Okay folks, this is my blog and today, I feel compelled to share something that has been on my mind for about a month or so. I held back because I wanted to make sure I wasn't being overly-sensitive or taking things out of context, but in reflection and talking with some others, I realize that it's completely within the bounds or normal, how shall I put it - pondering. Yea, that's a diplomatic way to say it.
I've known a number of people that have recently faced trials and life changes similar to the ones I faced a few years ago. Of course, I can relate to their struggles quite well, having been through something similar not too long ago. But one thing that rubs me kind of wrong is that a few years ago, people were quite bold to tell me to get my crap together and move on. I heard a lot of "if I were you" and "you need to get things under control" and "that's just life, you have to be strong and work your way through." I realize this is all true, of course - life throws you curveballs and the only way around is through. I knew that at the time and the truth of that still rings loud and clear. It seems, though, that when the situation goes from "it sucks to be you" to being the one it sucks for, well, that's different.
I asked Rick recently if this realization seemed harsh or hypocritical and he said (exact words): "No. People weren't afraid to get in your face and tell you to get it together. They made it clear that you were to make it stop immediately."
Okay, so it's not just me. There is a level of hypocricy going on.
I could get angry. I could get very frustrated and call people on it. But the truth is, I haven't had to. While nobody's come to me and said "oops, well I guess you aren't the only one reality can kick in the a**" their contrite attitude has clearly indicated that they finally understand what I was trying to communicate before: That it's not so easy when you're in the middle of it. Oops, you can't make things go back to what they are because you aren't God. Oops, you can't force other people to change. Oops, you can't just say "stop" and the universe will heed your call. That big, bad boldness is fine when you're on the mountaintop, but not so practical when you're in the valley and a flood is threatening.
I see that they get it, and I don't think their circumstances are the result of a lack of sympathy at my plight, or anybody elses'. Rather, I think it's the universal truth that reality is an equal opportunity smacker. It will knock us all down and bring us to a humility that we never imagined we'd have to face. I know I've had to become a new person from my own experiences. I had to completely change the way I thought about EVERYTHING and that's the hardest thing I've ever had to do. Sometimes, I still have to remind myself to case off those old thoughts and embrace the new. It isn't easy, but to refuse would have been to sentence myself to a life of misery and depression, something that I simply won't have or allow in my life. If it's change my thinking to stay happy or hold to my old thoughts in a life that doesn't fit any more and resign myself to depression and misery, I'll change.
We all have to make that decision at some point. It's going to happen. C.S. Lewis called it The Law of Undulation in The Screwtape Letters, and I believe this is one of the most often ignored truths of life in this world just because it makes us uncomfortable and we don't like it. Life is a series of peaks and valleys. We will have times when we're on top of the world, but eventually the pendulum swings and we find outselves with the world on top of us. Sure, sometimes it's the result of bad decision making, but just as often it's the result of things beyond our control: things change. People change. Circumstances change. As The Bible says, "time and chance happen to them all" (Ecclesiastes 9:11). And all you can do is deal with it, for however long it goes on, until you work your way through to the other side.
So no, I'm not mad at people. Rather, I hate to see them go through such times because I know the pain they fell. It's not fun and I pray it passes for them. That being said, I would like to share some things I noticed going through my own trials that I hope will give others facing hard times some comfort or guidance in navigating their way through the valley:
1. Be honest, first with yourself and then with others. The sooner you face that life is crap for you right now, the quicker you'll find your way through. But also realize the truth that this too shall pass and you won't be here forever. There's always hope. Likewise, don't be ashamed to admit that life isn't roses, unicorns and rainbows. Don't be afraid to tell people, when you must, that things are rough, but you're doing your best to work through. Now that being said;
2. Use discernment in who and what you share. You need to be honest with people, but they also don't need to know every single thing going on in your life. This is especially true when dealing with sensitive family matters. I'm sorry to say it, but there are some people that won't get it and others that will use it against you to embarass you later. I think we've all had those instances where you shared something personal with a friend because you needed to vent, and they brought it up VERY publically later to get a laugh or gain what I call "cool points" with others that they've decided they like better since you shared your woes with them. Keep your inner circle limited to a very few people and even then, use discernment. You don't have to tell everything, nor should you. It's fine to say "yea, I'm dealing with some issues with myself/ job/health/at home right now, but I'm working through and it will be okay. I just need an extra dose of grace and patience right now," and leave it at that. You aren't on reality tv, so you don't need to act like it.
