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Recently, I read a post on Twitter from a writer who yearned for a “quiet place” — not just for rest, but a time set aside to find inspiration and cultivate ideas.  I’ll admit, I struggle to find enough time to complete writing assignments. Finding time to sit in silence and dream? Practically unheard of!

But isn’t that what we’re called to do? Not just as writers, but as Christians. In addition to cultivating inspiration, quietness is imperative if we are going to hear from God on direction for our lives. Quietness is only found if it is purposefully sought after. It does not come naturally in our busy, noisy world. From the time I wake in the morning, dozens (if not hundreds) of things compete for my attention: work,  planning meals, meetings, pets, and housework. And that’s before I even log onto the computer, where email, social media, and projects are waiting not-so-patiently for me.

Have I filled my moments with so much busy work that I don’t make time for the quietness that is so necessary for daily survival? Is there a way to find that quietness among a noisy lifestyle?

I realize that the only way to pull back is to do just that: pull back. Shove all the noise aside. Close a door. Take a few deep breaths, escape inward and look up. It’s amazing how the growing clutter disappears in those few quiet moments and clarity takes its place. But it’s up to me to make it happen, and promising myself that I’ll do it tomorrow is no excuse. I must find that quiet place today.

Last week, I finished reading Scared by Tom Davis, a story of a photojournalist on assignment in Swaziland, Africa. Although fictional, Davis’ illustrations were based on years of working with real orphaned children around the world.

One scene particularly captured my attention. A young girl Adanna had gone without food for weeks, but when given several days worth of supplies decided to share it with her village friends in one great feast. Davis explained that, in Africa, especially in remote villages where poverty is extensive, families didn’t horde supplies. They shopped for only what they needed for that day. Worry about the next day’s meal could wait until tomorrow.

I recently changed my grocery purchasing habits from restocking my pantry every week to buying just what was needed for the upcoming week’s meals. This was tough for me, but I discovered that I spent less on groceries each month and didn’t waste as much food. I couldn’t begin to imagine only shopping for today.

Then it occurred to me…isn’t that just what God wants us to do? Maybe not specifically with groceries. But the idea of focusing simply on today. “Don’t worry about tomorrow…each day has enough trouble of its own.”

God often only gives us what we need for the moment, the right now, for today. He’ll provide what’s needed for tomorrow when that moment arrives. By stocking my pantry for days to come — planning and worrying about the future, I realize that I’m relying more on myself than Him.

Yet, while I try to live each moment in his daily grace, I have to work at putting those worries and concerns for the future away for another day. What good will it do me to worry? Each day has enough trouble of its own.

I’ll be the first to admit that I love cool, crisp days when the sky is a bright Carolina blue. As the winter fades away into spring, the bright greens of new growth covering the mountains excite me with new opportunities of the season yet to come. Yes, there’s something special about a clear day when I can see for miles and drink in the vibrant colors around me. I feel invincible. Adrenaline races through my veins, and I feel as if I can accomplish all my dreams. But not every day is colored with Carolina blue skies.

Last weekend, as my husband and I drove back across the North Carolina line from Tennessee we were blinded by the dense fog of the Great Smoky Mountains. After spending a couple days in the Tennessee valley, walking in the lush green forests and newly blossomed wildflowers, I was suddenly disappointed that my vision of the mountains covered by Spring had been shielded from my view. I longed to race to the edge of every vista point with my camera and capture the rolling hills. Instead I was faced with an unending gray. So much for a day of photography!

Fog. I hated fog. It stood in between me and the beauty of God’s creation. But as I began stare at the foggy images around me, a new beauty began to emerge. No, I couldn’t see much. Mountains and valleys were still covered in a blanket of dense clouds. As I took my eyes off the distant landscape, I refocused on the images closer to me. The once green trees were now somewhat eerie, but beautiful silhouettes partially hidden in the mist.

I decided to take a chance. Pulling out my camera, I asked my husband to pull over at the next stop. Just as the fog was its heaviest, I stepped out into a world very different than I had photographed in the valley. Hues of blue light glowed through the now mysterious forest. What had once been openly visible was now a scene that held secrets I could not see. I was intrigued.

Fog can be scary. It obscures the path from our view, forcing us to focus on the very steps that are closest to us — ones that we would often ignore if we could see for miles.

Fog takes our attention away from distant futures and tomorrows and helps us focus a little more clearly on today. During times when our futures are uncertain, we can only see the moment that exists, right here, right now; nothing more. It brings a little mystery into our lives, a sense of beginning an adventure into the unknown. Sometimes, a little fog in our lives can give us more clarity than the ability to see for miles ahead.

