It is the writer's privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart.
.I finished something last night. Yes, I know, we all finished 2018. But last night around 8:00 p.m. I also put the last period on a project I've been working on for over a year. Actually the idea has been stirring for much longer. I recently found a journal entry from January 10, 2017 which listed this particular project as a goal for that year. Okay, so it took a little longer than I hoped, but it's done. I enlisted the help of two friends and it turned into something I am fiercely proud of. There will undoubtedly be revisions to make, and I'm hoping this work will find an audience that will embrace and enjoy it. Celebrating that will come another day. Today, I celebrate finishing this part of the journey.
I am not a great finisher. It's something I know well about myself and really don't like. When I turned 50 a couple years ago, that became one of my life goals. To become a better finisher. I think my fellow creatives will agree that when you are a person whose brain is often a stampede of new ideas, it can be tough to wrangle one to the ground, tame it, then train it to be something worthy of sharing. When you do, it's a feeling like none other.. I just know I don't get to that point near as often as I'd like.
Over the years, the importance of finishing well has been one of the things I've consistently preached to my kids. What they probably don't realize though, is how with every time I've hammered home that message to them, I've really just been trying to convince myself of the very same thing. Because I know how hard it is. The battle to fight excuses, resistance, disappointment, negativity, physical and emotional exhaustion, and discouragement from others, is one that really doesn't seem worth fighting some days. Isn't it easier to cave and move on to something that seems more exciting and invigorating? The answer to that question is yes. It is easier. For a while. Then one day you're confronted with all the hard things you faced the last time. And again you must decide: press on and finish well or quit.
I've seen this play out in various ways with each one of my kids. One of the best things to ever happen to three of the four has been the experience of playing on a losing sports team when they were younger. Losing, as in they did not win a game the ENTIRE SEASON. After every game, we'd have the obligatory conversation about how sports is about more than winning. It's about the relationships. It's about learning how to be coachable. It's about growing as an athlete over the long haul. And it's about the absolute most important thing regarding youth sports - the post-game snack. As parents, we kept a brave face. We desperately tried to keep our kids engaged and enthusiastic, even while having conversations in our own heads that went something like, "This just sucks. How long is this season? Good grief, we're terrible." I can admit it. I hated those experiences. We all laugh about those seasons now, but it was not fun. I'd like to be able to tell you all the positives that came out of it, but really, the main thing they learned, we all learned, was to just push through it as best you can and finish. And finishing well doesn't always mean finishing in a manner others recognize as successful.
Lest you think I have a "you will complete this at all costs" mentality, trust me I don't. I understand the only way to finish some things is to abandon them. Several years ago, I resigned from a job I still don't feel like I finished well. I had stayed too long and nearing the end of my employment, every day felt like banging my head against a brick wall. Every. Single. Day. It was brutal and would take years to recover from. In the end, all I knew to do was abandon my position. The cost of staying had become too great. So, it was time to leave with things undone. Quit. There was no period at the end. No celebratory sense of accomplishment. My only hope in leaving was that I would go with some relationships still in tact. Some were and some weren't. Through that experience I learned there are some things you can only finish by moving on. In those moments, you can only hope a day will come when you'll be able to put a period at the end of it. Somehow.
2019 will bring some unavoidable finishes as every year does. For our family, it's another high school graduation. And for the next few months I'll be encouraging H#3 to finish well. And every time I do, I'll hear that same voice in my head telling me to do the same thing. Finish mothering another high school student. Finish another song. Finish that other project that's been on my to-do list since 2017. And when I do, I will celebrate. Just like I'm celebrating the fact this blog is now finished.
Happy New Year, all. Now go finish something.
Disclaimer: I wrote this blog post in January but didn't post it because I wanted to rework my website a bit. Here we are four months later and I'm finally posting it. Better late than never! While you're here, feel free to check out the rest of the website if you like.
The start of every new year always brings a flurry of emotions with it for me, as I inevitably spend a significant amount of time and energy both revisiting the past and contemplating the future. This year is no different and, in many ways, brings not merely a flurry, but more accurately a blizzard, hailstorm, landslide - whatever term you prefer to describe this transition I've been pressing my way through. It's been a doozy.
I suppose it began last August. I turned 50. My daughter got engaged to be married. It became apparent I would be closing down a business. Ya know, minor stuff.
In no way did any of those things scare me much. I've never been afraid of getting older. My grandmother lived a very full life until she passed at the age of 102. My mother is an active, 86-year-old, spunky enough to dance to "I like big butts and I cannot lie" at my daughter's recent wedding. (Update: My mother fell and broke her hip in February after I'd written this draft. It slowed her down for about 30 days, She's doing fabulous now. ) I'm in relatively good health and have no plans to slow down. Okay I'll slow down a little, but not much. So take that, 50th birthday! I'm just hitting my stride.