3. Don't be afraid to seek outside advice. The problem with keeping it in your inner circle is that they are biased. They aren't going to be able to fully see the situation and sometimes their advice, although well meaning, will be off base because of the tendency to see what they want/like best (for whatever reasons). It's perfectly reasonable to go to a pastor, therapist, or vocational rehab service, even if just once, to get a clear perspective on the situation as a whole so you can understand how to best proceed. Just be forewarned that those closest to you may take a level of offence. I did this a few years ago and was told by a few "well, I'm sorry we all let you down so much that you had to go to a stranger for help." That's not the case at all. I was realistic enough to know I was too beat and broken to see it logically on my own and that those close to me couldn't see past my own pain (and their pain) to see it clearly either. I was that serious about dealing with things right the first time so we could all move on. A good barometer of knowing when to seek outside counsel is this: if you feel absolutely stuck and paralyzed with no way out, you need a third party intervention. It doesn't mean you're weak. It means you're strong enough to face all the ugliness of reality and have the determination to work it out correctly, no matter what.
4. Realize that some people "just won't get it" and decide right now if you are able to forgive them. General rule: if somebody prefaces a statement with "if I were you..." cut them off right away. They aren't you and that statement means "I don't know what the hell I'm talking about, but I want to say something so here it is." Likewise, and this isn't flattering but it's absolutely true: Sometimes people are more sympathetic to others because they like them and their situations better than they like you and your situations. Okay, maybe that's harsh, but people are biased based on their own experiences, and what this means is that they'll come down harder on you because there's something in your situation they really hate but they'll be more sympathetic to another facing something similar because they like or relate to something in their situation more. We're all hypocrites, folks,and we all judge. It's not right, but it's true. You have to make the decision to forgive it and move on or you'll stay stuck in the mire of your own problems a lot longer than necessary.
5. There is one, universal solution to all problems. This is the good news, but it isn't easy news. That universal solution is do the right thing. All the time. No matter how hard it is, how much it hurts, who gets angry, or how tired you get. No matter what. And don't stop doing the right thing ever. It might hurt like hell, piss people off, and seem to destroy your life but trust me, it's temporary. Because "we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28). Doing right always leads to right in the end. Some battles may be lost, but the war will be won. But taking shortcuts, doing things the easy way, or ignoring things and hoping they will go away will prolong the war indefinitely. It literally took two and a half years for me to get my life settled into something that could be called "normal," but I'm convinced the struggled would still be ongoing if I didn't dig in my heels and determine that I would do things right, no matter how hard I had to work, how tired I got, who got mad at me, or how much it hurt. Let me tell you, it doesn't hurt anymore.
So take it from one that actually did all of these things - it works. You have to be stronger than you imagined possible, but it works.
Am I mad at my realizations? No. People aren't perfect and I made the decision long ago that I wasn't going to get angry or hold grudges. There's no point in it. My mission was to recreate my life and move on in the abundance and blessing I could find in it, and I am. Now I pray that others going through hard times will find the strength to move through and to find their own blessings and abundance on the other side of their trials.
And there is the other side, folks. God promises that there's always hope. I'm living proof. So keep fighting on to do what's right, and it will be fine. That's a promise you can count on.
That's all today. Take care and have a good weekend.
I’m often asked if the things that happened to Jana Lanning in my recent novel, Anywhere But Here, actually happened to me. For those of you that haven’t read this novel, Jana Lanning, the protagonist, is denied admission to graduate school, finds out her boyfriend is cheating on her, helps her best friend get married and move out of town, and has to settle for a job that she’s overqualified for – and all of this happens within two weeks of getting her undergraduate degree. Then to make things worse, the office where she works starts a merger with another firm and Jana finds herself on the wrong end of office politics that are the final straw in her battle with depression. The thing people seem the most interested in are the office politics. People want to know if the happenings at Dixon Financial are reflective of my job before it was transferred to a new agency a couple of years ago.
