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Millennials Should Give Up Their Dreams and Serve Me Coffee

Coffee served by Millennials for career

Oh look, this coffee has a special leaf design on it and someone took a picture of it because clearly no one has ever seen anything like this ever before…

 

I noticed you weren’t steaming the milk with the same vigor this morning. In fact, you didn’t swish my coffee mug enthusiastically as you filled it up, the half and half is empty, and the dishpan is a mess of piled porcelain. I can only deduce that you’ve been reading books or listening to podcasts where successful entrepreneurial older white men are telling Millennials like yourself to fulfill your dreams and to pursue your passions, and now this cafe isn’t cutting it for you.

Stop it. Stop listening to them. Stop dreaming. STOP and listen to me.

It’s clear to me that these experts have found a way to exploit your generation’s obsession with following your passions and pursuing your dreams. I mean, you could try to do these things, but I assure you that this will only result in more news stories and advice columns chastising you for being the world’s most selfish, narcissistic, unrealistic generation. Besides, you will most likely fail at pursuing your passions, so why even bother any way?

I know the business entrepreneurs, gurus, and “ninjas” are telling you to quit your job and pursue your dream and that it worked out for them and “why not you?” Well, here’s the thing: that was OK for them. They weren’t selfish, unrealistic Millennials raised on the hollow promises of a purple dinosaur telling them they were special. They are realistic, generous, and non-stereotypical Gen X’ers and Baby Boomers. I mean, look at them! These business experts left stable incomes to make thousands of dollars telling dissatisfied people how to be like them! That’s about as selfless as it gets! You, on the other hand, are an entitled, starry-eyed egomaniac who can only think about getting what you want… and then taking a selfie when you get it.

Look, serving coffee is a pretty great gig. It’s better than breathing in toxic dust in a mine, losing a finger in a factory, or skimming slag in a steel mill. Do you know how bad a selfie turns out in a mine when you’re wearing a headlamp? Can you imagine texting without a few fingers?

Right, you can’t imagine any of this. You can only imagine sitting in a palace where servants snap selfies for you and money magically appears in your bank account every time you tweet. At least some of you tweet as if that’s what happens.

So here’s my advice:

Don’t take any risks.

Don’t set aside time for self-reflection or prayer.

Don’t ask friends for advice or counsel.

Don’t read any books about things that interest you.

Don’t consider going back to school.

Don’t seek out mentors who could help guide you.

Don’t pursue any kind of professional training.

Don’t learn how to manage your own business.

Don’t downsize your possessions.

Don’t find a more affordable place to live.

Don’t change how you eat or what you buy when you go out.

Don’t cancel your cable service or limit your mobile data usage.

Don’t even think about trading your car for a bike or public transit.

Don’t look for a flexible job that can pay the bills while you try something new.

Give up on your dreams and passions. Stop paying attention to that nagging feeling that you should try something else for your career. These are just trademarks of your selfish entitled generation. The people who came before you could ask those questions and take those risks, but that’s because they weren’t Snapchatting with their shirts off and Instagramming their meals.

Your generation is a lost cause. Take a good look around this coffee shop. I hope you like it. This is probably as good as it’s going to get. Every other generation had the ability to consider ways to advance themselves, to escape the drudgery of cubicles, and to build a career of their own choosing. That stops with you.

You Millennials don’t get to make the same choices as previous generations because you’re not just self-absorbed, you’ve painstakingly documented your selfishness in unique ways that no older generation can replicate or relate to. We can hide our own self-centeredness and avarice behind your massive social media profiles as we convict you of being the worst generation ever.

And if you want your tip to stay at $.50, I suggest you “chop chop” and fill that half and half when I’m ready for a refill. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a number of freelance writing projects to work on with that cup of coffee you just poured. Pursuing my dreams of becoming a writer takes a lot of caffeine, and I need you Millennials to keep serving it.

 

For further reading on this topic from a non-sarcastic perspective:

http://reason.com/poll/2014/08/19/65-of-americans-say-millennials-are-enti

http://www.faithstreet.com/onfaith/2014/11/18/ask-laura-follow-my-passion-where-exactly/35086

 

Do you prefer sarcasm? Check out this related post from my previous blog:

Millennials Need to Know Church Must Be Boring and Irrelevant

Denomination Derby: Why You Should Join the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America

Denomination Church Logo

If you think you’re busy, you should talk to Emily Heitzman. She’s been serving as the youth pastor for… wait for it… THREE lutheran congregations in the Chicago area. Emily was one of the first people I thought of for this series because she did an amazing job of explaining what she appreciated about the ELCA to an outsider such as myself since she is originally from the UMC and then ordained in the PC USA. I hope you didn’t get too cozy with the Anglican Church from our last post…

 

I’m a Presbyterian (USA) pastor who serves three ELCA congregations. Though I’ve only been in the ELCA for three years, there is so much that I love about it!

 

The Work of the People

While ELCA congregations vary is worship musical style, most are highly liturgical. The definition of “liturgy” is “the work of the people,” and this is exactly what you will experience in worship at an ELCA congregation.

