Osteoporosis and emerald iris pigmentation.
These are the conditions that await me if I embrace this third Deadly Sin for Writers.
A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot. Proverbs 14:30
O, beware, my lord, of jealousy; It is the green-ey’d monster, which doth mock the meat it feeds on. - Shakespeare’s Othello
It’s not that I welcome this trait into my repertoire, but it can easily move in and take up residence in my heart if I’m not careful. At first, it’s a simple desire for something. “It would be so exciting to be a published author!” Then, it’s something I see other people attain. “She got published. Good for her.” Lastly, it becomes a bitter root of jealousy that I don’t have what they have. “Why should she be published? I’m just as good. Better even! I want her success, her life, her connections. And I want it NOW!” At this point envy takes over and consumes. As we are gobbled up by this monster, all proper perspective of the blessings God has bestowed on us is lost, and we are left gazing on others with longing for what’s on their side of the fence.
This battle is certainly not new with me, you, or the New York Times Best Seller authors. Cain and Abel were the first to demonstrate how deadly this sin can be. Fast forward from fruit and fat offerings to possessions, popularity, or publications, and we find ourselves still fighting the same green-eyed ghoul.
While I’ve read that green eyes are rather rare and considered very attractive, I don’t believe the view through them is as alluring. We see a world of things we want and can’t have. We see people who have the things we want. We see ourselves as deprived, get distressed over what others have, and become depressed as our envy sucks away the joy we could otherwise know.
Travel down this road far enough, and our actions can spiral out of control.
For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. James 3:16
I’m a bit more passive aggressive than Cain. This means, while my sister does not need to fear for her life, a friend who gets her name in print might be in danger of my unjustified judgment, “What’s so great about her writing?” Or, she may experience a lack of enthusiasm that I should have for her success but simply can’t muster because I’m too wrapped up in “What about me?” My envy may manifest as frustration, “I’ve been trying for years and a book deal just lands in his lap? How is that right?” Or, my jealousy that another writer has produced more than me will encourage negative thoughts about myself. “Look what he accomplished this week. Why can’t I do that? I’m a failure.”
Why is it disturbing to see others receive what we want? Why can’t we be happy for them instead of jealous? A few words come to mind: pride, insecurity, competitiveness, fear, comparison, discontentment, lies. These swarm around us and through us until we are enveloped in envy. Never content with what we have, we constantly look to what others possess. The good news is we don’t have to surrender to this swarm. There are truths we can remind ourselves of that will lose the lies and snuff the sin.
♦ If someone else experiences success, it doesn’t mean I’m not a good writer too.
I am so quick to come down hard on myself if I see another writer craft an incredible piece. I begin to entertain such thoughts as “I could never write something like that.” “What I have to offer doesn’t compare to what others can do.” “I will never get published.” Lies. The truth: Their ability does not diminish mine.
♦ If someone else gets published, it doesn’t mean I can’t get published too.
They didn’t just take the last slot, print the last paper, fill the very last shelf. God’s world of blessings and uses for us is greater than I can imagine. There’s room for both of us. We are not sharing some small slice of pie with a worry there might not be enough to go around. That other writer did not take the last piece. The world of writing is a growing library, not a consumable dessert. Like the sweet analogy? Here’s another: I don’t have to worry if another writer gets her hand in the cookie jar before me. God just keeps baking more cookies.
♦ If someone else has a life that I envy, I can trust that God has my life in His hands.
He will provide for me – where I am, what I need, what is best for me – which may look different than someone else’s path, blessings, abilities, and results. I don’t need to worry about what others have, or seem to have. God has me. God loves me. His love for me is not diminished by His love for others. It’s ok – celebrate with them, rejoice for them, knowing we are only adding to our joy by doing so, rather than removing joy with jealousy.
♦ If someone else seems to have more than me, I can look at myself as God sees me.
Forgiven beloved, Hidden in Christ, Made in the image of the Giver of Life, Righteous and holy, Reborn and remade, Accepted and worthy, this is our new name. – Jason Gray’s I Am New. In Christ, we lack nothing. There is no need to be concerned we are lacking anything, that we are being cheated, short-changed, or slighted, that some other wordsmith is smithing more words than we are. We are whole. We are His child. This is how He sees us. This can fill us to the brim to allow no room for envy. We can shake it off as we put on our identity in the Lord.
We can lose Jealous as we choose Jesus.
Up next – Deadly Sin #4 – LUST – if my desire is strong enough to write it.
Go ahead, call me crazy. Who makes over their garage, right? I won’t argue my sanity, but I did discover if you Google “garage makeover,” you will find some pretty intensive projects that are actually way more involved than mine. So, I feel a little better about my reaction when my husband suggested we spruce up our garage a bit. What he meant by that was slap on a fresh coat of white paint to brighten and clean the dingy walls and replace the dilapidated cardboard boxes that have housed our Christmas decorations for 15 years with some sturdier totes. Good ideas, but…my response was: Ok, I’m fine with the idea of fixing up the garage, but, if we are going to go to the trouble of painting, let’s add some color! And, if we are going to reorganize the storage section, let’s do it right! In short, I said we should give our garage some personality – our personalities.
Being intense game geeks (the board and card kind, not the electronic kind) we decided to extend the gaming theme that permeates much of our house to include the garage. I had quite a few ideas for how to do this, and had a tough time deciding, but finally chose cards and dice. These are the basic building blocks of gaming, after all. This meant white, red, and black for the colors, and dice and card décor for finishing touches.
Following is the step by step transformation.
Repaint the ceiling and top half of the walls white.
It was really nice to use the same paint on the walls and ceiling to avoid worrying about spillover at the edges.
We put small pieces of painters tape at 42″ from the floor around the room, to mark where we could stop painting. (No use wasting time and resources on the part that wasn’t going to be white!)
Add some color.
We marked 36″ up from the floor to show where the next color would stop (roughly – no hard line was needed, just a general stopping point to overlap where the third color, our black stripe, would start.) I was excited to be adding a splash of color to the garage, and red was definitely going to be more fun than the previously boring all-white. Playing card red is a pretty rich color, so it took two coats, but it was worth it.
We let that dry for a couple of days or so, then…
Paint a black stripe.
