Wednesday, November 12, 2014

DEADLINE... No. Really. It means DEAD line.

Deadlines: We have a love/hate relationship with them. For some of us, having a deadline on a project boosts our productivity, empowers us to reach our goals, and endues us with a sense of responsibility to which we are honor-bound.

For others, a deadline is a casual thing... like the rules that govern whether or not you wear white shoes after Labor Day. It's more of a guideline, or a suggestion...

 In other words, failure to honor a deadline makes you a pirate. Which is only cool in Disneyland.

Did you see that historical definition? It's called a "deadline" because crossing it means someone is going to want to kill you, literally or figuratively...  

Failure to meet a deadline has repercussions that resonate far beyond the individual who comes up short of time. When deadlines are missed, everyone up (or down, depending on your perspective of how important you are) in the chain of productivity is forced into overtime, which affects profit margins, employee happiness, and customer satisfaction... not to mention the fact projects submitted after deadline are far more likely to suffer from egregious errors that aren't caught until it's too late to correct them.

I'm not talking about a once-in-a-while unusual situation or rare occurrence, I'm talking to repeat offenders. People who consistently ignore deadlines are people who are just inconsiderate of others. Simply put, they consider the time and energy of others less valuable than their own time/energy. Missed deadlines put everyone out of sync. 

I used to be late for everything: meetings, appointments, church, work, you name it. My perpetually punctual spouse told me I was being inconsiderate of others' time. I pooh-poohed his argument. Now I realize he was right. I was being inconsiderate. In the back of my mind, the "party" didn't start until I arrived, so everyone else might as well wait. My more "mature" self recognizes the selfishness and narcissism in that attitude. Ew. I don't even LIKE that person... (And if you are one I made wait, I'm sorry.)

My point? If you're given a deadline, abide by it. Not out of fear of death (although you never know what might happen if you push that editor or manager too far)...

...but out of a sense of honor and respect and basic consideration for others. 

And that's my rant for today. 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

When introverts go to church

For the last two+ years I've played visitor at various churches. I've visited the church that sent my husband and I out as church-planters more than a decade ago. I've visited churches of varying denominations. The church I've returned to again and again, is the Catholic church, for a very unexpected reason. (Don't have a cow... this is MY experience, not yours.)

Most Protestant churches, even the liturgical ones, are geared toward familiarity, friendliness, and making everyone feel welcome by placing greeters at every entrance, passing out information cards, and having a special time to meet and greet your fellow worshipers at some point during the service.

THIS IS NOT BAD. I get it. In some part of myself (the part that likes fiction and believes there's a lovely little white clapboard community church out there with no ambitions) understands.

Lots and lots of people go to church every week looking for a connection, for fellowship, for welcome and comfort and a sense they are wanted and that they belong. As the worst-ever pastor's wife, I had more than one person in the space of 14 years tell me I failed in that department... I didn't make them feel welcome, or comfortable, or that I was glad they were in attendance.

What they didn't know is that I was literally shaking in my shoes whenever new people crossed the threshold on Sunday morning. Why? Because I'm an introvert. It's how God made me, and it's not a sin. SURPRISE!

Lots and lots of other people are introverts, too, and whether you like it or not, at least a few of them are showing up at your local church on Sunday.

They probably come late. They've figured out the system: if they show up late enough, the greeter-gauntlet has gone into the sanctuary. They've missed half the music, but that's better than being hand-shaked and hugged into a quivering, twitching mess by near-strangers on their way into the building. (BTW: If you ever get a hug from an introvert, it's INTENDED, MEANT, and VALUABLE, FYI.)

And they probably leave early. I've spent a good portion of many services scoping out ways to escape without having to interact with fellow worshipers who would want to know my name, where I was from, if I was visiting, where I went to church, my Social Security number, and my blood type. No, I know, they were just trying to make me feel welcome. I bear them no ill will. Really!

