You Might Mess Up

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I have an embarrassing story to tell you.

The other day, I auditioned for a musical performance with a local theater company. I’m a decent singer and actor, so I figured I had a shot. Unfortunately, the show involved tap dancing, which I’d never attempted. Truthfully, I’m not a great dancer, but I gave it a try.

It was, simply put, an unequivocal disaster.

That tap audition reminded me of some very vivid and terrifying dreams from my past, in which I’m standing on an empty stage while an audience stares at me in silence, and I can’t remember any of my lines or even the name of my character. I made a fool of myself in front of a roomful of people, surrounded by mirrors, wearing the wrong shoes.

You don’t want to face the reality that you might fail. I know. Neither do I.

You don’t want to face the reality that you might fail.

I’ll admit that failure does feel pretty awful … for a little while. After that, you laugh.

Let’s take a brief look at my biggest mistakes: blowing things out of proportion. Getting way too worked up about small issues. Letting my emotions run amuck. Delaying out of fear and indecision. Speaking hastily; saying too much; snapping at someone who doesn’t deserve it; flinging cruel words at the people I love — I’ve done these and more.

Would I list my recent tap audition among those failures? No, probably not. In my experience, many of my most shameful mistakes occur because I dread some supposedly worse outcome. Ironically, my resistance to failure often becomes my greatest sin.

“What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?”

She greeted me, a nervous stranger, during the preview weekend for Colorado Christian University, before I became an official student. Her question made me uncomfortable.

“Um … I don’t know. Write a book, I guess.”

“So why don’t you write a book?”

“Um … I don’t know. It probably wouldn’t be any good.”

There it was: the fear. I didn’t want to begin because I might mess up.

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You will mess up. I wish that you and I could take a deep breath together, accept the inevitable mistakes that await us in the future, grieve for a moment, and then relax. You won’t gain anything by avoiding failure, but you could miss out on a lot of joy. Maybe you should ask yourself which would bother you more: messing up or missing out.

I’d hazard a guess that messing up won’t hurt as much as you think it will. Either way, since no one can avoid mistakes altogether, you might as well give yourself a break. That tap audition bruised my ego, sure, but my life didn’t end. Honestly, it’s empowering to discover that I can handle a little bit of failure. Plus, now I have an uncomfortably amusing anecdote to share.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

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The Only Kind of Art that Matters

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Consume that which drives you to create.

My most artistic friend had invited me to the Van Gogh exhibit at the Denver art museum, so we swapped dressy outfits and went on a date. Everyone mistook us for sisters, anyway, so we figured we might as well wear the same clothes. College classmates had even tagged us in the wrong Facebook photos, confusing Alyssa for me.

One poor kid named Curtis never got our names right in four years at a small school.

Anyway, we stood in line to view a small selection of original works, some iconic and others less recognizable. Apparently, none of Van Gogh’s art would have qualified as famous in his day, since most people hated his paintings until after he died. Then, near the end of a dim hallway, I stopped in front of a cluster of purple aspens.

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He must have seen the trees near the edge of dusk, just before total darkness descended, to imagine so much purple in the shadows. He must have ached just to see them. He must have felt so deeply sad. He must have been longing for something, to paint them that way. I knew because I felt it, too. To me, he hadn’t painted merely a grove of trees. He had captured a mood that spoke from the canvas to my gut, and suddenly I needed to write.

Now, you should understand that I knew absolutely nothing about painting. I had gone to this exhibit for no other reason than to spend a fun evening with a friend … but staring at that image, I felt impatient to express myself, almost fidgety with a childlike urgency to play. Since I knew words better than a paintbrush, I wanted to get back in the car and drive immediately to the journal by my bedside.

The best kind of art inspires more art.

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The best kind of art inspires more art.

Inspiration goes way beyond temporary chills. True inspiration culminates in creative activity. Real art propels you toward your own form of artistic expression. Find that kind.

Today, I can’t find those purple aspens online. Maybe I remember the details wrong. Maybe Van Gogh didn’t even paint it! Memory does funny things — but picturing those trees, right now, I feel the same drive to create: a physical sensation in my diaphragm, spreading through my arms into my fingers. Five years later, I wrote this blog post because the artist shaped my opinion of the true purpose of art.

Seek out the kind of art that moves you to creative action. Don’t settle for passive entertainment or escapist distractions. Pay attention when inspiration strikes you in unlikely places, and then respond in your own way. I did this. You could photograph, draw, tell, dance, sing, film, act, or a thousand other marvelous things.

Who knows? The art that you create just might inspire someone else.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

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You’re Doing a Good Job

I’m going to say this again because you need to hear it:

You’re doing a good job.

Keep going. Don’t get discouraged; don’t give up. Right now, you can’t see the progress because you’re too close to the situation. I promise you’re becoming something beautiful.

