Grip

A short story by Kerry Nenn

(Original posting: 5/19/14; Revised 5/19/21)

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 that 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 to reach up and grab that lifeline sleeve and pull himself up to the platform. But his arm 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. Dad would be proud today. His 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 to work 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 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 heartbreaking 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 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 was a thermometer attached to one pillar. In winter, a snow shovel could always be found leaning against the back of 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 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 he 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 he 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. They had the trail 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. No 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. The grip would have to 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. Let it go.

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.

Grip…gone.

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.

Then…one small pop. Such a tiny noise with such great significance. Perhaps if the thread count had been a bit higher for that brand of laces, things would have turned out differently. He tried to reach 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 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, sweetie?”

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 soft hand touched his forehead. Her ginger locks framed her face 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.

Reaching for his hand, Sandra asked if she could get him anything.

He gripped her hand in his.

“Yes. A glass of chocolate milk.”

WE NEED BETTER WEAPONS

The battle is fierce. The strongholds, formidable. Daily, we face terror from without…and within.

We walk into this battle with self-control, resolve, desire, strategy, innovation. We hope to see victory in our lives, our hearts, our relationships. We stare into the face of pain and struggle and dig in our heels in hopes of achieving growth, peace, healing.

But we’re going into this battle basically…unarmed.

We need better weapons.

We need weapons that shatter strongholds. That are fiercer than the battle. That will truly allow us to claim victory in those areas of our lives where defeat has been the norm.

The battle can be won. But we need better weapons.

We need the following truth to be true in our lives:

The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

2 Corinthians 10:4-5

And…we must remember that the armory is open. The arsenal is fully funded and well supplied. We just need to open the door and suit up.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand

Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

Ephesians 6:10-18

With these weapons, we can and will have victory. Natalie Grant says it well. The lyrics to her song, My Weapon, are a powerful prayer to wield. Make them your own, and go into battle equipped with better weapons…the best weapons…to live the abundant, hope-filled, victorious life in Christ.

Let every lie be silenced
And all depression cease
Let every dark assignment
Bow down at Jesus’ feet

Let every curse be broken
Let every storm be tamed
And all that come against us
Be bound in Jesus’ name

Your presence is my greatest weapon
Pushing back the darkness
Breaking every chain
My worship opens up the heavens
Crushing every stronghold
When I speak Your name
‘Cause Your presence is my weapon
Your presence is my weapon

Your strength will not be shaken
Your love will not back down
Death has been defeated
What can stop me now?

I hold on to what You’ve spoken
You said that I am free
You’ve given me Your promise
And You are my victory

Your word and a melody
Are making a way for me
You defeat the enemy
This prison is shaking now
And these walls are coming down
Your presence makes me free
I am free

Your presence is my greatest weapon
Pushing back the darkness
Breaking every chain
My worship opens up the heavens
Crushing every stronghold
When I speak Your name
‘Cause Your presence is my weapon
Your presence is my weapon

Amen!

Here’s Your Rock Solid Playlist for 2021

As I step into 2021, a year of unknowns, I can take that step with confidence. How?

Because no matter what happens, there’s Another In the Fire, standing next to me. No matter what comes my way, His presence is My Weapon, so I have nothing to fear. Because no matter what others say or do, Lord, I am Who You Say I Am. I am a child of the Good, Good Father. No matter what mistakes I make, God, I’m Still Yours. Because I Am Redeemed by the ultimate Chain Breaker.

And each day, your new mercies are a Blessing Song sung over me, because you are FOR me. And no matter what the future holds, you can Keep Me in the Moment. And in each of those moments, I can taste and see the Goodness of God. Because no matter what trials, terrors, or temptations come, I can rest knowing that Christ Is Enough.

And with these truths playing in my mind, I pray that nothing that comes my way in 2021 will be able to drown out that Old Church Choir singing in my soul.

