Yes, but HOW different?

NOTE: This is a personal story of God's work in my life. It wasn't written or shared to come across as "super spiritual" or to pass judgement on anyone for not doing the same. God's working in each of our lives in different ways - this is simply the way He's currently changing me. If it starts a discussion in your home or just gives you something new to think about, all glory to God because I'm certainly still a work in progress!

When the Hubs sat down next to me and said, "This is a conversation I don't want to have because I'm pretty sure I'm not going to like where it takes us." I was pretty sure I wasn't going to like it either.

As Christians, God calls us to be set apart. While we glibly spout off how important it is to "be in the world, but not of the world" - do we ever stop to think about what following-through might actually look like? What would happen if being "counter-cultural" meant more than giving up our sleep on Sunday morning or offering a quick prayer before we eat?

When we got married 16 years ago, I was teetering on the edge of a TV addiction. Many of our early arguments started over my desire to watch "some stupid television show" - as Peter phrased it - and ended either with tears (me) or capitulation (him). Thankfully, moving overseas in 2005 broke my habit of glassy-eyed TV viewing, and in the years since we walked away from the world of current television programming, it turns out that "must see TV" isn't actually a must.

Of course in the case of the Olympics or BBC shows like Sherlock and Lewis, I find ways to watch online (it doesn't count if it's British television, right?), and we have a large collection of DVDs that we watch in our downstairs movie room using our projector and pull-down screen. Wait... what? If you think that sounds like a contradiction, then you are smarter than I have been. Or perhaps just more honest. 

You see, it's no sacrifice for me to give up the idiocy that I see on TV while sitting in a waiting room, but don't touch my chick-flicks or my fascination with British mystery programs. That's how I relax and unwind. It's sacred and off limits to conviction. Uh oh...

In Psalm 101 (vs. 3 and 4), David says this:

I will not look with approval on anything that is vile.
I hate what faithless people do; I will have no part in it.
The perverse of heart shall be far from me;
I will have nothing to do with what is evil. 

For almost two years now, every time I read these verses, the shows and movies that I willingly own and watch have always come to mind. Much like we did with the adoption call (lie down, wait for the feeling to pass), I knew it was something I needed to deal with, but it wasn't something I was willing to hand over to God. I mean, it wasn't hurting anyone, right?

Which brings us full circle to Peter's statement: "a conversation I don't want to have." Turns out, he's been dealing with the same thing - conviction about how we spend our free time, what we watch, read, and listen to, and the whole idea of entertainment in general. The ensuing conversation was definitely in the realm of "counter-cultural" and the outcome of it was going to make us look more like freaks to the world than we already do (not having cable, and adopting 5 children at once isn't exactly "normal," apparently).

I tried to play devil's advocate, "well, some stuff we watch brings about discussion..." but the arguments sounded lame as soon as they left my mouth. In my head I already had a mental list of favorite films that I could no longer justify having on our home shelf - films that seem innocent, until you view them through the lens of Scripture. Do you ever stop to listen to how many "family friendly" films take the Lord's Name in vain (Exodus 20:7)?

Peter wisely let the discussion end with no decision... allowing us both time to think about it. Some things you don't have to pray about. If you read the Bible, then you already know what God says about it, and the action to take is not prayer, but obedience. "Praying about it" is so much easier, and the standard Christian answer more times than not, but obedience is hard because it often means dying to self, and giving over something that you previously treasured.

It didn't take long. When Peter left for work the next day, I headed downstairs to start putting movies in a box. Some were no-brainers (James Bond - don't judge!), while others were a bit harder (You've Got Mail, Sleepless in Seattle, and My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding - normalizing premarital sex/living together and accepting the use of cursing as a normal part of conversation). These days we find ourselves saying, "Hmm... would we be comfortable sitting here, watching this with the kids? Do we like the message it's sending out [like, living together is totally fine] or the language they use? Is this edifying and helping us to become more like Christ?" More often than not, the answer is no.

"What you applaud you encourage, but beware what you celebrate." 
{Ravi Zacharias}


Celebrating the Unique

INTJ (Introversion, iNtuition, Thinking, Judgement) is an abbreviation used in the publications of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) to refer to one of the 16 psychological types. 
People with the INTJ personality type are imaginative yet decisive, ambitious yet private, amazingly curious, but they do not squander their energy. Possessing intellect and strategic thinking that allow them to overcome many challenging obstacles, INTJs have the ability to both develop and implement a plan for everything, including their own personal growth. {via 16Personalities.com}
That's a small section of insight into what I (and the Hubs) are like as individuals - apart from our faith in Christ, and our desire to die to self and be formed more to His image. But God also created us as unique beings, with specific gifts, talents, abilities, and personality traits that have helped us survive and thrive in difficult and varied situations throughout our individual lives, and during our 16 years of marriage.