Recently my husband and I have been working on communicating better about a few hot-button topics, and it’s been rough. After three years of marriage, I noticed that we tended to repeat the same arguments, and every time those issues came up, things got a little more heated. It had finally gotten to the point where we weren’t talking about those subjects any more. We were only fighting about them. Something had to give.

We started trying to develop some healthier habits, but the process was extremely emotional. I came close to quitting because I didn’t see any difference. (Just to clarify, I considered giving up on the habits, not the marriage. We love each other a lot and are committed for life. Didn’t want you to worry.) Then, over the holidays, my sister made a passing comment about how happy and connected we seemed. It took me by surprise.

Really? We seem happy and connected?

Since then I’ve noticed it myself, but at the time my family’s encouragement gave me the boost I needed to keep trying. That’s what I’m praying this blog post does for you.

Now, because we’re sinful human beings in need of a Savior, I do need to acknowledge the possibility that you’re not doing a good job. Maybe you’re giving in to your fears. Maybe you’re harboring unresolved bitterness.

Believe me, I’ve been there. Back when I resisted marrying my husband, I knew perfectly well that I was allowing fear to rule me … but recognizing my failure didn’t help. After all, I didn’t want to give in to anxiety. At the time, I honestly didn’t feel like I had control. In that scenario, there’s only one thing to remember:

You may not be doing a good job, but Jesus is.

You may not be doing a good job, but Jesus is.

Looking back at my worst moments, God inevitably used them for my benefit. In that dark, dark season when I thought God had abandoned me, He was working toward a display of His glory that would leave me stunned. So if you’re not at your best currently, don’t sweat it. Trust God to be better. In the meantime, I’m here to reassure you that yes, you will get there eventually. Don’t lose heart.

I sincerely believe that right now, today, you are doing a good job. More importantly, however, your heavenly Father always does a good job — and He loves you so, so much.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. – Philippians 1:6 (NIV)

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Why Routines Are the Key to Progress

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Without routines, you will not achieve lasting change.

Think for a moment about the people you know who never seem to find success. Do they  get excited about new goals only to give up after a few weeks? In my experience, people who never learn consistency spend their lives feeling frustrated, unsatisfied, and stuck. You do not need to become one of those people.

All you need to do is the same thing, every day, for the rest of your life.

People who never learn consistency spend their lives feeling stuck.

If I may be vulnerable with you for a moment, standing still is probably my greatest fear.

Stagnation terrifies me because, in my weakest, most passive state, I don’t move forward. I never would have gone to college if my parents hadn’t pushed me. I couldn’t have married anyone less stubborn than my husband because no other man would have waited so long. For me, the status quo holds a lot of allure. I love routines because they save me from myself.

For me, the status quo holds a lot of allure.

A good routine guarantees eventual progress. A few minutes of practice every day at almost any skill will yield results over a lifetime. Routines help me to feel secure because I don’t need to worry about regressing. As long I persevere, I will continue to improve.

Now, please understand that routines do not guarantee perfection. They only ensure progress. As a recovering perfectionist, I know that my desire for perfection often destroys any chance at self-improvement because I don’t begin. Fear of failure keeps me from trying at all. When I do finally get started, I tend to waste all of my energy perfecting the first step and never reach the end.

Instead of attempting perfection, I want to be content with forward motion.

Right now, I’d like to move closer to Christ. It’s been a while since I maintained a solid routine of prayer and Bible study, and I’m afraid of missing out on Jesus. Maybe it sounds simplistic, but I’ve seen how graciously God responds when I extend a little effort. Sometimes I think Christians over-spiritualize their relationships with God. As with any human friendship, consistent communication builds stronger bonds.

You already know the routines that will propel you toward your goal. You also recognize when you need to switch things up so you don’t go completely crazy. I’m praying this post gives you the encouragement you need to keep going. Maybe you don’t see the progress right now, but sticking with something almost always works.

Routines tend to be boring. They’re hardly ever fun, entertaining, or exciting. They don’t always feel like progress in the moment, and they require a lot of dogged determination and tedious repetition. They’re also the only way to achieve lasting change.

Don’t give up.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

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How to Set Smaller Goals and Make More Progress

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I’m talking about ridiculously small goals … ones that feel so pathetically insignificant, you doubt that you’ll see any results at all.

Trust me. You will surprise yourself.

I had two problems: dishes piling up in the sink and laundry piling up on the floor. I wanted an empty sink and a clear carpet. Unfortunately, I also knew myself well enough not to attempt sudden, drastic improvements.

Instead, I set two goals that seemed embarrassingly easy: switch a load per day. For me, that meant moving dishes from the sink into the dishwasher and going to bed, not waiting for the cycle to finish. It meant transferring wet clothes into the dryer without worrying about folding. The next step could wait until tomorrow.

To my utter astonishment, within a few days, my sink emptied and my floor cleared. I didn’t procrastinate because my tiny goals didn’t feel daunting. As soon as I got home from work, I switched a load of dishes and switched a load of laundry.

