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“You enter the extraordinary by way of the ordinary.” ~Frederick Buechner

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Journal With Impact: Vocation Prioritize

Workshop: Six Conversations for Writing Creative Journals

“A life should be as carefully planned as a work of art so that it takes on characteristic shape of your mind (the true meaning of ‘lifestyle’).” Kenneth Atchity 

Choose One Priority and Ask

1. What are the specific steps I need to take to make this happen?

We often are juggling several priorities that may, or may not, overlap or compete for our time and energy. Vocationally and personally.

So one first step is to consider the cost involved emotionally, physically, spiritually, financially and relationally. It’s one thing for a writer to ask family and friends to ignore you for a month for the annual NaNoWriMo, or even for a season to crank out a draft in three months. But what could happen to your relationships in the long term if they are not willing to support you? Just how much are you willing to give up or adjust in order to find a balance.

Once we gather as much insight as possible we are able to prioritize within healthy boundaries.           

2. Which of these steps can I do without any additional knowledge? Which ones need research or a class or a co-worker to assist?

Set Goals

3. Examine a time frame. What is the goal for the next year? Then break it down into monthly-weekly-daily goals.

4. Set realistic goals. Goals need to be measurable and attainable within a defined timeframe.

5. Now re-examine. Have you built in some gap time? Are there seasons of the year that you have more time/less time? How could this impact your schedule?

6. What involves other people? How can you synchronize your schedules to be mutually supportive rather than friction based?

For example, several years ago an associate pastor and I were in charge of an ongoing weekly yearlong project. Frankly, within a few weeks we realized that we were driving each other crazy, both time wise and in content productivity. Which surprised us because we both felt a strong commitment to the project and up until then had worked well together.

However, we were trying to do everything by phone or in bite-size conversations, and our miscommunication was creating difficulties for other people as well as ourselves. We recognized that we needed to set aside a scheduled meeting time to organize our planning and then discovered the root of the problem. When we sat down with our calendars, we realized that, except for the weekly event, we did not have one timeslot that matched. Our chaos was growing because there literally was no time to prepare together. Once we talked through the situation, we were able to define a new strategy—a change for both of us—and a learning curve that developed new skill sets for each of us.

6. Examine where you may need to set boundaries. Worried about a conversation you need to have with a co-worker? Try writing it all down in a letter first to vet all your feelings. Then when calm and clear about the issues, invite them into a discussion.

Action Steps:

1. Choose a required challenging project that either you have committed to or been assigned to. Do a general overall time frame.

2. Choose a personal project close to your heart that you have had to delay several times and does not have a specified deadline. Do a general overall time frame for it as well.

3. Using the above questions answer them for both these projects side-by-side.

4. What are the strengths and weaknesses for each? How can you gain from each?

Share: What boundaries did you discover that you did not expect?

Read deep, marcy

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Journal With Impact: Vocation Definition?

Workshop: Six Conversations for Writing Creative Journals

“My desire to make art is not so much a feeling as it is a decision. I choose to continue in spite of my ineffectiveness. I try to do something—anything—to force myself to continue. It doesn’t have to be successful.”  Gaylen Stewart

One thesaurus gives this list for the word work: “Labor, toil, drudgery, exertion, slog, effort, industry, service, grind, sweat, elbow grease, and travail.” They all seem pretty negative to me. Why is that the instinctive perception of work’s process? Where do ideas such as gratifying, exciting, fun, explorative, and satisfying fall into the overall definition?


Based on your own experiences, write a brief paragraph on your personal definition of work, whether paid or unpaid, considering both positive and negative emotions and choices. Then consider a recent project you’ve undertaken and see if your actions actually lined up with your definition.

 Then reflect, if someone were to ask you how you would define your life’s work—how would you answer, or how would you like to be able to answer? Is there any discrepancy for you between the expectation of work and the actual experience?

How might Stewart’s above comment also influence our focus regarding our choices?

Consider that any applications of the way we designate work can impair or increase our quality of success. Or our definition of failure?

If we love to cook, and try out a new recipe making some alterations, and it turns our to be terrible what response defines our “work” attitude? Laughter—grateful we weren’t feeding others—a challenge to find a solution—annoyed and smashing the mess into the garbage?

A chef takes hours to have her masterpiece eaten within an hour. At that same meal an excellent bottle of wine may be emptied too, one product/project completion of a vintner’s years of labor.

When we have a grasp on the expectations of our internal work thermometer it helps us to prepare. Whether assigned projects or not we can choose how we process the actual stages and identify the desires that lead to an end we consider valid. And discover the sync between heart, soul, and head for the long haul.

Action Steps:

1. Do a ten-minute free-write about all the projects you need, and/or want to do? Just write it all down without stopping or thinking or watching sentence structure. Set a timer so you don’t need to clock watch.

2. Now go back through and separate your list out into which are short-term and which are long-term, or ongoing lifetime. Color-code each section.

3. Is one color overpowering the others? Why?

4. Add another color by marking the ones in each category that fill your heart and soul and don’t feel like work.

5. If any are missing this last color, how can you infuse that work with a sense of purpose?

Share: Did the strongest color match your strongest work desires?

