Today is Ash Wednesday and it begins our journey of Lent together. Read the introduction and answer these questions in the comments.
This Lent, I have decided to pull back from the news and also Social Media, to go on this journey and I wanted to invite you on this adventure…
What is Lent?
Lent is the six weeks leading up to Easter and it is a time of surrender and pilgrimage across the Church. It is a time of preparation, reconciliation and fasting. It begins on Ash Wednesday (26 Feb) which is 46 days before Easter Sunday. The tradition of Lent does not include Sunday’s as a part of the 40 days, as a day of rest.
I want to let go of some things and I wanted to invite you along on the journey. Each Monday, I will send a short video encouragement through as well as the instructions for the study that week. Then you can follow along with the devotional for the days of the week or even just one day to work through the exercises.
The story of “Little Women” has been captivating audiences for nearly 150 years but sitting in a local cinema this week, I was compelled to write my story more than ever before. This film is full of motivation for parenting spirited and creative children. It is full of feminist plotlines that provoke the power of a united sisterhood but I sat there confounded by the themes in the plotline for writing blocks, my writing community, telling the truth and finding my voice with emblazoned clarity. If I was really honest, the feeling that was provoked was a roar.
“Little Women” is about the trials and struggles of four sisters in Massachusettes and their coming of age through friendship, creativity and relationships. It has continued to entice the imagination of many for generations. It is a story about telling your own story and more than ever I think our society needs communicators who are telling the truth with authenticity and humility.
FIVE INSPIRATIONS FROM LITTLE WOMEN FOR STORYTELLERS IN 2020
Stop believing others when they say writing is a hobby not a career
In the first few minutes of the movie, Jo March, the oldest sister of a raucous bunch of creative sisters, eyeballs an editor and tells him why he should pay for her work.
Press pause here.
We currently live in an age of more content creation than ever before. This fodder that is produced daily, by millions of people on the internet becomes an entertainment mechanism for thousands; why should we not get paid for our work and time? I often walk the fine line of this conundrum. We give away so much of our energy and intellectual property for free. And often it is expected that we will give our time, our ideas and our intellectual property away because it is often seen as a consumable. The thing that makes me mad however is we wouldn’t even think twice about paying for a coffee or eating a meal at a cafe, but we get all weird about paying someone for their craft, intellectual property and hard work.
Yes, you could find a free copy of that resource you are looking for on Pinterest, but should you pay the creator for their time and effort?
Yes, you could listen to that course online for free through a podcast, but did you get value and information, with practical life-changing principles from that weighty piece of content?
I think the fine line that we walk is “how much we are giving away for freeonline” and where the boundaries are in regards to our time given versus output. If we as a society are not valuing the arts and their contribution to the future of our world, we are losing the potency of the prophetic nature of storytelling and how it impacts the coming generations.
Will this era of free content, be found to water down the pursuits of our voice and passion to discover insight and revelation for the future?
Recently I was sitting in a writers conference and the speaker said something that irritated me greatly. He said, “Stop thinking that your writing needs to make you money and don’t give up your day job”. I understand the context of these comments and I have read Elizabeth Gilberts “Big Magic” and how we can ruin the purity of our creative pursuits, by trying to make money from them. But I disagree. I wholeheartedly disagree. (Said with the tone of Jo March eyebrows raised alongside)
I think it is time for our culture to pay our artists once again for what they contribute to society. I think it is also time for us artists to stop believing we need to be starving to make a difference in the world. Writing is not just a career it is a life’s calling and we can seek abundance in this area of our lives.
“Women have minds and souls as well as just hearts, and they’ve got ambition and talent as well as just beauty. And I’m sick of people saying that love is all a woman is fit for.”
Stop apologising for being different
Watching the creative pursuits of five different women across a movie is beautiful awakening of the importance of allowing one another to be different. Marmee raised her children with fierce independence to the tone and experience of their own stories. Watching her own grapple with society and her role within in it, drew me into a retrospective place of the culture we create within our homes. Jo March, threw herself across the screen asking us to understand the complexity of her emotions in a society that gave women no choice but to exist in the background. Her sister Meg is happily married, though to a man who can’t afford to buy her pretty things; another sister, Amy, learns to paint in Paris while attempting to secure herself a rich husband. Beth is the only March girl who’s managed to avoid getting swept up in marriage madness, by virtue of her weakened heart.
How often in families do we live under the shame of comparison?
And today, we now add into it the pressure of Social Media and seeing the unveiling of one another’s lives in real-time, the pervading presence of competition is everywhere, even when we try desperately to fight against it.
Recently, I have realised as an author, how much I apologise for being different. I don’t want to swim against the tide. I don’t want to be that person that people are laughing at behind Instagram messages. Yet to live true to our calling and voice, we need to be compelled to walk our own paths.