I looked up YouTube videos beforehand on how to paint stripes, and I asked friends for tips. I discovered everything from laser levels, to Frog Tape, to “measure with a friend” solutions. We decided to simply measure, tape, use a level to check the tape, then adjust as needed. (And it was needed…a lot.) This part of the process was, let’s say, less than fun. I have no desire to ever paint a stripe again. Although, I do think it was worth the effort in the end. We taped off the six-inch section between the white and red, carefully pressing down the tape edges with a putty knife to ensure no paint got under the tape. Another tip I found and used was to roll the paint horizontally rather than vertically, so paint is less likely to get pushed under the tape.
This is the part I was most nervous about. If the stripe ended up less than straight, due to measuring or taping poorly, or paint got under the tape and the edges weren’t sharp but lumpy bumpy splotchy messes, my OCD would simply not be able to handle it.
Praise the Lord, it turned out ok. We painted the six-inch black stripe all the way around the room, and I really like the results. A couple of imperfections after the tape was removed were easily touched up, and the line looks straight to me!
Create an organized and fun system out of the old ugly boxes that held our seasonal decorations.
To stay with the theme, we needed black and red storage totes. A search online yielded several results, with the best sizes for our needs and the best prices coming from Walmart.com. It was a bit of a math project to order the right combination of totes to fit on the existing garage shelving, and get the sizes we needed for our stuff, too. Adding to the challenge was the fact that the totes came in sets, not individual bins. We ended up with two sizes, large and small.
Here’s what we wanted to replace and no longer gaze upon:
Organize the contents of the new totes.
After loading up the new bins with the freshly sorted and organized decorations, I went about making labels for the totes. (I don’t want to have to peak inside all of them to find the one item I need, do I?)
We bought 3 1/3″ x 4″ packing labels, and I used a card-theme border I found online to design the stickers. (I searched for “playing card border” and got plenty of results to choose from.) Armed with my list of tote contents and an Avery template in Word, I printed up the labels.
Meanwhile…back at the beginning phase of the project, I consulted with a friend to help me design my other brainstorm for the makeover: His and Hers decals for the walls in front of each of our cars. Of course, just plain text “His” and “Hers” wouldn’t do. I wanted to incorporate the theme. I envisioned how I wanted to use dice in each of the words, found a font I liked, but had trouble finding the right clip art and getting it sized properly for printing, so asked a design-savvy friend for help. I think she did a fabulous job! I uploaded the PDF she created for me to http://www.walldecalworld.com and ordered 24″ prints. They turned out great!
The final touches.
We splurged and spent $4.00 on a new cheap mini blind for the window. The dingy old one of the same cost would have required more than $4.00 in labor to clean it up, so I think this was worth the investment.
The door into the house usually had a seasonal decoration hung on it to welcome us in. Now, however, this would be part of the new look too. A pair of fuzzy dice seemed very appropriate for the garage. Done.
Of course I couldn’t simply put back the boring white switch and outlet covers that were there before. Another online search, and I had fun covers on their way. (Tip – be sure you actually look at the outlet to check what shape it is before ordering an outlet cover. Standard two-hole ones won’t fit if it’s a GFI oulet – oops! I’m glad that company does easy exchanges.)
Take pictures of the completed project and write a blog post sharing the experience. :)
I am excited to now have a fun and inviting space to welcome me home!
I must have been munching on some chips earlier that day, or perhaps one of my all-time favs, the french fry. Whatever the reason, I was suddenly overcome by thirst. One second I was contentedly walking through my house, the next I was quickly headed for the sink to satiate this powerful need that had unexpectedly engulfed me.
My first thought: “I’m so thirsty!” was immediately followed by a second:
These two words from John 19:28 echoed through my mind, resounded in my heart, and stopped me in my tracks.
Jesus said this. Jesus felt this. Jesus was thirsty.
The creator of the universe. A perfect Holy one. He who commands all things and has everything under his feet. He who is capable of anything. That he would endure such a human discomfort, such a yearning for satisfaction, such a base need, pierced me like never before. Such a simple need, but so torturous if not met. This one seemingly small part of his anguish hit me with such force that I was compelled to drop to my knees right then and there and simply thank the Lord for his love for me. It was knowing that it was by choice that he thirsted, that he endured this human need, for me, that drove me to my knees and kept me there a while. Jesus thirsted. For me. His suffering was to pay for my sins, to pave the way for me to know God, to make it possible for me to be fulfilled by Him. It was through His thirst that I can draw to Him and from Him. His sacrifice makes possible my relationship with my creator and savior. He bridged the gap that was otherwise uncrossable. He became my satisfier, the one way, truth, and life that can quench the longing in my soul. In that moment, a truth filled my spirit:
Jesus thirsted for me, so that I could thirst for Him.
Thank you, Lord, for creating in me a thirst that only you can satisfy, a thirst that you satisfy with yourself.
On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” John 7:37-38
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
I consider myself a wordsmith, but I am struggling to find the combination of letters to accurately describe my recent mountaintop moment. The absolute awe I felt last month as my eyes took in the majesty of God’s creation is nearly impossible to convey via dialogue, text, or blog. But, I must try to give you at least a glimpse into the revelation of God’s glory I experienced. Standing at the brink of an immense waterfall in Yellowstone National Park, hearing the powerful rushing of the waters, catching a rainbow perfectly arched over the rising mist from the falls, overlooking a breathtaking canyon – I was nearly crushed by the beauty.
That first paragraph contains 110 words. Rather than try to conjure 890 more to help you envision this awe-inspiring view, here’s the picture worth that same value:
Of course, no Nikon lens can compare to your own two orbs. Standing there yourself, you could have better experienced the intensity of the colors, felt the sunshine on your face, heard the rushing of the rapids as they tumbled 308 feet to hit the canyon floor, and soaked in the glory of God all around you, as I did.
I was given a couple minutes of solitude, free from any other tourists. Even my husband had stepped away for a moment. I stood there, drinking the moment into my soul, overwhelmed by the beauty of the Lord, my eyes filling with tears as I praised God, singing softly:
Oh Lord, you’re beautiful.
Your face is all I see.
And when your eyes are on this child,
Your grace abounds to me.
My heart is filled with gratitude for this glimpse of God’s glory, for this moment He gave me to see a reflection of His beauty in His majestic creation. Praise the Lord for a mountaintop experience I pray to treasure into eternity.
For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen,
being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.
You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.
