Look both ways before proceeding (Spiritual Journey First Thursday)

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January 2018 seems like just yesterday in some ways—and like a long time ago in others. As I look back and ahead, here in the middle of the year, I see several trends.

FOCUS

My one-little-word for 2018 is FOCUS. I began to put that word into action early in the year by cutting out some activities and routines. One of them, you Poetry Fridayers may have noticed, was to withdraw from posting a weekly poem and linking up with Poetry Fridays. Indeed, my poetry-writing has taken a back seat to other things this year.

Graphic art interest

The interest in doodling, drawing, and lettering that was ignited when I discovered Bible art journaling last spring, has continued to grow. Joining Instagram earlier this year (@vi_nez), has challenged me to grow even more as I’ve discovered amazing artists whose work I admire. It seems to me that at some level, drawing uses similar mental, emotional and intellectual brain pathways as writing (especially writing poetry) and so my urge to create has been absorbed in this new-to-me art form.

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In June I took part in a flower-drawing challenge (we were given the names of 15 flowers to draw; lettering/words were at our discretion if at all). I chose a Christian quality as a title for each of my flowers. Here are four that I did.

Finish what I start

One writing project that I continue to work on is a novel—a sequel to the Bible fiction I published in 2012. That book (Destiny’s Hands) fictionalizes the story of the Bible character Bezalel. He was singled out for the job of making the Tabernacle and crafting all its worship accessories (along with many helpers—see Exodus 31:1-11). In Destiny’s Hands, I follow Bezalel from the Egyptian craft guild, where he works for Pharaoh, to the time he receives his assignment from Moses.

In the sequel (my working title is Under the Cloud), I follow his sister (a purely fictional character) through the rest of the exodus, taking her and her family to the border of the Promised Land.

I’ve worked on this project for several years and still don’t feel I’ve researched enough. But a while ago I decided enough of that, better get writing. I am about two thirds of the way through (53,000 words Monday) what I’ve planned. I’ve been beavering away at that project for most of this winter, doing 90 minutes a day four days a week.

During the summer months I’m going to shelve that project but am determined to take it down again when we get back from our travels. My goal, at this point, is to simply finish a first draft. It may never get published, but I will finish writing it.

Vacation

Our summer vacationing starts next week with trips planned to see our children and grandchildren and hopefully take a meander through Canada’s maritime provinces after the summer rush. We’ll see.

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Early in the year I was part of an artist mentoring group. In that group we were encouraged to create a vision board. Here is a photo of mine. It addresses various aspects of life and I think it might be time to update it.

I’m loving the creative shot-in-the-arm I’ve received from taking up art journaling, drawing, and lettering. It’s a lot of fun to learn new things! At this point I have no ambitions for this new venture but to learn it. My writing I hold loosely too. I put all these things under the umbrella of a Bible verse I chose for the year:

“Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected, but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. … One thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” – Philippians 3:12-14 NKJV

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spiritualjourneyfirst-thursday-copyThis post is part of Spiritual Journey Thursday, a link-up with other bloggers who write about their lives and work from a spiritual perspective. Doraine Bennett is hosting our link-up this month. Visit her at her blog Dori Reads.

Next Step (review)

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Next Step - Timothy K. LynnNext Step – How to Start Living Intentionally and Discover What God Really Wants for Your Life by Timothy K. Lynn

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Next Step is a guidebook/workbook designed to help people evaluate their lives and plot a course for the future. In brief chapters businessman Timothy K. Lynn leads readers to first analyze their lives in the areas of time and people. Then he introduces them to what he calls the Four Pillars: Faith, Self, Family and Life’s Work. In a final chapter, “Conversations with God,” he talks about how God is central to the whole process and encourages the participant to converse with Him and journal those interchanges.

After a brief bit of text on each subject, the book has charts, forms and journal pages for the reader to fill in. The “Snapshot of Your Week” form, for example, has the participant noting what activities fill their time for one week, 24/7. Another form guides readers in discovering who the people of influence in their lives are. The chapter “Life’s Work” concludes with a “Lifeline Goal-setting Plan—Seasons of Life” chart, which gathers the observations and conclusions participants have made from previous chapters into one record/activity/goal chart that can be kept through the years—literally the seasons of life.

Next Step is a beautiful publication, but I found it a bit thin on content. About seventy of the book’s 128 pages are blank journal pages or duplicates of charts and forms introduced in the various chapters.

The charts and forms are excellent, however, in the way they are designed to give the participant a snapshot of his or her use of time, people of influence, core beliefs, goals, and dreams.

More examples of what the author expected as responses in some of the areas would have been helpful (like he did give for the “Lifeline Goal-setting Plan—Seasons of Life” chart, p. 62). Though the journal pages, with their question prompts are self-explanatory, I was never sure what process he expected the reader to go through to fill out the numerous “Conversations with God” sections. His instructions read:

“What’s God saying to you? Use this section as a notebook to make a complete record of your conversations with God.”

