Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Zooming In: On Magnifying Mirrors and Mountains

Kurt and I recently stayed in a pretty swanky hotel. We were swimming in “amenities” we didn’t even know how to use: For the safe keeping of my Walmart jewelry, there was a safe which I couldn’t open. There was also a spa and fitness room which we never found.

But there was one “amenity” that was familiar. There on the bathroom vanity, towering over the travel size toiletries was a lighted, double-sided magnifying mirror. You know the kind? Where you have to lean in 3 inches from the mirror just to bring your face into focus.

Cool. I flipped on the light switch and leaned toward my alarming reflection.

At first glance my porous skin looked like a giant kitchen sponge.

I began to tweeze, moisturize, and conceal the flaws. I outlined and brushed anything that could be improved.

At dinner that night, my mind was soaked with the spongy image from the magnifying mirror. I could hardly order my meal because of all the useless questions swirling in my head.

Can the waitress see my grays?

Does my face still resemble a sponge at this distance?

Is this lighting the same as the magnifying mirror?

I desperately tried to forget all my questions about facial hair.

The prolonged examination of my own face enlivened every insecurity, and I found myself wanting to sprint to the nearest cosmetic counter and purchase all the beauty-enhancing products.

All the little things had become way too big. I was distracted. Uncomfortable. Self-absorbed. And not much good for conversation…unless it revolves around hair coloring and age defying potions.

I came to this conclusion: zooming in on the wrong things is depressing and draining.

In contrast, on the plane ride home I zoomed out. I had a window seat and I spent the better part of two hours marveling at the topography of the Southwest. From the air you can tell exactly which direction water flowed to create the spires and canyons of Utah and Arizona. 

You can see the crests and crinkles bordering tributaries running toward a channel. 

You can clearly see where water has carved the rock.

It is fascinating and captivating. And my neck cramped from looking left out the window until we flew into clouds.

I pondered the difference. How can inspecting my own face up-close make me wince, and zooming out on God’s geographic artistry leave me in speechless wonder?

It occurred to me it might have to do with where my eyes and my heart are drawn by what I’m viewing.

When I magnify myself, all the small things become too important. I decide it’s up to me to fix and fiddle with tiny matters. I tweeze, conceal, cover and control. And when I accomplish so little, I’m ashamed.

But when I view the landscape below the plane, my mind is driven toward God. This is His canvas. His carving. His masterpiece. It is drastic and breathtaking.

The magnificence I see magnifies its Source. In the words of C.S Lewis, “One’s mind runs back up the sunbeam to the sun.”

Perhaps this is what King David had in mind when he wrote Psalm 34:3:

When we magnify God we end up seeing His greatness up close. 

Whether it’s the zoomed in view of a Columbine flower, or the zoomed out view of the Grand Canyon from 30,000 feet, God’s handiwork can draw our minds away from ourselves and toward God. 

To be sure, even staring at your own face—the living organ that is your skin, the intricate machinery that is your eye—with a bit of practice, can draw your mind to your Creator.

David goes on to explain what happens when we magnify God:

That strikes me as a huge relief.

Our privilege is to simply look to Him. And when we do, He does something lovely.

He plucks us from sin, and covers us in His perfection.

He makes us radiant.

And, no matter how closely you examine it, there is no shame in a face He has made radiant with worship.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Keeping Track: Books and Sharks

I'm not sure I’ve ever kept a resolution for three consecutive years. Until now.

Keep track of books I read.” It was a change of strategy regarding resolutions which you can read about here, and it worked for me.

This year, two books stood out as all-time-favorite material. And you don’t have to take my word for it. They each have more than 16,000 reviews on Amazon.

The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown and All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr were my uncontested favorites.**

But besides reading, I kept track of a few other things that didn’t appear on any list of resolutions.

Metaphorically speaking, 2015 was the year of my Shark Tank episode.

In other words, I wrote a book proposal. 

To be accurate, it took me about three years to write a bunch of coherent pages of a book “idea.” In doing so I’ve discovered the book publishing industry is strikingly similar to the show Shark Tank. In case you haven’t seen it, here is the gist:

Enthusiastic entrepreneur-contestants have the opportunity to solicit funds from six venture capitalists—also known as "the sharks." The contestants create a prototype, make a business plan, summarize it all in a creative way to “pitch” to the sharks. If, the sharks like the person, the product and the potential, they make a deal. They invest loads of money in the business idea in exchange for a stake in the company.

It’s the same in the publishing industry. With the slight difference in vocabulary and the fact that it isn’t televised.

In publishing the writer is the creator-contestant. The prototype is in the form of three sample chapters of a book. The business plan is called a proposal, and the sharks are publishing houses.

On Shark Tank, some of the entrepreneurs have a partner who has helped them develop their product and pitch the idea to interested parties. In publishing, this person is a literary agent, (the agent functions like a real estate agent. You have something to offer, an agent has people in mind who need or want what you’re offering.) Together you make your pitch to the publishers through your proposal.

Publishers, review your sample chapters and business plan to see if you can string together interesting sentences or ideas readers would want. If a publisher wants to invest in you and your book, it’s called a book contract.

At this time last year, I put the finishing touches on my prototype/sample chapters. I wrote a business plan/proposal. Then, after signing with a witty, savvy, and kind literary agent, we made our pitch to the sharks--er… I mean publishers.

We are now at a commercial break, so to speak. We’re standing in front of the sharks, searching their faces (or emails) for interest or enthusiasm, waiting for an offer.

And when I review it all like that, I can see why those things didn’t exactly appear on a list of resolutions. I would have collapsed under the pressure of all I had resolved to do! Finish proposal, write chapters, find agent, submit proposal, pray like mad…hyperventilate.

Yet looking back, those things are exactly what the Lord allowed to happen, one baby step--one sentence, one paragraph, one email, one prayer--at a time.

Has God invited you to do something hard this year? Do you have a dream that seems too big? A goal that seems too distant? Can I encourage you to walk toward it one baby step at a time? 

Today, talk to God about it. 

Tomorrow, research it for 15 minutes. 

The next day, tell a friend.

And next January, let’s just see what God has taught us. Maybe there won't be a finished product, or a contract, or even measurable results. But we will have tried something hard, done something new, and learned a whole lot in the process.

We will likely fail in some respect, but God has not asked us to be “successful.” He has called us to lean on Him and be faithful.

Oswald Chambers wrote, “The goal of faithfulness is not that we will do work for God, but that He will be free to do His work through us.”

May 2016 find us faithful even in—especially in—the little things, so that God is free to accomplish whatever He pleases in us and through us this year.

**I also read:
The Giver, Lowis Lowry 
The Hardest Peace, Kara Tippetts 
Good News for Weary Women, Elyse Fitzpatrick 
Hinds Feet on High Places (children’s version), Hannah Hurnard 
Christ the Lord, Ann Rice 
One Thousand Gifts, Ann Voskamp
When I lay My Isaac Down, Carol Kent 
For the Love, Jen Hatmaker 
On Writing Well, William Zinsser 
The War of Art, Steven Pressfield 
Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg 
Lila, Marilynne Robinson