Simple Steps to Writing Success

WomanWritingID-100110284Looking back over my writing career these past 25+ years, I think I did a few things right. Not big things like majoring in journalism or doing an internship at a publishing house. Both of those things would have been wonderful, but unfortunately I didn’t have those opportunities.

I attribute my modest success as a writer to simple things my parents modeled for me.

  • I didn’t let the odds get me down. I knew I wanted to write, and I was going to give it my best effort, no matter what. No matter what people told me about how few people got their books in print, I made up my mind to do the best best I could and see where it took me.
  • I studied the craft. I learned the rules and when to break them. I studied and recognize that I’ll always need to study. If I want to be a writer, I will need to learn more about the many things I still don’t know.
  • I listened to my heart. I wrote from the places in life where God was teaching me. I watched where He was moving in my life and tried to join Him there. This meant writing about pain and disappointment and failure and not following the typical path most writers take. My writing covers a wide range of topics, from fiction to nonfiction to academic books to Christian living books to devotionals. And I’ve loved writing all of them and been blessed to partner with amazing publishers for all of them.
  • I committed to learn. Intelligent people understand that they can learn from anyone. I’m always impressed with seasoned authors who go to writer’s conferences and attend seminars that are presented by writers with far less experience than themselves. Why would they do this? Because they’re listening for something fresh and new. They have the heart of an avid, willing learner. Be open to critique, to editorial feedback, to the wisdom of those in the industry.
  • I refused to quit. I’m still learning and experimenting with new genres. I was always working to absorb new knowledge about my craft. Successful writers must be self-motivated learners. ALL writers experience rejection, which is simply an opportunity to reevaluate, rewrite, and resubmit (unless the writing stinks). But don’t stop writing!
  • i gave back out of gratitude. Many people poured into my life as a writer. But beyond that, God gave me the opportunity to become a full time, stay-at-home writer. The reality of that truth will always overwhelm me. No bit of knowledge or ability or skill that I possess is my own–it all belongs to God. It’s been my privilege to sow into the lives of other authors through conferences and one-on-one mentoring. I hope to continue to do this and encourage other authors to do the same and “pay it forward” by investing in the lives of future writers.

 We can trust God to direct us to success through the simple steps of life.

We don’t have to strive to achieve “greatness.” We don’t have to worry that we’ll somehow “miss” His will.

We only have to be faithful today, to listen for His voice today.

Then to walk in day-by-day obedience.

This is what true success looks like.

It’s that simple.

 

Simple Faith

         Paul E.  Burke

         Paul E. Burke

My father died last week after suffering a devastating stroke. He was 94.

Dad’s funeral was simple, the way he would have liked it. My brother and I gave the role of the eulogies to our children, who focused their words on the things my dad would have wanted to share with those who he had the privilege to speak to:

  • Keep things straight between yourself and God.

I don’t remember a day of my life when I didn’t observe my father reading his Bible or one of his favorite devotional books.He taught me that our relationship with God is your #1 priority in life–not with words, but in the way he lived. Dad pretty much saw life in black and white when it came to his relationship with God. One of the most brilliant engineering consultants of his day and a cryptographer who worked with General Eisenhower during World War II, my dad could find no rational faith other than Christianity. But Dad didn’t lean upon apologetics in his everyday life. Dad was a man who lived by simple faith in a God who loved him who sent his Son to save Paul E. Burke from his sins. And that was that.

  • Give from a grateful heart. 

My dad seldom went to church without tucking a $50 into his Bible to pass on to someone in need. He taught me that tithing was just a starting point for giving back to the Lord. He gave generously to community organizations, national ministries, and individuals. If a family member brought you to Christmas or Thanksgiving, Dad would probably slip you a fifty. If you were involved in any type of ministry, he’d send more later and maybe buy you a used car when you came home on furlough (my mom would buy you lingerie and Avon if you were a woman).

In my dad’s later years, things became tough. My mom developed Alzheimer’s. In spite of the progression of her disease, he refused to leave her side. This meant moving into an assisted living facility where he was the only resident without Alzheimer’s so he could share a room and a bed with Mom. He held her hand even when she cursed him and no longer knew his name. He was grateful every day that he could remain at her side.