When some friends of mine said they no longer wanted their lazy susan, I said I had the perfect repurposing for its retirement years.
With the addition of some plywood, screws, and felt, I now have a spinning stand for my dollhouse. This makes displaying it more fun, as it can be more easily viewed from all angles, and, since it is still a work in progress, makes working on it much easier as well.
Here’s the easy schmeasy step by step.
1/2″ 2′ x 2′ Plywood – Purchased at Home Depot
Lazy Susan – Courtesy of my friends
4 Screws – Scrounged from my bin of various hardware odds and ends collected over the years. I simply rooted through it until I came up with four similar screws, the length of which would go through the plywood and into, but not through, the top piece of the lazy susan.
Felt – Leftover from a previous project, but available at any craft store
4 Nails – Also from by bin of hardware fun
Glue – Craft Bond Multi-Purpose Spray Adhesive, available at craft stores
1. I found the center of the lazy susan and measured 3 inches out from center in all four directions.
2. I did the same for the plywood.
3. I drilled holes for the screws at each of these four points.
TIP: Ever fear drilling too far? If I ever want to ensure I drill a hole only as deep as the length of a screw, I measure the screw against the drill bit. I put a piece of painter’s or masking tape on the bit to mark the top of the screw. Then, I drill until the tape reaches the surface I am drilling into.
4. I placed the drywall over the lazy susan, lining up the holes, and screwed the plywood to the lazy susan.
5. I cut the felt to fit the plywood, with enough overhang on the sides to fold underneath.
Figuring this part will never be seen except on this blog post, I kept the felt covering simple and rough. I did not bother with perfect edges, and simply folded the corners in rather than trimming to perfection. To help hold it in place and ensure the extra fabric at the corners stayed tucked in, I simply hammered in a nail at each corner.
6. I sprayed the overhanging felt with glue and fastened it to the underside of the plywood.
7. I placed my dollhouse on top and spun away!
First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in a…watermelon?
My mom saw this idea on facebook a few days before she and I were throwing a baby shower for my sister. We decided to give it a try. I thought it turned out really cute! Here’s the easy schmeasy step by step.
1. Cut section of watermelon away, to form carriage shape.
2. Dig out inside of watermelon to make room for the “baby” and fruit blanket.
3. Fill with selection of fruit. We used sliced strawberries, blueberries, and grapes.
4. Slice an orange to create the wheels.
5. Attach wheels with toothpicks, using grapes or blueberries to create center of wheel spokes.
6. Create the baby face. Use toothpicks to attach grapes and blueberries to a peach, creating eyes and nose for the baby. Cut a hole to insert a pacifier in the peach. You may have to cut the pacifier as well, to get it to lay flat, and/or insert toothpicks in the holes of the pacifier to hold it in place. (The peach just wasn’t sucking on the pacifier enough to keep it in its mouth!)
Maybe because it’s early in the season, we could not find a very large watermelon. If a larger one is used, a cantaloupe with the rind removed can be used for the head, and a grapefruit can create the wheels.
7. Display at your baby shower for a fun and creative way to serve fruit!
My mother gets all the credit for this – for finding the idea, and for doing the carving and assembling. Nice job, Mom!
What did I do?
I carried a watermelon.
The following idea is not completely original with me. I saw something similar somewhere on the interweb, modified it for the Winnie the Pooh themed baby shower I was throwing, and came up with these cute “hunny pots:”
- Jars/Hunny Pots
$1.99 at Hobby Lobby – on sale for $0.99
Roughly 2 fluid ounces
The calculations for the amount I needed were a bit sticky. I used the 2 oz size of the jars to estimate how much honey I would need to fill them. After purchasing the honey, I realized it is sold by net weight, not fluid ounces. Oops. I ended up going back and getting more. Roughly 80 ounces filled 25 jars.
- Paper Trimmer
This was used to cut the labels – 25 printed on one page of card stock
- Hole Punch (not pictured)
Dollar Store – 1 spool with 100ft each of blue, yellow, white, & pink (blue and yellow used only)
Easy schmeasy step by step:
1. Fill the jars with the honey – be sure to leave room for the lid, which inserts inside the pot
2. Cut approximately 12″ of blue ribbon and tie around neck of jar
3. Curl ribbon using scissors
4. Attach label
- These were created using Microsoft Word. Pick your favorite font, some clip art found online, and create a label for your party. This can also be done in Microsoft Publisher. Once you have one label created, simply copy and paste the contents into each square of a table (I needed 25, so a 5×5 table in Word worked). The labels/squares are approximately 1.25″ x 1″
- Print on card stock, cut apart with paper trimmer, and hole punch
- Cut approx. 4″ of yellow ribbon
- Attach label to jar by tying yellow ribbon onto blue ribbon
- Cut off excess yellow ribbon
5. Enjoy your adorable party favors!
“A day without a friend is like a pot without a single drop of honey left inside.”
– Winnie the Pooh
An amazing thing happened last Tuesday. A representative from Random House showed up at my home to offer me a publishing contract. I hadn’t written a single query, composed one proposal, or even researched publishing companies. She said one of their editors came across my blog the week before and simply fell in love with my writing. They could not wait to get me signed on before someone else snatched me up.
If you are having a hard time believing that, I don’t blame you. It’s not true. Sadly, this is just a fantasy. My slothful side dreams of writing success to come knocking at my door. In the window of reality, it doesn’t really work that way.
Getting published is hard work. I suppose there may be some exceptional stories out there, but, for us regular folk, the blood, sweat, and tears must flow.
Here’s the truth:
I’ve been researching publishers, writing queries, and submitting children’s stories since the summer of 2012. I have a half-finished Christian nonfiction book I hope to begin submitting to publishers eventually. I have a lot of editing and rewrites to do on that before it’s anywhere near ready. Plus, the proposal process for nonfiction looks daunting.
I have gotten some freelance work. There are several clients for whom I have regularly completed projects. However, these few are the result of dozens and dozens of applications and registrations on writers’ sites.
I say again – this writing stuff is a lot of work.
As I have begun to more seriously pursue my writing goals, I have discovered this second deadly sin to be quite the obstacle. I have also discovered a three-step process to overcome it. (and it’s alliterated, so it must be good.)
I’m lazy. I just want to write. I want it to be easy. This should be fun, right? My passion is writing, not work. I want to simply write what I want and then sit back and wait for my amazing talent to surface one day and sell itself.