My daughter's engagement and subsequent wedding was much to be celebrated. Without question, there is an element of grieving to letting your little girl go. But when you've walked the kind of road we walked to get there, and prayed the kind of prayers we prayed, the grieving is so small in comparison to the countless reasons to rejoice. Their wedding was fun, meaningful, and a testimony to God's power to redeem.
Closing down a business is never fun, whatever the circumstances. My husband and I have been small business owners our entire 27 years of marriage. It isn't easy, for any of you considering that life. However, in spite of the difficulties, I wouldn't trade the entrepreneurial life we've had for anything, mostly because of the people we've had the joy of working with. Through our most recent business, The Space, I met the most amazing people and hopefully we served them well at every turn. I will miss so many of them. Not all of them, but many.
I will miss Summayia, who introduced me to a community of people who believe very differently than I do, but who celebrate their faith in a way I somewhat envy. She shared her culture and her delicious Middle Eastern food. She left me flowers and she always left our building cleaner than she found it.
I will miss the instructors and members of OLLI - the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. I sat in on several of their classes and learned much, including the importance of continuing to be a student of this wonderful world in which we live, no matter how old you are.
I will miss the women who gathered for MOMS3.0, a group of moms navigating the teen years and trying their best to weather the transition to becoming a mom of adult children.
I will miss the members of BNI Profit Powerhouse, the business networking group we hosted every Thursday morning. Good people trying to operate their businesses through good times and bad. I have recommended their services to a lot of people over the years and will continue to do so.
I will miss Irina, my petite but spunky friend who showed me that Russians really know how to throw a party. She brought me her homemade pastries after she had stayed up all night making them for her 65th birthday celebration. And she left me Vodka. I am REALLY going to miss Irina.
I will not miss the people who never paid their bills, who left our place in shambles, and who simply complained about every little thing. Ugh...those joy-suckers. I'll remember those people for sure, but I am choosing to think more fondly of the Irinas of the past three years rather than those other people who really don't even deserve the time I've given them on this blog. Moving on...
Leaving 2017 behind means saying good-bye to a part of myself. I've cried many tears over those good-byes, but that's okay. An occasional eye-washing is good for the soul. While it swells and stings for a short time, I know it eventually clears the view for what's ahead. And there are good things ahead.
There are songs and musicals and books to write. There are people to invest in. A growing family to enjoy. I'm sure there will be unexpected things that cause me to stop, force me to breathe deeper, and possibly demand that I change directions. I'm okay with that too.
So because I just hit 50 and I've always had this finish line of 100 years of life in my mind, I'm choosing to enter 2018 as if I'm at the beginning of Act 2. The stage has been set, the characters are being developed, the story is moving along, but it's just about to get really, really interesting. Fun. Challenging. Rewarding. Exciting. Good. The reality is, the second act may not be as long as the first, or as long as I'd like it to be. But I'm going to move forward as if this is what I've been working for my whole life. Like I'll finally unveil the part of the story that gives meaning and purpose to what Act 1 was all about.
I've worked with kids a lot over the years: as a children's director at a church, as a homeschool co-op teacher, as the founder of a camp which encourages kids to use their creative gifts, and of course as a mom. I've written a dozen or so kids' musicals as well. But this experience of teaching kids about my favorite thing in the world, songwriting, sparked something new in me that I knew could be incredibly fun and very challenging.
I enlisted the help of my friend, Sue C. Smith, and we started working on a songwriting book for kids. It would take about 9 months to come up with a final draft, and I'm sure there were moments when we both wondered if we were actually going to finish. Sue did an amazing job illustrating the book, which was also a new adventure for her, but she tackled the job with such creativity and excellence that I hope she keeps at it!
Throughout this journey, I've again wrestled a lot with the whole idea of why I write songs. I tried to think like a kid again and remember why I even started writing songs in the first place. I recalled my first few songs and how good it felt to create something that seemed to express my thoughts and emotions in the only way that made sense to me. I remembered singing those songs for people and watching them actually be moved by what I had to say. And I remember the year or so when I basically had no voice, due to the unfortunate trauma I suffered as a result of vocal cord surgery. In that long and agonizing season, writing was literally all I had....there wasn't even any singing...only the songs.
It's been so good to go back and remember those moments, before cuts and publishing deals and royalties (or lack thereof) began to make it more difficult to see the joy, the fun, and the magic of songwriting. Being a grownup songwriter can be tough. So I hope this whole book-writing adventure can continue to remind me in the years to come that writing like a kid can be a very sweet thing. Kids want to make things. They want to be heard. And sometimes a song is the best way, maybe the only way, they know how to create something beautiful and important. Something to move people and make them listen.
This book is my way of encouraging them to write, and to keep writing. Because I think songwriting, and more importantly songwriters, are pretty cool.
Today, my Summer of Songs adventure is coming to a close. My younger kids went back to school today and I am sitting here in the quiet alone with my thoughts. Okay, not quite alone. Gus, our new Goldendoodle puppy is at my feet. Leo, our sitting Ragdoll cat, is on the chair in the corner. And Jake, our 6-year-old Golden Retriever is in the kitchen, still angry Gus has taken his usual place under my desk.