And when his body became wracked by pain, he never complained. In fact, he never even acknowledged his pain. Every day I spoke to Dad, he talked about the wonderful life he was blessed with, even as he gasped through chest pains. He never talked to me without expressing gratitude. No one would ever know he experienced daily physical suffering, had slowly relinquished his personal freedom to care for a wife with dementia, and was a man with impressive accomplishments. Give Paul Burke five minutes and he’d talk to you about God our tell you about his wonderful family.

  • Love your family. 

My dad’s love language was caring for our family’s material needs. He wasn’t a man of great physical affection or emotional speeches. It took me time to understand this when I was a child and a teenager. I believe my father had Asberger’s, although he was never formally diagnosed. But he loved his wife and children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and other family members generously. He cared deeply about our needs and every aspect of our welfare, and in his later years, he mellowed to accept our hugs, kisses, and words of affection. And we learned to see the love that he had poured into us and our mother over his 94 years in acts of faithfulness, giving, hard work, investment, care, planning, mentoring, modeling, and provision.

  • Love others.

When I was a teenager and younger, I remember my dad doing yard work, home maintenance, and shoveling snow for many of the shut-on and widowed individuals in our church. My mom and dad provided meals, transportation, and home care to those who were disabled, elderly, or in need. Dad frequently provided financially for those who were in need. He was also a great neighbor who loaned his tools and engineering expertise to those who lived around him. You could often find him puttering on a project for someone else, helping them devise a cart to help haul their garbage can to the curb or designing a more efficient snow shovel handle.

Just a few nights before my dad died, he sat up in bed (he’d been in a near coma for days) and spoke to his eldest grandson: “Brian, I’m not afraid to die. I’m welcoming it and ready to go. I’m confident about where I’m going and I’m ready. This is what I’ve been waiting for.” Then he thanked my nephew for the care he and the family had provided for him over the years, pounded down a huge meal, and laid down for the last time.

Dad was well versed in apologetics and finely tuned arguments about the merits of Christianity. But in the end, he lived and died based on simple faith:

God loves us. Keep things straight with him. Give from a grateful heart. Love your family. Love others.

Love you, Dad.You will be missed. Thanks for showing us a simple walk of faith, no matter how tough things got.

Six Habits to Stir Your Writing Creativity

WomanWritingID-100110284Like me, you may think you’re not a particularly creative person. But thinking of yourself as a “have not” in itself can stunt your creative efforts. Instead, think in terms of ways you can stir the creative juices we’re all born with.

Creativity is often a matter of work and discipline more than innate ability. 

Try developing some of the following habits to stir your writing creativity.

Habit #1. Reject the “Yeah, but…” mentality.

Allowing yourself to say “Yeah, but I’m really not …” is really an excuse for stepping away from the task and giving up. It’s refusing to offer an honest effort before you even begin. Instead, refuse to shut down, and change the phrase to “Yeah, and I’m going to …” These words confirm you commitment to the task and the value of your efforts.

Habit #2. Brainstorm with other writers. 

Ask for ideas from other writers. Get together over lunch or during a brief teleconference. Interaction with others can stimulate new ideas and bring fresh perspectives to your thinking.

A 2015 study by researchers at Rice University backs a similar concept. Researchers evaluated sales representatives at a pharmaceutical company in China. Those with wide networks of contacts devised more creative solutions to sales and marketing challenges.

Habit #3. Give yourself freedom. 

Don’t forget to take breaks and relax. Take time to read and make your spiritual life a priority. Your best research comes from listening and learning from your surroundings. Creativity allows you to say yes to new forms of expression and learning. Learn a new skill or pursue a talent. Finish an educational degree or take culinary classes. Give yourself freedom to be creative and express the spirit of wonder God created inside us.

Habit #4. Reward your efforts, even if you see them as failures.

Leslie Ehm, president at Toronto creativity training firm Combustion, defines creativity as “combining previously uncombined thoughts and ideas to create new thoughts and ideas.” We are a culture that has become overly focused on “right” answers. However,

Creativity is a process and not an outcome.