It took about ten minutes, and my house became a much nicer place to live.

Not only did my baby steps turn into substantial progress, but I inadvertently tricked myself into becoming motivated. Since switching loads didn’t feel difficult, most nights I thought, “I could do a little more.” I’d spend a few extra minutes running upstairs to grab another armload of clothes or scrubbing a pot that didn’t fit in the dishwasher … because I wanted to keep working!

What sort of sorcery was this?

This probably shouldn’t have surprised me, but I discovered that most of my laziness stemmed from fear. I feared failure. By setting minuscule goals, I removed the intimidation factor, and suddenly I felt free to accomplish more. On the nights when I didn’t have the energy for anything extra, I went to sleep guilt-free because I had accomplished my minimum.

Most of my laziness stems from fear.

Here’s my advice: Choose a goal, and then divide it into pieces. Pick one piece, and start there. Maybe you want to get in shape. Instead of planning an hour-long workout, do sit-ups for five minutes before bed. Write 5 Minutes of Sit-Ups in your planner every day. It will feel silly. Do it anyway.

Little goals work better long-term because they’re so repeatable. Today, for instance, I’ll admit that there are dishes in the sink and laundry on the floor. I’m not overly discouraged, though, because I’ve seen how quickly small goals can become big progress–and I know I can do it again.

Start today with one small goal. When you lose the habit, start again. Don’t get discouraged. Over time, setting smaller goals will help you to develop confidence in your own ability to make lasting change. In my experience, that is the real victory.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

P.S. I’d love to hear how you break your goals into more manageable chunks!

Your Life Isn’t Boring

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I did not want to come home from Christmas vacation this year.

As my husband will attest, I grumped my way through long stretches of the thirteen-and-a-half hour drive through the snow from Deming, New Mexico to Littleton, Colorado. Going home meant returning to responsibility, which felt overwhelming. Dishes, laundry, cat litter, weary days at work, grocery shopping, lonely nights when my husband had to work late, and much-needed home repairs stretched before me with depressing certainty. I preferred to stay at his parents’ house, sleeping the mornings away and watching Christmas movies endlessly.

Then I actually got home.

Turns out, I missed my sweet kitties. It felt really good to exercise again. My stomach thanked me for a break from the rich food. I enjoyed my first days back at my job, and I discovered a fresh wave of motivation to get started on my goals for 2019. My husband even surprised me with Wicked tickets as an early anniversary gift, and then we watched a movie on the couch together.

So … what was I dreading, exactly?

Instead of boring, mundane, or difficult, my ordinary life turned out to be full of delightful moments. I loved my routines — even getting back to my own toothpaste made me smile. How had I forgotten so quickly? Feeling foolish, I found myself thanking God for this lovely life that I live.

My ordinary life turned out to be full of delightful moments.

Your life might not look anything like mine, but I’m guessing that you have plenty of reasons to appreciate your daily routines, too. Instead of complaining about tomorrow, maybe you could learn from my mistake and make up your mind to notice the little blessings. As I’m discovering, the day ahead is rarely as difficult as I imagine.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

An Exercise in Humility

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Hopefully no one will read this particular blog post because it’s a little embarrassing.

My boss asked us to come up with a few holiday promotion ideas for the radio station this year, and one of my coworkers suggested a charitable drive that might benefit veterans. The theme fit the station since the owner of our broadcasting company has frequently emphasized the horrifying statistics about veteran suicides in America.

I got on the phone with the founder of an organization called ACTS (A Community Taking a Stand) and asked if she had any needs that we could fill. She runs a 5-bedroom home where previously-homeless veterans live temporarily as they get back on their feet. She said yes: they needed cleaning supplies for the house. Another co-worker and myself created a list, printed a flier, and got a few of our advertising partners involved.

The response surprised us. Listeners and clients alike donated new pillows, blankets, canned goods, personal hygiene items, cleaning supplies, and more until our colorful Christmas boxes overflowed onto the floor. We reported our results to our boss, who seemed pleased. I started to think, Look what a nice thing we’re doing, which quickly devolved into, Look what a good person I am. Oops.

After proudly describing my efforts to a few friends and family members, basking in the glow of a good deed, I ran into an actual veteran in the elevator at work and started to experience the uncomfortable prickle of conviction because I don’t actually know what I’m talking about. I know close to nothing about our military or their families. I’ve never even met these veterans I’m getting paid to “help.” I certainly shouldn’t take credit.

Note to self: anytime I start to think highly of my own efforts, I’d better tread carefully.

The trouble with observing my own vanity is that I can’t do much to change it. All I can do is ask God, “Would you help me to see things as they really are?” Since He’s gracious, He’ll intervene to adjust my perspective. Until then, I should probably shut up about it.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

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So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’  – Jesus, Luke 17:10