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This is inspiring! Andrew has taken the steps I’ve been thinking about. He’s moving from writer to publisher, and from what I’ve read on his blog, is doing so to continue writing and sharing his work with more people. Check out the contest! 500 words could bring you $150 and publication.

adoptingjames

Time’s ticking.

We want to make sure everyone knows to get their 500-word short stories in by February 25th to not only win $150, but to get published. Here’s how it works and what this is for… (if you already know the details, save yourself some time and go ahead and reblog this or share this on Twitter/Facebook for all your writers’ circles).

I’ve started a publishing company called Endever Publishing Studios. The ideas behind it are pretty awesome and if you’re interested in ever being published, you might want to take a look at this five-minute video.

We want to remain a debt-free business from the start, so we’re hosting a writing contest to raise funds for the company. The first $150 we receive will be awarded to the winner.

The winner will be chosen after we choose three finalists to post here on this blog as well as on

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The New Education

New Education? Is there yet another form of cramming useless information into student’s heads? No.

This is simply new to me. My old education was to study for tests, learn to spell the words, walk in a line, and get the grade — all of which are good things. But they aren’t great things. And I want greatness for myself, for my children, for my community.

I’m not bashing schools here, but once a family has seen the power of good homeschooling, public or even private schools can’t compete. But therein lies the challenge: implementing a homeschooling plan to have that sustaining power for excellence.

It’s up to me to find that power, to meet that challenge, and then to instill a desire in my children to join me on this journey of self-education.

That is the new education: Self-Education.

I’m certain that when a person reads that term — Self-Education — a variety of definitions surface. For me and mine, it means reading as much as possible. It means associating with people who are doing the same (not easy to find, by the way). Self-Education means having clear goals of where I want to go and then making a map backward to where I am. My task at that point is simple — follow the map.

I don’t remember where I read it, but someone who has already reached the heights of Self-Education asked several poignant questions:

When did your formal education stop?

Was it at your high school graduation? College Graduation?

Do you continue to study your career, your hobby, people skills?

Or did you stop learning when you completed your formal education?

I was a embarrassed. While I was a Language Arts teacher for four short years, I had pretty much stopped learning. I read the books my students read, prepared lesson plans, and made it to the end of each school day. I didn’t do much of anything to enhance my own education. I read all about what to expect when I was expecting, but to be honest, I looked at the pictures and read a few paragraphs each week. I never read a book on parenting when my daughters were little. When I started writing, I did just that…just started writing. It wasn’t until I hit a wall with my story (which was a ridiculous story!) that I finally admitted that I didn’t know everything and turned to the experts.

As we launched our homeschooling adventure, I read the books my children read. I didn’t do any in-depth research on curriculum because I had already taught school, had two degrees in education, and experience. With that mindset, we began homeschooling and my self-education truly began.

I realized how little I knew and how much I had learned that wasn’t true in a homeschooling environment (i.e. classroom management is a semester-long class to help teachers deal with transitions, discipline, and herding children through the school and throughout the day without losing anyone).

What I slowly realized was that, as a homeschooling parent, I needed lesson plans that included what was for lunch and dinner. The first vocabulary and spelling lists I made for my new readers were grocery lists. We sorted laundry by color. Then we counted how many items of clothing would fit in the wash machine. That’s math, right? We read books all the time. I lost my voice so often in those first years of homeschooling from all the reading aloud!

My old education didn’t prepare me for adulthood. There was a point in my early thirties when I realized that most of my big days (graduation, births of children, great accomplishments) were likely behind me. There was nothing to strive for, no brass ring in my grasp. I was on a merry-go-round and I wanted off.

Seeking wisdom, I turned to books. Novels. Through the stories, I enjoyed the vicarious quest and felt a little fulfillment, but that invigorating thrill of adventure ended at the last page. I knew I needed something more. My husband and I made five- and ten-year goals and started working toward them. Twelve years later, we have accomplished everything on those lists. It was time for something new.