Therefore, we need to reward ourselves for our creative efforts, not the outcome of our efforts. We must dare to risk and learn to see the value in creativity itself.

Habit #5. Always be working on new writing projects.

Focus on projects that flow from your life and your passions. Keep five or six idea files going at a time, and build them as ideas occur or as you have inspiration to write. As you walk through life, look for relevant or ancillary information you believe could be useful and add those notes. Authors call this process “composting.” Allow this composting process to continue and for ideas to germinate and grow until you feel the time comes to begin actual organization and writing. You may also want to include perspectives from other authors, experts, or contributors.

Habit #6. Don’t quit.

Building your creative muscles won’t happen overnight. Ask another author to encourage you, or find a partner or two who can serve as partners in creativity.

 

What about YOU? What suggestions can you share for stimulating your creativity as a writer?

Six Life Lessons My Father Taught Me

Dad with Mom last year

My dad sitting with my mom in the dementia care home where he lived with her the last year of her life.

 

Yesterday I received the dreaded call I’ve been waiting for.

My 94 year-old father was found lying unresponsive outside the door of his tiny apartment in his assisted living home. 

First responders had intubated him–a procedure that violated the wishes of his DNR. As his co-medical POA, I drove to the other side of the state to oversee his extubation and, possibly, his final breaths. He remains stable but in a greatly diminished condition, apparently ravaged by a stroke.

My dad was a brilliant man. He served in military intelligence alongside General Eisenhower during World War II. He was a cryptographer, or code breaker, and was at the signing at the Little Red School House. He had a highly successful career as an engineer and consultant in the automotive field.

But those accomplishments didn’t seep into my life. His everyday life shaped mine.

My father’s routine habits helped form my values.

  • My dad taught me that tithing is where gratitude and stewardship begin, then overflow into deeper giving. Dad gave his tithe to our local church, but he also gave to numerous missionaries and indulged my mother in her “ministry of lingerie” to missionary wives who were home on furlough. (My mom believed in purchasing personal indulgences of those in ministry that they would probably never treat themselves to.)
  • My dad taught me never to leave the house with taking a little extra cash to share with someone in need. Almost every Sunday that we went to church, my father had a $50 stuck in his Bible to give to a family in need. In later years, he’d take twenty dollar bills to the senior care community where my mother was enrolled in an Alzheimer’s program, and hand them out to anyone he thought could use them.
  • Dad taught me to care for those who are less able to care for themselves. He was always clearing snow for widows, raking an elderly neighbor’s yard, or mowing the church lawn.
  • Dad taught me that love never quits. He never left my mother’s side during her long struggle with Alzheimer’s. He even moved into a dementia-care home with her, refusing to leave her side in the final stages of her disease, when our family could no longer care for her in our homes.
  • Dad taught me that love wears many faces. When I was a teenager, my dad’s stoicism frustrated me, and I often felt abandoned. As I grew into adulthood, I came to understand his love language was different from mine. I also learned that he was influenced by Asberger’s and has difficulty expressing emotions. But dad always showed love by providing for us and seeing that our every need was met. He also struggled to show shy and childlike affection in his later years, in a valiant effort to grow.
  • Dad taught me to keep a heavenly focus. No matter how hard things got, Dad always talked about heaven and what a good life he had. He exuded gratitude and was confident of his heavenly home for eternity. No matter what things may have looked like around him, Dad kept his eyes fixed on his final destination. His example has encouraged me–especially this past year in my own health challenges.

Sometimes the most influential lessons we teach are communicated in small things: faithfulness, tenacity, hope.

Caring for others changes us. It makes us more like Christ. Thanks, Dad, for showing me how to live more like Jesus.

 

What life lessons did your father teach you?

 

Childhood Trauma and the Church

BackToSchoolBlues

I’ve done a fair amount of research over the past few years on Kaiser Permanente’s ACE Study. The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study is one of the largest investigations ever conducted to assess associations between childhood maltreatment and later-life health and well-being. The study is a collaboration between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Permanente’s Health Appraisal Clinic in San Diego.