Jo March didn’t just walk freely in her voice, she revelled in her difference. As storytellers this year, lean into your story and the point of view that is filtered by your own experience more than ever. This year, I have pulled right back on who I am following on Social Media because once again, I want to find my own expressions, ideas and voice, rather than just reproducing what other people have already said.
“Just because my dreams are different than yours, it doesn’t mean they’re unimportant.”
Stop allowing people to steal your creative motivation through emotions
The March household was overflowing with teenage, creative emotions. I have come to learn that emotions cannot be cleared by telling ourselves that we need to stop feeling what we are feeling. The highs and lows of emotional regulation as a creative can be crippling. I have been learning that writing is an emotional pursuit, but I can’t let my emotions rule my creativity.
When we are pursuing a career in writing, we want to bring our story with emotion, but we need to write despite them. A clinical psychologist recently taught me “Amanda you cannot move an emotion by telling that emotion to go away. That is why so often we suppress emotions. Because we have been told they are bad. The only way you can move an emotion is with another emotion.”
That sentence has changed my life. We can only move an emotion with another emotion. Often emotions surface in my creative daily life in response to other people. I get angry, I get sad, I feel frustrated and then my writing is out of the window. I’m so focused on trying to shift that emotion and often the way I do this is by telling myself to stop feeling. Next time you feel an emotion, especially around your voice, perspective and artistic pursuit, listen to the way you are speaking to yourself. This is why I have adored being a part of this mentoring community this year.
There is so much shame attached to the emotions we are feeling, but as creatives emotions are indicators that can point us towards more revelation. If we allow ourselves to feel what has been provoked and then we empower that emotion towards creativity, the result is profound.
Stop allowing other people to steal your creative motivation with emotions. Dig deep into what your story is telling you and find another emotion to shift its impact. The greatest growth I had in this area of my life last year was this retreat in Bali. It was life-changing. in this area of emotional resilience and telling my story.
“I’m angry nearly every day of my life.”
Stop rejecting feedback from those who actually believe in your voice
Enter lovely German Professor Bhaer. This scene from “Little Women” stole my heart.
Imagine this, Jo has just returned from meeting with an editor (ie- GIVE ME ALL THE CHOCOLATE) and then she hands over her manuscript to this man she has just met. (ie- BEGGING HIM TO TELL HER SHE IS AMAZING). This professor had no idea who was standing in front of him. Not just any girl — Jo March, a strong-willed, independent-minded aspiring writer who chafed at the restrictions of her time. He offered her feedback, with kindness and humility and she completely tore him to shreds.
The thing is this…
We all need feedback. There are defence mechanisms that arise in each of us when we present our work with vulnerability to someone else. Working with an editor is one of the most powerful places of collaboration and growth. We need, however, to find a way to take the criticism with a grain of salt and to grow.
To mature this year in the way that we write stories, we need to open ourselves to the opinions of people who are interested in our growth and allow feedback to bring strength. Ask for feedback. Seek out ways that you can grow as a communicator. Look back on your writing and see where there is weakness for insight.
Rather than taking feedback personally, why not allow it to make you even hungrier for the pursuit of communicating with excellence and skill. As I look back over 2020, I want to see growth in my capacity to tell stories and communicate insight, rather than see pretty pictures that match on an Instagram feed.
“I like good, strong words that mean something.”
Stop making the importance of writing in your world smaller, to make others feel less intimidated
And lastly, but not the least, stop giving your time to other things instead of writing. When we share our blogs online, when we send out emails out to our followers with insight and friendship across words, let’s together make a pact to stop making the importance of writing in our worlds smaller, to make others feel less intimidated.
I love how Jo March, surrendered to the art of communication. She was all in. She carried her notebook across fields, she read to her sister’s on the beach, she stayed up all night writing plays and then invited her friends into secret societies. She was not ashamed of her passion, in any way, shape or form. And as she stood watching her book being pressed at the end of the film, she relished in the pursuit of being lost in the world of words.
In 2020, what if we together stopped playing small and surrendered to the beauty of the thoughts that keep us awake at night?
What if we wrote with passion like we only had one day left to write everything that is swirling in our hearts?
What if we stopped looking for acknowledgement from the crowd and seek out those who are needing our story?
“Writing doesn’t confer importance, it reflects it.”
I’m ready to watch this movie again and surrender to all its lessons held within. Together let’s write hard and encourage one another towards finding our voice.
The church bells of New Norcia are ringing as I write. A calling to prayer and reflection that herald upon the hour. I’m fresh from a year that has drawn out many hidden places, and the bookmark of this quarterly retreat has been a secure anchor point in a year of transition.
