Monday, February 23, 2015

Truths I've Learned from Working Out

Due to various circumstances in my life, I'm missing my regular early-morning workouts this week. 

My emotions regarding this turn of events are mixed. While I love sleeping in and having a more relaxed morning routine (one that includes much less anguish and way more coffee), I know that in a strange way, my body will miss the punishment it normally endures.

For some reason, although my brain loathes rising at 4:30am and driving across town to max out on push-ups and tap spar with people coordinated well above my pay grade, my body seems to revel in the rhythm of this grinding discipline.

This shocking truth about myself is the first of the many truths I've learned from working out.

Truths I've Learned from Working Out:

Truth One: I am a giant baby. 

Whenever I catch myself whining over a difficult circuit, I hear the echo of my own students over the years, crying over what were (in my opinion) only moderately-challenging tasks. I then hear an echo of myself telling them not to be such giant babies -- that it's not so hard -- that they can do it if they just buckle down and stop crying.

From a teaching standpoint, it's been helpful for me to remember what it feels like to struggle. 

Truth Two: It's possible to love something and hate it at the same time. 

The gym isn't the only area where I experience such mixed emotions. The feeling I have for my workouts almost perfectly mirrors the feeling I bear for writing and teaching. All three disciplines are equal parts glory and terror, thrill and horror, challenge and euphoria. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem possible to reach the heights without experiencing the lows.

What I have to keep asking myself is this: "Are the highs worth it?" If the answer is "Yes," then the lows must also be worth enduring.

Truth Three: If you're going to put on boxing gloves and shin guards, it's wise to put the shin guards on first. 

Ask me how I know this.

Better yet, don't ask.

Truth Four: I always think I can't take one more step, but I always can. 

Knowing this fact changes more than the way I think about the seemingly-impossible tasks set by our coach. It echoes other challenges in life.

When I write, the most daunting point for me comes right after I get a new idea, when all I can think is I can't believe I have to write the whole thing.

Incidentally, the same feeling hits at the beginning of a run, when I just can't believe I have to run the whole way, and I can't imagine such a thing is even possible for someone like me.

So I cope by telling myself things like this: "You don't have to worry about doing it all. It's not time to worry about that yet. You just have to run to the next block." Or the next mailbox. The next crack in the sidewalk. The next blade of grass. Whatever.

The point is that instead of thinking, I can't do all the push-ups! or I can't run all the miles! or I can't write 50,000 whole words!, I've learned to think smaller. 

Do the first set. 

Run the first block. 

Write the preliminary outline. 

That's enough to get started, and sometimes that's the biggest mental hurdle.

* * * *

I'll be the first to admit that working out, teaching, and writing are not all the same. But there is some overlap, and that overlap hinges on the word discipline.

If this post proves anything, it's that developing discipline has benefits across the board.

The best disciplines to develop, of course, are spiritual ones. Prayer, Bible study and memorization, solitude, fellowship, fasting, worship, service, personal reflection, giving, and regular self-denial are just the tip of the iceberg.

Everyone starts somewhere, that's true. But where we start isn't as important as the fact that we start at all. With the help of the Spirit, we each can take the next step toward true growth. 

One thing's certain: neither physical nor spiritual development will happen by accident. 

Monday, February 16, 2015

Honest Book Titles

If more books came with honest and descriptive subtitles, the reading landscape would be a lot less treacherous, especially for those of us who often invest our emotions deeply in a story, only to find ourselves betrayed somewhere down the line. 

Or not. 

Because... you know. Some books are just amazing.

But still. 

You want to know up front what you're getting into. That's why I suggest that publishers consider adding honest subtitles to fiction books. 

Here are a few suggestions. Take them for what they're worth.

Honest Book Titles:

  • Great Expectations: Life is Disappointing and Everyone Is Terrible
  • Code Name Verity: Total Emotional Destruction 
  • Sabriel: In Which a Talking Cat is More Attractive than the Male Protagonist
  • The Historian: A Vampire Book You Don't Have to Be Embarrassed to Admit You've Read
  • Jane Eyre: A Toxic Relationship to Warm Your Heart   
  • Passage: A Fine Book if You Pretend that the Last 1/3 Doesn't Exist
  • Sackett's Land: The One You Can Skip 
  • Mockingjay: Unspooling Loop of Swirling Melodrama
  • Farseer Trilogy/Liveship Traders/Tawny Man: WARNING: FOOL ALERT: You Can Never Go Back to Not Wondering
Until publishers pick up on this trend, perhaps it's up to us, the readers, to provide this service for one another. 

Feel free to chime in with your own Honest Book Titles.

The world needs this.

    Friday, February 13, 2015

    Love Song for a Very Specific Type of Nerd

    Tesla was a little nuts;
    Also, he is dead.
    Faramir has passed to myth.
    Captain Wentworth's wed.
    Chamberlain sleeps in the grave.
    Atticus is fake.
    If they were only here and now,
    What valentines they'd make!

