Thursday, July 9, 2020

Thriving in Unexpected Circumstances, Key Strategy #1

If you have a fb account, you may have seen and chuckled at the following meme:

Of course, it’s referring to the pandemic, self-quarantining, etc., of the past several months, but for many of us in the 2nd mile of life, it applies in other ways as well. For one reason or another, life has taken unexpected twists and turns, and we’ve ended up with a life we never anticipated.

I’ve come to learn there are 3 key strategies to adapting to and thriving in unexpected circumstances, and as I promised in my last post, I’m going to share one of them today. 

The first and most important strategy in thriving when life doesn’t turn out as expected is to nurture and maintain your spiritual strength.

Of course, what constitutes “spiritual strength” will vary, depending on a person’s spiritual beliefs; consequently, the path to spiritual strength will vary. 

Similarly, because every 2nd-miler and his or her personality, values, circumstances, etc., are unique to them, I can’t offer a blueprint or list of step-by-step instructions. I will offer examples or suggestions, but they are definitely not all-inclusive; each person must do what is right for them.

As a Christian, I have found that the more time I spend in prayer and in the study & application (in my own life) of God’s Word, the stronger I am spiritually. Last year, I completed a variety of Bible studies of various lengths (30 days, 6 weeks, etc). This year, I decided to participate in a Facebook group called 12 Minutes; I begin every morning by reading that day’s Scripture passage, and I follow that with a time of prayer. I also pray throughout the day, as thoughts or concerns come to mind, and again before I go to bed. I finish each day by reflecting (through journal writing) on my day from a spiritual perspective. 

A dear friend who is agnostic shared with me that meditation has helped him deal with the devastating effects of an unexpected job loss just at age 55. He explained in a recent email that “had it not been for meditation focused on the words of a wide variety of very wise individuals these past 18 months, I don’t think I could have coped with losing my job and starting over at this stage in the game.” 

A former coworker has faced several life-threatening medical emergencies and is, at age 55, living in an assisted-living facility. She has found that spending a minimum of 1 hour in solitude in nature feeds her spirit, so after breakfast every morning, she wheels herself to a garden on the property and enjoys the flowers and watches the birds and squirrels that share the space with her. 

Perhaps you haven’t given much thought to your spiritual life or beliefs in quite some time, or even not since you were a child. You will probably want to begin by considering what you actually do or do not believe (and/or believe in). There are many resources available: books, magazines, websites, professionals, practitioners, etc. It’s important, of course, that any sources you consider are reputable and reliable.
You might, on the other hand, already incorporate spiritual practices in your life, and that’s wonderful. Consider, then, how you can improve or enhance those practices. A close friend told me that while she’s been a Christian since age 12, it has only been in the last year or so that she began reading her Bible every day. A lady I met at a writers’ conference last year shared with me that reading, for the first time in her life, about the foundations and history of Judaism helped her be more intentional in her own spiritual life. “No more casual recitations of memorized passages. Now I am intentional in my faith-practices, and that has made an enormous difference in how I handle life stressors,” she explained. 

I challenge you to consider your own spiritual life and how you can develop, maintain, and increase your spiritual strength. Consider practices that fit your belief system, your personality, your circumstances, and that you can actually implement. Choose one or a few of them and apply them on a consistent basis.

I hope, too, that you’ll share your thoughts and experiences — as much or as little as you are comfortable sharing — via a comment below. What is working for you already? What are you willing to implement? What was the outcome of any changes you made?

I’ll be back in 2 weeks with key strategy #2!

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Get Ready to Make Lemonade

If it’s one thing those of us in the 2nd mile of life have learned, it’s that life rarely turns out as we planned and expected. In fact, it could be argued that we often find ourselves in circumstances that we would not, even in our wildest imaginings, have foreseen. Circumstances that are less-than-ideal, at best, and sometimes absolutely overwhelming.
Some 2nd-milers, for example, are entering this phase of life alone due to divorce or the death of a spouse. Others find themselves working full-time far past the age they had hoped to retire, and some are dealing with difficult, even life-threatening, health issues. 