It was this very uniqueness which gave us a calm assurance that God had specifically equipped us to take on a situation (adopting 5 children at once) that others thought insane. We labor under no delusion that it will be easy, or that we will always respond well to the outcome of turning our lives upside down in obedience to God's calling. We are not going through the adoption process to fulfill a personal need, or for the praise of men or the gratitude of children, but because He has led us here.

Although we have been in this process for over 3.5 years now, the reason we didn't tell many people about it until earlier this year was because we were not mentally ready to deal with the influx of unsolicited advice that we knew would flow our way. And, just as we anticipated, it has.

"I have a friend who adopted..."
"There's this book you HAVE to read..."
"You should really consider..."

Believe me, we've heard it all. And each time it happens, I attempt to smile and bite my tongue, trying to believe that most of the people mean well (which, as an INTJ, is not a belief that comes naturally for me). What most of them don't know is that we've spent the last 3.5 years researching and counting the cost of this God-orchestrated story. 

We've talked to those who have adopted, listened to those who have done more than us, researched the best educational methods for children who are adjusting to a new environment and language, and studied the cultural norms and taboos of their home country. Despite assumptions to the contrary, our registry items were selected with care, toys were chosen with purpose, and school curriculum based on the needs of our children and the skills of their teachers (a.k.a. us). In short, if it's a part of the process, we've probably hit it. 

This doesn't stop people from giving their two cents (which even I confess to doing on occasion), but whether you've written me off as an insufferable know-it-all by now or you're still hanging around to see where this is going, here's the thing I want you to take away today...
Every adoption story is as unique as the adults preparing for it, and the child(ren) facing it. Every life story is as different as the individual living it. And the so-called experts may not, in fact, always know best.  
I am not you. You are not me. Relax... and let God write His beautifully unique stories in your life, and in mine. 


What's Your Excuse?

This week my sweet husband said two words to me that you might not expect out of him...

You're pathetic.

Now, before you get your knickers in a knot and leave comments about how no man should ever say that to his wife, and no self-respecting woman should ever take that from a man, let me be very clear: he was totally correct

In context, we were discussing a fundraiser that we're trying to plan for our adoption. And by "trying" I mean that we've talked about it a lot. And by "planning," I mean avoiding doing anything other than emailing a couple of people. 

There are a lot of positives to being married to someone of the same personality type. You get each other's humor, you understand their weak spots, and you're a solid team against the world. However, it also means that those aforementioned weak spots are your collective kryptonite. 

You'll be happy to know he didn't stop there. He paused before saying...

We both are.

In this instance, he was referring to our combined hatred of talking to people on the phone. Emails? Yes. Texting? A gift of the technology gods to introverts everywhere! But phone calls? Oh, please... anything but that! I've been putting off a phone call (to someone I know!) for months, and then a second phone call for several weeks to someone I don't. There's always an excuse
I was so swamped at work today. I meant to call him/her, but then I totally forgot until it was too late. I have it on my "to do" list. It's really tacky to call over the weekend, I'll wait until Monday. It was the next thing on my list and then [insert name] dropped by and ended up staying for 2 hours. {Or when there is time and no good excuse...} Did you see that I organized the pantry?
Here's the deal: in my head, I know that I have built up something I hate doing (talking on the phone) into a Goliath that it does not deserve to be. And truth be told, the calls take about 5 minutes, the information is gathered, and then it's all over. The "stone" of just doing it could absolutely take down the Goliath of dreading it.

How often is this the case? Yesterday, Phil Gerbyshack shared an image on his social media channels that perfectly captured this tendency, with the quote, "Stop saying it won't work. Start asking how you can make it work." As soon as I read it, it clicked.

There are several things in my life at the moment that I am guilty of shoving into the "it won't work" category. I am the queen of excuses when it comes to those things - always ready with a, "yes, well..." answer when the Hubs (or anyone else) asks me if I've followed through on something. If I took Phil's advice, I wonder what all I could accomplish - and what my life might look like in a year - if instead of making excuses, I started asking, "How can I can make it work?"

Now, if you'll excuse me... I have a phone call to take care of.


6 Ways NOT to Market Your Book (or Product or Service)

For the last four years I've had a front row seat to the book marketing process. I've seen best practices in action, I've launched books, I've discovered what works - and what doesn't, and I've learned a ton about the industry. With all of that on-the-ground experience, you'd think I'd be a master promoter when it comes to my own self-published book... but you'd be wrong. Why? I'm an introvert. 

Of course I think our children's book is wonderful! I love the story and the illustrations, and I love that there's a life lesson tied in. I love that we included our real-life postman in the plot, and that the proceeds from the book go to support our adoption of 5 siblings from Costa Rica. There's so much good I could say about this book, but I don't - because I am self-conscious about self-promotion.

While I'm still figuring out this whole "promote your own book" deal, I have a few (hard earned) tips on how NOT to market yourself. These are things that turn me off, both as a promoter, and also as a potential customer. They are things I've been personally guilty of (hey, I'm a work in progress!), and things I've observed from my work online. They also apply to the sale and promotion of things other than books (we all have friends selling stuff, right?). So here we go...