I have unrealistic expectations of how things should be – expectations motivated by sloth. I don’t want to have to do all the leg work necessary to actually publish anything.
I procrastinate. I have a lot of ideas that I have not fleshed out. I have started stories and never finished them. I continue to put off the hard part of actually completing a thought.
There. I admitted it. Sloth has a residence in my heart.
Now that I have admitted its existence I can begin to battle it.
As a whole, our goals can seem impossible to reach. Take the nonfiction book I am writing as an example. The task seems so daunting I don’t even want to try to tackle any of it. Or, publishing a children’s book. Or publishing anything. As I’ve been in this process, I repeatedly hear stories of how long it has taken other writers to get something in print, or become established. The tales include hundreds of rejections, years of waiting, and so on. Somehow, the point of those stories is supposed to be encouragement to not give up. What I hear is: I have years and years of rejection after rejection to look forward to. How motivating. Thanks.
This is not what my slothful side wants to hear. I want it to be easier than that. Maybe it will be. We’ll see what God has planned for me. In the meantime…I need to act. Do the research. Send the query letters. Submit poetry to websites. Actually sit down and do the editing certain pieces need.
But there’s so much to do!
In order to make these tasks less intimidating, we can create smaller goals. Don’t think about the three dozen steps you will have to take before your book might get published. Focus on the first step. Break it down. Be satisfied with doing a little, today. Set aside just fifteen minutes. Get started. Stop procrastinating. It’s ok if you don’t finish the whole job right now. At least get the ball rolling. Maybe that means writing for seven minutes in the morning and seven again at night. Maybe it’s researching one publisher this week. Maybe it’s posting on your blog each week instead of once every month or so.
Whatever the goal, we should make it realistic. It may seem small, but it’s a start in the fight against sloth. As we see victory in these little goals, we can move forward with bigger ones. Keep moving!
Announce your sloth. It’s not enough to admit it to myself. I need to bring others in to help me with this battle. Hey you guys! Sloth here! Help me stay on track, please!
It may not seem like a very powerful tool, but accountability works. If you have shared with others what you plan to do, and ask them to hold you accountable, you are simply more likely to do it. You are answering to someone other than yourself. This is very motivating. It is especially good to tell these accountability peeps that they should not accept any excuses. Lay it out there for them. This is my plan – remind me, nag me, beat me with a rubber hose – whatever it takes – don’t let me stray, procrastinate, slip into slothful slumber.
I have made it a goal to submit at least one piece of writing per week. This may be publishing a blog post, or submitting a children’s story to a publisher, or finding an online Christian magazine to submit a devotional to, or a poetry site to send a poem to – just get something out there!
I have asked several of my friends to hold me accountable on this goal. As I type this I am thinking of two friends whom I will see tomorrow. They will ask me if I’ve met my writing goals for this week, and I want to be able to say yes. I have not submitted anything yet this week. This fact spurred me to sit down and finally finish this post that I started a couple weeks ago. (Please take a moment here to appreciate with me the irony of having difficulty finishing a post on sloth.) Knowing they are going to ask me about it when I see them helped me overcome my laziness and procrastination.
If you struggle with sloth too, get some accountability. It could be just one person, or a group of people. Choose wisely though. If you pick someone more slothful than you, they may be too lazy to hold you accountable.
Up next: Deadly Sin #3 – ENVY – if I’m not too jealous to write it.
A short story by Kerry Nenn
Dedicated to Edward Lee Jones 11/14/43 – 5/19/10
He had laced up his shoes extra tight that morning. When you work hundreds of stories up, sure footing is essential. Double-knotted bows ensure no tripping hazards. Right now he wished he had not done so. If they were just a little looser, he might be able to slip one boot off and let it fall to the sidewalk below, signaling someone of his plight.
How did this even happen? Who had such luck? What are the odds that a bird would fly by, just as dust particles entered his nostrils, triggering a sneeze, which frightened the bird, which startled him, the combination of which caused him to flail too wildly for his current stance, resulting in his loss of footing, causing him to grasp at the ropes, tilting the scaffold, adding momentum to his trip, tumbling him over the side…but not to his death, because his jacket snagged as he tumbled, ripping and unwrapping off him as he fell, the added twisting gifting him with a dislocated right shoulder. Sliding, slipping, to the point where his left hand was the only body part still inside the jacket, a hand that frantically grabbed hold of the sleeve as it slipped out. The other sleeve still stuck fast to whatever piece of metal had gripped it.
That jagged piece was now his lifeline. His left hand stretched above his head, grasping the jacket sleeve. His torso stretched out below his arm, filled with thunderclaps of a heart in overdrive. His body hung one jacket’s wing-span below the platform. His legs dangled in the air, feet far from anything on which to step. His grip now held him onto life itself.
If only…if only this section of the building were currently occupied, he’d have a chance of being seen through the window. If only he weren’t so high up that no one seemed to hear his cries. If only people ever looked up! Not that any of those things mattered much, considering he was hearing deadly ripping sounds emitting from the tired shoulder of his jacket – a noise that told him there wouldn’t be time for anyone to get to him even if he were spotted.
Each tiny movement resulted in the dreaded noise of threads loosening and giving way. Somehow he had time to think about who might have made the jacket. Was it hand-sewn, or assembled by machine? How are jackets usually crafted? Was it American made? Did his wife, who had given him the windbreaker with his daily cool heights in mind, choose one with strong enough materials to save his life?
Sandra. His mind filled with her face. He didn’t want her to get the call that her clumsy husband had died in such a ridiculous way. Who could live with such an awful ending to their 14 years? They hadn’t been perfect, but the good times had far out-weighed the bad. She deserved better than this.
He had wondered over the years about their decision not to have children. Now he felt reassured it was best. At least he would not leave anyone fatherless if his grip didn’t hold.
They had considered having children, but after several years of the DINK lifestyle, they realized they wanted to maintain that freedom. Kids were not for them. Besides, Sandra’s job as a school photographer gave her all the time she wanted with children. Plus, they had their friends’ kids they treated like nieces and nephews. Heck, they loved Amy and Joe’s three little guys as if they were their own.
