way that was so personal to the senders that I suspect each of us who read it was quite certain it was intended just for us.

It was an open letter from the band Ryanhood to their fans, explaining how they’ve been in a tough, discouraged place for the last couple of years, wondering if their artistic efforts would ever amount to anything. And how recently, they’ve realized that creating music and playing it is who they are, and to get to do that for us – to have fans who care – is an honor for which they’re grateful. They apologized for not realizing how astonishing this is sooner. They announced a new album, Start Somewhere, which comes out on Saturday.

I am beyond excited.

Ryan and Cameron are friends of mine. I feel like our quests to navigate the worlds of art are intertwined. Music, writing, being public about what’s private, becoming what God created us to be, the tension between inspiring others and struggling to stay encouraged ourselves. I remember when they flew in to play at the launch party for my second book, A Maze of Grace, right as everything was coming apart for them, and (although I was still in denial about this) for me.  I was burnt out from a whole list of things, and convinced that hanging out with Ryan and Cameron would get me back on track.

So there I was at lunch one day saying (picture jazz hands): “Hey guys! if these events we’re doing go well, let’s do more of them!” and they looked at me with glazed eyes and said, “You go for it, Trish. But after this we’re on sabbatical.”

They took about a year off, then put out After Night Came Sun. It’s darker, and brilliant, and as they say in their letter, it wasn’t a new beginning but a last gasp.

Part of our long-distance friendship has been sharing our struggles to make sense of whether and how our work matters.  On our most recent visit last summer, when Ryan was touring with his solo album, Running In Circles, Ryan and Cameron told me several versions of, “Don’t give up; your books matter! You’re doing something no one else is doing!” while I told them “Don’t give up! Your music changes lives! No one else is doing what you’re doing!” Then we all looked at each other like tired, retired people in our late 80s who should have been sitting around a pool in Florida, waiting for shuffleboard and our afternoon nap. We were exhausted.

Then a few months ago, Ryan sent me a link to a book he was reading by musician Michael Gungor. It’s about living in all this tension and coming out the other side with something new and unique; how when you’re brave enough to stop, step off whatever treadmill you’re on, regroup and collect yourself for awhile, incredible things can happen.  I wondered if something was up. Turns out it was, and there’s a new Ryanhood album to celebrate. That is such good news. The sun is shining. And I am beyond myself with relief…and a fun sort of hope I’d forgotten about.

The narrative arc of Ryanhood’s albums since I’ve know them makes me smile. It reads like an explanation of life:

You realize that The World Awaits. Then you get your butt kicked a time or three.  But you believe that After Night Came Sun, that this is how life works, so you sing about it over and over again, trying to convince yourself, desperately hoping it’s true. You spend some time off on your own, Running In Circles. Then, something shifts. Or falls into place. Or changes. You see things differently. And so you Start Somewhere. You rebuild, living again in a new way, eyes open to possibilities that weren’t there before. It’s a beautiful thing. And I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a beautiful album.

press-ryanhood-start-somewhere-LHere are some teasers.

You can preorder.

Or if you’re near Tucson, you can see them play live on Saturday night.

As I listen to the previews of their new songs, I hear hope, and happiness. It echoes what I’ve been feeling as I look out at my own horizon at things that weren’t there before. It’s a fun place to be, seeing these first glimpses of sun, and (as Cameron and Ryan describe so beautifully in their letter) greeting these days knowing who you are and what you’re here to do.

Start Somewhere.  What a great idea :)

Three Things Were Awesome, One Was Funny

I went to a big conference this past weekend with a friend. Three things were awesome, and one was funny.

Awesome thing #1:  The morning keynote speaker.  Back when He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not first came out,  Shaunti Feldhahn was one of the Unknownfew Christian authors willing to blurb a memoir by someone she’d never heard of.  I don’t even know who sent her an advance copy, but she read my book (or had someone on her staff read it) and gave a lovely, encouraging quote for the cover. On Saturday, I got to thank her in person, and that was pretty awesome. I mentioned how unusual it is for Christian authors to support each other in this way (I’d say 99% of my author friends are in the mainstream publishing world and we all do everything we can to champion one another’s projects, believing, as they say, that a rising tide lifts all boats. One of my dreams is to see more of this in the world of faith-based books.)  When I mentioned this to Shaunti, she told me the story about she sent a copy of one of her early books to powerhouse author Beth Moore…and then received a call from Beth telling her how much she loved the book and cheering her on.  “Since then,” she said, “I try and do that for others when a book is really good.”   Isn’t that cool? And if you haven’t read her before, Shaunti’s insights on how men and women think and approach things differently is INTERESTING stuff. This is my favorite of her books.

Awesome thing #2: The second speaker, Valorie Burton. She spoke on positive psychology (something I’ve been on a kick with lately) from a Unknown-1faith perspective, so as subject matter goes, she kind of had me at hello. She was so fun and upbeat, and I loved how she pushed back at the ways we sometimes look to God saying, Can’t you make me happy? Why don’t you make me happy? when God gives us a lot of free will and tools we can use to be happier if we’re willing to make that choice and put in a bit of effort.  I especially appreciated her points about how we don’t get far in life unless we cultivate self control: She illustrated this by describing how, when she was working to pay off her debt, she needed  to put down the pretty dresses she’d see at the store, and get herself out of the mall. She needed God’s help to do this, but she had to make the choices: to ask, to walk away WITHOUT the pretty dress, and to believe that reaching her goal would make her happier than a new piece of fabric hanging in her closet.  I took tons of notes in her session and am looking forward to reading her book & checking out her free online Happy Woman Test.

