Thursday, August 30, 2012

How normal are you?

  • If you’ve lost and re-gained the same weight multiple times, you’re normal.
  • If you often feel inadequate, you’re normal.
  • If you’re an over-thinker, you’re normal.
  • If you have a history of procrastination, you’re normal.
  • If you’ve made some monumentally poor decisions, you’re normal.
  • If you’ve trusted the wrong people, you’re normal.
  • If you’ve self-sabotaged your own success, you’re normal.
  • If you’ve spent money you don’t have on stuff you don’t need, you’re normal.
  • If you’ve regretted something fifteen minutes after you did it, you’re normal.

  • Oh how nice it would be to be abnormal. ;)

    By the way, if you are in Christ, you are abnormal. Extraordinarily so. You have all the power and provision of Heaven on your side. And all the grace you need to to move forward in it.

    Tuesday, August 21, 2012

    More to Do Leads to More Done

    Years ago my dearest friend from my grad school years learned she was pregnant - unexpectedly. Her husband wouldn't graduate for another semester and then they were going to move back home to Florida.

    Days before she learned of her pregnancy, she'd been asked to take a leadership position on her church's women's ministry team.  So she sat before me this Saturday morning, picking at her blueberry muffin, wondering  out loud if she should say "yes" or "no" to their invitation.

    I thought maybe she needed "permission" to decline the position now that she had this baby on board.

    "Christie," I began, "Maybe this isn't a good time for you to take that position. You're working full time, plus now you'll probably be tired more often. You might have morning sickness. And at the end of the semester, you'll need to pack up this whole apartment to head back to Florida. And they'll have to replace you at that point anyway."

    I waited for her to say, "Yeah, you're right." But she remained quiet, picking at the muffin.

    "Now that you're pregnant, you should probably be looking to take things off your plate rather than add more on. You've already got a lot to do," I tried again, assuming she wanted if not needed to say "no."

    Finally Christie spoke. "Yes, but that's just it.  The less I have to do the less I get done. If I have all day to accomplish one thing, it will take me all day to get that thing done. The more I have to do, the more I get done because I think I'd better do this now because I won't have time later."

    Brilliance. Sheer brilliance.

    Have you ever gotten to the end of a work day and been shocked at how little you accomplished? You checked email. You attended a meeting. You thought about some things. And you answered the phone the three times it rang.  And that seems to be pretty much it. Where did all the time go?

    Christie had just acknowledged the human phenomena known as Parkinson's Law:

    Work expands to fill the time available for its completion. 

    Have you found this to be true?

    Next week I begin teaching a new semester at the college. I need to create my syllabus. The syllabus is important as it's the general outline and the contract for the entire course. 

    But I've taught this course many times - and tweaked this course many times. And while I could spend 2 days working on my syllabus - tweaking this and contemplating changing that - instead I'm giving myself 2 hours today to complete the syllabus. And I've already scheduled things for this afternoon so I'm forced to finish this now.

    {Reality is I can still tweak things this semester as needed as we go along. And, most students lose their syllabus by October.}

    What task is taking you forever to get around to completing?

    Perhaps you need more, not less to do? Or perhaps you just need to give yourself a short leash on getting it done. 

    Try this: Schedule yourself a quick and clear deadline to complete it by - complete it, and then move on to the next thing. "Finishing is better than starting," according to Ecclesiastes 7:8a (NLT). Don't worry that your performance on task will suffer - it won't because you'll be highly focused during the shortened completion phase.

    Focus is a wonderful thing.

    Wednesday, August 15, 2012

    Creative Space

    My one word for 2012 is CREATE.  So I’ve read a lot of advice this year on sparking creativity. I love this topic. But here’s one important thing I’ve realized: each person’s creativity takes a unique form and different kindling to spark.

    Image Credit: Susan at Between Naps on the Porch

    For instance, some of us are naturally more structured – we have to work at relaxing our impulse to control things in order to be serendipitous.  Others are naturally spontaneous –  we have to work at creating and maintaining structure and routine to get things done.

    For creativity to thrive, you need a degree of both structure and spontaneity.

    Creativity often involves exploration, experimentation, play, and plenty of failed attempts. In other words, it doesn’t always look or feel productive. But it is! New stimuli. New input. New connections made. Trying and seeing. All of this is part of the creation equation.

    And yet so is structure and ritual. A great many writers I know write in the same space at the same time of the day, every day. (In fact, as I was composing this post writer Jeff Goins posted this.) It’s an ingrained ritual, so it never not gets done. They sit down to create at the set time and the ritual itself primes the pump. Like Pavolov’s dogs and the bell.

    Plus, without sticktoitiveness and follow-thru none of those creative dreams we incubate will come to fruition.

    So I thought I’d share some creativity-boosting strategies that work for me. Today’s strategy is: Declutter.

    Personally, I lean more toward the spontaneous side of the spectrum than the structured side. In other words, by nature I am a messy desk person. (That is unfortunate since you can see my home office from my entry way.) But I have found – though at first I was loathe to admit it - that I am at my creative best in a tidy, orderly environment.

    An uncluttered space fosters an uncluttered mind that is free to think, create and dream.

    Now let me clarify, the space doesn't have to be minimalistic. My desk doesn't have to be totally empty - devoid of all signs of work and life. But it also shouldn't look like this if I want to sit down and create something.

    This isn't my desk, it's Evelyn's desk. And it wasn't conducive to creativity or productivity. So she decided to clean it up, rearrange and organize it a bit.  Here's her after photo:

     Photos by EvelynGiggles licensed for use under Creative Commons.