And where was Joe, anyway? He guessed it was wrong to hope that a deadly illness or even death itself was the reason his partner had not come to work that morning. Any other reason seemed a bit insignificant at the moment, considering his current predicament. Still, wishing ill will on his life-long friend was probably wrong. Joe had never abandoned him before, even after that fallout over Jennifer Hutchinson in 12th grade. No, Joe had only ever let him down once, but you can’t blame a best man for being late for the ceremony if it’s because he’s getting stitched up at the ER. Who knew putting on a tuxedo could be so dangerous? Apparently only if you’re Joe, and in a hurry, and trying to straighten a cummerbund while putting on a cufflink and walking at the same time. Those variables plus a slippery staircase added up to six stitches above Joe’s left eye. The bandage and swelling made for interesting bridal party photos. The pirate jokes abounded, but Joe had managed to stick it out for the groom’s sake. If only he were up top now, monitoring his safety, or on another scaffold, or even sharing his platform, the situation would be more hopeful. As it was, he was up here with only birds as company, and they weren’t helping.
In fact, what happened to that blasted bird, anyway? Why did it have to take an interest in him? Why fly so close? Why startle him? He silently cursed it for causing all this then flying merrily away, safe at any height, oblivious to the impact its flight pattern had on his small life. Oh, for wings of his own at this moment!
Broken wing was more like it. He could not get his right arm to cooperate. He wanted it to reach up and grab that lifeline sleeve and pull him up to the platform. But it wasn’t listening. It hung there, lifeless, yet not painless. Even if it would not receive communication from his brain, it was definitely spitting it out. All too loud and clear. Excruciating jolts shot through his body with every attempt at movement. Each shift of his body was a costly endeavor. Careful, he thought, a man can pass out from huge amounts of pain, and unconscious men do not have very strong grips.
A good grip. Now he was thinking about handshakes. Really? This is what men facing their possible extinction die pondering? Nonetheless, his thoughts were filled with a memory of his dad, standing in the living room, lecturing him on the proper handshake. You only get one chance to make a first impression, son, and your handshake is that first impression. A strong grip, firm, confident – that’s a good handshake. As a carpenter, his father had always had great upper body strength, and was probably one of the best hand shakers around. He would be proud today. That left hand’s grip had never been firmer.
At least, it was firm. A combination of pain, sweat, and his ever-present enemy, gravity, were working together to loosen that grip with every passing millisecond. How long had he been hanging here? Hours? Days? Some part deep within him knew it had only been seconds, but it was hard to believe that rational side.
His drive in this morning seemed like a lifetime ago. He had stopped in Kruta’s Bakery for a quick breakfast. Was that going to be his last meal? A chocolate covered long john and some ice cold milk, snagged on his way to work. A rare indulgence, but one of his favorites. It wouldn’t make the top ten healthiest choices of his lifetime, but at least he’d had one last treat.
No, he could not think that way. Would not think that way. He didn’t want that to be his last meal. Besides, they had been out of chocolate milk, so he had gulped down the white 2% happily enough, but it wasn’t what he had wanted. He stiffened his resolve to get out of this mess and get that glass of chocolate milk. A man deserves a glass of chocolate milk before he dies, for goodness sake!
This shook loose the memory of his dad’s plea for a popsicle. This wasn’t a helpful route for his mind to trace right now, but it went right down that road without the green light anyway.
The request was made on what would turn out to be his dad’s last Saturday.
Popsicles had always been one of his dad’s favorites. Popsicles…and Pepsi. Not together, of course, but both had topped his most wanted list. At that moment, he had been craving a popsicle. Such a simple request. Of course, in his condition at the time, the hospital staff forbid his having either Pepsi or popsicles. It had been heart breaking to be unable to fulfill such a simple wish. A man doesn’t deserve to be denied that final little pleasure.
And a man doesn’t deserve to be dangling by a jacket sleeve, wondering if the last two sounds he will hear are ripping threads and rushing wind! He couldn’t believe how ridiculously helpless he felt.
But what was he supposed to do? He had only lasted two years in Cub Scouts. Maybe he should have stayed the course and would now be more prepared. Not that there was a Window Washer Rescue Badge he could have earned.
So, what other advice had his dad given him? Anything that would actually help in this circumstance? They had worked together to earn a survival badge one weekend of that two-year scouting stint. The skills learned were designed for surviving in the wild, but surely there was something in those lessons to utilize for survival here. He remembered starting to cry that weekend when he realized he had forgotten something. The flashlight maybe? Or was it the matches? He had sat down on a rock, completely deflated. His dad would have none of that. He began barking orders and ticking off the survival-list mantra, which was required memorization for the badge earner. On your feet, son! Do not give up. Do not panic. Assess the situation. Take stock of your assets.
On your feet. Feet. Yes, feet. Those were his other assets here. His useless arm would not cooperate, so he would have to use those two klutzy appendages that always betrayed him on the dance floor. He hoped their coordination would be better today than when he had tried ballroom dance lessons. What a mess that had been. Sandra’s toes had suffered greatly for the venture.
He tried to picture first what he wanted to accomplish. Just raise those feet up to the platform, get at least one toe hooked over, so he could hoist himself up. That sounded simple enough.
Eenie meenie miney mo, catch a tiger by its toe. The old recess chant echoed through his mind. He wondered what kids used these days to decide who was “it.” There was probably an app for that.
Where was his phone, anyway? Ah, yes. He had taken it out of his pocket and placed it in the tool caddy on the scaffold. He didn’t want it falling out of his pants while he was moving around. What a brilliant idea. He supposed it had worked. The phone did not fall out of his pocket. Hoo-ray. He didn’t know if his injured arm would cooperate enough to dig it out of a pocket and then hit those three little numbers anyway.
Forget the phone, then. Focus on the feet. Take it slow. Inch by inch. Bend those knees. Up we go. Now stretch up…out…over a bit more. Reach. Almost there.
Who was he kidding? He wasn’t even close to reaching the scaffold. Maybe gymnastics would have been a more rewarding route than soccer for his high school career. His capacity for flexibility was simply not up to this task. There would be no more mocking Phil Peterson, whose regular backyard yoga was an endless source of jabs from every man in the neighborhood. He bet Phil could get out of this. Sandra had asked to see Cirque du Soleil for their anniversary a few years back. He had been reluctant to go, but the show had turned out to be pretty impressive. He was sure those guys could get out of this. He figured they did have a bit of an advantage over him, though, with two arms to use.