More than 17,000 Kaiser Permanente employees volunteered to undergo a comprehensive physical examination to provide detailed information about their childhood experience of abuse, neglect, and family dysfunction.

Ten categories were determined to be adverse childhood experiences. Five are personal:

  • Physical abuse
  • Verbal abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Physical neglect
  • Emotional neglect

Five are related to other family members:

  • A parent who’s an alcoholic
  • A mother who’s a victim of domestic violence
  • One or no parent in the home (divorce, death, abandonment)
  • A parent who’s incarcerated
  • A family member with mental illness

The ACE Study findings suggest that certain experiences are major risk factors for the leading causes of illness and death as well as poor quality of life in the United States. It is critical to understand how some of the worst health and social problems in our nation can arise as a consequence of adverse childhood experiences.

More importantly, the ACE Study provides insight about why so many people are physically, emotionally, and spiritually broken in our churches and communities. 

According to Kaiser’s findings, a stunning link exists between childhood trauma and the chronic diseases people develop as adults, as well as social and emotional problems. The study’s researchers came up with an ACE score to explain a person’s risk for chronic disease. Think of it as a cholesterol score for childhood toxic stress. You get one point for each type of trauma you’ve experienced. The higher your ACE score, the higher your risk of health and social problems. For instance,

  • For women, the risk of need for antidepressants by the age of 50 increases to 100%.
  • With an ACE score of 4, the risk of COPD in adulthood increases by almost 20%.
  • With an ACE score of 4, the risk of serious financial problems in adulthood increases by approximately 23%.
  • With an ACE score of 4, the risk of of teen pregnancy increases by 40%.
  • With an ACE score of 4 or more, the risk of being raped later in life increases by more than 30%.

My best friend, a woman who has clung to her faith in God since childhood, scores 10 out of 10. Social workers who have met her and know her story call her a “miracle” and consider it beyond remarkable that she has lived into her fifties.

It’s time for the church to recognize the value, dignity, and role of the broken and hurting in our midst.

Jesus came for the lost and hurting, not so we could minister to one another.  Our programming should reflect integrate the needs of families with special needs children, those with mental and physical illness, caregiving ministries, and knowledge of community resources. Our pews are filled with adults, young people, and children, who are suffering from domestic violence, abuse, hunger and neglect, mental and physical illness, caregiver fatigue, pornography addiction, eating disorders, addictions, and many other wounds and are searching for help and hope.

I, for one, am enormously grateful for a church that ministers to needs such as these, and provides counseling and practical support for those in need. Churches also need to equip each of us to step into roles of loving service as God leads.

For practical resources for the hurting, visit MusicfortheSoul.org.

How do you think the church can better meet the needs of those who have been influenced the the categories of the ACE Study?

Holiday Tips for Alzheimer’s Caregivers

caregiving holiday

The holidays offer an extra level of stress for Alzheimer’s caregivers. The hustle and bustle of the season adds confusion to already challenging caregiving priorities.

The following tips can help minimize anxiety for your loved one with Alzheimer’s:

Minimize rearrangement of furniture to accommodate your Christmas tree and decorations.

Changing physical surroundings for those with dementia can cause confusion. Stacking gifts can create hazards for tripping. Even small decorations can be confused for candy or food and be eaten by someone with dementia. Brightly colored, twinkling lights can also cause confusion.

Keep the number of house guests to a minimum.

People love to help, so don’t be shy about asking friends to sit with your loved one so you can attend a special event. As much as you’d love to have Grandma at a special function, it might not be best for her to attend. Crowds and noise are very difficult for those with Alzheimer’s to handle; the confusion agitates them.

And if the event is in your home, keep the guest list to a minimum for your loved one’s sake.

Alter your loved one’s routine as little as possible.

People with Alzheimer’s thrive on routine. Sundowning is one of the most challenging symptoms of dementia–worsening of cognitive and physical challenges in late afternoon and evening hours. It was always a high priority for me to get my mother home before four in the afternoon. That was the time of day when she became most combative and uncooperative.