My answer: Self-Education. I would study. I would read difficult books. I would apply the principles of valid self-help books (I hate that term, but by using it, you know what I mean) and see if I could mentor my children through high school.

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The kid’s bookshelf. They have read far more than I have.

Before starting, I knew that I would need some kind of a report card or score board to track my progress, to keep me accountable, to start to recognize a pattern in my reading. I didn’t do anything fancy. Just bought a new journal to write a response to everything I read. Each month, I make a list of 4-5 books that I plan on reading. Usually, I will include a book about education, a people-skills book, a book about writing, a book that has been recommended to me by a friend, and a novel. I save the novel for last. If I don’t read the first four books before the end of the month, I don’t allow myself to read the novel. If, by the end of the month I’ve read all the books, I give myself the freedom to read another novel.

I’ve been actively working through this self-education project for over a year – June 1st 2015 was my first anniversary. I am a better wife (The Five Love Languages) and a better parent (Personality Plus). World history is connecting the dots in my head as to where our country was and where it seems to be heading (1776, The Constitution of the United States, The Federalist Papers, the writings of Ben Franklin and Mark Twain). I’m a better friend, daughter, and sister because I’m learning about people and how to more effectively communicate. I learned the most in that area from the book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, a book I think is poorly named. I avoided reading it for years because I don’t want to win friends, I want to be a good friend. I don’t want to influence people, I hope to inspire them. So, if you, like me, judged that book based on the title, don’t. It should really be titled: How to be a Friend and a Champion for Others.

My mentors in this project have encouraged me beautifully, telling me that they see huge improvements in a variety of areas. But I haven’t been told that by people who I knew before I started. I’m not seeking approval, but finding joy in the fact that any truly remarkable changes that I can make in and for myself all have to start within. Eventually, when I’ve done the work consistently and over time, the results will start to be obvious.

Driving Change

I normally drive a minivan. As the vehicle suggests, I have more than one child. As such, driving has become the ultimate practice in perfecting multi-tasking. I can drive 70 mph, listen to my children talk, and not lose my way. That, however, is a skill limited to my minivan and to the destinations that are a weekly/monthly occurrence. Otherwise, the fluidity of my multi-tasking stalls. Literally.

 

The other day, instead of driving my van, I used our economy car; the vehicle that gets 38 miles per gallon. It’s a manual transmission and it completely messed with my zen.

 

At the first stop sign, I stalled. At the second stop sign, I stalled. At the third stop sign, I almost stalled. I’m glad to say, that I was starting to catch on. For the next several miles, I had to think about shifting into the correct gear. But the ride home was different. I didn’t stall at all. I shifted without thinking. I made it home and struggled to open the door because the latch is in a different place in the car than it is in the van.

 

Later that afternoon, I drove the van and nearly crashed when I used the brake pedal as a clutch.

 

It started me thinking about change and new habits. As the New Year approaches with its tradition of trying to make ourselves new by committing to resolutions that a small percentage of the population actually follows through with, I contemplated what success really means.

 

If I decide to never eat chocolate again (I already know that this is not my resolution, just throwing out an idea), but I lapse into old habits of having a piece of dark chocolate after lunch, then have I failed my New Year’s Resolution? Or did I momentarily stall?

 

If I failed, then I forget about improved health and lower blood sugars. If I stalled, then I shift back into the correct gear and try again.

 

I’d rather stall than quit. If I’m driving, I can’t just quit. I would never get to my destination. If only New Year’s Resolutions had clear destinations.

 

Different habits require time and allowances for failing. That isn’t to say that we can fail because we know we will have a ‘do-over’, but we take our failures as a means to pave the way to a new habit, a new success, a new vehicle that will take us where we want to be.

wpid-0210150807b.jpgI wish I had known that when I was young and choosing a direction for my life. The purpose of Life is to live life on purpose. The ol’ woulda-coulda-shoulda mentality can really bring a soul down. Regardless of my wishes for the past, the only direction my life has ever gone is forward. So forward thinking it is!