Ahead, a dark shadow stretches high into the sky, blocking our path and engulfing the daylight. It grows larger with every step, looming overhead, darkening everything that surrounds as we draw near. There’s no turning back. No alternative road to travel.  Moving forward – toward the mountain – is the only option.

Facing a mountain can be frightening. Following unknown paths to steep hills and rocky cliffs only promise a difficult climb and probably some sore muscles ahead. But at some point in life, we all face a mountain to climb. The looming shadow ahead of us could be the loss of a job, health problems, a disconnected relationship with a spouse or children, loneliness, or even a tough decision that challenges your morals and beliefs. Regardless of the name it carries, it is still a mountain so much bigger than ourselves.

How do we react when facing an unexpected mountain? My first response is often to turn around and run in the opposite direction – back to a time when things were “normal” or I felt “safe”. I don’t want to face this. This is bigger than I. I don’t have the strength to walk through this. But going back to where we were is never the right thing when God is calling us forward.

Just when the urge to hide is greatest, I know I must take the first step — into the unknown,  into a difficult place, into a time when I know that God will stretch my muscles and grow my faith. That first step is often the hardest one to take. But each step is doable if taken one at a time. I must move forward. And only when I arrive at the other side of the mountain will I be a stronger person with greater faith in a God who guided me through one step at a time.

The harshest voice I hear on a daily basis is the one inside me – the nagging little voice in my head that constantly reminds me that what I’m doing is not enough.

With several stories out on editors’ desks, the waiting game resumes. That’s the life of a writer. No news doesn’t always mean good news. With the vast amount of pieces submitted to publications today, very few editors even bother with rejection letters anymore. The alternative – no news.

In the meantime, while a writer waits, a writer writes. That’s what the voice inside of my head tells me every day. On the days I don’t write, I’m condemned. On days I do, it’s not enough. Why are we our own worst enemy?

My husband looked me in the eye last night and told me what all creatives know, yet so easily forget. It takes time to be creative. Often scrunched in moments between laundry and cooking, working part-time and grocery shopping, I grab for moments to write. But when they come, I’m surprised when the inspiration is not with me.

Can creativity and writing be crammed into a busy daily schedule? According to my husband, who has a 9-5 job, the answer is clearly no. It comes when cultivated with time and has no clear schedule. The creative thinker is always thinking, always waiting on inspiration to spark, always ready for the creative energy to move. And often, it arrives at the most unlikely times.

Words of wisdom from a husband who doesn’t claim to know anything about creativity, but a lot about creative people.

The Art Film Phase of an Epic Adventure

We all love a good story. Stories capture us, consume us, and leave us wanting more. They take us on adventures we could never otherwise experience. They lead us down paths that exist only in our dreams. They challenge our thinking, our beliefs and even our very lives.

When I begin reading a new book, I shut everything out. Nothing else matters as I leap into the pages and lose myself in the story. When I come to the last page, I am grieved that I have arrived at an ending – for in my mind, the story lives on for days, weeks and possibly even years.

Check out this incredible blog posting on (In)Courage.me about how stories affect us.

Do you love to dream? I do. 

As a kid (and I’ll admit, as an adult), I often put myself to sleep with stories dancing in my head. I’d weave tales of mystery, romance, and unexpected twists and turns until my day dreams faded into the night dreams that would keep me company for the rest of the night. 

A few years ago, I began teaching creative writing classes to young children in California and quickly learned that my dreams could not begin to match the active imaginations of these young creative minds. As they weaved tales of fairies and aliens, monsters and foreign worlds, I hoped to guide them to develop the techniques of the craft. In doing so, I discovered a passion within me that had long lain dormant. 

When I was in elementary school, I wanted to be a teacher. My early educators had inspired me, and I wanted to inspire others. Although my career path has taken more twists and turns than the stories I used to create, I continued to work with kids in church and on the mission field. After months of unemployment, I began teaching in California out of desperation. I never dreamed my passion for writing would one day intersect with my former desire to teach young children. I had truly found a new love. 

This weekend, I am beginning a new adventure. Through a partnership with the Henderson Public Library in Fletcher, North Carolina, I’ll be facilitating a workshop called “Dreaming a Fun Story” – the first in a short series of creative writing workshops…just for kids. This weekend, the focus is on dreaming. Kids aging from Kindergarten through Grade 8 have registered in addition to several parents whom have asked to sit in. 

In addition to these workshops, other opportunities to teach creative writing are on the horizon. I am so excited about this turn in my career and the opportunity to work with dozens of young dreamers and encourage them to find a passion for writing. Please pray with me this weekend as we launch this new initiative.