Some people go to church expressly out of obedience to God's command that we not forsake the gathering together with other believers. We're not looking for friends (we already have them), a substitute family (we're probably there to pray for the family we already have), or a place and position in an organization.

That's why, while I am in limbo between church homes, I keep returning to various Catholic Masses. It's the only introvert-friendly church I've come across. And the focus of the Mass, as far as I've seen. is on Christ alone, period, without apology. Some Scripture readings, a few recited prayers I have no argument with, and a significant part of an hour spent concentrating on the broken body and shed blood of the Son of God. It's not the music, or the personality of the preacher, or the hip and catchy video  announcements, or the cushy chairs (OMG, is there anything more uncomfortable than a wooden pew and a kneeler?).

I know what you're thinking... I have too many loved ones and friends who've been burned by Catholicism to surmise that it's an ideal religion. That's why I haven't gone beyond attending mass and sitting complacently in the back with the divorcees and un-confessed who can't partake of communion (thankfully, I know I can have communion with my Lord by means of a Cheerio and grape juice, as the need arises).

But at the same time, I wish, foolishly, there was a way to participate, to join in, without signing on man's dotted line, without swearing fealty to the denomination, without silently agreeing with every doctrine by virtue of membership, without having to suppress my innate introvertedness in order to make it into the parking lot without feeling uncomfortable.

Is there hope? Yes.
As I was reminded this morning at Mass...
Love God.
Love your neighbor.
Love yourself.

Funny how that last one is the hardest to follow, and how the innately introverted struggle with it the most. Go to church... wherever you can, wherever you are able to worship freely. God loves His introverted children just as much as He loves the extraverted ones! Of that, I am positive!

That said... maybe churches need to institute "introvert-friendly entrances/exits."
Just a thought.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Three steps to regaining control of your inbox

My email inbox used to be pretty simple. These days? Not so much.

I spent most of a Saturday digging out from under a couple hundred emails that needed my attention. Feeling overwhelmed and exhausted, I determined I need a better strategy. The following steps will (hopefully) help us all gain control over that time-sucking void that is our email inbox.

1. Unsubscribe
It happens to us all. While seeking the best deals, we inadvertently sign up for a slew of emails. Most of the time it's easy to just delete them and go on, but every now and then (like spring/fall cleaning for your inbox) it's best to take the time to click "unsubscribe" on those robot mailings. It's kind of like your closet... fashion mavens say we should clear out anything we haven't worn in a year. Perhaps the same is true of our inboxes: those things we consistently delete without opening should be permanently unsubscribed to.

2. Stars, Folders, and Highlights
When you're rushing through your email, you need a way to sort things in order of importance. Depending on which email software you use, sorting might involve "starring" important messages, "highlighting" particular subjects or recipients, or simply moving emails into a folder for later review. Yes, you WANT to read so-and-so's blog post, but you don't have time right now... move that email into a "TBR" (To Be Read) folder. OR, save the link to Evernote or another reader. Sorting is a step toward organization!

3. You Only Click Once
Years ago, before the Internet and before email, I worked with a former CPA. She was the accounts receivable manager for the newspaper I was working for at the time. Her desk was always—ALWAYS—tidy. Mine (I was the production manager) was always a disaster. So I asked her how she kept her desk so clean. Her response: Whatever you pick up you don't put it down again unless you're putting it away in its proper location. It's a rule that works.

Electronic communications have changed the way we interact with each other. On the plus side, I don't have to wait a week or ten days to send a letter and get an answer. On the downside, I'm inundated with emails that demand a response, RIGHT NOW. And replying is not always convenient. So how can we apply the "only click once" rule to our electronic communication?
A, If you know you can't respond right away, don't open it. Conversely, if you've opened it already and realized you can't respond now, mark it unread. The next time you open your email you'll be prompted to respond.
B. Use your email program to ID important messages and set aside a specific amount of time each day or each week, to respond to those messages.
How do you manage your inbox?