And while the old saying admonishes us to make lemonade when life hands us lemons, making something good from the not-so-good circumstances that come our way is rarely so simple.

So what can we do when life circumstances don’t turn out as we’d hoped? 

It depends. It depends on what constitutes the negative circumstances. It also depends on our own personalities. What might help one person in a particular set of circumstances might actually be counterproductive to someone else dealing with a very similar situation.

But I’ve found through personal experience, talking with other 2nd-milers and experts in a variety of fields, and research that there are a few key things that anyone facing negative life circumstances can and should do. 

These strategies will not alter our life circumstances. Rather, they equip us to deal with — and hopefully even triumph over — the lemons life has thrown our way.

But before I share the first key strategy with you next Thursday, I’m going to ask you to do one thing. 

Between now and then, I want you to focus on keeping an open mind.

As I share the 3 key strategies, I may mention incorporating something you’ve tried before or that you used to do but somewhere along the line stopped doing. 

I may share the benefits of something you’ve never done. Even something that you’ve always dismissed out of hand.

I want to be very clear. I’m not going to tell — or even ask — you to do a single thing over the next few weeks. I’m simply going to share 3 key strategies. I’m going to share how I and others have personalized those strategies.

Then I’m going to invite you to think about how incorporating those strategies might play out in your life, in a way with which you are comfortable.

That’s it! 

I’ll be back next Thursday with Key Strategy #1. 

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Stop the Hypocrisy

We’ve become a nation of hypocrites. 

Adults decry bullying, demanding schools “do something”, while at the same time engaging in bullying on social media and among their peers.

We complain about the proliferation of fake news yet share without fact-checking articles on social media. 

Racist language is met with outrage. Sometimes. The same people who are outraged often use it themselves and pay to see movies with it, laugh at stand-up comics whose routines are filled with it, and spend millions of dollars each year on music in which it is rampant. 

The appropriation of cultural clothing/jewelry, even by those who were unaware of the object’s significance, is vilified. A group of white politicians wearing kente stoles and kneeling in a carefully-orchestrated arrangement is applauded. 

We expect our children to obey our rules but are angry at the teacher who catches them breaking school rules and at the police officer who catches them breaking the law. And, of course, we deliberately break the laws we don’t agree with. 

A Christian man holding a Bible at a burned church is labeled a “photo op”, but that same group of politicians kneeling while wearing, for presumably the first time in their lives, a kente stole, is not; in fact, it is applauded by many.

At least 65 % of Americans claim to be Christian, yet politicians who vow to vote for or even have a track record of voting for practices that are blatantly anti-Christian are elected by wide margins.

We demand tolerance yet do not extend it to others.

The Hollywood elite and and many wealthy individuals denounce a wall protecting our citizenry from those who willingly break our laws to enter this country. Those same people live in homes surrounded by a wall or inside gated communities patrolled by high-priced security teams.

It’s far past time for people to stop pointing the finger at the actions of others and focus on our own.

It’s far past time for all of us to truly practice — day in, day out — the beliefs and values we claim to hold, to uphold the same standards that we expect others to live by.

It's time to live authentically. 

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Challenge Yourself

That image -- all those books in one place -- makes me smile. I love books, books, and more books!

That's why I was so excited back in December to find not only 1, but 2, Facebook reading challenge groups. Both had a list of categories — book published in 2020, book by author whose last name begins with the same letter as your own, etc. One challenged readers to read 52 books, the other was a challenge of 56 books. 
Throughout January and the first half of February, I enjoyed reading books, posting what I’d read on the appropriate fb group, and reading about what others had read. And then, as if the proverbial switch had been flipped, the once-congenial, book-centered conversations on both fb groups changed. 

First, someone shared that for the category of biography, they’d read one of a famous American Christian. In less than 2 hours, there were 163 comments by other group members, 159 of which were negative — even mocking and condemning — in nature. There was very little discussion of the book itself, as had been the norm in the group; instead, the comments were all directed at the idea of reading a Christian book, at Christianity in general, etc. When, finally, a few of us attempted to turn the conversation back to the topic of the book itself without responding to the vitriol, the moderators closed comments. 