Rock Solid Playlist for 2021
  1. “Another in the Fire” – Hillsong
  2. “My Weapon” – Natalie Grant
  3. “Who You Say I Am” – Hillsong
  4. “Good, Good Father” – Chris Tomlin
  5. “I’m Still Yours” – Kutless
  6. “Redeemed” – Big Daddy Wave
  7. “Chain Breaker” – Zach Williams
  8. “Blessing Song” – Cody Carnes (NY version)
  9. “Keep Me in the Moment” – Jeremy Camp
  10. “Goodness of God” – Bethel Music & Jenn Johnson
  11. “Christ Is Enough” – Hillsong
  12. “Old Church Choir” – Zach Williams

SO YOU WANNA BE A WRITER…STEP 10: WHEN THE HONEYMOON IS OVER, PERSEVERE

I’m heading into my 5th year of full-time freelance writing. I was crafting content part-time for four years prior to launching my business, Nenn Pen, Ink, full time. That puts me at nearly a decade of professional wordsmithing.

The honeymoon is over.

But that’s not all bad. I’ve been married to my best friend, Chris, for more than 20 years now. Our honeymoon has been over for two decades, but our marriage is richer than it’s ever been. All those years have helped us learn a lot about each other, and we’ve grown and changed together. There have been rough patches, but God has seen us through, and we’ve come out stronger on the other side.

I think the same goes for writing. At the beginning, it might be all excitement and romance. After the honeymoon is over, you have to be committed to persevere and continue on this journey.

It’s not always fun. There might be days when the last thing you feel like doing is typing one more sentence. Other days, your hands will be excited to fly over the keyboard as creative ideas surge through your brain, searching for a path of escape.

And then there are all the hum-drum days in between. It’s the life of a writer—which is what you wanted, right?

Well, maybe not exactly. The writer’s road might have some challenges you weren’t expecting. Here are four that I’ve had to face—and some advice on how to tackle them.

The Grind

One of the things I love about freelance writing is the variety it provides. One day I might be writing about fundraising events and the next, fish tanks. Despite this diversity in projects, I’ve discovered I can still get bored. Even writing about things that are interesting can start to feel like a grind. This can be especially true during long Chicago winters, when you’re cooped up in your home with a laptop for months on end, waiting for the temperature to rise above freezing once again.

Or maybe that’s just me.

At any rate, you might find yourself at a point where your freelance work is feeling more like work than freedom. It is, after all, a job. And that can get old.

To keep things fresh, consider ways you can change up your days (beyond variation in writing topics). Find new physical places to write. Maybe you want to spend one day a week at a local coffee shop. Maybe your town has a great library where you can sit among words as you write them. The writer’s world can be lonely and isolating, so getting out and about may also provide some much-needed personal interactions that don’t involve a screen.

You can also vary your schedule. If you’ve been keeping the same hours for a while, consider changing them. You could spend an hour every afternoon reading a book, exercising, playing a game, or praying. Then, work an hour at night instead. You can still get the same amount of work done, but this breaks up your day and makes your day more flexible and fun.

For more simple change-ups, check out this article I posted during a particularly grinding winter several years ago.

The Search

If you ask people about their favorite hobby, I think it’s a pretty sure bet that no one will say “I really enjoy looking for a job. All the searching, applying, interviewing, and rate negotiations are immensely enjoyable. They’re my favorite.”

I personally love scavenger hunts. Some people love duck hunts. The job hunt…is another story.

And as a freelance writer, you’re constantly on this hunt. At least, it’s likely that you will be. You may get some long-term clients, but even those projects may ebb and flow based on the client’s workload. If your experience is anything like mine, you’ll need to be on the lookout for new opportunities at all times. Projects start and end. Clients’ needs change. Just like a painter or a plumber constantly booking the next gig, you’ll find yourself in an ongoing search for writing work.

 

This continuous hunt is taxing. You can never sit back and relax, watching the paychecks roll in as you clock in and out of your cushy job.