Maybe he could get that broken wing to cooperate. If he could just reach up and…
Hot. Searing hot pain. Spots. Black spots. His arm had not approved of that move. He must not pass out. Everything becoming fuzzy, blurry, furry…stop! Get a grip! What were you supposed to do when you were about to faint? Put your head between your knees. No help there. His first bloody nose had been fairly traumatic. What had Mrs. Fletsky done when he had almost passed out on the playground? Close your eyes, she said. Slow, deep breaths. One. Two. Three. Yes, he was doing better. Four. Five. The moment passed. His hand held. That was too close.
Back to focusing on the feet situation. Clearly, slow wasn’t going to work. He needed more momentum. Pull back, then one swift movement to hoist his toes up to the edge. Like a pendulum. He supposed the Pit was below. Stop it. Poe was not where his mind needed to be right now. Be more positive. Think more…Seuss. Swing it back, then up you go. Catch the platform, with your toe. That was better. Miss it, even by a bit, wonder just how hard you’ll hit? This wasn’t helping. He did not like this, not at all, he hoped he’d swing up, and not fall. Stop it!
He couldn’t help wondering what he would he hit if he fell. A car? He thought about all the vehicles zipping by on the street below.
The car game. He hadn’t thought of that in years.
He was suddenly taken back to lazy summer afternoons sitting on the front porch with his dad.
It was more of a stoop really, forming the entrance to his childhood home. No elegant wrap-around porch with a swing like he always dreamed of having. Just five concrete steps leading up to the front entrance. Room enough at the top for a white pillar on each side of the hunter green door. No pretty potted plants. Simple. No frills, yet welcoming in its simplicity. Like his dad. The only decoration, a thermometer attached to one pillar. In winter, a snow shovel propped behind the other pillar.
But, it was not winter he was remembering now. It was warm sun-filled days that invited front-porch sitting. They would play a game. They would try to guess what color car would drive down their St. Clair Avenue and pass by next. Sometimes it would be a prediction of the type of vehicle. Truck, motorcycle, car. He had always been so thrilled when he got it right. His dad had been thrilled for him. His dad had always delighted in seeing his son happy.
The game he played now was a bit darker. If he fell now, what color hood would he dent? Would it be a taxi? Would he ruin someone’s shiny new Beamer? Would he total some blue collar’s beater? This game wasn’t very fun. Maybe he should play a different one.
How about the get home to your wife and stop giving in to these morbid thoughts game? Yes, that’s a good proposal.
A good proposal. That was something better, more positive, to focus on. Sandra had been thrilled with his marriage proposal. It had been one of his most brilliant creative moments.
Sandra loved the outdoors. She also loved games of all kinds. She particularly enjoyed scavenger hunts. Combining these enjoyments, he invited her to go geocaching with him. She was excited about the idea, and they set aside a Saturday afternoon to try this adventure together.
Of course, he also set aside the morning, and went alone to the cache first thing that day. He found it easily enough, pocketed the matchbox cars he discovered, and stashed the ring box. That certainly fulfilled the trade-up rule of the game, he had thought with a grin. He had a slight concern that someone else would come along and nab it before they returned, or that an animal would find quite the prize to bring home, but went with the odds that neither of those things would happen.
The day was perfect. The weather was sunny and warm, but not too hot. The trail they hiked to find the treasure, they had to themselves. Sandra was super psyched the whole time, enjoying herself immensely, and he was delighting in her delight. They reached the spot exactly when he had wanted. The trail ended at a gorgeous pond tucked away from civilization. A small cul de sac of trees formed the trailhead at the water’s border. Large boulders between the trees provided perfect perches above the water to sit and watch the sunset that was starting when they arrived. It was a beautiful scene, with his soon-to-be fiancé surrounded by the nature that she so loved, the perfectly timed sunset reflecting in her shining brown eyes. The GPS said they had reached their destination, and Sandra began searching the site. He wandered around a bit, pretending to look for the cache, trying to play it cool, while his heart ran a marathon.
With a triumphant shout, Sandra discovered the fake rock nestled in with the boulders and opened it. She pulled out the heart-shaped box with the solitaire nestled inside. Her jaw dropped. He positioned himself behind her. She turned to show him the unexpected prize.
One knee on the dirt-paved path, he told her all he had been rehearsing in his mind for days. His search was over. He had found his treasure. If she would have him, he would love and protect that treasure for the rest of his days.
Did those days end now?
He wasn’t ready for that. He wondered if anyone ever was. Was his dad prepared to die that Wednesday afternoon?
Get to it, then. Do something to make it to tomorrow.
Swing back, rock forward. Try not to think about the likelihood that the jacket won’t hold. Try not to move your dumb arm. Try not to think of words that rhyme with splat. Back, forward, back, forward. So far, there were no ominous ripping noises. Momentum building. Almost there. One more big push, and, swing up!
This is not exactly what he had visualized. His feet were now in contact with the platform, and held fast. That was the good news. The bad news was ridiculous. It was those tightly tied shoelaces that were holding him there, snagged on the corner of the scaffold. He was in a tangled mess. He couldn’t shift his feet to a better position, or pull them back from the platform. He also couldn’t get a good angle to position firmly enough to pull himself up with his feet. This could not be happening.
He realized quickly what he would have to do. He was running out of options. His arm was just…so…tired. At least he was a south paw. If the arms had been reversed, he might not have lasted this long. Even with his dominant hand, he was fading fast. Besides, in this new predicament, there was only one thing left to do.
He would have to let go of the jacket. He needed his hand to pull himself up onto the platform. His feet were now attached to the rig, so he could pull himself upward somewhat, but, with the use of only one arm, he would need that hand free to complete the hoist to safety. He could see no other way. Of course, that meant the shoelaces had to hold for that instant in which they were his only support. If his feet slipped right when he released the sleeve…
He couldn’t believe his life now depended on what amounted to one small piece of string. Maybe it was crafted by the same manufacturer as the jacket. He hoped the laces gave as strong a performance.
Don’t delay. Get ‘er done, as his dad used to say. Quick bend up, lightning fast transfer of hand, and he would be back to Sandra before he knew it.
He wondered about ever getting up here again. After all his hard work, would he be too traumatized to continue building ClearView, Inc?
