Everyone is looking for a formula, a plan, a few steps for better living.

And the people who aren’t looking are the ones who are selling us the formulas, plans and steps.  Good living is just so easy…well, as easy as a few easy payments.

I don’t buy into much of the self-improvement fad.  I scoff most of the time when a pastor or motivator or leader tells me that my life can be better with three or five easy steps.  If I just do “X, Y, Z,” then my life will be complete.  Usually, one of those steps involve giving the expert my money.  I think step one of their formula for better living is “Make up a formula for better living.”  Step two: “Sell your formula to a lot of people.”

But I like Mary Oliver’s formula.  There is no cost involved.  It is simple.  Anyone can do it.

Most of us are not even completing step one.  We just go through the motions and then wonder where the years went.  We feel cheated, simply because we didn’t bother with step one.

Step two is even more elusive.  It takes a certain amount of faith, a particular level of childish joy in a person to do step two.  Even if people do step one, most of them don’t get past this one.

And finally step three.  I’ve come to think that if people have not done steps one and two, and are trying to skip to step three, then whatever they are saying is probably not much worth listening to.  It’s only by doing steps one and two and we actually find our voices.

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So which step are you on today?  Don’t worry, it’s probably best to start at step one every day, isn’t it?

510yS4Z0TgL._AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-46,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_Have you ever been on fire?

Not like, for real in flames.  I’ve never spontaneously combusted.  Like in the Jesus-y spiritual, feel-good sense.

My blog-buddy, Addie Zierman is releasing her first book next week, When We Were On Fire: A Memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love and Starting Over.  I can’t tell you how happy I am for her or how excited I am to talk about this book.

Why?  Because if you’ve been a Christian for a while, you’ve probably been there.  You’ve been on fire for Jesus.  Being on fire was all the rage when we were kids in the nineties.  Even for us Methodist kids, there was still a little bit of that Holy Spirit fire.  It looked different for some of us, depending on what part of evangelical culture we were raised in.  For some of us, it was WWJD bracelets.  For others, it was trying to evangelize your friends at school or going on mission trips.

But then, somehow, your faith hits the rocks.  The flame, which is supposed to be eternal starts to flicker.

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I have a confession to make.

It might not seem like a big deal to you.  But it is a big one to me.

For a long time, I have dealt with a lot of self-doubt.  A lot of insecurity.  A lot of anxiety and even occasional depression.  I thought that all of these things might have many different causes.

It has taken me nearly all of my thirty years to realize that virtually all of the sufferings in my mind all come from one source.

The source of all my frustrations and anxieties is this: I care…

I care about what people think of me.  I care about it a lot.

I care about it at work.  I care about it in church.  I care about what you think of me.  It really is true.  I am not speaking in hyperbole.  I have tried to hide or deny that fact.  I have tried to act like I don’t care.  But trying to cover it up has caused me so much suffering.  I care profoundly about what people think of me.  Maybe that makes me a narcissist.  Now I’m afraid people might think I’m a narcissist.

Perhaps in our age of social media, it’s easier than ever to get caught up in what others think of us.  There are so many more people whose opinions we can care about.

This is what I’m trying to do to recover from my obsession with what people think of me.

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I don’t really give myself daily affirmations like the long ago Saturday Night Live character, Stuart Smalley.

There are very few days that I feel that I’m good enough.  Even fewer days that I actually feel that I’m smart enough.  And quite a small number of days exist when I am satisfied and confident that people actually like me.

I cannot tell you how many times I have sat on the sidelines wondering when I’ll be good enough to get out there and start something.  I look at the people on the stage and just feel…unworthy.  Like I don’t have enough talent to have a right to do what I want.

But the more I study history, the more I realize that the people who make it are not necessarily the smarted, or most talented.  They have plenty of disadvantages pitted against them.  But the people we all look up to have an irrepressible conviction that their life belongs to them and they have a right to do whatever they want and change the world however they please.

That really is the one thing that makes geniuses what they are.  They just have the guts to do what most of us are too afraid to do.

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How are you going to change your life today?

Friends, I hope it’s been a good week for you as it has been for me.  It’s been an often breathless, tiring, amazing week.

You know, quite often I’m kind of repulsed by the nonsense that I find in my Facebook feed, as I’m sure you are too.  But this was one of those weeks where, I don’t know if it was by divine conspiracy or just dumb luck, but there were just a lot of great things that came my way.  I’m just continually thankful for the wisdom and humor of the friends I’ve picked up along the way of blogging.

Anyway, these are a few of the things that fueled me this week.

In My Classroom

I’m always pleased when students surprise me with their creative ingenuity.  It always makes me look good.  In fact, my students make me

Rawr!  I'm a cat.

Rawr! I’m a cat.

look so good that this week, I sent some student work to it’s first destination in a tour around the city that I set up.

But quite often, all of our attempts at excellence turn out…well, badly.  And I hear so many groans and complaints that it’s actually refreshing to hear a student just laugh at themselves when something goes so horribly awry that it can’t be saved.  This drawing is probably the scariest, funniest looking “cat” I’ve ever seen, and the artist’s reaction was probably the best smile I’ve seen all week.  When the student asked for a new piece of paper, I asked her to sign her work for my archives.  Maybe I’ll turn it into a card upon her high school graduation.  Either way, it’s awesome, and is a great lesson in the not-so-terrible nature of failure.

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“Are you quitting your day job?”Old_typewriter_macro_shot_by_Jantiff_Stocks3

Since Life After Art was published, I’ve done quite a few radio interviews, which is a lot of fun.  After a few, you start to learn what questions to expect.  But recently, I got a question that I really wasn’t prepared for:

“Are you quitting your job now that you’ve published a book?”

I get why the radio host asked that question.  Isn’t that what we all want to do, especially as bloggers?  We dream of some romantic future where we can turn our hobby into our full-time profession.  I admit, I dream too.  Not many people get to do it, but just enough do that the rest of us might keep vigil for our dream of someday.

But my answer was, “No.”  Unequivocally, no.  Not just because of the realities that writing has not made me enough money to turn it into a career, but because it is not my ambition to do so.  I have set aside that ambition, despite all of it’s appeal.

Writing full-time is certainly a noble ambition.  But it isn’t mine.  And you are a blogger who dreams of becoming a “real” writer, maybe you should consider these reasons I’m not trying to become a full-time author.

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