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

My love/hate relationship with sleep

It started when I was four or five years old... that's when the nightmares started. I don't recall suffering from nightmares or night terrors before then (although I do recall the two rollover accidents), but I clearly recall the dreams that occurred from age 5 and up. They were full color, surround-sound nightmares.

Dracula (we surmise he showed up because my mother was a Dark Shadows fan during her pregnancy) was a main character, snakes (the venomous kind) appeared en masse with startling regularity. Later (and to this day) mountain lions, the occasional bear (one ate my husband, head first, in a nightmare just last week), and random diagnoses of terminal (usually contagious) illness or serial killer behavior visited my sleeping self. And those are the dreams I can share...

For the most part, I've chalked it all up to an "overactive imagination" (thanks, Mom)... It's probably the reason I can write, but it's enough to make you want to swear off sleeping.

Unfortunately, no sleep creates other issues.... you're required to NAP, and go to bed EARLY. UGH. (My husband runs a delivery route, similar to what my parents did... he gets up around 3AM during the week and needs—and deserves—a nap in the afternoon.) My parents worked nights (2AM-7AM), seven days a week. They napped during the day (that's how I got hooked on General Hospital) and went to bed long before dark (hence my evening TV addiction). I think some of my sleep angst is related to childhood rebellion.

I hate naps. N, I LOATHE naps. Naps, and going to bed early, are conceding defeat. I hate them both.
I hate going to bed "early." (Which then causes an issue with my early-to-bed spouse.)
My creativity is at its peak between 8-11PM.
I loathe waking up before 7:30-8AM.

To increase the confusion, lately I can only sleep about 4 hours at a time... And then I spend a few hours trying to go back to sleep, only to catch a few sketchy nightmares before I'm required to join the world of the living again. If I go to bed at 10PM, that means I'm awake from 2-5AM, and then running the nightmare train from 5 or so until 7 or 8AM. Not rest-conducive.

Some of you get up every day at 3:30 or 4AM and function quite well throughout the day. How do you do it? What's your secret? How does one successfully fiddle with one's internal clock???

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Scared into church or doing what He would do?

Something crossed my FB wall a few days ago that disturbed me...

Honestly, I should thank the person who posted this for forcing me to examine my views about church, why we go there, and what we should be expecting from our attendance.

#1. This post implies that "the local church" is the the only place where we can count on God's protection.

  • Anyone who has attended any church for any length of time is well aware that church attendance is no guarantee of safety and protection against evil. Simply put, bad stuff happens to good church members (and to everybody else on the planet). To suggest that church attendance/membership is some kind of insurance policy against unpleasant things occurring in your life is faulty reasoning at best. At worst, it's a kind of twisted manipulation of human emotions to get them to join your group.
  • If your church attendance is inspired by fear of what happens if you don't show up on Sunday (or abstain from all labor on Saturday, or to pray certain prayers every day, or to give a specific amount in the offering, or whatever), then your faith is fear-based, not love-based, and needs to be examined. God isn't trying to SCARE you into being part of the church, and the church leaders shouldn't be, either. Just a thought.

#2. This post implies that anyone who is 'outside' the local church is somehow removed from God's grace and mercy.

  • Really? What about "the goodness of God leads people to repentance?" Is that just talking about people who are already in the church? I don't think so. Are we talking a SPECIFIC local church, or ANY local church? Are we addressing any denomination, or just the ones that agree with the author? You see, this is a problem. I was part of a denomination that eschewed the majority of other denominations as somehow faulty in their theology. When something crappy happened to someone who was part of a different (albeit Christ-honoring) denomination, I chalked it up to their failure to ascribe to our particular theology. When lousy things happened within our own body, we publicly prayed and confessed the Word, and privately wondered what secret sin or lapse of faith the victim was guilty of. The point? It's not ours to judge or decide why things happen to believers OR to unbelievers. Stuff happens. God helps us deal with it, and as the body of Christ, we're supposed to come together to help one another through the tough times... in the church and "out" of the church. Period.