The business hadn’t really taken off until two years ago, one year too late for his dad to witness his success, one year too late to hear his dad say he was proud of him. Giving Sandra her first tour of the new office space had been exhilarating. Though it was nothing like the luxurious surroundings he peered into each day up here on the job, it was such a big step up from two cramped desks in his basement that he felt on top of the world. Still, it would have been better if his dad had gotten that tour, too. His dad’s unwavering support and encouragement had been a huge part of his not giving up on the business. He wished he could share it now; tell his dad all about the enterprise he was enjoying. See, Dad? It happened. It finally happened. It’s just too late to show you.
He couldn’t let go. Just like that? Let go?
But, he would have to let go of the jacket. Loosen his grip. It felt insane. That was his lifeline. Let go? He felt his grip slip, but it wasn’t his fingers. His grip on life. His grip on reality. His grip on sanity. Why was this happening to him? He didn’t think he could do it. When his dad had gotten sick, he was forced to make some tough decisions regarding “life-sustaining measures.” He had thought that was the hardest thing he’d ever have to do. Now he wasn’t so sure. This was at least a pretty close second. Loosen my grip, dad? Is that really best?
What else was he to do? He didn’t see any choppers whirling up to save him. No sounds of sirens below, of firemen scrambling with a nice soft pillow to bounce down on.
Yes, soft pillows could make a huge difference. The pillows at Lewis Memorial had been surprisingly comfortable. He hadn’t wanted to leave his dad alone. After so many nights spent curled up on a chair or small sofa next to a hospital bed, one became very grateful for soft pillows. Not that the sleep was ever great, even when the kindhearted nurse brought you an extra blanket. Why was it always so cold in there, anyway? Were they trying to freeze away any germs that might have found their way in? Was it too warm for the hospital staff to keep it above arctic temperatures while working? There must have been some beneficial reason. Whatever it was, it hadn’t helped enough. His dad had still died.
Wasn’t he supposed to be done grieving by now? Why was he still thinking about all this? He supposed his own eminent demise made thinking of death and loss a natural thing, but it still seemed odd that of all things it was his dad he couldn’t get off his mind.
He closed his eyes. The scene he had played hundreds of times aired again on his mental screen. Sending his dad off to surgery. The last time he would look into his eyes. His last chance to tell his dad how much he loved him, a chance that he thankfully took. One last hug. He hadn’t wanted to let go. He knew the odds were not good that his dad would come back from the OR. Still, he had held out hope. He had held on.
Hours later, he had held onto a hand that no longer possessed the firm grip of a carpenter’s handshake. It lay motionless in his own, as he listened to the beeping that signaled the end of his father’s life. He tried to say goodbye as the machine’s digital readout slowly descended. Zero simply came too soon. He wasn’t ready to let go. He still held on. He still didn’t want to let go. He missed him so much. Why did he have to let go?
But, it was time. His hand couldn’t take any more strain. Neither could his heart. He had to let go of this pain.
Most days he was fine. Then there were moments that hit him out of nowhere. It might be a phrase uttered by a friend, or a scene in a movie. However it happened, the result was the same. His emotions were hijacked, and his thoughts were transported back to the rutted road his mind had travelled often in the past three years. This route was paved with questions.
Should he have told the doctors to keep trying? Should he have sought better care at a different hospital? Should he have done something, anything, differently in those last four weeks? Was there anything he could have done to make the outcome different? Doubt, guilt, and regret formed the three-pronged vice that showed no mercy in its grip on his heart.
He could take no more. Ok, then. The grip goes. Let it go. No more What Ifs. No more weight on his shoulders. No more focus on those four weeks rather than the other 33 years of good memories. No more remorse.
But, could he?
Focus. Three deep breaths. Be strong. Be quick. His nerves reached their maximum potential, granting him the necessary resolve to let go of that sleeve.
It was really goodbye.
There would be no new fatherly advice. No more front porch games. But he had the memories. No more projects together that took five times longer than planned. But he had learned so much. No more swapping stories at the dining room table until they were laughing so hard they were spilling tears and their coffee, until they could barely breathe and couldn’t even remember what was so funny in the first place. But those had been good times. The memories…the knowledge…the good. These he would hold onto. Let go of the rest.
Instead of satin sleeve he felt the roughened fingers of a hand hardened by years of hammering, lifting, cutting, hauling. A good hand. Strong but gentle too. But a hand with no grip left.
I’m sorry, Dad. I’m sorry my grip was all wrong for so long. Forgive me. I have to finally let go. I still love you. I always will. But I have to do this. I must let go. Goodbye, Dad.
He felt…not terror, not despair…but, surprisingly, release. He had been able to let go. Loss was still present, and some sorrow, but also…peace. A new peace he had not known before. The tension released from his arm was also free from his heart. It was such a new feeling. So different. So still. So quiet.
One small pop. Such a tiny noise with such a big significance. Perhaps if the thread count had been a bit higher for that brand of laces, things would have turned out differently. He tried for the jacket, but it was too late. The satin sleeve slid smoothly away, as his feet tumbled down, dragging the rest of his weary body with them.
Weightless. Time slowed. Odd floating sensation. Drifting down, feeling nothing. So this is how I am to end? His only wish now was to have more time to rest in this new-found peace, to share it with Sandra, to truly go on living. To have just a little more time…
I’m sorry Sandra. I’m sorry there will be no more. No more wedding anniversaries. No more road trips. No more summer walks to get ice cream and racing you for the only good swing at the park. But, you’re strong. And you will have the memories. He hoped she could hang on to those and let go of him.
Strangely, he thought he could hear his wife, calling to him as the crushing cement drew quickly nearer, waiting to make a widow of the owner of that sweet voice. He closed his eyes to better fill his mind with the image of her face. Time slowed even more.
His eyes flew open as his head hit the carpet. His right arm – a tangled mess in the satin sheets. His left hand – a vice grip on the comforter. His feet, making a crushed mess of his memory foam pillow.
Sandra’s voice – calling to him from the hallway. “Honey, you just missed a call from Joe. He won’t be coming to work today.”
Entering the room, she froze at the sight of his peculiar position. “Are you ok, love?”
His soccer coach had once unleashed a six-minute be-a-man diatribe on a teammate who had dared to tear up when they lost the state championship. He was glad Coach Mills was not here now. As sweet relief drenched his soul, he could not stop the flood overflowing to his cheeks.