    Valentine from Ender's Game
    Grows up super chill.
    No one's outclassed Boudica;
    No one ever will.
    Earhart's vanished; Ella's dead;
    Farewell, Madame Curie.
    If they were only here and now,
    What valentines they'd be!

    Marguerite St. Just, Nat Eaton,
    Ned, Galadriel.
    Aragorn of Arathorn,
    Sayers, Sabriel.
    Nathan Coulter, Jubal Sackett,
    Flannery O'Connor.
    If they were only here and now,
    I'm sure we'd all be goners. 

    * * * *
    Heartthrob Roll Call:

    (a list of helpful links)

    Captain Wentworth 
    Joshua Chamberlain
    Atticus Finch
    Valentine Wiggin
    Amelia Earhart
    Ella Fitzgerald
    Marie Curie
    Marguerite St. Just (Blakeney)
    Nat Eaton
    Ned Henry
    Aragorn II, (Elessar) son of Arathorn
    Dorothy L. Sayers
    Nathan Coulter
    Jubal Sackett (Caveat: Tell Sackett is actually my favorite, but his name doesn't quite fit.)
    Flannery O'Connor 

    Monday, February 9, 2015

    What Grad School Was Good For

    Ten years after having earned a bachelor's degree, I decided to go back to school for my master's. I had some reasons for earning a higher degree, but what I got out of the program turned out to be a bit different from what I'd expected. 

    Yes, I did learn more about my chosen field of study, but I also walked away with three very valuable realizations.

    What Grad School Was Good For:

    1) I learned how much I didn't know. When I started grad school, I went in with quite a bit of foundational knowledge (or so I thought). Grad school opened my eyes to the wealth of everything that I didn't know. It felt a little scary. 

    2) I narrowed what I wanted to learn. With the realization that there was so much to learn, I struggled with feeling overwhelmed. Every reading and research choice that I made would mean excluding other options. There was no way I was going to be able to learn ALL THE THINGS! Eventually I found myself naturally gravitating toward a few select topics, allowing my understanding in those areas to deepen. My interest and research in these specific areas continues with no end date in sight. 

    3) I realized that I could write -- really write. During my time in grad school, more than a few professors commented that they'd actually enjoyed grading my papers -- that they'd learned new things. They made specific comments not just about the information included, but also about style, tone, and expression. These men and women probably have no idea how much their comments meant to me, but I owe them a debt of gratitude. 

    Although the path wasn't always smooth, the struggles added value as well: I learned to stand by my comma choices and defend my original ideas with firmness and grace. Both of these experiences continue to stand me in good stead as I learn to navigate the publishing world.  

    As grateful as I am for the subject matter gleaned during my time in grad school, I'm just as thankful for the life lessons that the experience provided. 

    Friday, February 6, 2015

    What to Do When Valentine's Day Makes You Feel Like Imploding

    I think we can agree that Valentine's Day is a little silly, what with the chintzy marketing and the ridiculous social pressure. But if we all know that it's ridiculous, why do some of us dread it? Perhaps it's because we're looking at it the wrong way.

    We have the lens turned backward.

    When you feel that Valnetine's Day is going to make you implode, the best thing to do is to meditate on this foundational truth:

    You don't exist just to be loved: you exist to show love. 

    The One who loves you best does so because it's in his nature to love - not because you are so intrinsically lovable - and we're only capable of loving God and others at all because he loved us first. So that should put some things into perspective for us.

    If you struggle with the concept of facing Valentine's Day without a romantic partner, the only real solution is to treat this struggle as you would any other: turn your stumblingblock into an altar. 

    Although Valentine's Day isn't a true holiday (in that it's not a holy day), you can sanctify it by claiming it as a platform to spread the best and most enduring love -- the pure love of Christ.

    When you don't feel loved, that's when offering love can feel most like a sacrifice. But just as Jesus didn't come into this world to be ministered to, you are not here just to be loved. You are here to show love. 

    This is just as true on Valentine's Day as it is on every other day.

    Monday, February 2, 2015

    "Real Talk": Greeting Card Ideas

    For everyone whose career choice uncovered unexpected hazards. 

    These are for you.

    * * * *

    Congratulations on getting into nursing school!

    Hope you enjoy checking out your friends' weird moles.

    * * * *

    Congratulations on your seminary degree!

    Have fun answering questions about predestination.

    * * * *

    Congratulations on starting your art/writing career!

    Welcome to a future of brief flashes of euphoria mixed with crippling self-doubt. 

    * * * *

    Congratulations on learning to code!

    Enjoy taking viruses off mom's computer.

    * * * *

    I'm sure this is just the tip of the iceberg. 

    This line of cards needs to exist.

    I'll be expecting your call, Hallmark.