The ELCA motto is “God’s work, our hands.” We use our minds, hearts, mouths, ears, hands, and feet to experience God’s love and grace and share God’s love and grace to our neighbors. When God created us, we were made in God’s image and therefore our whole selves – including our bodies – were made good and are loved by God. For this reason, worship requires the full body and all the senses. We sit to prepare ourselves for what is to come. We stand (as we are able) when the Gospel is read as a sign of respect. We might kneel out of humility during confession and use ancient prayer gestures with our hands. We may bow toward the cross as a reminder of Jesus’ humble acts.

As Christ offers us peace, we pass that peace of Christ to one another through handshakes or hugs. We might process with the cross as a sign that Jesus is constantly journeying with us and leading us. We may walk toward the altar to receive the bread and wine in response to Jesus’ invitation to come to his Table. And we may trace the sign of the cross over our upper bodies as a reminder and sign of our baptism. As a reminder that Jesus died and rose from the dead for us so that we might live.

As a reminder of who we are and whose we are.

Worship is not a place for us to just observe and consume – like when we attend a concert. It is a place where we fully participate as members of the body of Christ so that we might be formed and nourished by our loving God. And every ancient practice we partake in connects us with the Church universal… with Christians throughout all times, traditions, and places.

If you worship with the ELCA, you will likely spend some time in silence. We live in a busy and noisy world. Yet, God calls out to us: “Be still and know that I am God.” God not only calls out to us through words and music, but God also calls out to us and meets us in the silence. We need to be still sometimes. And making space for silence on Sundays helps shape us for how we are to make space for God during the rest of the week.

Most ELCA congregations follow the liturgical calendar (church calendar) and use the Revised Common Lectionary (set readings for each Sunday that covers almost the entire Bible in three years), which connect us with the larger universal Church and enable us to follow in Jesus’ footsteps and relive his life and ministry every year.

In ELCA congregations, the Word is proclaimed in numerous forms and is not just the work of the pastor. God calls each of us to use our gifts to proclaim the Word both in the Church and in the world. In most congregations, the Holy Communion is celebrated every Sunday. We believe that both the Word and Sacraments are a means of grace. Through them, God’s presence is made known and God touches us, forms us, and nourishes us so that we might have the strength to go out into the world to share God’s love with others.

Confessing the creeds (Nicene or Apostle’s) every week is an important means for connecting us to the universal Church and shaping us in our theology in ways we don’t always recognize. During youth group discussions, my youth continue to amaze me when they explain important parts of our Christian theology that they know because they confess the creeds every week. The repetition of communion liturgy – which is often chanted – also shapes us in important ways. Just a few months ago, I saw a facebook post from another Lutheran pastor. He wrote: “This week I got a note from a family who heard their young one (age 4) singing Frozen songs, and then breaking into our communion liturgy.” This is the wonderful thing about liturgy: it provides God’s children – both young and old – with words to express praise to God through the every day joys in life… like Disney songs!

 

Living Out Our Baptisms

In the ELCA, we talk a lot about being called to live out our baptismal covenant. We do this by proclaiming the good news of God who came into the flesh, died on the cross, and rose from the dead for each one of us. We proclaim this good news by learning about the story of God’s presence and work in and through us and by hearing about the story of God at work in the lives of others. We are in God’s story and we are called to recognize that others are in God’s story, as well.

We are called to live out that story daily in word and in deed. We live out that story when we worship together on Sunday, when we care for our children, when we visit someone who is ill. We live out that story when we sit with a grieving friend, when we bring a meal to our homeless neighbors, when we stand with others in our communities to call out injustice.

Through us, God is at work in the world: “God’s work, our hands.”

As someone who is new to the ELCA, the more I have been a part of it, the more I’ve grown to love it. There is a place for newbies, myself included. And there is a place for you, as well. So, if you are searching for a new church home, check it out! I think you might grow to love it!

 

About Today’s Guest Blogger

unnamedRev. Emily Heitzman is a graduate from a United Methodist seminary and an ordained Presbyterian (USA) pastor who serves as the shared Pastor with Youth and Households for three ELCA congregations in the neighborhood of Edgewater in Chicago. Prior to her current call, she has served in Evangelical Covenant, Congregational, and American Baptist churches… Her colleagues call her an ecumenical bricolage. Emily loves hiking in the mountains, attending indie and bluegrass concerts, biking along Lake Michigan, and singing opera and musical theatre. She has a heart for youth, justice, and the Huskers, and can often been seen with coffee or a Guinness. You can find more of her reflections, sermons, and youth ministry ideas on her blog at http://musingsfromabricolage.wordpress.com.

 

About Denomination Derby

This series invites ministers or ministry volunteers with seminary training to share what they love about their denominations so that readers will have a greater awareness of and appreciation for the good things happening throughout the church.

We have several writers lined up to write about their respective denominations, but nominations for guest bloggers or requests for a particular denomination are welcome.

Subscribe to my RSS email list to make sure you get the posts each Friday as they go live.

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If I Created God in My Own Image, He’d Let Me Slap You

slap Christians over doctrine

God is merciful, and I am not.

That is one of the most important conclusions I’ve reached after years of theological wrangling and Bible study. In fact, it’s the mercy of Jesus that often caused the greatest amount of friction between himself and the religious leaders of his time.