In response to that I’d say not entirely, but I can’t deny that some things that happened to me early in my career are reflected in people and events that take place in the book. I know that’s cryptic, but bear in mind two things: The people and events are fictionalized and that was accomplished through a mixture of my personal experiences, experiences I’ve seen and heard of from other people, and instances I’ve read about in books, magazines, news and other media. It came from a vast pool and I’ll admit that I had experience with being on the wrong end of office politics – heck, how could you write about it even from a fictionalized perspective unless you lived it in some way – but it’s also a universal issue that anybody working in an office environment is going to be on one end or the other of. And sorry folks, but there are probably going to be times when you find yourself on the wrong side, at least from the perspective of the majority.
My purpose in both writing Anywhere But Here and this entry isn’t to bash my former workplace. These things happened a decade ago, and I must admit that I said and did things that weren’t wise and didn’t lead to the best resolution in the situations I faced. I certainly learned from those experiences and in retrospect, I’m glad I learned those lessons early in life or I certainlywouldn’t be where I am now. The purpose is to share lessons learned, because this is something that I believe everybody in the workforce faces at some time. It makes you feel isolated and lonely when it happens, but the truth is that you aren’t alone. Lots of people face it but few talk about it because frankly, it’s embarrassing.
I used to think that people playing office politics were selfish jerks that like to hurt people, but experience has shown me that it actually grows from a root of fear. People that play with power are insecure and doubt their own ability, so they create an elaborate game of turning people and things to their advantage. I’ve found that there are 2 good ways to identify a person that is likely to use power to their advantage:
1.They cling tightly to cliques that are made up of people that are higher on the chain of command than they are; and
2.They don’t associate with anybody on the chain of command below them unless it’s absolutely necessary - and those people better give them what they want immediately or it’s insubordination.
It’s the people in category #2 that usually find themselves on the losing end of office politics because any wrong word or deed will be met with fierce retaliation. I won’t say that I never see office politics anymore, but I have found that I find myself in these situations a lot less since I’ve been reclassified to a mid-level position. I’d like to think this is because I’ve proven that my knowledge and abilities are valuable, but it’s more likely that I learned valuable lessons on how to deal with these types from previous experience – and people know it.
So what’s the secret to dealing when you’re the victim of office politics? If you’re right, stand by that. Don’t ever cave in and take the quick and easy way out because that’s a temporary end. If they’d turn on you once, they’ll turn on you again. Caving in only shows that you can be taken advantage of, and they will milk that dry, plus the consequences of doing wrong will follow you a lot longer than standing up for what’s right. They might not like you, but they’ll respect you and at least know not to let you catch them with their hand in the cookie jar again. If you aren’t right, correct yourself immediately and stick to your guns in walking down the right road. And whichever situation you’re in, it’s imperative that you have patience. Truth will show itself in time and it will be end game then. It might take months or even years for things to come around, but they will and you’ll be better off for it. The reward will come in patient endurance, and it will be something that nobody can deny. Sure, there are people that are so stubborn that they’ll refuse to change their mind no matter what happens, but don’t worry about them. Leave them in their ignorance and move on because it’s highly probably that they’ll be gone in time themselves.
I believe Jana Lanning in Anywhere But Here is a good personification of office politics gone wrong, because she’s the one in the weakest position. She didn’t do anything wrong and in fact suffered for doing right, but recent personal losses kept her from taking a stand in the right way and the right timing. The people that create these situations are masters at turning things against you even if you didn’t do anything wrong, and it’s exhausting to constantly defend your own character. Unfortunately, she found this out too late and suffered the consequences of crossing the wrong people simply by being who she was and not deferring to people doing things wrong. She was right and had proof of it, but she didn’t know how to present that truth in a combative work environment. That happens sometimes, and it’s awful. I think the worst offence in the world is to have to suffer for other peoples’ mistakes, and office politics are the ultimate example of that.