 

Discovering my purpose in life grew out of a series of failed purposes. I believe that is the truth for 99% of the world’s population. We saw this and tried it. Failed. We saw that, gave it a go and it didn’t work out. We pouted, complained, then tried something different. Somehow, we survived all that and realize that without a goal in mind, any blind attempt is like trying to keep raindrops in the clouds.

 

Before I even thought about purposes in life, I lived just to live. I played, went to school because I had to, made friends and lost friends. I was extraordinarily below-average in my preparation for life.

 

The first time I even thought about a purpose for my life was when I was told to choose a career. As I think about that, I’m saddened. Not only was this the first time I was encouraged to think about my future, but the person hired by the school to help me choose the path of my future spent a grand 30 minutes with me. That’s it.  No one offered any idea that there was something beyond a career; as if having a career would create in me that missing piece of my soul. I truly believed that when I had my degree in hand, I would finally BE someone. The impression was – and still is – that until I had a career, specified job training, a paycheck, then and only then would I arrive. Imagine my disappointment when I had those things and was still below average. My arrival onto the job scene was less than stellar.

Careers are not identities. Here are a few conversations about careers vs. purpose:

I am a teacher.

You are a woman or a man who believes in ( this ) and practices ( that ) and laughs hysterically at ( the other ). What do you do?

I teach Algebra.

Let me stop you there. You can’t teach. It’s up to the student to learn. You can SHARE information. You can INSPIRE genius. The idea that everything you say or demonstrate in a classroom is learned…well, we know that’s not the case.

Got it. I inspire the future generations to look at learning as a way of life, not just a period of their lives which ends at graduation.

You are an inspiration! Way to go!

 

I am an engineer.

No. You devise plans for things and sit in on countless meetings.

That’s true, but without my patent, this blankety-blank wouldn’t be as great.

Awesome! You have a patent. That doesn’t happen often. How will it change the world?

[crickets]

How are you going to change the world?

[crickets]

Back to the drawing board.

 

I am a student.

Yes! What are you learning?

I’m in Law School.

Excellent! To what end will you use your law degree?

To bring justice to the world. To right wrongs. To write new laws that reflect a Christian world-view. To help families reunite, to find families for foster children…

I will pray for you. May your task be fruitful! May you overcome the worldly attitudes that squash joy.

 

I’m a student too! I’m at the University of ThisGreatState!

:) What are you studying?

Business.

How will you use that to better the world and your family?

Um…I will make money to feed my family. I’ll take them on great vacations and we will drive nice cars. My kids will go to a great school. I’ll be able to provide for their needs.

That is the American Dream. How will you continue your education after graduation?

What?

What books are on your ‘to-read’ list?

Um…after I graduate, I don’t have to read.

[sigh]

 

At some point in my life, I’ve been in on all of those conversations.  Purpose in life begins as a dream, is born on the sweat of hard work, and becomes a reality when character development is based on sound principles and morals.

I want to live intentionally. I don’t want my life to be a happenstance chain of events that lead to nothing meaningful. The fact that I’m a parent does not guarantee that my life has purpose. Yes, I’ve added to the legacy of the human race, but any fool with working parts can do that. The true legacy of parenthood happens when mothers and fathers forget just doing a good or even a great thing. Purposeful living happens only when we reach for excellence. Anything less leads to nowhere.

 

Just as God made us all to have different preferences, He also made us to have different purposes. Scripture tells us that “As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also, Christ.” (1 Corinthians 12:12) “Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it.” (1 Cor. 12:27) For example, we can’t expect our foot to chew our food, nor our knees to see our way through the house – and based on the bruise on my knee from walking through my living room in the dark, it’s a total failure! Just the same, we are all given different purposes to accomplish different things, but for the same good.

 

What can you do today and in the next week that will change the course of your walk toward a future that has purpose? I will pray for you that you spend time in reflective prayer to discover this direction.

 

Need a list of purposes to reflect upon? Here you go:

 

Counsel the doubtful.

Instruct the ignorant.

Admonish the sinner.

Comfort the sorrowful.

Forgive all injuries.

Bear wrongs patiently.

Pray for the living and the dead.