I don’t think you can deny the mercy of God in the story of scripture, but the challenge often becomes how to apply that mercy today. I mean, God does get around to judging people at the end of time and all, right?

But whatever form that judgment takes, it’s also abundantly clear that Jesus would really quite rather we spend our time showing mercy to others. He framed his ministry as the work of a doctor healing the sick. He even prevented religious authorities from stoning a woman after she committed adultery—an act that they could have easily backed up with chapter and verse.

God patiently sent one prophet after another to tell the wayward Israelites: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”

In other words, learn to be merciful and you will be obedient. Don’t use your obedience as an excuse to abandon mercy.

As I try to sort out what God’s kind of mercy looks like today, I’ve often heard those who self-identify as more “biblical” or “gospel-centered” accuse me of reinventing God in my own image. By seeking to be merciful, I’m going soft on people because it’s what I want rather than what God and scripture teaches. If God had his way with me, I’d go around shoving the faces of sinners into the chapter and verse for everything.

This accusation is both annoying and frustratingly inaccurate. How dare they mistake me for a merciful person!

I’m just about the most stodgy, rule-following, judgmental person there is. I would love to point the finger at other people than deal with my own issues. Really. It’s super easy to find other people to criticize and judge. It makes me feel amazing because all of these other jokers set the bar so low that I can’t help but look like a religious super hero.

And if I could get God to see things my way, he’d also let me slap more people. Nothing harmful or abusive. Just a little, “HEY! GET IT TOGETHER!” They do this thing on television and the movies all of the time, and I think I would be really good at it in real life. If God let me slap more people like that, I think I would exercise restraint and there’d be a ton more people who would “get it together” faster.

At the very least, all of my slapping would ensure that people wouldn’t go around making ridiculous assertions that people who speak of mercy are remaking God in their own image. I assure you, the vast majority of us are not. I’d love to be more judgmental, to set up stronger boundaries, and to ensure I exist in an echo chamber of ideas that never leave me challenged or uncomfortable—what some may call a “remnant.”

I could be wrong. Maybe the slapping approach isn’t the best way forward. I’m willing to admit that.

While I can admit my slapping plan may have flaws, I wonder if those who accuse the merciful of reinventing God in their own image could ask themselves the same question: “Are we also inventing God in our own image?” That’s not a comfortable place to be.  Maybe getting slapped doesn’t sound so bad now, amirite?

As I read the story of scripture, I don’t see people who struggled to judge others. If anything, God’s people struggled time and time again to be merciful. The people who received mercy direct from Jesus failed time and time again, calling down fire from heaven, writing off the blind as sinners, and trying to protect their turf when casting out demons. Mercy was anything but natural for them.

What if those most prone to judgment are just as likely, if not more likely at times, to be inventing God in their own image?

 

 

Why Hurting Honestly Will Save Them

earth and sky

Author Guy Delcambre writes about grief in his new memoir with this powerful reflection: “If you never fully hurt, you never fully heal.” Delcambre lost his wife suddenly in the course of five days, and was left to raise three daughters on his own. He’s sharing a guest post today based on his book about that experience: Earth and Sky.

 

“Do you get sad still?”

She sat quiet, half leaned into my ribs, lost in four-year-old thoughts, which roam and meander in a world too big. Her sisters cried through stories recalling time with their mom. She cried, too, nearly every night in the year after their mother’s unexpected death. But me, I exerted much of my energies moving beyond her death and growing strong again as fast as I could. This was my duty as their remaining parent: to pick up all the broken pieces and rebuild life. I am a 33-year-old widower, father to three little girls all under the age of eight. I am clueless as to what to do. That was over four years ago.

In the four years since my first wife’s death, I have learned much more about parenting than ever before. More so, I’ve learned myself in ways truer. On mountainous trails teaching them hiking basics and good enough fishing spots where patience delivered their first catch, I discovered how to recognize my daughters’ wanting hearts. My daughters taught me the art of the quick, perfect ponytail. For hours, I practiced on them as they modeled how to gather all the hair together in just the right spot. We celebrated with joyous dance when I finally got the hair band twisted tight enough to hold the ponytail in place. They, too, wanted the future and the warmth of hope that I often told them about, but they needed the past to get there. The past hurt. It reminded me of failure, of God not there where I needed him. Returning to the past scratched counter intuitively across my heart. When I left, I never wanted to return.

Back on the couch, my youngest tucked into my side, contemplating the world her dad knows free of apparent sadness, she taught me one of the most formative lessons to shape my parenting.

“Yes, sweetie, I get sad at times.”

“Well, you hide it really good, Dad.”

As a result of me always being okay and in the busyness of me liberating myself from the hurt of her death, my daughters grew more isolated in their own bewildering grief. Those simple little words of my littlest daughter found me moving ahead alone, leading no one, just in time.

To hurt honestly is to hurt wholly, to admit wrong and to welcome the future through the past. This is what my daughters were missing. Rather than me leading them, they only heard me talk about a foreign place of hope disconnected from the reality of death they knew all too well. Grief piled atop their grief. I was leaving them as well.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” At first glance, blessing coupled with mourning is a bad matched marriage. No one sinking in grief recognizes any sort of benefit in his or her tears, other than the momentary release that serves as a reminder that life has indeed twisted askew. However, the more I mourned, the more frequent the release of emotion proved to be blessing. Mourning guided me through grief. Sharing my hurts and fears and frustrations with my daughters served as guide for them.