I think this is why eople tell me that they find Jana Lanning so likeable. She’s a good person that doesn’t deserve the hard knocks that come her way from people taking advantage of her shy nature, youth, and inexperience. She makes the same mistakes that all of us made in our early adulthood and we understand her confusion at why life is kicking her around. Reality is a hard teacher, and it’s the only one that can do the job once school leaves off. Remember the movie “St. Elmo’s Fire” from the 80’s? That strange, new world opening up is the exact thing that Jana faces, and we understand exactly where she’s coming from. She, like the rest of us, has to learn to find those gems of opportunity in the rubble of defeat to rebuild a new life from shattered dreams. In some ways, we may even relate to her right where we’re at, because life is always teaching us lessons.
So no, I didn’t start out in life exactly like Jana did. I actually did marry my college sweetheart, but I never made it to graduate school because I found other things that I believed were worth more in my life than higher education. I never struggled with depression, but I knew (and still know) many who do battle that demon, and I hope Jana’s struggle helps people with depression understand that this is a battle they can win if they stay in the fight. But yes, I did go through an office merger in my early years in the workforce, and I found myself prey to the power plays, albeit in much different circumstances. All I can say is that wisdom comes from experience, and I gained plenty in those few years.
And lest you think it’s impossible for poor Jana to face so much at one time, I call your bluff. Too much smashing my life to bits was the catalyst for my next novel, Splinter – but that’s one for a future blog entry. I’ll address it closer to the release date in mid 2013. Until then, enjoy Anywhere But Here and my other books - information on them and links to buy are on the other tabs of this website. I hope you find entertainment and inspiration in them.
That’s all today.
I recently heard a sermon on BBN about how the Book of Nehemiah shows 4 ways the devil trys to stop people from doing God's will. They are derision, discouragement, destruction and division. I think this is pretty accurate. After all, God doesn't attack us. He usually changes our circumstances and/or prompts a change of mind and heart within us if the intervention is Holy and an effort to put us on a right path. I believe my story from yesterday's entry showed this at work. There were no attacks in that situation; simply changing circumstances which eventually lead me to a change of heart. Certainly I could have continued to pursue an advanced degree in a different program, but the experience shifted my desires to other areas. In fact, I felt strongly prompted to pursue writing after this incident and I had an experience last year that showed all 4 of these steps at work to divert me from what I felt prompted to do.
In April 2010 I had an idea for an apocolyptic sci-fi thriller novel. I had just completed the manuscript for Anywhere But Here, and frankly I was surprised to have an idea for another novel so soon after completing one. I'm usually exhausted and novel ideas come, at best, every 2-3 years. I was excited to already have another potential project, so I immediately dug in and began writing the first chapter of this new piece. Frankly, it was the only excitement I had in the area of writing. I hadn't had anything published in over three years, and a contract that I was offered a year earlier fell through when the publisher filed for bankruptcy (see discouragement and destruction at work). This lack of success had caused enthusiasm to wane over my writing, and people that had been so excited when I published Battleground Earth in 2004 had now dismissed my writing as nothing more than a "nice little hobby" (see derision at work). Through this dry period I did pray about whether it was a sign to stop writing and move on, but the ideas kept coming and I continued to feel compelled and prompted to continue writing, even if the stories never made it any further than my hard drive.
My progress didn't make it past the first chapter, though, because I got tendinitis in my right wrist. It took about 8 weeks to heal. During that time I had to keep my typing to a minimum. I prayed and felt that I should use the time to research and further develop this novel. In fact, I decided to use the entire summer for this task and to enter this novel idea in the 2010 National Novel Writing Month challenge for 2010. That gave me 5 months to research, brainstorm, outline, and prepare to write the rough draft of the novel, and it would finally give me a chance to enter this writing challenge that I'd had my eye on and thought about entering for many years.
I tentatively call the tendinitis a destruction attack on me. I say "tentatively" because I am aware that the tendinitis was caused by typing at work all day and then coming home and typing at night to write Anywhere But Here, so the injury was a result of actions that I knowingly and willingly took.It was just the timing of the injury and the fact that my left wrist wasn't hurt at all that made me suspicious.