Read deep, marcy

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Journal With Impact: Vocation (Latin vocare=to call)

Workshop: Six Conversations for Writing Creative Journals

“I’ve never worked a day in my life.” Donald Hall

Immediate Response

Take two to three minutes and briefly journal your immediate reactions/thoughts to that quote. (To be cont’d)



Although vocation is often considered a reference to a profession it includes so much more. Much of what we feel called to be and do in our lives is lived out in relationships and service alongside our gifts and talents. Parents are not paid to care for their children but answer a personal call to nurture. So under the category of vocation we are really looking at paid and unpaid work, scheduled time and ‘free’ time, assigned tasks and chosen responsibilities.

In the reflective journal we looked at lists of roles, tasks, and dreams. The quote from Jay Kesler about congruence said, “It’s about being who we are—that will determine what we do.” In vocation this also extends a little into how we do it as well—with what commitment of time and quality are we able to commit, how do we recognize the priorities, work through stressful situations, and steward our resources.

If we are working from our passions we have a huge opportunity.
If we are working from obligation/or duress—how can we give ourselves to the work, both in terms of quality and soul survival?
Yet even our dream jobs have the ability to grind us down emotionally, mentally, and spirituality because of excessive demands, or time constraints, or difficult tasks.

When we journal in this category, we find help to stay focused on priorities, and at the same time have a stress release valve for the emotional ups and downs. Many journal questions begin at the same point throughout all the categories and blend into each other sometimes, but asking the questions from a different perspective helps us see things that may go unnoticed. Think of one scene being photographed from many camera angles.

The opening quote above is the first line from Donald Hall’s book, Life Work. He next reflects on his family heritage and the types of work his father and grandfather did. Then he returns to his own viewpoint.

“Work. I make my living at it. Almost twenty years ago I quit teaching—giving up tenure, health insurance, and annual raises—as one of my own children began college and the other was about to. I worked like crazy to pay tuitions and mortgages—but because I loved my work it was as if I did not work at all.”

Continue your journal notes from above. How do both his statements resonate with you regarding your choice of vocation or call? Is your response now different from your original?

Action Steps: Think of a project that you completed this past year. Apply the difficult areas mentioned above if applicable.

1.     Make a grid. Across the top write emotional, mental, and spiritual. Down the side write excessive demands, time constraints, and difficult tasks.
2.     In each square mark any details that became wearisome.
3.     Then note how you did or did not overcome the stress.

Share: Were you surprised by any of your answers? Did you see any pattern?

Read deep, marcy

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Journal with Impact: Personal Reflection Devotional Journeys

Workshop: Six Conversations for Writing Creative Journals

“It is a fantasy because fantasy is the natural, the appropriate, language for the recounting of the spiritual journey and the struggle of good and evil in the soul.”
Ursula Le Guin

Spiritual Journey

All writers are well aware of the treasure that can be found during research with journals and diaries and letters, especially for memoir and historical genres. But this area of reading offers gems that can impact all our work. Regardless of our particular field, reading journals, diaries, and letters can give us perspective, expertise, and courage.

When we read and dialogue with a spiritual classic, we gain perspective that we can apply to our present spiritual journeys and struggles.

Henri Nouwen is a writer who often challenges me in his books, causing me to wrestle with my beliefs and choices, solitude and service. Yet it is in his personal diaries, such as The Genesee Diary, that I am more ready to listen without argument or questions. Why? Because in some ways reading his diary or letters is a form of eavesdropping that is restorative. He shares his heart. And builds a bridge of communication. His feelings are true to him and cannot be dismissed just because I don't happen to understand them.

Not only am I neither a man, nor a monk, nor have I experienced hardly any lifestyle close to Nouwen’s, but I still have this opportunity to understand him by these very personal writings.

Reading private thoughts gives a clearer perspective heart to heart that helps bypass arguments and stereotypes. By listening to real live personalities, we can respond to others with more honesty and grapple with real-life situations with compassion.

Action Steps:

1.     Make a short list of people in your faith or your field who have intrigued you. Then look to see if any wrote letters or diaries or journals. Choose the one that you are the most curious about—whether positively or negatively.

2.     Choose a style of study that you haven’t tried yet, but keep it conversational.

3.     What questions do you have before you begin reading?

4.     What questions do you still have afterward?

Share: Whose journal did you read that gave you fresh insight? What surprised you?

                                                       Read deep, marcy

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Journal with Impact: Personal Reflection Devotional Dialogue

Workshop: Six Conversations for Writing Creative Journals           

“For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Hebrew 4:12 NAS


Have you ever wanted to sit down and have a one-to-one dialogue with God? You aren’t alone. Why? Where are you? What comes next? These cries continue throughout the centuries.

Yet sometimes life and circumstances become so complicated and muddled that we’re not exactly sure what our questions are. It helps to lay out all our questions and confusions in a letter, one by one. But as we write them, leave wide empty spaces between each. For His answers.

Prepare for a dialogue.