Grief is a life-long journey that when committed to can bloom the deepest blessing in the darkest of life. The third Thursday of every November is Children’s Grief Awareness day, an opportunity to raise awareness and affirm healthy grief for children who have experience loss in their little lives. Death can be such a scary life event – in a moment a loved one can disappear into forever without understanding and so much as a proper good bye. Take time to consider those little ones who may be struggling through the lost of a loved one. If not your own, those little ones could be your child’s classmate, neighbor or friend. Revealing your own held fears and hurts about death could very well be their way out.

(*Matt 5:4 ESV)

 

Pick up a copy of Earth and Sky on sale today.

 

About Today’s Guest Blogger

Guy Delcambre Headshot1Guy Martin Delcambre is an author and public speaker based in Dallas, Texas, who writes about faith in thin moments, strength found in weakness, and God’s grace immeasurable. Guy was once a pastor, a church planter, and a widower, in that order. From the darkest night in life— the death of a spouse— to learning to live life as a single father to three young daughters, Guy has traveled the greatest distance of the heart to find home in God’s faithful goodness.

He lives with his wife, Marissa, and three daughters, Elizabeth, Emily, and Chloe.

Follow Guy on Twitter @GuyDelcambre.
Visit Guy’s Blog here.

 

I Can’t Review/Endorse/Blog About Your Book, But This May Help

books to market for publishing

I get emails every week asking me to review, promote, or endorse someone’s book, and it’s an honor to know that someone thinks I’d be able to help them spread the word about their work. It’s also becoming extremely unsustainable for myself and most other bloggers I know to help everyone who asks. I wanted to offer some alternative ideas for authors and publicists in the thick of book promotion and some best practices for working with bloggers:

A Bit of Perspective on Blogging about Books

I’ve been blogging since 2005, and I remember how awesome it used to be when a publisher sent me books for free every once in a while. Sometimes I didn’t care for the books, but the lure of something new was still pretty exciting. However, more publishers and authors started to catch on, and now it’s just been a tidal wave of PDF’s from publicists and authors every month.

Based on the conversations I’ve had with fellow bloggers, most of us now dread getting asked to review books on our blogs. Most bloggers I know dread the drop in traffic from book review posts that eat up hours of time. One friend considered adding a page titled, “Will I Review Your Book?” and the body font had a single word: “NO.” So free books have gone from exciting perks for bloggers to a major time drain now that we receive so many. If you’re promoting a book, you need to keep this in mind: A FREE BOOK IS NO LONGER A TREAT.

Just to put this shift in perspective, if I read, reviewed, endorsed, or blogged about every book I’ve received, I’d never read a book of my own choosing or have time to write about my own ideas. It’s really gotten to that point—especially since I’m a slow reader. Some of the more popular bloggers would never sleep if they read every book offered to them.

Many new authors and publicists will say, “But this book is unique…” or something like that. I get it, but the problem is that to most bloggers, especially the ones with big platforms, every email about a book sounds EXACTLY LIKE THAT. It may be true for your book, but in the split second that a blogger reads your email, the most likely response is, “Not another one…”

I’m an author myself, so I can see both sides of this issue. The good news is that bloggers and fellow authors may be able to help you at times. You just need to rethink your approach.

Make Your Ask Natural

Bloggers can recognize someone who is just trying to make a connection for personal advancement. In fact, when I talk to bloggers with huge platforms, it’s something they dread. They want to help, but they also hate to feel used.

On the other hand, authors and publicists trying to promote books often feel desperate.

When people ask me for ideas on growing their online platforms, I suggest that they try to follow and dialogue with at least 50 people with whom they share common interests. They could have large or small followings. As long as you actually care about that person’s perspective, you’ll be able to have real interactions with them that will benefit both of you.

Your first email or tweet at a blogger should not be a request to review, blog about, or promote your book!!!! This is the kind of thing that bloggers roll their eyes over, but so many new authors and even, unthinkably, publicists make this mistake.

It’s also a major, major mistake to do the following: send a form letter, start off “Dear Blogger,” or fail to mention anything specific about the blogger’s site. I hit delete immediately when a publicity email starts like that.

When it’s time to make an ask, consider what would be appropriate based on your relationship with the blogger in question. Your request should never feel out of the blue. If you think this blogger’s platform is important, why haven’t you been interacting with that blogger on social media and in his/her comments? If you haven’t had the time to do that, why are you asking that blogger to spend hours reading your book and reviewing it?

When it comes to making an ask of bloggers I know, I often ask friends if I can write a guest post that speaks directly to their audience—but that’s something I only ask of friends I know fairly well. You can also offer to do a book giveaway or simple interview (around 5-8 questions). I’m also quick to offer my blog and social media platform to help them with their own projects with the caveat that their book needs to fit my audience. That also keeps me focused on networking bloggers who share the same readers and goals. I never ask bloggers to review my books, and I always offer a few options, such as, “If a guest post doesn’t work, could you mention my eBook sale next week?”