6 Ways NOT to Market Your Book (or Product or Service)

  1. Turn your personal Facebook account into a one-way, self-promoting megaphone. Despite what you might think, your friends do not love this. They will hide you from their feeds, and no matter what their initial reaction to your news, they will not be following everything you say with baited breath. They might even unfollow you. Take it easy.  
  2. Personally reach out to every contact you have on LinkedIn to tell them about your book. Let's be honest - some of your contacts there are friends of friends, so they don't even know you, nor do they care about the book you just self-published or the product you think they need. Don't take advantage of those business connections - that will come back to bite you. 
  3. Casually mention your book (product/service) as soon as you meet someone. You've met these people, the ones who either have "author of the most amazing book you'll ever read" in their email signature, or the ones who somehow manage to squeeze in, "Nice to meet you. You work at a hospital? I included a hospital scene in the book I wrote." Don't be that person. (One of my favorite comics, Brian Regan, calls them the "Me Monster.")
  4. Ask people to leave you 5 star reviews. I know this might come as a shock, but your book (or my book!) may not actually be worth 5 stars. I've seen it from all sides. As a promoter, those 3 star reviews make me cringe; as an author, I'd be sad to see anything less than a 5 star review; but as a reader - I rarely leave 5 stars (a fact I've gotten into trouble for in the past). Strive to do your best work, but accept the fact that you won't be 5 stars to all people, and move on.
  5. Fail to acknowledge those who support you in the journey. Let's say that you ignore everything I've just said, and you manage to get people to promote your book or talk about your product, utilizing their social channels on your behalf. Don't be the person who thinks you deserve to be talked about - acknowledge that people went out of their way for you. A bit of public gratitude can go a long way... and possibly get them to share again. Win-win.
  6. Expect people to buy your book. This was the hardest one for me to grasp. When my husband and I published our children's book in 2010, I thought I had kept my expectations low, but in the end I was still disappointed in the response - or lack thereof. Friends didn't rush out to buy it; those who had a platform to talk about it, didn't; those who told us they loved it, didn't review it. But you know what? Friends are in no way required to buy, like, read, review, or promote your book. If they do, it's a bonus, but it's not their job to make you successful.
*  *  *  *  *

Bottom Line: 
There's a balance between letting your world know about your product and coming across as a self-promotion, "me monster" machine. 

Proceed with caution.


Savoring the Moment

Two years ago we were seated in a posh restaurant, preparing to enjoy the most exquisite dessert - some kind of chocolate ball that the waiter poured hot fudge sauce over, melting the top to reveal the raspberry cream within... amazing, to say the least.

As the man placed the plate in front of me, he paused with the hot sauce poised over the top of it as my two dining companions and I stared at him. One second, two seconds, three seconds (this was starting to get awkward, what was he waiting for?)... until finally he asked, "Do you not want to take a photo of the dessert before I pour?" Taking a moment to process what he'd said, I blurted out, "No... I just want to eat it!" The waiter instantly changed from a pre-programmed robot to a human being who said,

"You have no idea how refreshing it is to hear someone say that! Everyone wants a photo of the food before and after, instead of just savoring the moment."

There have definitely been meals when I have taken a photo because I want more than a memory to remember the end result - an anniversary dinner, a special meal in a foreign locale, the triumphant success of an unsure cook. This last fall, it was a loaf of pumpkin bread that I made in a specialty bread pan that actually popped out perfectly - a moment I was (and still am) insanely proud of! 

But there have also been times when my (smarter and less tolerant of social sharing) husband has looked at me and said, "put the camera down and eat the food while it's hot!" In other words: savor the moment. 

Do you remember life before social media took over? Life before selfies and instagram and in the moment sharing? When you decorated a room in your house and no one knew (if you've read this blog, or followed my Facebook page, you know I'm not pointing fingers!)? Or, better still, when our thoughts - religious, political, or random - could only be shared over dinner with the family, sparking give and take conversation and debate, not angry retorts posted in the heat of the moment? 

Social sharing isn't all bad. My grandmothers lived a thousand miles from us, so my childhood was captured on film, printed out, and delivered by the United States Postal Service once or twice a year to show how I'd grown. Today, my friends around the world can instantly update long-distance family with photos and videos of their child's latest and greatest achievement. Hooray for technology (and the ability to unfollow those updates on Facebook)!

But sometimes, I don't want to know it all. Sometimes it's nice to be in the dark until you can catch up face to face - asking questions and engaging with each other. Last week, we received a birth announcement in the mail from a friend who I didn't even know was pregnant. What a lovely surprise! She hadn't documented her ever-growing belly on a weekly basis, or plastered her cravings or labor progress on social. All that I got was the unexpected (good) news, and like the waiter, I found it refreshing.

Even if you don't share it with the world, savor the moments.


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