The Book of Psalms is a powerful example of dialogue with God. In his book, Answering God, Eugene H. Peterson states that: “The Psalms are acts of obedience, answering the God who has addressed us. God’s word precedes these words: these prayers don’t seek God, they respond to the God who seeks us.”

Many of the Psalms begin with angry questions and fears. Yet is not only cathartic venting. Peterson points out that the Psalmists decide to listen, and they answer with both questions and prayers. The Psalms themselves help to “train us in the conversation.”

Like the Psalmists entering into a dialogue, we can approach our confusion with expectation. These are conversations that actually begin with God as He sees and identifies where our hearts need mending, our minds need perception, and our souls need light to persevere.

Write your letters.

Action Steps:

Sample Prompt. One place where many of us have multiple questions is with creation. The outline below is from Ethel Herr as a framework to view the Genesis story. On first read write down your notes in the various sections. Then choose one or two to expand as if you are writing a Psalm. Pour out your feelings and questions and surprises as a dialogue.  

Read Genesis Chapters 1-4. Record.

1.     Questions
2.     New Discoveries
3.     Ideas about God
4.     Ideas about man
5.     Commands to obey
6.     Promises to claim
7.     Examples to follow or avoid
8.     Anything else that seems important to you.”

Share: Did you find the dialogue awkward or comfortable? Why?

                                                          Read deep, marcy

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Journal with Impact: Personal Reflection Devotional Inspiration

Workshop: Six Conversations for Writing Creative Journals

“Without the radiant beam of light shining into the darkness there is little to be seen.  ……   But everything changes with the light.”
Henri Nouwen The Genesee Diary

Devotional Life

Whatever we read has the potential to touch our minds, our hearts, and our souls. But sometimes we desire to go deeper. We specifically look for understanding in a more thorough study, whether it is how to build a boat or how to nurture our soul.

Some seasons offer the opportunity to examine our heart beliefs or desires, and reset or strengthen spiritual congruence. For Christians the season of Lent began yesterday, and many choose this time to pursue a focused study through devotions, or Bible study, or spiritual classics.
Author Ethel Herr said that when we meditate on Scripture from a devotional perspective, the study, or readings, inspire us to worship God, give us something practical to live by, and speak personally and intimately to our hearts.

Connecting with other experiences across historical time can give us a clearer perspective to evaluate the way we process both the light and the dark seasons we face personally.

Each study can begin with four basic questions (see below) and be expanded as deep as desired depending on what kind of study or depth we would like to pursue. For example, in addition to the basics, we can paraphrase Scripture, reflect devotionally, study stories, parables, biographies, and problems.

Action Steps:

Choose a passage of scripture, or other inspirational writing, and apply these four basic questions as suggested by Ethel Herr.

When you are done, choose one promise or thought and use it as a prayer guide through the week ahead.

1. What does it say?

2. What does it mean?

3. What does it mean to me?

4. “How must I live” or “How will my life be different because I have studied this?”

Share: What shift from dark to light and insight or hope did you discover?

                                                                Read deep, marcy

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Journal with Impact: Personal Reflection Read

Workshop: Six Conversations for Writing Creative Journals

“When we have no thought of achievement, no thought of self, we are true beginners. Then we can really learn something. The beginner’s mind is the mind of compassion. When our mind is compassionate, it is boundless.”
Henri Nouwen The Genesee Diary

Whether we read or listen to books, blogs, podcasts, or videos we are purposefully engaging in a new perspective or experience. Even if it is assigned reading. Yet we can only really participate emotionally if we come with the intent to learn. Even if we are looking to be entertained. If you have a particular subject or author or research you want to pursue for a season, then consider keeping a reading journal. Whatever you are reading, look for your own personal connection to the content and explore away.

Here are a few examples that may not be considered typical reflection reading.

Poetry speaks through figurative language and metaphors. You don’t need to be a poet or have any intention of becoming one, but reading poetry captures images and language in a succinct style that enables any reader (and writer) to explore sensory perception with sharp precision.

Paintings or photographs can be read for theme, story, and image. When we "see" the effect of micro-scenes, we can then apply the insights to ourselves, and writers can adapt the techniques to fictional scenes, therefore deepening their effect. When we read non-fiction, we can re-experience their personal presence for ourselves.

Dreams by Langston Hughes

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow

Briefly journal these questions as an initial response.

A. Have you ever had to defer a dream? (define)
B. What did it feel like? What images stay with you?
C. How did you respond more to the explicit or implicit images?
D. Two prominent images are the broken-winged bird and the barren field. What are some feelings you associate with these images?

Action Steps:

1.     Read Mary Oliver’s poem “The Journey” from her collection Dream Work.
(One link can be found at

2.     Go back through it and write down all the words that you identify with your own feelings.

3.     Take each word or phrase you choose and write the words in a scattered pattern in different colors on a sheet of paper.

4.     What thought jumps out for you?

5.     In what ways does her poem or thoughts connect with Langston Hughes’s poem?

Share: What emotional resonance do you most identify with in this poem? Why?

                                                            Read deep, marcy

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