(Spiritual Works of Mercy)

 

Feed the hungry.

Give drink to the thirsty.

Clothe the naked.

Shelter the homeless.

Visit the sick.

Visit the imprisoned.

Bury the dead.

(Corporal Works of Mercy)

 

Go start an excellent legacy. As the saying goes, “When is the best time to plant a tree? Ten years ago. When is the second best time? Today.”

 

 

The trend of literature has changed the world. Centuries ago, only the wealthy had books – big, beautiful books with wooden covers, gold inlay hand-drawn illustrations. You know, the product of Monks who dedicated their lives to preserving the Word of God by copying entire Bibles by hand.

The printing press brought forth the days of more affordable books, mass printing, and a surge in the market for the printed word. Not only did the printing press spread the Word of God, but it also increased the need to learn to read. Up until this point, royalty and the upper class families were the only people privileged to be taught how to read and write. With printing presses distributing not only books, but pamphlets as well, the need to read spread across Europe like wildfire. History tells us that the production of Bibles increased as printing books because easier. Even now, the Bible remains on the best seller list.

With print-on-demand, self-publishing, bookstores, online bookstores, personal computers built into our phones and connected to the World Wide Web, reading is not only a privilege, but an expectation.

Sadly, along with the expectation of reading well, society has lost sight of good reading materials.

I admit I’m puzzled by the surge in Teen romance. Really? As if being a teenager wasn’t difficult enough, books are now proponents of romance for hearts and souls who’ve been driving for six months or less. Do you remember what romance was in high school? Was it simple holding hands between class or were you ‘encouraged’ to be a more active lover?

That would suggest that the teen years are for anything other than learning who you are by establishing a strong faith-foundation, diving into studies, learning to be a good friend, and making plans for your future.

Focus on that future.

If, by the time a teenager reaches 19 years old and they have had more partners than zits, what can they expect in their future? If they don’t already have a child or two, they likely have an abortion or two in their medical history. If that’s the case, then you can add depression and suicidal thoughts to the mix. Along with selling teen romance as entertainment comes the super-sized bonus that these young adults will be not able to maintain a healthy relationship with anyone.

In interviewing three young girls, these are comments I recorded: “Marriage? That whole husband-and-wife-thing is getting old-fashioned. Why would I commit myself to one person for my entire life? Who wants to lose that spice of getting to know someone? I love that first kiss, there’s nothing like it.”wedding

The fact that I love being married, have been married for 17 years, and would give every drop of my blood to my husband if I needed to, all that means nothing to these girls. They’ve never seen a committed relationship. They read romance-twaddle and find the love stories on TV to be the law of the land and not just low-standard entertainment.

With the low cost of books, self-publishing, with the thousand different cable channels offering dial-a-smut choices, it’s no wonder that these girls are not alone in this thinking.

And that’s where writers can save the world.

If you are a writer, what is the purpose behind your storytelling? Is it to sell sex? Looking to show the world how horrible life can really be? Do you just love a good vampire story – you know, the kind of tale where someone has sold their soul to obtain perpetual youth?

Is the purpose behind your writing to simply entertain? Great. What are the hidden messages in your story? Do your characters make bad choices? Of course they do – or there would be no story. Is there a greater good in your work? If we can see what kind of people we are by the choices we make, we can logically deduce what kind of person are you by the words you write.

I intend to save the world by writing stories that entertain, yes, but also teach faith-filled truths. Especially in the fantasy genre, there are means to share faith, to offer hope, to show that faith isn’t an old fashioned ideal. The world needs people with integrity. With every word I speak and with every sentence I write, I strive to be one of them. How about you? Can you sacrifice the popular genres to tell the stories that could save a life?

These questions are not easy to ask. They will not be easy to answer. They will be even more difficult to achieve.

It’s true that this post will offend many. I won’t apologize for being offensive because despite how some will react, my intent is not to be offensive…only thought provoking.

 

 

Let me preface this post with a statement. “If I can do it, so can you.”

 

That’s what I tell people who express awe when they learn that we homeschool our children and that I write books – If I can do it, so can you.