Does he expect the reader to sit quietly and listen for an audible voice, or a voice in one’s head, or God’s instructions from Scripture passages? The closest I came to finding help in this area was in the chapter “Faith” where he seems to presume that his readers will have a prior knowledge of scripture and a conscience trained by it:

“God has spoken to us and asked us to follow His word, but at times we need to simplify things and get to the true meaning of what is being asked of us. …This is not as hard as we make it out to be. It just has to occur one thought—indeed one step—at a time, because our actions help us to differentiate good from bad. At the very moment we do something bad, we move away from God’s truth. Most times we intrinsically know this in our hearts” – p. 33.

More specific instructions on how one converses with God would have been helpful. Without them, I felt this part of the program could become an exercise in whatever—listening to oneself, visualization, even opening oneself up to spiritual error, as the participant is never instructed to check what he or she hears against the clear communication God has given us about His will in the Bible.

Altogether, however, this is a valuable and concise program designed to give participants information about their individual lives and the desire and impetus to make God-centered changes and improvements, no matter what their age.

I received Next Step as a gift from publicist Maryglenn McCombs for the purpose of writing a review.

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My (penciled) writing goals for 2014

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Goals - Plans - Aspirations - Dreams Can you believe we’re almost halfway through January! By now those wonderful New Year’s Resolutions have been tested, perhaps broken (if you made any). And what about writing goals?

I always start the year full of bubbly optimism. The year is new. It’s a clean page. I can begin again. The possibilities are endless. Writing down goals is one way to attach a string to my helium-filled balloon. Having this topic as the first one in our BLOG HOP  gets me tying on that string in real time!

Goals are as useful or unrealistic as we make them. They  are most helpful when they come with details like what, how much, by when. Some folks split goals into two parts: Goals and Objectives. That’s what I’m going to do here.

I’m defining goals as  overarching ends I’d like to achieve.   Objectives are  the specific measurable steps that I need to take to achieve those goals. This article about writing goals and objectives  (PDF file) uses a helpful mnemonic for objectives:

SMART mnemonic

S – Specific
M – Measureable
A – Attainable
R – Relevant
T – Time-bound

Here are some of my 2014 goals and objectives:

Goal 1:
Contribute to the conversation about God, spiritual things, and what it means to live as a Christian.

Objectives:

  • Continue to post daily devotions at my devotional blog Other Food Devos. (Some of these are reposts.)
  • These will be written between 5:30 and 8:00 a.m. daily and scheduled ahead.

Goal 2:
Do my part on special projects and assignments (two poetry books and my FellowScript columns) to which I’ve committed myself.

Objectives:

  • Work with my colleagues on these projects by meeting the deadlines we set up. (Vague but some of  these projects are not in my control.)

Goal 3:
Make a little money with my writing.

Objectives:

  • Send out one article/poem/devotion/kids’ activity etc.  to a paying market the weeks I’m working (not during holidays and times of family obligation).

Goal 4:
Improve as a poet.

Objectives:

  • Write at least one new poem per week, with the exception of April (National Poetry Month) and perhaps November, when I usually join in on challenges to write one poem a day.
  • Enter at least six poetry contests this year.
  • Research and submit to poetry publications (try for one submission per month).
  • Read and review at least one book of poetry monthly on my poetry blog (Violet Nesdoly / poems).
  • Continue to be part of the Kidlit Poetry Friday community by posting weekly poems and hosting when it’s my turn.

Goal: 5
– Write another novel.

Objectives:

  • Work a minimum of 60 minutes per day on this (whatever stage I’m at: research, plotting, character development, writing, editing etc.) five days a week.

Goal 6:
Broaden my author platform.

Objectives:

  • Post a monthly Freelance Writers Almanac article on this blog.
  • Read and comment on colleagues’ blogs (Regularly; I’m not putting a number on this because I don’t want to track it).
  • Remain active in the writing and friend communities to which I belong by posting to Twitter and/or Facebook/Facebook author page.
  • Continue to read publisher- and author-offered books and review them on my blog, Goodreads & Amazon within the time frame that the publishers request.
  • Research publishing a newsletter.

Goal 7:
Work towards self-publishing some of my previously published blog posts, stories, poems etc. (This goal is at the back of the queue; I’ll be considering it later in the year).

Objectives:

  • Learn to make book covers using Photoshop Elements by ordering a Dummies book to help me understand the software and spending at least an hour each week working in Photoshop so I get some hands-on experience with the program.
  • Work on getting my U.S. ITIN (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number) in order to circumvent the IRS withholding royalties should I choose to publish with a US publisher like Create Space.
  • Continue mulling over the idea of publishing an author newsletter.