Awesome thing #3: Ruth Graham gave a workshop where she opened by saying, “I know you’re all here to hear a talk about forgiveness, but I’mimages going to pull a bait & switch. Today, we’re going to talk about LONELINESS.” A bunch of people left when she said this, and wow, did they miss out. I’ve never heard anyone give such a real, candid, and hopeful talk about loneliness, because let’s be honest: talks about loneliness are often given by pastors who aren’t lonely, but want congregants to go meet neighbors who might be lonely and bring them to church.  This was different. Graham spoke about LIVING loneliness, and how she works to not be lonely. She talked about how hard it is that even though 60% of people in church in America are single, and most of us spend the majority of our years single if you count the years before marriage and the years after the marriage ends in either divorce or death, churches often focus on family life as the most/only important season. But she’s cultivating this season of her life with a goal to live it with excellence, looking to God for cues on what that means. “If you’re single right now,” she said matter-of-factly, “It probably won’t be forever. It’s just a season. So we should do our best to live it excellently.”

I LOVED this approach. She wasn’t overly emotional, or stridently demanding that she and others change anything or accept their plight. She was just like, “Well, here I am in this unexpected season. Let’s make it interesting!”

You’d think a talk about loneliness would be a downer, but just the opposite was true. In a conference were almost every speaker, performer, and workshop presenter tied Christian womanhood to having a husband and children (almost every speaker opened with some version of “So, how many of you have kids?”) Ruth Graham came and said, “I see you, and God sees you, no matter what relationships you do or do not have in your life right now.”  What a gift.

 One Funny Thing: There were probably 1,800 women at this day-long conference, and there was no real plan to feed us (other than two people Unknown-2frantically cooking hot dogs at a concession stand.)  So the conference organizers sent us all to the hospital across the street, suggesting that we eat in their cafeteria.  Isn’t that the funniest thing you’ve ever heard?  We dutifully went over, and the cafeteria was  lovely…and absolutely emptied of all food within three minutes. We were like locusts swarming through.  I grabbed some chicken tenders because they were the last protein I could see – I don’t even like chicken tenders, but let me tell you, in that moment, they were delicious :)

Here’s what I learned from this: if you’re going to blow something, like not having a food plan for 1,800 women at an all-day conference where you expect them to act like Christians, blow it in a way that is both EPIC and kind of FUNNY. Because at least then all those hungry women go home with a good story to tell in the following days.  So for lunch…they sent us to the hospital…


The Reward System

548264_10152070832529838_1311047310_nI had a TON of dental work done when I was little – something like 13 teeth pulled, braces, surgery. There were metal bands and hooks and elastics and headgear.  So much miraculous intervention between the ages of 6-12 to give me a working set of teeth and a viable smile. It’s one of the most life-changing gifts my parents ever gave me.

At the time, though, it didn’t feel like such a gift. My orthodontist was mean and seemed to hate his job, and his partner in the practice was a woman who both shared these qualities AND didn’t like children. I hated going there and have been afraid of dentists ever since.

My mom is a genius, though, and came up with a way to help me navigate the stress of these appointments, especially the biggies where we knew there would be needles, blood, and a week of recovery involved. She used the reward system.

I was into two things at that age: gymnastics, and reading. We didn’t buy a lot of books back then because we had a good library and not much extra money. But on days when I was going in for a major dental procedure, Mom would take me to the bookstore first and let me buy a book. There were these huge picture books profiling different gymnasts – One was about Olympic Champion Nadia Comaneci, another was a about a girl my age who lived on Long Island and was in training. I loved them, and spent hours pouring over the pictures and reading the stories. I remember more details from those books (Nadia and her teammates vacationed on the Black Sea!) than anything I’ve read as an adult.  Those books meant so much to me – then, and even now, as I remember them.The ritual of picking out a new book before a scary procedure gave me something to think about beforehand, and something to look forward to when I came out of whatever anesthesia they’d put me under and hit the place where my whole face just hurt.

I remembered all this today because a friend posted a picture on Facebook of the painting she made to record her weight loss journey. On one side was a list of her goals: #’s of pounds lost and a place to check when she reached that new milestone. (Most were checked.) On the other side was a list of rewards partnered with each goal: New pajamas, perfume, a grill, a handbag. Things that she might have bought herself anyway, just because.

Have you noticed how much crap out there in the marketing world is there to tell us we should buy ourselves things just because, or justify getting whatever we want with the phrase, I deserve it? I love how my friend’s painting reminded me that we can turn this ridiculousness around and return to the idea that we should work for things; not just because it makes us better people (I think it does), but also because we appreciate and enjoy things SO much more when we’ve worked for them, whether that work is sweating at the gym, completing a daunting project, or not throwing a tantrum when the cruel orthodontist smiles and comes at you with another giant needle.

(I also love that this process gave my friend a chance to re-conceptualize “rewards” from food to other things she’d enjoy. Unless you’re starving, food is kind of a lousy reward because it’s over so quickly.)images-1

At the top of my friend’s picture she’d written, A NEW ME! I think she meant it about the weight loss. But it reminded me of how much we change inside when we do hard things that take a long time and feel horrible/painful/awkward/not worth it as we’re struggling with all the little decisions required to get from where we are to where we want to be.

I’m inspired by this. I want to create a way to REMEMBER the work, the choices, the results, and the rewards. It’s so easy to forget and get lost in the swirl of life’s frantic busy-ness, or the awful abyss of feeling like nothing you do matters and you have no purpose. I’ve spent too much time lately up in my head, bouncing between these two extremes.  Enough of that already.

It’s time to dump my goals out onto a colorful poster, pick some new rewards (Books are still my love language :) ) and get to work. Not because I deserve it. But because if there’s an upgraded, 2.0 version of me to be had, I’d like to get there.