 

It’s not that everyone should write a book (although everyone should keep a journal), or that every parent should homeschool their children. The idea in the statement is that if there is something you really want to do, figure out how to do it. Some days my greatest goal is to finish the laundry. Other days, my family would love it if my life’s ambition was to cook dinner.

 

Here’s a formula I learned from Bob McEwen (CD, Freedom Matters, Life Leadership) : S = I + A

 

Success = Information + Action

 

The success I have achieved is a direct result of information I’ve gleaned from a variety of sources which I then put into action. I will follow that statement with this: The greater success I am striving for is from specific information I am harvesting from others who have the success I desire which I will put into action.

 

While I am talking about success, I don’t feel that I’m there. Where is ‘there’? Not here, where I’m working. Here is on the path to there as long as I remain focused. As I’m writing this, I am home alone for the day for the sole purpose of dedicating my day to writing. It’s easy to focus in a quiet home. I think that’s how most people view a writer’s life, solitary genius with a massive desk, a towering book shelf, and inspiring music in the background. The reality is far from picturesque. I usually work at the kitchen table surrounded by the noise of four homeschooled children. Despite the lack of romantic appeal to my journey, it is my journey and I am striving each day to find my success within that (joyfully) noisy environment.

 

That’s all I’m doing: uncovering success by putting action behind excellent information. My information is about writing, the time period I write about, the language of storytelling, and even the nature of marketing. Success in writing is not a result of inspiration, but dedication to a schedule.

 

To await inspiration is to die a dusty death. To hunger for success is only step one. Satisfying that hunger requires a recipe (S=I+A, in case you forgot). It’s that simple.

 

As soon as I say that, the excuses start pouring in: “But I have children.” “I have a full-time job.” “I don’t have a job, so I can’t afford to work toward my dream.” “I’m too old.” “I’m too young.” “I’m not smart enough.”

 

Inspiration never comes to those with excuses. If you believe something is true, then it is. If you believe you are too old to do something, you are. But don’t tell that to the octogenarians who climb mountains or start new businesses, or to the teenagers who launch multi-million dollar ideas (think Facebook).

 

If you set a goal and work to meet it, the excuses fall away like winter coats in spring. I had a goal of writing a book. In the process of meeting that goal I had three children, adopted a fourth, and chose to homeschool them all. In that time of fifteen years, I’ve not written one book, but fourteen. Some have been published, others will be, some will never see a reader. Regardless, each and every word I have written or typed has brought me closer to my goal. I share that not to say, “Oh, look at me and what I’ve done!” but to say, “Hey, if I have been able to do this, so can you!”

 

That’s the side-effect of not awaiting inspiration but going out and making something happen…it will. Then what will you do? Make a new goal. A loftier goal. A seemingly unachievable goal, until you set aside the naysayers and just go and make it happen.

 

It all comes down to this: I realized years ago that life is racing to the finish. I had been living my life as if I had a thousand years (Thank you Marcus Aurelius for that quote!). Every morning I must decide if I’m going to work toward something greater than myself for succumb to the drudgery that has our society in its tightening grip. What would happen if you stopped making a living and starting building a life? What dream would you accomplish? How would your life change? What would you inspire in others? Don’t await inspiration. Go be an inspiration.

 

 

If you look at the date of my last post, it’s been a few months since I’ve posted a blog. Not that the world can’t continue without the musings of Jessica Schaub (there are far too many opinions on the web anyway), but the lack of blog posting reflects a reality common among all homeschooling mothers: We are too busy to do what we want.

When I read that statement over, I cringe. It sounds harsh. Selfish. Whiney. I can be all those things, but I don’t mean that only homeschooling mothers are busy, just that I’m a busy homeschooling mom who feels the pinch of helping other people at the expense of my own hobbies and passions. I also don’t intend that statement to make mothers sound stuck in that rut. If I know anything to be true, it’s that mothers need other mothers as friends, confidants, and prayer partners. No woman can be a mother alone and those who are not mothers, try as they might, can’t understand the full scope of what it means. Even within mothers, there is just a vast scope of experiences: terminally ill children, learning disabilities, autism, bullying, divorce, and mental illness.