Give people a few options to help you based on their capacity, and give them simple ways to help if your bigger ask isn’t possible or desirable. Most importantly, keep the email short and to the point with a quick pitch about the book, a few ways to help, and a thank you paired with an easy out like, “I understand if you aren’t able to help at this time.” If they can’t help, don’t respond with reasons why they SHOULD have helped—I’m serious, people have actually done that!

Where to Find Reviews for Book Marketing

Unless a blogger specifically blogs about books, I wouldn’t ask for a blog review. Ask for guest posts or organize synchroblogs in order to get noticed on blogs. Here’s an example of a synchroblog and how I wrapped it up. Besides, you need reviews on sites like Amazon and Goodreads.

I would look to your friends on Facebook and Twitter for help with reviews. Are there a few people who always favorite your tweets or like your posts, especially related to your books? Ask them to review your book. Don’t chase the people with the biggest blogs for your reviews. You want to find the people who care the most about your writing to review your books.

While I know that some publishers are a bit hesitant to do this, my perspective as both an author and a blogger is that anyone willing to review a book should get it in any format they desire. I strongly prefer ePub files, but I’ve had so many big name publishers send me the crappiest PDF files that have chaotic paragraph breaks, repeated content, and disjointed headers that ruin the reading experience. I know they’re concerned about piracy, but this paranoia about piracy punishes the wrong people. The vast majority of bloggers and book reviews barely know how to load an eBook onto an eReader, let alone how to download a file to a piracy site.

So be prepared to offer print, ePub, Mobi, or PDF to your reviewers. Thank them profusely and remember that you’re lucky if two thirds of your reviewers follow through. That’s just how it goes.

You can also give books away through Goodreads and Library Thing. Both are reputable book discovery services that have excellent review programs.

The other option for picking up reviews is to set up a free promotion for your book. You can run a free eBook promotion through a few venues:

Give the files away from your site. If you’re an indie author, create the files from scratch using Scrivener or convert your Word file with Calibre. A tool like DropBox has a public file option that you can link to for file downloads.

Organize a Kindle select free promotion to get reviews.

Set up a long term free promotion by marking your eBook for free on Nook, iTunes, and other sites so that Amazon price matches to your free price.

Take a chance on a viral blogging program like SpeakEasy.

Find Amazon’s top reviewers in the Vine Voices program.

 

Price Pulsing to Promote Your Book

I’ve been told by so many people in publishing that I needed thousands of Twitter followers. However, the problem with Twitter is that it’s hard to get a lot of traction for your book without something that catches people’s attention. You need to tweet something other than: “Buy my book for $15!”

Many authors and publishers are experimenting with price pulsing to gather attention for their books and even switching their topic listings on Amazon in order to reach new readers with each new price promotion. They may drop the price to $.99 or $2.99 for five days and then raise it to something like $6.99 or $9.99 once the book has gotten noticed on some of the lists in Amazon. Price promotions are a simple way to get noticed on social media and to get your book more publicity in Amazon’s internal recommendation system and bestseller lists.

While you’re at it, make a list of eBook discount sites who may tweet or share your deal on Facebook. I would list a few here, but they tend to vary depending on your audience and topic. They typically tweet or share on Facebook new promotions each week. If you want to keep up on the competition in your market, you should already be subscribed to these services any way so that you can get similar books on the cheap.

You can also pay a service like BookBub to promote your discounted eBook to their email list—a strategy that many indie authors swear by if you have a book in the right genre. There are similar sites that cost a little less and operate with an ad-based model.

Work on Your Long Game for Book Marketing

The long game of publishing revolves around building an email list that you can control, and while it may be too late to build an email list for this current book project, you should start building your email list before you start your next book. In fact, you could use this current book as a means of building your email list, offering it as a free PDF if website visitors become email subscribers.

There are lots of email tools out there, but I personally use and recommend MailChimp. It’s a simple drag and drop email tool that allows you to create simple, minimalist email campaigns. A few friends have also enjoyed the related service called Tiny Letter, which is a stripped down version of MailChimp.

If you dive into the email marketing long game for book publishing, you should check out a service like NoiseTrade Books where you can let readers pay what they want and collect their email addresses when they download your books.

I wrote a guest post for Jane Friedman with some ideas about how to do this.

Read Reliable Books on Marketing

There are a lot of books on marketing that tell half truths, base recommendations on limited data, encourage shady practices, or just repeat what experts have said elsewhere. In addition, marketing veterans in the publishing industry are DEEPLY DIVIDED on how to market books. Having worked with several different publishers, I’ve seen a wide variety of perspectives. I have a few go-to books right now for book marketing that will be worth your time:

Your First 1,000 Copies

Let’s Get Digital

Let’s Get Visible

The first book is based on experience with commercial publishing, and the other two are based on self-publishing, but all are worth your time since I think most authors who want to make it for the long term need to do both. All three links are affiliate links with Amazon if you want to help pay for a few drops of my daily coffee. If you need more advice on book marketing, these books will point you to additional websites, podcasts, articles, and books that will give you additional perspectives.

I also wrote a big picture guide to book publishing that offers my lessons from nonfiction experiences from start to finish, including a chapter packed with lessons learned after marketing a bunch of books and working with fellow authors on their marketing campaigns: A Path to Publishing: What I Learned by Publishing a Nonfiction Book. You can pay what you want at NoiseTrade Books or buy it for a few bucks through Amazon.