  • Is church attendance an important part of the life of every believer in Christ? Absolutely. We are not to forsake the gathering together with other believers. But when we start pointing fingers at other gatherings, we have a problem... Is the Messianic Jewish house church as "under cover" as the flamboyant mega-church with the big building and the marketing campaign? Is the church repeating its weekly liturgies out of a book as "under cover" as the non-denominational church doing everything "as the Spirit leads"? Is random attendance as effective as weekly, or daily attendance? Do you have to sign your name on the membership line at a particular building to assure your protection? Where does one draw the line? Is there a line? 

I have a hard time believing in a God of love who would flick his beloved children out from under His protection based on their particular style and method of worship. That said, the question arises... if we don't go to church out of fear for our safety and protection (which is a twisted reason for going, IMO), why should we go? What purpose does church serve?

I believe that the original purpose of the church (ecclesia = gathering) was to provide a community of support for like-minded people to come together to worship, and to provide a social support network of tangible, physical care. Unfortunately, that's the part of "church" modern-day organized, corporate, 501c3 religion frequently fails at. Let's face it, it's a lot easier to spout platitudes and quote scriptures (and tell other people what they need to be saying and doing and thinking) than it is to wash their dishes, take them to a doctor's appointment, watch their kids, or pay their past-due bills. It's easier to promote building projects and evangelical campaigns than it is to sit down and deal with the schizophrenic chick who needs medical intervention more than she needs the laying on of hands. That stuff is messy, and we don't like messy faith.

For myself, I'm going to make an effort to get my hands messy more often. Not because someone is scaring me into it, but because I believe that's what the Lord would have me to do as a member of His body, His Church. I believe it's what He would do if he were here in my place.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Rest, Rest, Rest, Rest... RUN!!!

For the past two years (plus a couple of months), since we moved back "home" to my parents' property, I've been in a rest cycle. Resting, recovering, recuperating from wounds, both literal and figurative. It's been a season of transformation, which is always a bit uncomfortable, because you never know exactly how you're going to come out on the other side. It has been a season of examination: internal and external, physical and spiritual.

And now, like someone thrust suddenly out of a long, dark tunnel, I'm blinking and squinting in the light like a newly-emerged mole.
No, really, that's how I feel. 

At the end of April I received my first book contract. Squee!!! Since then, I've been working with my editor to polish the story and prepare it for publication. No release date yet, but I'm OK with that. The more editing we do, the better the story gets!

In June/July I celebrated my 44th birthday. And I received an invitation to participate in a novella series with seven other authors that completely WOWED me. I flung myself into research, and wrote a historical novella set in 1921 Colorado Springs. That novella, Sadie's Gift, releases Monday, Sept. 1st on Amazon, and a few days later on Nook.

Also in July, I thought I'd lost the job I'd been waiting for since last November. Two days later, I had the job back. A full-time job that I can do from my house. It doesn't get much better than that! I've never had a full-time paying job before... I homeschooled four children, and served as a pastor's wife, but I didn't get paid for those roles. This is altogether different, and a blessing! It's also a big transition... I'm accountable to a number of other people now in a new way, and my schedule, which has been that of a lady-of-leisure, has to evolve.

Then I received a call (that received word keeps coming up) from my friend and leader at ACFW Colorado, asking me to consider taking over the role of Colorado Area Coordinator for American Christian Fiction Writers. WOW. I prayed, and prayed... feeling neither equipped nor prepared, but God didn't say "no," and it seemed good to the Holy Spirit on the inside. As of Monday, I will take up the coordinator mantle for Colorado's amazing group of writers. What an honor, and a responsibility!

These are things I've been believing for and expecting for years. Decades, even. Why couldn't I have had them happen ten or twenty years ago? Because I wasn't ready. I lacked the confidence, the maturity, the empathy, and the experience to handle them. Even now I feel like a hatchling just emerging from her egg. All of this is new to me, every day is filled with opportunities to seek higher counsel, and it's good!

My point? If you're in that "shelf season," don't fret, be patient, and enjoy the rest. God hasn't forgotten about you!