Motherhood is not a stagnant vocation. It ebbs and flows with the needs of others. There are meals to plan, shoes to tie, sleep to lose. How do those great moms do it? How do they just make it to the end of the day without copious amounts of coffee, wine or chocolate? (or all three?) My answer is not a full answer, but it does feel like a good start.

Rivers.

Yep. Rivers.

The image of a river has come to my attention several times. From bible verses to inspirational quotes on Pinterest, the analogies I can draw from the picture of a river are nearly endless.

I was recently discussing parenting and motherhood this with my husband and how that determines where we are in life, not just our skill as a parent. The more I thought about it, the more meaningful the analogy of the river of motherhood became.

Are you the water in the river? Do you go with the flow, riding out every rush, every stagnant corner, following the crowd to whatever destination is at the end?

 

Or are you the river bank, watching the action from the (supposedly) safe sideline? Are you a muddy bank, steep in your convictions to not become a part of the rushing waters? Watch out for mudslides.

 

Are you that giant boulder planted firmly in the center of the river, stubbornly resisting change and forcing everything that comes near you to get out of the way?

 

Are you the tree on the edge of the river gripping the bank tightly as to not fall in, but gaining the nourishing waters from the current?

 

Are the fallen tree that landed in the river and is now collecting debris?

 

Are you a slow, muddy river whose surface is difficult to see through? Are you a crystal-clear stream with light trickling noises as your water slides over a pebble-bed?

 

Are you a white-rapids river, daring rafters and kayaks to survive?

 

Are you a tributary river? A Delta? An Amazon?

 

Are you the Nile and you flood the surrounding area with life-sustaining nutrients?

 

I do not believe anyone can be stuck as one type of river. As we grow, we move from stagnant waters to rapids, from the watchful tree to the fallen debris-collecting corpse of wood. For today, however, I will be a river of change, moving toward a specific place. As Steven Covey says, “Begin with the end in mind.” While true rivers happen as a result of weather and land formations, I will begin today with a sunny disposition and the goal of moving mountains. I will be the river that charges toward the valley, picking up nutrients in the soil, carving the landscape, creating beautiful music as I determinedly move forward.

Yesterday I may have been a puddle, a stagnant collection of water left from a downpour, which will, in a few months, be frozen solid. (I live in Michigan).

Last week I had a day of responding to the world like a slow, mildew river. After a torrent of raining prayer, I was refreshed and filled with new energy.

Tomorrow? Perhaps I will be like a waterfall that washes away all the clutter in my home.

Yes. That sounds perfect!

wpid-0710151654a.jpgI have wondered at the infatuation with Zombie novels and movies. As a believer of living life to its fullest, the idea of being intrigued by the walking dead has left me puzzled. Wanting to be slightly informed, but cautiously aware that I’m the type that would probably really enjoy a good zombie movie, I watched World War Z last week. Based on the expressions of various friends and acquaintances who have equally various opinions on zombies, I’ve either gone over the edge or I’ve wasted my time with a glorified-yet-disappointing movie.

Either way, I have a feeling that I haven’t truly experienced a true zombie. To be honest, that is okay with me. From my limited knowledge of a zombie apocalypse, it’s a plague that drives zombies to bite healthy individuals. In the movie, the plague killed first, then within 11 or 12 seconds, the bitten rose to spread the disease. The faces of the zombies were distorted with bulging eyes, snarling lips and a hunger to devour others. When left without noise or stimulation, they became listless, wandering from room to room with no purpose.

Zombies sound like an antagonist of fantasy literature.

Actually, they are real.

I saw a young mother at the grocery store who leaned heavily on her shopping cart, moseying up and down the aisles, staring blankly at the items on the shelf. When her child whined for snacks, her lips curled into a sneer and she launched cruel words toward the toddler.