Going into this summer writing challenge, I was hoping to come out of it with a bunch of new songs, a renewed passion for what I do, and a clearer picture of what the next season might look like. So, how did I fare? Well, new songs were written. Some I love, some are okay, some need more work. Do I have a renewed passion for what I do? This is tough to answer. I continue to be certain of my gifts and my calling. What I am not certain of is the capacity in which I am supposed to be using my gifts. And that leads to an unclear picture of the next season. So, I guess one out of three ain't bad. More on this later...
The guidelines I had set for myself were definitely helpful, but in all honestly, there were days the guidelines were completely ignored. And I'm fine with that. If I've learned anything over the years it is that the only set-in-stone rule for my life is to be flexible. My life demands it.
I kicked off my SOS at a writing retreat which proved to be a great jumpstart and much needed encouragement for my soul. I typically write with a small group of regular co-writers, and I needed to be reminded I could be thrown into a room with someone I didn't know and hadn't worked with and still be able to walk out with a song. So thankful to my friend Joel for this opportunity.
I finished up a VBS project with a church I am privileged to work with on a yearly basis. This particular work is challenging and fulfilling in a completely different way for me and I feel a great sense of responsibility to do it well. I'm just so grateful I get to be a part of the work they are doing.
Partnering with my friend Sue Smith is always a treat and this summer we dove into a couple different projects, one of which is yet to be completed. First, we tackled a kids musical. We've written a few together, but this one was particularly rewarding because we wrote every bit of ourselves; the concept, the script, the lyrics, the melodies. It will be unleashed this fall and hopefully churches and schools all over will be performing it next Spring. The second project is a book which I'll blog more about in the next few weeks. We've talked about writing it for a while and some recent circumstances kind of forced our hands. We're midstream and working hard to finish it very soon. We are both pretty excited about seeing this little dream realized!
The rest of my writing time was in regular weekly online appointments with some great co-writers, and some intentional write-alone time. I haven't determined a song count yet but I'm guessing it was around thirty to forty songs either started, finished, or unleashed.
So, what about this summer was difficult? A lot.
At about the same time I headed into this journey, I was also confronted with something that rocked my personal world in a pretty big way. Every day became an exercise in taking thoughts captive, surrender, and trusting God like never before. I tried hard to believe in His sovereignty; that He had foreseen the collision between this crisis and my creative aspirations. Many days, writing songs seemed like a frivolous and futile activity in light of other things that needed my time and attention. And yet, the writing room called. Not to write about what I've been facing as I have felt strongly it isn't time for that. But simply to push through and keep exercising my songwriting muscles, as I am hoping to continue using them for a while. Some days writing was the distraction needed to set my gaze on something else. Other days writing was my weapon; my way of telling the enemy "You are evil and I hate you and you will not win and I WILL write a song today." Yeah, some days were like that.
Another tough thing about this summer was the further realization that the world I started writing songs in isn't the same world today. People don't buy music. We've raised a generation of kids that quite possibly may never purchase a song. I remember having conversations with my friends 15 years ago about how their kids were illegally downloading songs and the impact it would have on the industry one day. And here we are. Even the government seems to want to make it impossible for songwriters to make a living doing what they do. It is beyond disheartening.
I've also been confronted a little more with the reality of being an independent songwriter. I chose to walk away from a publishing deal a few years ago. I'm sure it seemed crazy to some people, but all I know is it felt right in my gut at the time. Mostly, I'm glad and would do it again under the same circumstances. It has afforded me the privilege of working with multiple publishers on a variety of projects which has been a blast. It's also lonely. I miss being a part of a team. And I know I miss out on some opportunities. So, do I stay here working on my own or make an effort to find a publishing home somewhere again? It's a tougher road because of where I live. Not impossible, but definitely harder. I have no idea what to do about all that. As if I can do much about it at all.
So, where do I fit? And what does the next season look like for me? I honestly don't know. What I do know is the thing I've chosen to devote much of my life to is becoming more costly every day. I've been fortunate to have some success professionally, but has that translated into making a living? No. I work multiple jobs to help contribute financially, but I'm also starting to look into other things. Different kind of writing opportunities? That could be fun. A completely different career? Maybe, but no clue what that would be. Back to school? Maybe, but yuck. Or do I focus more intently on this songwriting thing, plugging away, digging for the next idea, and occasionally fashioning words and melodies together in a way that just might move somebody. I have no idea.
For now, I write. And do whatever is necessary to keep doing that. And I pray. A lot. Begging God to either open a big ol' door or show me there's something else I'm supposed to pour my life into.
To those of you who have followed along on this adventure, thank you. I hope you've enjoyed the peek into a songwriter's life. More than that, I hope you've been encouraged to go on your own adventure. If you do, please let me know. It's better to have friends to root you on along the way. I'd be privileged to be one of those friends.