What Other Bloggers Have to Say

I mentioned on Facebook that I was working on a post discussing how to approach bloggers when promoting a book and quite a few weighed in with really helpful advice I hadn’t thought to mention in this post. I will add that they all have large followings and receive lots of book review requests, so take their advice seriously!

Alise D Chaffins: I always appreciate when someone comes to me with a page like you had that has graphics, quotes, links. It makes promotion way easier if I don’t really have to do much or scour your site for info.

Sarah Raymond Cunningham: “If you are writing someone whom you have never met, never send them a form letter. Always use their name, bother to learn something about them and their blog, and customize your request to offer them value.”

Megan Tietz: “The more you provide to make it easy for me, the more likely I am to say yes!”

Preston Yancey: “Along the exact lines of what Alise already said, make it as easy as possible for me to support you. Considering most days I barely have the focus to get my own posts out into the world, it’s a huge help when I have some ready-made things to do/share/send people to. I read every book I say I will read, but I can’t always get a review turned around fast enough, let alone find the brainspace to write it. Something I can easily share on Twitter or Instagram? Done. So done. I’ll do that in a heartbeat.

All that said? If I don’t know you at all, then all of that will be a harder sell for me. Make it clear in your request (along what Sarah said) how our interests or values intersect and why you’re reaching out. I’m 80% likely to read the book of someone I know, even marginally … and about 20% likely someone I don’t. So if you’re pitching me, make it clear that it has to do with the larger kingdom work and not just my followers. They’re kind enough to trust that I put in front of them what I really value … I’m not hawking something I don’t believe in.”

Rachel Held Evans: “Make sure it’s a good fit for their audience. I’ve been inundated with requests lately and the only way I know to narrow it down is to only endorse, review or mention those books I KNOW my readers will be interested in. Rather than seeing it as me being mean to fellow authors, I see it as me protecting and valuing my readers. They’re the “boss.” ”

Tsh Oxenreider: “Also, in addition to that landing page with all the stuff, I find it helpful to narrow down specifically in the email what you’d like someone to do. So, have a page with all the everything someone needs, but in your email, ask specifically if they can do an Instagram, or a tweet, or a blog post. Be open to anything they have time for, yes, but if you give too many options, it feels overwhelming and I end up doing nothing.”

Kurt Willems: “My policy is that if a book is something I’m interested in, but I can’t read and either A) Write and endorsement for the back or B) Write a review on the blog, I usually offer to give away my platform though either an interview or guest post about a theme in the book. It would be nice if meeting authors had the interview/guest post/excerpt in mind (in a way that requires nearly no effort by the blogger <me>) so to expedite the process, etc. I see my blog as a gift, one, that if I believe in something, I’m happy to share.”

Let’s Spread the Word

Can I help market your book on my blog? Probably not. Even if I did read and review it, my post would, at best, result in a few sales. That’s just the reality of these things as I’ve tracked my own sales through several marketing campaigns. I’ve seen much better results from everything I’ve outlined above with the caveat that a targeted guest post for a blogger in my field paired with a price promotion can really help.

I wish I could help all of the authors who reach out to me in more tangible ways, but perhaps the best thing I can do is to keep sharing what I’ve learned so that folks don’t repeat my mistakes.

In the spirit of helping as many authors and bloggers as possible, I’m also offering the content in this post (and this post only!) to anyone else who wants to post it on their blogs. I only ask for a clear attribution and link back to this original post. Here are two ways you could do this:

Option 1

Copy the post word for word and lead off with a note that says something like this: “I am unable to review the majority of books authors send, but I have found Ed Cyzewski’s book marketing advice helpful as an alternative. Here’s a post from his blog that will help:” Then include a link back to this post somewhere in your opening note.

Option 2

Rewrite the content in this post with your own experiences and opinions, but keep the ideas, links, and structure. You could begin with a note that says something like, “I have adapted a post by Ed Cyzewski about book marketing…” Then include a link back to this post.

Thanks for reading. I hope this post will help you take some positive steps forward in promoting your book.

By the way, you can subscribe to my e-newsletter to see how I keep in touch with my readers.

When Christians Choose Who’s In and Who’s Out: A Guest Post by Michelle DeRusha

50WomenCover

I’m welcoming author Michelle DeRusha to the blog today. She’s written two fantastic books that have received rave reviews from the majority of readers. However, today she’s writing about one reader who gave her latest book two thumb’s down. I can really relate to both sides in this post! 

 

“I don’t like the idea of having to spit out bones to get to the meat. This book goes on my ‘no-way’ list. It had potential, but it flopped.”

I stared at my laptop screen, digesting the words that concluded the Amazon review. I read the paragraph aloud to my husband, and we both rolled our eyes and shook our heads, irritated by the reviewer’s flippant dismissal of my book.

On one hand, I’m accustomed to dealing with negative reviews. I won’t tell you I like them or that they’re easy to swallow, but I accept that negative reviews are part of my work as a writer.

But this was different. This reviewer had not only judged my writing, she had also rejected ten of the women featured in the book. She had deemed the book a flop and those ten women unworthy of inclusion for one reason: their theology didn’t perfectly jibe with her own.