A few days later, another member posted that she was uncomfortable reading a book in which LGTB relationships were the focus. That poster faced a barrage of comments that ranged from amazement at her close-mindedness to comments wishing horrible physical consequences for their “hate” and lack of tolerance. Again, when a couple of people bravely admitted they were also uncomfortable with that category, the moderators stepped in. This time, one of them reminded members that “tolerance” and “open-mindedness” was a hallmark of the group.

I contacted the moderators of each group privately. I explained politely that I respected their right to have whatever categories of books they chose, but that I hoped that next year, just as there were categories such as “New Age” and “witchcraft”, there would be a challenge that was Christian-focused.  I explained that since, from the comments on the thread about the biography of a Christian, it appeared most participants were not Christian, that would indeed be a category that required participants to step outside their comfort zone. Or, better yet, simply broaden all categories so that they were challenging but more neutral.

I  heard back from both moderators. Both indicated that categories such as those I mentioned would not be included because some participants might be offended and because they do not want to “push any agenda”. Hmmmm . . .   

I didn’t bother to respond. I merely left both groups and continued the challenge on my own. 

But the whole experience made me sad. Sad that in a community of people who love to read, who want to challenge themselves to read beyond their normal genres and outside their usual preferences, the majority of participants was unwilling to do so. Perhaps even worse, the overwhelming number of readers who were championing tolerance of others vilified anyone who did not conform to their philosophies and worldview.

I’ve thought of starting my own fb reading challenge in 2021. A group with categories broad enough to challenge participants and encourage them to try new things *without* forcing them into specific philosophies or world views. A group in which members focus on the books and are respectful of those who disagree with them. 

I’ve been jotting down and ideas and have created a fb “page” (not yet public). I hope you’ll consider joining! 

I’m curious. What categories would you like to see included in a (book) reading challenge? 

If you're interested in being part of the challenge, follow my author page on FB (Patti Miinch). I'll be sharing information about the group in late November. 

Thursday, May 14, 2020

The Domino Effect

My grandma taught me how to play dominoes, the basic kind where each player tries to make the dots on all the “end” domino-halves add up to a multiple of 5, when I was about 4 years old. Since then, I’ve learned several other domino games, and I enjoy playing every single one.

One thing I’ve never enjoyed doing with dominoes, though, is building winding patterns of dominoes set on end before toppling one domino to cause the remaining ones to fall, one after another.

The domino effect. 

The domino effect occurs quite often even without dominoes. I start what promises to be a simple task, and before I know it, I’ve got five more that need to be done.

It happened to me yesterday. I was searching for just the right Scripture to have embroidered on a gift for my new grandson (and yes, he is absolutely adorable!). I went through my Bible, looking at verses I’d hi-lited or annotated, and I searched on line using a few Bible apps and google. The perfect verse eluded me.

Something told me I’d find just what I was looking for in one of my books.

And the first domino fell. 

I pulled from the bookshelf any book that I thought might contain what I was searching for. As I did, I was somewhat embarrassed at how many books I own that I haven’t yet read. 

I decided that after I found the perfect verse for my grandson’s gift, I’d pull from the shelves every single unread book, put them all in a pretty basket by my bed, and then read them all before the end of 2020.  

But first, I needed to find a Scripture, and I did.

That done, I went to the storage area of the basement and found that basket I knew would hold look so cute underneath the cute little piano bench next to my bed. 

More dominoes tumbled over.

By the time I was finished, I’d . . . 

    pulled the unread books from the shelf

moved a couple of large bins of things I really need to sort to the front of the basement (so I don’t  
         forget) while searching for the basket

      found the basket I had in mind
  discovered the basket wasn’t nearly big enough, but that it’s the perfect size to hold 
                  magazines under the coffee table

                         gathered the magazines from the bottom of the bookshelf and put them in the basket

                rearranged the books I have read to create a shelf (or two or three) to hold the
                                unread books
I always thought that lining up dominoes just to knock them over again served no real purpose and was just a waste of time. But in life, the domino effect can bring some pleasant surprises. 

A simple search for the perfect Scripture led me to some nearly-forgotten treasures to be read. 