I admit, there have been moments when I’ve wondered if I should just take a j-o-b so I can be done with this hunt. I think, “Wouldn’t it be nice to have a stable income for the next year, and not have to wonder what I’ll be working on six months from now?”

But, I just can’t do it. Despite those moments, I love what I do. It’s a huge blessing from the Lord. And I want to keep doing it.

So, I continue to hunt.

But, if you’re like me, and that hunt starts to take its toll, try these two tips:

  • Take a break. If you have some steady clients, give yourself permission to stop looking for jobs for a month. Ignore the job alerts. Delete the writer newsletter emails. Just focus on your current projects for a while.
  • Expand your search. Maybe it’s time to enhance your portfolio by exploring new territories. Have you been applying for a lot of blogging jobs? Try some professional articles. Have you written a lot of articles? Maybe it’s time to try your hand at editing. This will not only make your job search more interesting, it could take your writing career in a new, exciting (and profitable!) direction.

The Pet Peeve Project

Some writing is fun and exciting. Some projects are…the opposite. You might discover the client is difficult to work with, or the content is different than you expected, or that you grossly underbid your rate based on the work involved.

Whatever the reason, you aren’t enjoying the job and wish you could drop it. See Step #9 of this series for advice on how to get out of this sticky situation.

The Battle: Personal vs. Professional

Is it a novel you’ve never finished? An idea for a children’s book you’ve never pitched? A blog series you’ve been dying to write?

What personal writing goals are you finding it hard to meet? As your days fill up with clients’ projects, when are you supposed to find time for your own?

This is a tough one. You have to pay the bills, right? And maybe your Sci-Fi story could help do that if it gets published, but maybe it won’t. How can you keep moving forward with your freelance work and still find a way to pull these back-burner projects to the front?

I think it’s important to make these personal writing passions a priority. Don’t neglect them completely. Find a way to work them into your schedule. Set aside Friday afternoons to work on your own stuff. Take 20 minutes a day to make progress on a current personal project. Or, make Sunday evenings your “me” writing time (which happens to be when I’m typing this blog post). You might even look into a weekend writer’s retreat.

If you have a gift for writing, it’s possible God has some things He wants you to say through your own content, so don’t ignore the desires of your own heart to write.

You may also want to set new goals each year or each season for your personal writing development. These may include:

  • Finish and submit a book proposal by the end of summer
  • Join a writer’s group
  • Enter three poetry contents this month
  • Learn a new writing skill through a class or online research
  • Attend one writer’s conference this year

The point is to look for ways you can improve your craft and accomplish long-term goals. Remember to keep goals SMART – specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.

Persevere!

Ready to keep moving forward? If you’ve come this far, it’s time to persevere in your writing career. You can do it!

Like anniversary celebrations and vow renewals for a marriage, taking these steps will keep your writing career fresh, fun, and rewarding—long after the honeymoon is over.

SO YOU WANNA BE A WRITER…STEP 9: KNOW WHEN TO FIRE A CLIENT (AND HOW)

You’re trying to grow your freelance business. You’ve been taking every writing job that comes along just to get experience and put money in your bank account. You’re feeling fortunate to have cobbled together enough writing jobs to pay the bills and start a portfolio.

But…

There’s this one job that you hate. (Maybe hate is a strong word—but it might be close.) You were grateful when you landed the opportunity, but things have gone south since you started. Maybe the subject doesn’t interest you. Or maybe the customer grates on your nerves. For whatever reason, you simply don’t want to work with that client any more.

What should you do? In the midst of trying to make it as a writer, is there ever a time to say no to a job? Is it ever ok to “fire” a client? Will you be considered a quitter if you give up on this project?

In Step 4, I covered when it’s ok to “just say no” to taking a job, but this situation is different. You’ve been working with the client for a while, but you don’t have any desire to continue that relationship.

I have good news for you: Yes, there is a time when you can say “enough.” If you’ve been following these steps to develop your business, you should be in a position that you can let go of that dreaded job.