The “bones” she’d spit out were the ten Roman Catholic women featured in the compilation of fifty biographies I’d written – women including second-century nun and mystic Hildegard of Bingen and sixteenth-century mystic and author Teresa of Avila. The “meat” she deemed worthy for inclusion were the remaining 40 chapters featuring Protestant heroines of the faith.

While I was angered by the reviewer’s brusque dismissal of the Catholics in the book, I also understand where it originated. I’m not above this kind of line-drawing either. I’ve erected boundaries and declared all sorts of people misguided or just plain wrong. I do it because I’m passionate about my beliefs, and I assume the same is true of the reviewer, too. I suspect the reason she deemed women like Hildegard of Bingen and Teresa of Avila unworthy for inclusion in a book about women leaders in Christian history isn’t because she’s a hateful, close-minded person, but because she loves God and is trying to live a theologically and biblically centered life. I’ll even go so far as to say that her heart’s in the right place and that she believes she is doing the right thing.

But the truth is, an “us-versus-them, my-theology-versus-your-theology” mentality blinds us to the kind of spacious faith Jesus yearns for us to embrace.

Think for a moment about the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman. Jesus, according to the customs and culture, shouldn’t have even engaged the woman in conversation. She was a Samaritan, after all, a member of a group traditionally abhorred by the Jews. And she was a woman, a non-citizen. And she was an immoral woman, married five times and currently living unmarried in sin. But none of this mattered to Jesus. He crossed the ethnic, religious, cultural, social and gender lines of the time without hesitation.

When the Samaritan woman challenged Jesus on who was worshipping the right way and who was worshipping the wrong way – the Jews in Jerusalem or the Samaritans at Mount Gerizim – Jesus didn’t answer her question. Instead, he turned her question on its head.

“Believe me, dear woman,” Jesus replied. “The time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem…the time is coming – indeed it’s here now – when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way.” (John 4:21 and 23)

Did you catch that? Jesus erased the boundary drawn by the Samaritan woman. It was not about Jerusalem versus the mountain; it was not about the Jews versus the Samaritans, or where they worshipped or even how they worshipped. None of that mattered, Jesus said.

Instead, according to Jesus, it’s who you are and the way you live that matter before God. Or, as The Message paraphrase puts it, “Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people the Father is looking out for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in worship.” (John 4:24)

Jesus erased the boundaries 2,000 years ago, and he erases the boundaries we erect today. There is no “us versus them” for Jesus; there is no right way or wrong way. What counts, Jesus says, is who we are inside – the essence of our spirits – and how we live out that spirit. Not which denomination we practice, not the particular doctrine we believe, but simply who we are and how we live and love.

Jesus doesn’t make a distinction between meat and bones, between your theology and my theology. He sees past the distinct parts and pieces to the whole entity. Because for Jesus, the meat and the bones comprise the Body of Christ. And the body isn’t whole or complete or even functional without each one of its uniquely different parts.

 

About Today’s Guest Blogger
closeupA Massachusetts native, Michelle DeRusha moved to Nebraska in 2001, where she discovered the Great Plains, grasshoppers the size of Cornish hens … and God. She is the author of Spiritual Misfit: A Memoir of Uneasy Faith and 50 Women Every Christian Should Know: Learning from Heroines of the Faith. Michelle writes about finding and keeping faith in the everyday at MichelleDeRusha.com, as well as a monthly column for the Lincoln Journal Star. She’s mom to two bug-loving boys, Noah and Rowan, and is married to Brad, an English professor at Doane College who reads Moby Dick for fun.

 

 

Does God Pursue Us When We Wander Away?

lost-sheep-parable

That stupid sheep got what was coming to him. That’s how I’d rewrite the parable of the lost sheep. I mean, gosh, the shepherd had 99 other sheep. Just sheer a few of them and buy another sheep with the profit if he likes big round, even numbers.

Ironically, our family recently lost a sheep. It wasn’t a real sheep. It was a bath toy that our son started obsessing over. He wanted to take the sheep everywhere.

I usually try to keep his most prized toys in the house unless we’re taking a road trip, but I relented when he wanted to take the sheep to the farmers market on Saturday. We loaded into the stroller, and he clutched his sheep… for about a minute. Then he dropped it out the side.

I was afraid this would happen.

“All done,” I said. “No more sheep. You dropped him.” I stuck the sheep in the stroller.

“Sheep! Sheep!” he said.

“All done,” I said with finality.

“All done… sheep,” he parroted back to me with resignation.

While I’d intended to tuck the sheep away for the walk and bring him out when we arrived at home, I somehow lost the sheep during our walk. It took a few days for our son to accept this development. I explained that’s why we don’t take our favorite toys on walks.

A few months later, my wife and I read him a children’s version of Jesus’ parables, and that included the parable of the lost sheep. Our son was really into it. It’s like the Bible’s version of Blue’s Clues, right?

Where’s the sheep?

Is he behind the rock?

Is he behind the tree?

Is he in the stream?

SHEEP! SHEEP! WAAAAA! WAAAAA!

So yes, the sheep is stuck in the mud in the shallow part of the stream. The shepherd, who has endured the hot sun, thorn bushes, and many weary hours of searching joyfully carries the sheep home. In this version of the story all of the other sheep cheer and smile when they see the shepherd return home with their friend.