Who knows how many more dominoes will fall as a result!

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Journaling with a List

I don’t remember when I first began keeping a journal, but I do know that by the time I was in fourth grade, I was recording my thoughts almost every day. 

I journaled just before going to bed. I’d retrieve my journal from its current hiding place and my favorite pen from my nightstand drawer. Then I’d pull back the side curtain from the canopy bed that my grandmother had converted, with a little help from me and inexpensive sheer curtains from the Sears catalogue, into a four-poster

Cocooned inside, with only the light from the clip-on lamp I’d attached to the bed’s headboard, I’d write. 

I was never a “I did this or that” type of journal-keeper. Instead, I poured my heart onto the pages of my journal. My dreams, my hurts, my hopes, my frustrations, my crushes . . . all recorded and then hidden, not to be seen by anyone else’s eyes.

As a lifelong journaler, I was intrigued by a recent blog entry by Cathy Baker, a writer I greatly admire. In it, she talks about keeping a topical list journal. 

I had an unused dot-matrix insert in my traveler’s notebook. Back in January, when I set up my bullet journal and inserts, I didn’t really need it.  But I had room for it, so I inserted it in the back. I knew that its purpose would eventually show itself, and it had. 

I’ve been creating a topical list journal for a few weeks now and am so excited about it that I wanted to share Cathy’s blog post with you. 


Thursday, April 23, 2020

Where's the Romance?

"Where's the romance?"
The literary agent sitting across leaned forward slightly, looked at me quizzically, and waited for my answer. 

"Actually, there is no romance. It’s a book about a woman who learns to find happiness despite the lack of romance in her life,” I responded.

"But it's expected. That's what will give the story a happy ending."

I wasn't surprised by the agent's response to my pitch for my (in-progress) novel. You see, I'd gotten the same response, almost verbatim, from a different agent a year before. 

No, I wasn't surprised.

I was disappointed.

Of course I was disappointed that when I pitched my idea neither agent showed any real interest. Any writer would be.

But it was more than that. 

I was disappointed because it seems, that despite claims to the contrary in workshops, interviews, and keynote speeches, many editors don't want something new, a plot that's innovative. No, they want to keep churning out the same plot found ad nauseum, with the exception of mysteries and police procedurals, in women’s literature today. 

If you’ve ready many women’s fiction books lately, you probably  know what I mean. Does any of this sound familiar?

A newly-widowed, financially well-off woman wanders through her too-empty house or a woman discovers that her husband is leaving her for a younger woman with whom he has been having an affair. 

After spending most of her adult life as a wife, and perhaps a mother, and facing an uncertain future, she decides — or her circle of 2-3 very close friends point out to her — that she needs to rediscover the woman she once was and fulfill the dreams that younger version of herself.

She heads off to a beach, probably to visit the family beach cottage she visited every summer while growing up OR she learns that Aunt Gertrude, an eccentric aunt with no children of her own, has left her a charming home.

Either way, off she goes. She settles in and within days sees a handsome, well-dressed man unloading groceries from a sports car at the cottage/house next door. 

And yes, you know where it goes from there. They meet, sparks of interest are followed by fireworks of new-found love, and then comes trouble in the form of disgruntled children, returning exes, fear of commitment, etc. Of course, in the end, love prevails. 

I have nothing against happy endings; in fact, I love a happy ending. But I also like books with characters and plots I can relate to. 

But I and not a single one of the widows or divorcees I know — and I know more than a few of them — live a life even remotely similar to the protagonist in the plot outlined above.

No charming cottage. No hefty bank account. No handsome, wealthy next-door-neighbor. No fireworks. Not even a spark. 

But they’re happy. 
So you see, it’s not just romance that gives a life — a story — a happy ending.

A few days after the editor informed me that without romance a woman’s novel won’t sell. I came across a wonderful quote by Beverly Cleary:

       If you don't see the book you want on the shelf, write it."

And that is exactly what I’m doing. 
So stay tuned!
Do you agree? Does a women’s literature book need romance to have a happy ending? What do you look for in a good book? Join in the conversation by sharing your thoughts via a comment.