No, this isn’t a free pass to just quit as soon as a project or a client becomes challenging. But I believe there are legitimate reasons to move on from a particular opportunity. Here are four:

1. When the work doesn’t meet your goals

Keep in mind why you started down this unconventional path in the first place. Was it for flexibility? An excitement for the craft? The freedom of being your own boss? Maybe you wanted to become a world-renowned cat blogger.

Whatever they are, examine your motivations and the goals you’ve set for yourself and your writing. Then, take a good look at the job in question. Does it meet these goals? Or at least move you toward them? If it’s taking you in the wrong direction, it might be time to turn around.

Several years ago, I was working with a resume company. I was receiving steady assignments, and they were happy with my work. I could have gotten more jobs from them if I wanted them. The problem: The work involved setting up multiple appointments with the people who were requesting resumes—and they often didn’t keep those appointments. I found myself arranging entire days around phone calls to gather information or review a completed resume, and the people didn’t bother to show up for our meetings.

This might not bother you as much as it did me. But when I looked at this situation, I realized this job was not meeting my goal of working a flexible schedule. I was missing out on doing other things because I was tied to a lot of set appointment times—that weren’t even being honored. I felt like I was wasting time, and the work had become more frustrating than rewarding. The result: I quit that job.

2. When the client doesn’t communicate

I’m familiar with the old adage that the customer is always right, but I don’t believe that fairy tale. Good service is important, but there are lines clients can cross. If they do, it’s time to part ways.

Communication is one of those lines. Remember when I discussed the importance of being responsive to clients? It’s important for clients to have that same quality, too (at least to some extent). If you’re unable to get clear direction from a client, if they won’t get back to you if you have questions, if they expect you to meet deadlines without providing the information you need – this communication breakdown makes it impossible to do your job.

Case in point: You have a client who is extremely hard to reach via phone. That’s fine – you can simply email. But the client’s emails are abrupt and unclear. They rarely answer the questions you asked in your previous email. Many times, the client doesn’t respond at all, leaving you waiting and wondering if they want you to start the next article or not.

I experienced this scenario. I finally decided it was not worth the hassle and let the client know via email that I would no longer be able to work with him. I knew I had made the right call when I received an email from him three weeks later, asking if I was ready to start the next article.

3. When the money doesn’t arrive

There are times when you’re just starting out as a writer that you might feel like a starving artist. This doesn’t mean you have to work for free. If a client doesn’t pay, don’t keep cranking out the content.

This might sound obvious, but it can be all too easy to work and work and never get paid. They tell you the check is in the mail. They’re consistently late with payment. You never know when the money might hit your account.

This isn’t acceptable, even for a newbie. Set certain parameters for payment, then stick to them. It’s ok to charge a fee for late payment, and it’s ok to refuse to do any more work until the account is current. That’s just good business sense. If a client gets offended that you actually expect to be paid for your work, is that really someone you want to rely on for your paycheck?

Of course, this requires clear expectations. Set these at the start of your working relationship. How will they make payments and when? Include due dates and other payment terms on your invoices (and communicate them with your clients when you first establish your rates).

All of my invoices include this note at the bottom: Payments received after 30 days of invoice date are subject to a $15.00 late fee.

Yes, I have waived this fee a couple of times when a long-standing client was late with payment (and I knew it was on its way). The goal isn’t to set strict boundaries that give you an excuse to quit if someone crosses the line. The point is to protect yourself and the client by presenting clear expectations, then sticking to them.

4. When the bank account allows it 

I realize it’s one thing to believe it’s time to quit, and quite another to pull the trigger. There are times when you simply can’t. Even if you don’t like the job. Even if the client drives you crazy.

If they are paying their bills and sending you steady work, you might look at your budget and realize that it’s not wise to quit this job. This is particularly important if others, such as a spouse or children, are relying on your income, too.