We may think our loved one might enjoy an evening Christmas pageant or lovely candlelight service. But the truth is that crowds, noise, lights, unfamiliar faces, and even multiple conversations can overwhelm those with demential and Alzheimer’s. Their brains can no longer handle complex processing.

Make time for simple things.

Plan for down time with your loved one. Read a book together. Sing carols. Enjoy an afternoon of holiday baking–even if it means using store-bought dough.

Make simple ornaments or cards or watch It’s a Wonderful Life and share a bowl of popcorn

Read the Christmas story or use the figures from a creche to talk about the events of the first Christmas.

Christmas will be more meaningful if you take time to slow down and soak in the true significance of love, sacrifice, mercy, and forgiveness.

 

I’d love to hear a favorite Christmas memory about your loved one.

Six Ways to Listen for God to Speak

hurricane_2

For nearly a year, I’ve been praying for God’s clear direction.

Health problems have drastically changed my life in many ways–my physical and mental abilities, relationships, finances, sleeping and eating habits, how I shop, even whether or not I can leave my house to sit through a movie or go to a crowded restaurant,

It’s been a frustrating yet blessed year. I’ve waited month after month after month, praying for specific answers to specific questions about my “new” life.

Sometimes answers have come. Other times they have not.

These are a few simple things I’ve learned about listening and waiting for God to speak.

  • Read the Bible (Hebrews 8:10-11).

I can almost hear you saying, “Duh.” Everyone says, “Read the Bible.”

Maybe that’s because we don’t always do it–at least to hear what God wants to say to us and not to proof-text our opinion or rationalize our behavior.

When I was in college, the guy I’d been dating for more than a year broke up with me. In a very painful way. Like most college girls, I thought I was going to die. I dove into the Bible searching for all the reasons God should force my boyfriend to come back to me.

Even though he’d made a very obvious choice to move on.

Thank God, he doesn’t always give us what we ask for or force his opinion on us. Fast forward, and I’ve been married for nearly forty years to the greatest guy in the world. God didn’t give me what I wanted back in college. He had a better plan.

What he offered in Scripture was the promise that he was enough in the tough times of my life.

  • Seek counsel from people of God (Proverbs 11:14).

Wise people. People who’ve rode out the storms of life with God for many years.

God to church–no don’t just go, become part of a healthy, active, transparent body of believers. Root yourself in Bible study with them. Learn from their mistakes and their victories. Let them into your life and open your heart to their counsel. God created us for community.

  • Listen for the voice of the Spirit of God (I Thessalonians 5:19-21).

God wants to speak to each of us personally. He does this primarily through his Word and the moving of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. The Spirit of God often moves through promptings, but his voice is always consistent with the Word of God. The moving of the Spirit will be confirmed by the Word of God, God’s people, and wisdom.

  • Wait for confirmation. (Matthew 18:16).

If respected fellow believers caution you against a decision, regard their counsel seriously. The Spirit of God oftenl confirms God’s direction in the lives of fellow believers.

  • Evaluate circumstances and timing (Acts 18:1-3).

The friendship between Priscilla, Aquila, and Paul became one of the most important relationships in the New Testament, Yet, it seems to have occurred because of random circumstances.

One of the most important relationships of my life came into being because of a miraculous convergence of circumstances. God often works behind the scenes. We need to be attentive and discerning.

  • Don’t act until you experience God’s peace (Colossians 3:15). 

Just a few weeks ago, Dan and I were advised that I return to Mayo Clinic to carry out the next segment of my medical treatment. Doctors in my home town felt that the best and most appropriate care for my condition would be found at Mayo.

Dan and I refused the recommendation of my neurologist, and we’ve experienced God’s peace in our decision.

While Mayo Clinic may have been a good choice for others in my position, it was not a good decision for me. God has confirmed it in subsequent conversations, in timing in my being scheduled in an alternate clinic, in the counsel of others, and in the peace we’ve felt in our decision.

I’m overwhelmed that God desires to speak to me–personally–about the details in my life. He WANTS to talk to me. May I long more and more to listen for his whispers in my life.

What about you? Share you experience with us. We’d love to hear from you.