Yikes, I feel like I’ve bitten off some rather big chunks here. I’ll definitely need the word I’ve chosen as my inspiration this year:  FOCUS. It’s what I’ll have to do in order to make progress on any one of the above, let alone achieve them all!

I remind myself, too, of something a speaker at one of our women’s events said:

“Remember, you write your plans in pencil. Only God writes in pen.”

Reimagine Your Retirement (review)

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Reimagine Your Retirement: How to Live Life to Its Fullest and Leave a Lasting LegacyReimagine Your Retirement: How to Live Life to Its Fullest and Leave a Lasting Legacy by Joyce y Li

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

How do you view your retirement? As a time of relaxation and indulgence? As a dreaded time of uselessness and idleness? Or as an opportunity to rediscover your passions and live them out in the years you have left?

In Reimagine Your Retirement: How to Live Life to its Fullest and Leave a Lasting Legacy, author Joyce Y. Li challenges new and soon-to-be retiring members of the baby boomer generation to tackle this phase of life with reflection and intention.

Parts One and Two of the book (“Recognize the Many Possibilities” and “Living Your Best”) provide a background to help readers consider what retirement means in North American culture, how the process of aging impacts one’s latter years, and why it’s important to approach this time with a plan.

Part Three (“Discovering Yourself”) discusses the Bible’s view of life in general and old age in particular. It includes numerous self-tests designed to help readers discover their gifts, strengths, and interests with a view to setting a course and defining goals that will give meaning and purpose to retirement years.

Parts Four and Five (“Vision and Calling” and “Put Legs to Your Plan”) lay out an action plan that challenges readers to visualize the future they want, put it into words as a mission statement, and live it out.

Li’s experience as an event planner comes through in this logically organized how-to book. She bases her findings not only on her own experience but also on the expertise of others and includes many studies and research results. Real life examples add interest and show us that retirement can be the exciting, meaningful climax of a well-lived life. Her Christian outlook focuses the reader’s attention on what will matter for eternity and is buttressed by many Bible verses and motivational quotes.

Though I read the book quickly, it contains much that invites rereading and further thought. Readers who answer all the questionnaires and complete all the analyses will come away with invaluable self-knowledge and a blueprint for going forward, designed to give direction and focus to the remaining years of life. Li’s methods will be especially attractive to the retiree who has a good amount of health, drive, and energy.

Reimagining Your Retirement would be a great read for people preparing for, or in the early stages of retirement. I can also see younger folks benefiting from its wisdom and practical advice. All in all it’s a powerful and convincing debut work authored by someone I’m sure we will hear from again.

Book trailer for Reimagine Your Retirement

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20,000 Days and Counting – Robert D. Smith (review)

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20,000 Days and Counting by Robert D. SmithAround the time Robert D. Smith had lived his 20,000th day, he took two of the next 20,000 (or however many he has left) to plan how he would spend the rest of his life. In his book 20,000 Days and Counting: The Crash Course for Mastering Your Life Right Now, he divulges what he did during his two-day retreat, and explains the philosophy on which he bases his life—a philosophy he sums up in statements like:

“There is no thought that will purge your priorities of worthless and worldly tastes like that of your impending death. Ponder the kind of life you would like to look back on when you come to die… “

and

“The best preparation for living is to be prepared to die at any time … imminent death inspires clarity of purpose, a rearranging of what really matters” – Robert D. Smith, 20,000 Days and Counting, Kindle Locations 554 and 573.

However, the book is anything but morbid. For this man, who has spent most of his career managing entertainer and author Andy Andrews knows how to show us a good time. The book’s tone and content is upbeat, encouraging, helpful, and practical.

In it he suggests exercises that will help readers discover their life’s purpose and gives them ways to  live responsibly and constructively. Some of his suggestions that resonated with me were:

– You increase motivation by increasing productivity.

– Be open to saying “yes” more than you say “no.”

– Take ownership. “Start thinking I am the problem … when you do that…. Suddenly you have power” (Kindle Location 771).

The book is a fast read and worth every minute spent immersed in it. The few hours it took me to read it are already proving well spent in their impact on my 2013 goals and resolutions. This is a book that will clear your vision and help you live with a “So teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom” mindset (Psalm 90:12—one of numerous Bible verses he quotes; the book is consistent with a Christian perspective). I recommend it!

By the way, how many days have you lived? Want to find out? Visit TheRobertD’s website and plug your dates into the widget there. (And while you’re on the site, you may also want to sign up for his newsletter and get the free e-Book Battle-Tested Branding, another great little resource!)

Book Facts:

Title: 20,000 Days and Counting: The Crash Course for Mastering the Rest of Your Life right Now
Author: Robert D. Smith
Publisher: Thomas Nelson, January 2013,  99 pages-Kindle edition, available in hardcover.
ASIN: B009PN6M3M

I received 20,000 Days and Counting as a gift from the publisher for the purpose of writing a review.