In this situation, your best bet is to try to stick it out while you continue to pursue other opportunities. In other words, don’t quit until you have something to replace it. Develop a plan to replace the income first, then you’ll be free to move on (without missing a mortgage payment).

When It’s Time to Say Goodbye

If you decide a job falls into one of the categories above, it’s important to take appropriate next steps. While it might be tempting to simply text an “I quit” GIF, followed by a , I don’t recommend it.

Instead, try these steps:

Finish the current job. If at all possible, finish the current project. Whatever you are working on for them, complete it (unless your reason is #3). This ends things on a more positive note, rather than leaving the client high and dry without someone to finish their project. You’ve committed to it, so finish it. Afterwards, let them know you won’t be able to take on any further projects with them.

Don’t burn bridges. Keep in mind that your reputation is on the line. Even if you no longer want to work with a particular person or business, this doesn’t mean you don’t want them to recommend you to others. If you end things as positively as possible, you can maintain a good relationship that could lead to other opportunities in the future.

Be professional. To avoid burning bridges, part ways professionally. Here’s an example of a professional “I quit” email:

I have accepted new writing opportunities and will no longer be available to write for your blog. Thank you for the opportunity to work with you. I wish you all the best with your business.

Depending on the relationship with the client, you may need to add more details, or you may need to call instead of write, but this is a good starting point for a conversation or email. Keep it simple, positive, and polite.

But what if reason #4 above is preventing you from saying goodbye? If so, it’s time to consider my last step. Watch for:

So you wanna be a writer…Step 10: When the Honeymoon is Over…Persevere

What if I craved Jesus more than sugar?

 

I wonder what my life would look like if I craved Jesus as much as I crave sugar – or even more.

How much more would my desire be for Him?

How much more effort would I make to know Him?

How much more of each day would be focused on Him?

I’d crave Him after every dinner, when the meal doesn’t feel complete without something sweet.

I’d crave Him late at night, when midnight munchies hit.

I’d crave Him at 3 pm, when nothing sounds better than a chocolate chip cookie.

I’d crave Him when I wake, when Fruity Pebbles or a Poptart sound good for breakfast.

I’d crave Him when I watch a movie, when candy and slushie are close at hand.

I’d crave Him when I haven’t eaten in four hours, and it feels like forty.

I’d crave Him after an afternoon of swimming, when a Little Debbie hits the spot.

I’d crave Him on cold winter nights, when a hot cocoa sounds heavenly.

I’d crave Him when I gather with friends, when munching on junk food is always fun.

I’d crave Him when I play a game, when snacking seems like the natural thing to do.

I’d crave Him at the grocery store, when the shelves are stocked with seasonal treats.

I’d crave Him after a long day, when my energy is zapped and I need a rush.

I’d crave Him when I’m having an afternoon slump and want a pick-me-up.

I’d crave Him when I’m lonely and want some companionship.

I’d crave Him when I’m sad and need comfort.

I’d crave Him when I’m hungry,

or tired,

or frustrated,

or happy.

I’d crave Him when nothing else satisfies.

Because…truly…nothing else does.

 


 

‘Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just to take Him at His Word
Just to rest upon His promise,
Just to know, “Thus saith the Lord!”

Yes, ’tis sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just from sin and self to cease
Just from Jesus simply taking
Life and rest, and joy and peace.

 

‘Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group, Essential Music Publishing, Capitol Christian Music Group

 

The Right Words

As a writer, I’m always trying to find the right words. I guess that’s why the following words hit home. I heard this performed at church this morning and knew right away I wanted to share it with you.

Read these powerful lyrics, then hear them in the Kari Jobe video below.

 

The Word

by Isaac Wimberley

 

If there are words for Him then I don’t have them.

You see my brain has not yet reached the point

where it could form a thought that could

adequately describe the greatness of my God.

And my lungs have not yet developed the ability to

release a breath with enough agility to

breathe out the greatness of His Love.

And my voice,

you see my voice is so inhibited,

restrained by human limits,

that it’s hard to even sing the praise up.