    Which space would you rather create in?  Which space allows you to think clearer?

    I prefer my office even more streamlined than Evelyn's new, neat, compact space. But everyone is different. Even so, I'm convinced a sense of order and some "white space" in your environment fosters the ability to create.

    You agree? Does your desk tend towards mess?

    Could a quick clean free your mind to think?

    Wednesday, August 8, 2012

    Summer's Swan Song

    I woke early this morning to get my daughter off to her final camp of the summer. For her, this is summer's final swan song. Tomorrow I'll go into the university for my first obligation of the fall semester. I can't believe the summer is nearly over.

    Seasons come and seasons go.

    Seasons of school and learning. Seasons of love and honeymooning. Seasons of work and sacrifice. Seasons of mothering and nesting. Seasons of investment and retirement. Like the seasons of the year, most of these seasons circle back round and round again.

    As a book writer, there are seasons of researching, seasons of writing, and seasons of launching what you've written. As a teacher there are seasons of planning (the one I enter tomorrow for a few weeks), seasons of teaching, and seasons of vacation - namely, that beautiful block of time called summer.

    Summer ... With it's sunshine and laid back days. With it's watermelon and water park slides. With it's Hawaiian Tropic sent and fresh garden taste.  With it's outdoor concerts, dinners on the patio, and trips to the beach, all made in flip flops. I'm going to miss you, summer.

    Though I love summer {and right now it feels I don't want it to end} life's changing seasons are a large part of what keeps it interesting. So the challenge is to live in the here and now, while anticipating the next season as it approaches. To let summer have it's swan song and then go gracefully into the fall.

    Honestly, my favorite season of the year tends to be whatever season is about to start. And I find that serves me well in life. So this week I'm switching gears.

    As I milk the last of summer's halcyon days, I'm also embracing pencils and backpacks, schedules and planning. I'm telling myself I'm looking forward to more structure and more productivity - that it will be great. I even burned a fall scented candle yesterday during a rainstorm.

    I don't want to give up too early on summer and miss what is still here at my fingertips: hot days, warm ocean temps, green grass and sweet basil. But I also don't want to stumble into fall feeling anxious or unready. So I'm transitioning now.

    How about you? Are you still firmly living in summer? Or have you already gone "back to school?" What usually helps you make that transition?

    Monday, August 6, 2012

    God Gives Out Golds

    I've watched the Olympics every single night since the games began.

    I confessed in a recent post to being an Olympicaholic. And to training at one point with the 1988 Olympics in my dreams (heavy emphasis on "dreams"... though just the other week I did a pretty darn near flawless cartwheel for my P31 teammates at She Speaks).

    So once again this week I've found myself imagining standing atop that podium, gold medal weighing around my neck, watching the US flag rise because my hard training had come to fruition.

    I don't think I could help but mouth a few of the lines to the anthem while up there. I mean, who can not sing, "And the rockets' red glaaare ..."

    Reality is, I will never stand atop an Olympic podium. But I serve a God that sees my work and knows just how to encourage me in it. Yesterday I received this email (printed here with permission):

    Dear Mrs. Rachel Olsen,

    Hello! My name is Hannah Talbott and I am a college freshman majoring in Literature and Business in Colorado. I recently spent the summer reading your book "It's No Secret" and want to thank you immensely. I was born and raised in a strong Christian home and have read numerous books pertaining to strengthening our walk with God but NONE have compared to this!

    Your writing was fun and easy to read, but contained elaborate diction, symbolism and parallelism! I enjoyed it through my personal love for literature but also through my insane love and passion for God. This book seemed to contain all the topics I really needed at the specific times I read the chapters (funny how God does that.) I am so glad you have this email and website where people can connect with you and I thank you so much for your writing! God Bless and I hope to see you speak one day! 

    Sincerely and God Bless,

    Hannah Talbott

    Class of 2012

    I share that email not to toot my horn or advertise my book, but to show the graciousness of God and the truth of Hebrews 6:10 in action.

    "God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them." ~ Hebrews 6:10

    With Hannah's sweet email God gave me a gold medal of sorts, showing me one of the ways my hard work came to fruition. I believe He will do the same for you. So let this verse encourage you to work hard this week. Because God gives out golds.

    Saturday, August 4, 2012

    You Need Some Beach Time

    Everybody needs some time off. 

    Time to refuel. Time to reconnect. Time to dream. Time to reorder prioirites. Time to set new goals.

    That's why you need a few days away at the beach.

    What's that? You agree but you can't afford it?  Well then, win it.

    The Sunset Beach Inn

    My friend Marybeth Whalen, in honor of her new novel The Guest Book and inconjuction with her publisher Zondervan, is giving away a vacation for two at The Sunset Beach Inn on the sandy shores of North Carolina.

    It includes a double occupany room, plus a travel and food stipend. Anticipated retail value is $2,000!

    And they say you can't get something for nothing these days.

    There are even prizes for runners up, like copies of The Guest Book for you and your friends or book club. Here's a little about the novel:

         Twenty-five years after she began exchanging drawings with a mysterious boy in the guestbook of a Carolina beach house, Macy Dillon is back at Sunset Beach—this time toting a hurting heart and a broken family. Will she be able find the man whose drawings moved her so deeply when she was a child? Questions of childhood, loss, and longing for love are explored in author Marybeth Whalen’s touching and thought-provoking, The Guest Book.

    Interested in winning?  Click here for details and fill out the entry form on Marybeth's blog. Should you win and need a "plus one" to make the trip with you, call me maybe. I'll supply the sunscreen.