As we drove today through the shadowing wheat fields, I found words falling out of my heart as we spoke with vulnerability. I said to my writer companion;
“I’m just not sure anymore, that we can have it all.”
If you have spent any time with me on these kinds of retreats across the years, I would have whole-heartedly told you “You can do it, you can have it all.”
“What are you dreaming about?”
“What idea is in your hand and heart?”
“Do it, do it, you can have it all, destiny is awaiting the step you are stumbling to take.”
But if I was frank with you today, I am just not sure anymore. Our online guru’s and therapists in disguise have promised so much from this age of freedom and truth-telling. We have stepped out in faith and become the people that our filters have asked us to be.
Is that the true mark of wisdom, however?
What does wisdom look like as He searches across our hearts and motivations?
Wisdom is a person and also rhythm.
Wisdom is a point of view and perspective.
Wisdom is an anchoring point in a sea of change.
Wisdom takes note of every part of the story, not just the one we are telling ourselves.
The beginning of wisdom is this:
Get wisdom. Though it cost all that you have, get understanding
Proverbs 4: 7
Proverbs 18: 15 says it this way
The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge, the ears of the wise seek it out.
We are in an era of more knowledge and communication than ever before. We have access to so much information but is that translating into applied wisdom.
Are we changing?
Are we growing?
Are we maturing in wisdom?
Each year as Christmas comes around the corner; I take the time to retreat and reflect on what God is saying in the season for me personally and my family. I have asked myself the same set of questions for sixteen years.
Across this time, I have dreamed, and I have failed. I have ended friendships, and new ones have begun. I have become a Mother, and I was made redundant from a job I adored.
Wisdom lays awake amid these seasonal changes and asks of me, Amanda, what is the lesson here?
As we come to the close of this last decade, what is the wisdom you need for perspective in the new?
I am learning that I can’t have it all and every dream paraded around on social media is not my right to endeavour, but I can walk in wisdom, believe again and stretch into the places, that were paved for my feet to walk alone.
How about you?
Do you believe you can have it all?
Or is it time to seek wisdom for the small faith step of what is next?
I have a whiteboard in my office, that over the last few months I have been using as inspiration for goals, dreams and miracles in my life. It seems really basic, but writing up the prayers, intentions and scary leaps of faith that are in my everyday life has been a powerful tool for focus.
I stand in front of my scribbles on this big whiteboard and I pray about what is happening at the moment. In the middle of this white space of words, right now it says two words;
It has a big circle around it and then I have listed out all the big projects that are taking up space in my mind. It’s like my brain is emptied out on a big piece of paper and somehow it helps me to remember what is important in the midst of a crazy season.
Peaceful and Christmas don’t normally sit together in my vocabulary. Joy and Christmas pair together quite well. But so does exhausted and Christmas as well.
Most years I end up having a disagreement with someone and often it is because of unmet expectations. I am a Christmas junkie, someone who likes to put up my tree early and watch Christmas films each night. With this passion though can come to a sense of control and loss of control that brings my walls crashing down.
Christmas is messy and I am learning that messy can be a trigger for my emotions and the chaos in my mind.
What does a peaceful Christmas look like to you?
Last week I saw the new film “Last Christmas” directed by Paul Feig and co-written by Emma Thompson. There was a whole heap of a family dynamic in this plotline and Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones) stars as Kate the main character.
Shes walked the journey of illness for a long time and she has all but given up on happily ever after. She meets a sojourner along the way who is looking for a little bit of Christmas peace as well. His name is Tom and he said one line that held me captive for the rest of the film.
“I seek out the hidden places”
As he danced Kate through London, showing her secret laneways and clues to find inspiration in the midst of our daily lives, he whispers and tells her to “Look Up”.
Proverbs 3:2 says it this way;
“walking in wisdom infuses peace into our lives”
Proverbs 3:17 says;
“Wisdom paves a peaceful path through life.”
Proverbs 15: 18 helps me by suggesting;
“Our words can speak peace into conflicting circumstances.”
The ending of this film is just delightful and reminded me of the power of community at Christmastime. As I walk into this season with 40 days to go to Christmas, I am reminding myself that peace walks hand in hand with wisdom.
I will seek out the hidden places in my heart and continue to look up for strength and fortitude. Taking the time to believe the best in those around me and to look after myself with safety, so that I can reframe the crazy that can surround us sometimes, by remembering that boundaries are an important part of growth and discovery.
Peace I am looking out for you this Christmas.
I am leaning into the wisdom found in remembering that I am not my own, my heart is fully surrendered to Him. Wisdom asks that I take the time to reflect and slow down in the way I respond, to stop in the midst of challenge and look up, seeking out the hidden places within.