I proceeded with my plan and come November 1, 2010 I was ready to start on the novel. I was fully healed and had plenty of notes ready to go. I made great progress for the first few days. I was going through a major life transition at the time from major changes in my personal and professional life, but I felt that I was on a right path. In fact, writing Splinter for NaNo felt like a claim of independence; like a way of saying this is my life and I'm taking it and putting it together my way. It was a personal victory for me.
Unfortunately, the devil had his last punch to pack, and he gave me a wallop right when I didn't need it. It was at that time that other people in my life decided that they had a whole lot of problems with all of these changes, and it was time to do something about it. Tempers exploded and I saw sides of people that I had known for years that had never come out. They weren't angry at me, but since the change was centered around me then I was viewed as the linchpin of it all, and they saw me as the one to "make things right." They were mad at circumstances, mad at situations, and yes, mad at one another. I tried to soothe them, but tempers raged on. I even pointed out, as gently as I could, that they were reacting violently to things that usually didn't bother them, or were minor irritations. Occasionally they would stop, look stunned, say "you're right, that's wierd," then proceed to keep screaming about everything wrong with the world. Most of the time, they said I was crazy and needed to do something about things NOW. (See division at work.)
Once again, I prayed about the situation and this time, I had what can only be called a divine inspiration: Don't worry about anything else; just finish that rough draft as quickly as possible. Ignore everything else until it's done and deal with people once you get this story, which has been percolating in your head for months, out of the brain and onto the hard drive. Until then, reality can wait.
That's exactly what I did. I quit socializing, cleared my calendar, only did the bare essentials, and pounded away at that manuscript in every free minute I could squeeze out of my days. I amazed myself by finishing a 51,000 word first draft of Splinter by November 15.
A funny thing happened when I cautiously re-emerged back to reality. World War 3 hadn't broken out, and nobody had killed anybody else. In fact, all those tempers quieted. Most of them slunk away in silence, but a few did express shock and dismay at their behavior. They couldn't believe they had reacted so violently to things that were nothing more than minor irriations and didn't understand. I knew exactly what it was. Satan lit them with some hell fire to stop me, but when I wasn't there to burn then it was useless so he took it from them. I could have easily stayed angry at them and cast blame and judgement, but I realized it as an attack of division and didn't want to allow it to succeed on any level. It was hard, but I made an active decision to forgive and let it go.
I'd like to say that the devil just went away after that, but the truth is that I faced similar attacks every single time I worked on Splinter. Every rewrite, every edit, every proofread it happened. People saying they couldn't believe I was still at it when I clearly wasn't going to get published again. Illness, computer problems and yes, those tempers did flare back up every single time. But you know what? I prayed for protection, I persevered, and with the Lord's grace and help, I finished the manuscript last month. It's in the submittal process now and I pray that protection and help continue to bring it to publication.
Another thing did happen in the wake of all of this. I was offered e-book contracts for Blurry and Anywhere But Here, finally ending a 4 year publication dry spell. I also got several flash fiction pieces and a couple of short stories posted online, and that success gave me the confidence to self publish two more pieces: Quarantine, a suspense novellette, and Resonance, a horror long story. Thanks be to God that the opportunities offered by e-publishing took me from “a nice little hobby” to being an Independent Author!
The point of this story is to show that you will come up against opposition when you try to do God's will by finding your authentic self, but the rewards of perseverence are great. Prayer is absolutely essential - in fact, it's key. I think you see in my tale that prayer is how I channeled the Lord's power into my life. Through it, He provided me with wisdom, healing and protection. I can tell you for a fact that if He will do it for me, He will do it for everybody. God is no respector of persons. If you love and trust Him, He will provide, protect and comfort you.
I know it's discouraging to find you'll have to fight the devil to be who you were made to be, but the fact is that you're going to fight him no matter what you do. Satan will taunt you whether you do what he wants or not, so you might as well claim Christ's victory and piss off the devil every chance you get. Because face it: With Satan you can't win, but with Christ you can't lose. That is the most universal truth there is.
Thanks for sticking with me through 2 life tales. I hope that my experiences have given you insight for your own life and perhaps inspiration for dealing with situations that you face. Take care and keep fighting the good fight.
Next time: Personality Quirks - What's Sin, What's There For a Reason.