During a visit to the mall, a swarm of zombies lurched around the shoppers, biting into the souls of others with snide remarks about that one being too old, that one being too fat. Within seconds, those within ear-shot withered into piles of nothing.

The walk of a person who had come to the mall with a purpose was instantly replaced with the wounded crawl of defeat. Employees can be zombies. They thirst of money and power and success. Their eyes bulge with desires for these things, their calendars are riddled with meetings and appointments that direct them away from their real hopes and toward the desires of a society without a purpose.

The expression of a child watching a video is reminiscent of a zombie expression. Childhood – and all of life – is not to be wasted living someone else’s adventures.

Parents can be zombies. The disease of striving for success while not having a meaningful purpose is a plague. Are we working at something we love? Or are we working to keep a roof over our children’s heads? A recent study revealed that the average father gazes into the eyes of his children for less than 38 seconds a day? But how many hours does that same man watch TV or play video games? Talk about a zombie! This mind-set is a disease. It’s a bleak landscape that offers no life-giving fruit. It’s a life without hope, a life without purpose. Is there a cure? Yes.

Fight the disease of purposelessnessitis. (I know that’s not a word, but it should be. Our society is plagued with it!)

 

Find a mission.

 

Seek a purpose.

 

Align your mission and purpose in a career.

 

Each day find something that is living and gaze at it. A child’s eyes. A blooming flower. A radiant sunset (okay, that’s not living, but there is atomic energy in that sun).

sunset-morrisionlake I am not immune to the plague of zombies in this world, but I will also actively seek a cure. I believe the cure is found outside, by talking with other living souls, or inside a book. I’m no longer puzzled by the idea of zombies. For some, it’s a fad genre that is entertaining. For others, perhaps death feels more appealing than living. That’s backwards. It really is. LIVE backwards is evil. Live life. We have it only once and for a short time. Why waste it on walking around like the dead?

The lessons for children of how to act in public, how to treat friends, which manners are appropriate for the bathroom but not the dining room table are endless. It would be lovely to say that there will come a day when my children will know all the rules, but that day won’t ever arrive. Why? Because as an adult, I still don’t know all the rules.

 If faced with a formal dining set of multiple forks and spoons, I would need instruction as to which to pick up first. I’m still reading books about writing, public speaking, personal relationships, cookbooks, and homeschooling. I’ve been living as a married woman for seventeen years, so it would seem that my personal relations and communication skills would be top notch. Not so. I’ve homeschooled my children for ten years, and taught school for 6 years before that, so I should know everything about education, right? Nope. I’ve only recently enlisted in a self-education challenge; learning everything I really need to know about life but wasn’t taught in school.

The truth about education is that it has very little to do with how well a child reads or how quickly they can answer one hundred multiplication problems. Education is more about the teacher helping the student learn who they are, how they learn and how to learn.

It was in this educational atmosphere of trying to learn with my children about our faith that I stumbled across a line from Matthew Kelly that I truly believe will save lives.

 

Just do the next right thing.

 

That’s it. Just do the next right thing. It’s so simple, it’s easy to remember. Is it easy to put into practice? Not usually.

 

For example, a parent is struggling to bring her children to church. With claims of being bored during the service and being denied sleep just to go, she’s at a loss. Should she threaten to not feed them until they have attended Mass? Should she sign them up for a volunteering group at the church so they have more fun and meet more people? Should she just go on her own and hope that while she’s worshiping the Lord and her children are sleeping, she’s somehow inspiring them to attend?

 

If this sounds like you, I don’t have a solution. But just do the next right thing. The circumstances always change, but the principles of what is right never do.

 

In the last 24 hours, I’ve paid closer attention to difficult moments by keeping the “Just do the next right thing” idea on my mind. I wrote it on my hand to help me remember. When my son challenged my authority by speaking to me disrespectfully about having to help with the dishes, I wanted to yell at him. But I know that yelling isn’t right, as it makes me lose my posture as a parent. Instead, I told him that if he didn’t help wash the dishes, that was fine. He would eat off the same dirty plate until he did.

He helped.