You see, if there are words for Him, then I don’t have them.

My God, His Grace is remarkable,

mercies are innumerable,

strength is impenetrable,

He is honorable, accountable, favorable,

He’s unsearchable, yet knowable,

indefinable, yet approachable,

indescribable, yet personal.

He is beyond comprehension,

further than imagination,

constant through generations,

King of every nation,

but if there are words for Him, then I don’t have them.

You see, my words are few,

and to try and capture the ONE TRUE GOD,

using my vocabulary will never do,

but I use words as an expression,

an expression of worship to a Savior,

a Savior who is both worthy and deserving of my praise,

so I use words.

My heart extols the Lord, blesses His Name forever.

He has won my heart,

captured my mind,

and has bound them both together.

He has defeated me in my rebellion,

conquered me in my sin,

He has welcomed me into His presence,

completely invited me in.

He has made Himself the object of my sight,

flooding me with mercies in the morning,

drowning me with grace in the night,

but if there are words for Him, then I don’t have them.

But what I do have is GOOD NEWS,

for my God knew that man-made words would never do,

for words are just tools that we use to point to the truth.

So He sent His Son Jesus Christ as THE WORD,

Living proof,

He is the image of the invisible God,

the firstborn of all creation,

for by Him all things were created,

giving nothingness, formation.

And by His word He sustains in the power of His name,

for He is before all things and over all things He reigns.

Holy is His name!

So praise Him for His life!

The way He persevered in strife,

the humble son of God

becoming the perfect sacrifice.

Praise Him for His death!

That He willingly stood in our place,

that he lovingly endured the grave,

that He battled our enemy and on the third day rose in victory.

He is everything that was promised.

Praise Him as the risen King.

Life your voice and sing,

for one day He will return for us,

and we will finally be

united with our Savior for eternity! Eternity!

So it’s not just words that I proclaim,

for my words point to THE Word,

and THE Word has a name,

Hope has a name,

Joy has a name,

Peace has a name,

Love has a name,

and that name is Jesus Christ!

Praise. His. Name. Forever!!!

 

What Does This Mean?

I was probably about 12 years old. We were on our way home from church, and my cousin, who was visiting from out of town, had attended the service with us. Her church background was very different from mine, so the question she posed during our car ride home should not have surprised me, but it did. Sitting in the back seat next to me, she asked, “What does THIS mean?” and raised her hand.

Having grown up in a church where hand-raising during worship was a common occurrence, I didn’t understand her confusion. I hadn’t realized that the sight of people with their hands in the air during service was a new experience for her.

I wonder how many others have the same question, but they’ve never asked. Not just children, either. How many adults aren’t really sure what all this hand-raising is about? Maybe you’ve heard of it, seen others in church doing it, or even tried it yourself – but aren’t sure what the point is.

If you’ve ever pondered my cousin’s question, let me try to shed some light on the answer – with some more questions to consider:

  • What does a person look like when they surrender?
  • What do people often do when they are excited about something?
  • If I hold out a gift for you, what must you do to receive it?
  • What do people often do when they experience a victory?
  • What do children do when they want to be held?

Humility. Praise. Celebration. Connection. Surrender. Worship. Excitement. Victory. Adoration.

There are many meanings to this simple act of raising one’s hands. It helps us express a variety of emotions and thoughts in a physical way.

The same is true when we use this posture to communicate with the Lord.

Do you want to surrender to God? Are you celebrating the victory you have in Christ? Do you simply need to be held by your Father? Is your heart filled to the measure with all the fullness of God, and you simply need to do SOMETHING physical to express it?

Lift up your hands in the sanctuary and praise the Lord. Psalm 134:2

Hear my cry for mercy as I call to you for help, as I lift up my hands toward your Most Holy Place. Psalm 28:2

Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing. 1 Timothy 2:8

My prayer is set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice. Psalm 141:2

I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands. Psalm 63:4

 

 

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