This brought Sandra quickly to his side. Her cool hand touched his forehead. Ginger locks tousled over her cheeks as she knelt on the floor beside him. Concern etched her features. She had never looked more beautiful.
“Maybe you should call in today, too.” her suggestion echoed his sentiments exactly. He simply nodded agreement.
Apprehension and affection evident in her query, Sandra asked if she could get him anything.
He gripped her hand in his.
“Yes. A glass of chocolate milk.”
If you asked me what it’s like to finally pursue my dream of writing, the honest answer is: Terrifying.
Yes, there is excitement and delight, and many other things weighing in on the positive side, but, the scale is often tipped by the heavy burden of fear.
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t dream of being a writer some day. “Some day.” A fellow writer recently told me that is a dangerous term. I agree. Part of what kept me in that Some Day mode was fear. A dream tucked away since kindergarten can be hard to finally pursue. As long as it’s just a dream, it’s still a possibility. It hasn’t been taken out in the world, soiled, rejected, or broken. If I never let it live, it can’t die.
As I reached my thirties, I finally came to the realization that I would have to take those risks. If I never let it live, it would not be alive. I decided to make the first steps down the writing path.
Step 1: Face It
We must stare straight into the mouth of this monster and see what lies there:
“Everyone will hate it. No one will ever publish my writing. I am not qualified to be a writer. No one will understand what I’m trying to say. My shining ideas will never be on paper what they were in my head. Everything I try to write will share the aroma of my cat’s litter box. I’m destined to fail.”
The old hag is right. These fears, laden with lies, blossom in our minds until we have an entire garden of ghoulish mental monsters that prevent us from pursuing our passion. We become paralyzed by fear. All the What Ifs keep us frozen in place, and we fail before we even start because we fail to start. After all, as long as it’s just an idea, it can’t fail. No one can reject it. It can’t flop. It can’t turn out poorly. It’s this intangible brilliance that lies untainted in my mind. Untainted, but also untapped. Safe, but of what use?
Perhaps we do get started. Then perfectionism pops into play. We write, and rewrite, and rewrite again. We reread for the 42nd time and it’s still not quite right. It’s just not perfect. We stall out. We never put our writing out there because it’s not quite ready for others to see. It’s not good enough to share with the world. Just a few more changes, then it will be ready. Our attempts to create perfection keep us in a dizzying loop of editing and nailbiting that results in frayed fingers but nothing shared. What If I could make it better still? What If I’ve missed something? In our efforts to make it worthy of the world’s eyes, no one ever sees it. (Don’t ask me how many times I reread and rewrote this paragraph.)
We keep telling ourselves these lies. They feed our fear and help it grow big, strong, and loud. The What If track blasts on repeat in our upstairs radio until we can hear nothing else. The dances with Perfectionism and People Pleasing keep us spinning in circles. I suppose these two things have their place somewhere in our lives, but more often than not they are unhealthy. They become stumbling blocks in our path to be productive writers. They lead us to a litany of What If questions, and that track never stops playing:
What if I write something that just plain stinks? What if I think it’s good but not everyone likes it? What if publisher after publisher rejects me? What if someone misinterprets my writing? There’s plenty more along the same line of thinking, but a blog post can only be so long. So, let’s just get right down to finally answering those basic What If questions instead of just fretting over them. This is step two.
Step 2: Embrace It
YES! The answer to most of those What Ifs is a resounding yes! Yes, those things are going to happen. At some point, each of these will come true to some degree. Guess what? That’s ok. We aren’t perfect. Our world it not perfect. As imperfect people, we are destined to imperfect writing. We have NO chance of pleasing everyone. If we write enough, and submit enough, we will surely be misunderstood, criticized, rejected, and more. Embrace the inevitable.
This doesn’t mean we believe the lies. A rejected manuscript does not mean we are a reject. Failure to publish an article doesn’t mean we are a failure. If not everyone likes our writing, it doesn’t mean everyone hates us. If our path doesn’t look like another writer’s, it doesn’t mean we aren’t a writer, or aren’t worthy of that title. Messing up doesn’t mean we are a mess. If we produce a flop, we don’t have to forever forfeit our writer’s card.
Creative souls can be a bit overdramatic. Let’s be realistic with ourselves. What really happens when these inevitabilities strike? Are we forced to wear an F on our shirts to let everyone know we have failed? Do we have to stop writing? Stop dreaming? Stop living? It’s highly unlikely that any of the What If’s we toy with are actually that serious. Ego-threatening, yes. Life-threatening, no.
What do we do?
Step 3: Chase It
Chase your dream. Chase your goals. Chase your passion. Chase away this monster. Chase away the sin of Fear. By running headlong into the fray, we sprint away from fear or mow it down in our path. Either way, this sin no longer blocks our way.
Once you’ve divulged your doubts and embraced the inevitables, Fear becomes fear and is easier to hurdle. You can acknowledge the risks, and run on this path anyway. Yes, you will get bruised, but at least you got off the park bench. Go ahead, stretch your muscles. Test your talents. Start feeding those instead of that What If monster. Who knows where it will take you? Maybe you won’t come in first, but it’s better than missing the race entirely.
Yes, you’ll most likely hear the recurring classics: Gonna Fail Now, Baby; Gotta Please the People; and Gettin’ Almost Perfect. They are catchy tunes that easily get stuck in our heads. But…it’s time. Time to face the music. Turn off the tune. Starve the monsters. Fill our heads with creative ideas, writing goals, feedback, research, contests, queries…even blog posts. The fear will not simply dissipate one day. We have to DO something. Get something else playing, going, churning, burning, chasing our thoughts and spurring us into action. No more Some Day. To-day.
The Fear chaser I keep in my mind is this truth:
For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, of love, and of a sound mind.
2 Timothy 1:7
We are not alone as we stare down this sin. We do not have to let this Deadly Sin bind us. The Lord is with us as we pursue our dreams and feel pursued by fear. Chase? Yes. But also run – straight to a loving God who can chase away our fears and give us the desires of our heart.
My desire is to continue to write whatever God puts in my heart, that stirs my mind, that drives my hand to the page. He has instilled in me this passion that I no longer want to leave still. With God’s help, I will continue to be more than a conqueror in this battle with Fear.
In fact, it’s time to click the publish post button now.
Coming soon – Deadly Sin #2 – SLOTH – If I’m not too lazy to write it.