Laundry is another sore spot for this momma. It’s everywhere. It’s never completely finished. It’s not a good idea to go around naked, so I don’t see an end to this problem any time soon. When I walked into my children’s bedroom, there were five full baskets of clothes. No one could tell me which baskets were filled with clean laundry and which ones needed to be washed. One daughter suggested that her sister should smell the clothes to determine which was which. Needless to say, the sister didn’t go for it. Another sibling suggested that they just wash all the clothes again. I wondered aloud how that was going to solve the problem as it isn’t the washing part that they struggle with, but the putting away. I also reminded that that it was movie night and the room must be clean before 7:00 PM if they wanted to watch all of the movie.

What was the next right thing I did? I talked them through the problem (laundry) and listened to their solutions, guiding them to a resolution that helped them meet the goal of being able to watch the movie that night. I suppose you are wondering what their solution was. The answer is, I don’t know. The next right thing for me to do was to walk away and let them figure it out together.

This line is becoming the tag line to difficult situations. We are repeating it often, applying it as a family with the hope that when we are faced with really difficult situations, the right thing will be more obvious.

To those who like to spark new discussions: I could get into an entire discussion about what is right and what is wrong. There is an argument that will likely never be resolved and objective vs. subjective truth lies in the middle. Despite any potential disagreements concerning what is right or wrong, the main focus with the “Just do the next right thing” idea is that you choose the right thing based on your information at the moment.  

I think this would be a very interesting discussion to have. But for now, I’m going to do the next right thing and make dinner for the children who are staring at me with hungry faces :)

 

Yesterday, the idea of expectations was brought to my attention several times. In reading Writing 21st Century Fiction by Donald Maass, he stated:

“Start with each scene, chapter, or other unit you use to break up your manuscript. Rate the following: external actions, expectations vs. what happens, discovery, and change. Making a scene “better,” “tighter,” or “punchier” is an okay intention, but it’s imprecise. A more reliable path to high impact is to focus on the effect you seek. You’ll get it by directing expectations, building an emotional roadbed, working out what your characters will discover about themselves, and making sure that at the end something is distinctly different.” (page 57)

Because I had read this and managed to go through just a few scenes of my current manuscript, the idea of expectations was on my mind. Several moments throughout the day surprised me.

At Lowe’s, my youngest daughter said, “I want my new room to look like a princess room, a castle!” A slight pause, “Or like the Avengers headquarters.”

We rented the movie Into the Woods. By the cover, it looked like the typical broken fairy tale. Just the kind of movie I love. With several well-known actors cast, I actually drove a little further to rent it from a Redbox because for two weeks, the Redbox nearest us hadn’t carried it. Turns out, it’s a musical. You probably knew that. I hadn’t a clue. It wasn’t a goofy Mary Poppins style, but a little dark, fast-paced musical. Twists in the plot, unexpected deaths, and a Prince Charming who was “more charming than sincere,” I was surprised by the vast emotions it stirred. I laughed so hard I missed several lines, I cried at the lyrics in the songs sung by the mothers in the story, and I wondered if this was a waste of time or if watching the movie would improve my life. It was so unexpected, so gritty and yet so musical, I was entranced. Finding something entrancing is rarely a waste.

That is the trick to being effective – delivering the unexpected. I’m not advocating springing something unexpected just for the sake of shock or surprise (I picture reality TV, and I picture it in a mostly negative nature), but to strive to be effectively unexpected.

As a mother, I can create a unexpected and memorable memory for my children by setting aside the school work and household chores and spending the day on a city-wide exploration for the best playground. As a friend, I can surprise loved ones with a fully prepared dinner. As a writer, I can turn a character’s behavior on its head with a simple unexpected line, gesture, or decision.

As a blogger? I don’t know. This is a new concept for me. Give me time :)

A word of caution. Throwing the unexpected out – in writing or any other art form – can be a very distasteful flare if not done well and will class. The world is full of entertainment that casts out bits of surprises for shock value. Shock value never has moral value. Moral values are what the world is thirsty for. Let’s give the world what it needs instead of what sells. How’s that for a twist?

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