The story ends with a full on party with balloons, party hats, cake, and, most importantly for our son, juice. It’s a golden colored liquid, so I suppose it could be juice or beer. I’m sure the sheep wouldn’t mind either way.

After walking downstairs I remarked to my wife that Jesus always looks for the sheep, but if our son loses his sheep, daddy says, “Too bad!”

I started out joking, but as I considered what I’d said, I realized that I’d just uncovered a really big problem. Sometimes it takes explaining something to a child to uncover that your theology and spirituality are actually bankrupt.

* * *

Try harder to obey God.

Seek God more fervently.

Commit to God more passionately.

Work for God more devotedly.

Study about God harder.

These have been mantras for my faith. I can’t say when or where I picked them up. I just know that I’ve had a, “Don’t blow it!” approach to faith as my default more times than not.

There have been glimpses of God’s grace and mercy. I’ve had breakthroughs when I realized that God’s mercy means he does the saving. However, I still struggle with guilt, fear, and isolation when I screw up. Over the past two years I’ve especially faced my issues with control, anger, and an overall detachment from people in need. In my head, I imagine myself repeatedly screwing up and God tossing his hands in the air with resignation.

I imagine the trinity having a conversation.

The Father: Maybe he’s not so great after all. He keeps being such a selfish jerk to people.

The Son: Look, I did my part. I died and rose again. Don’t ask me to do anything else for this guy!

The Spirit: Hey, look, I’m dwelling in him, but he keeps turning away. Let’s find someone else who “gets it.”

I’ve spent a lot of time with a kind of frantic guilt ridden spirituality. Even if I have plenty of evidence for God’s love and presence in my life, I keep worrying that I’m never doing enough. I’m never reaching out to God enough. If I make one false move and stop working hard enough, I’ll lose my grip on God.

This isn’t without some proof texts in the Bible. In the Gospels, Jesus often gives people a choice to follow him or their own plans. The story of the rich young ruler has given me chills for years. At one moment Jesus looked at him with love and then Jesus watched him walk away.

There’s also a strong theme of reaping what you sow. The Psalms open with a striking image of meditating on God’s law being like a tree planted by streams of water. That choice to draw near to God results in ongoing life, so we can imagine what the opposite result will be if we neglect this practice. In addition, Jesus warns that the measures we use on others will be used back on us.

However, this cause and effect theology shouldn’t override the message of mercy and grace that comes up over and over again in the Bible. It’s not just that God is inviting people to come back. God often sent prophets to reach out. Putting this in terms of the lost sheep story: The prophets acted as the “shepherds” with the task of bringing people back to God.

If the people came back, their welcome was never in doubt. The tragedy was that the people, who had wandered off like lost sheep, refused to even return with the shepherd in the first place.

I wonder if we forget that God is actively seeking us. We believe that we will reap what we sow, but we overlook our chance to accept God’s mercy that actively seeks us out. Perhaps we don’t believe that God would welcome us back.

There have been times when I’ve been ruled by guilt and judgment. I see the ways I’ve wandered off, and I start to believe that I don’t deserve mercy. I don’t deserve a shepherd. I don’t deserve a warm welcome.

Perhaps I have rewritten the story of the lost sheep in my mind. The shepherd in my version stands at the gate sighing in disappointment, waiting for me to get my act together, to work harder, to try to be a better sheep, and to stop wandering off.

And if I ever do manage to come back, the rest of the sheep will point their hooves at me. No balloons, no cake, and certainly no juice. Perhaps they’d even whisper behind my back:

He doesn’t deserve a good, merciful shepherd.

He didn’t deserve to be found or welcomed back.

He was dumb, discontent, and untrustworthy.

What shepherd in his right mind would search for him?

That sheep should have come crawling back. It’s a good thing he’s trying to do better now because that shepherd surely isn’t coming for him next time.

When Paul prays that his readers would “grow in grace,” I wonder if he had parables like this in mind. It’s so hard to believe that God is pursuing us when we screw up and that God expects us to show the same mercy to others who fail.

Perhaps it’s so hard for me to love others and to welcome those who have screwed up because I don’t believe God is doing the same for me. I don’t believe I’m worth it. I can believe in the cross as a divine transaction into my eternal bank account, but it’s much harder to believe in a shepherd who takes extraordinary risks and suffers unimaginably just to bring me home.

What if the only way to grow in grace is to receive it? What if we need to place ourselves into the story of the lost sheep every single morning so that we can believe we’re being pursued by a God who wants nothing more than to carry us home, throw a party, and serve us juice.

 

 

Denomination Derby: Why You Should Join the Anglican Church

Denomination Church Logo

Whenever I have a question about liturgy, the sacraments, or the Anglican church, I always tweet at Preston Yancy, author of Tables in the Wilderness. Preston is one of those guys who has studied a ton of theology but has never lost his grounding in the church, and that commitment to serve the church shows in his moving blog posts, instructive tweets, and eerily spot on use of animated GIFs. A former Baptist who migrated to the liturgy of the Anglican church, Preston and his book are excellent guides into the depth and beauty of the sacraments. Where many dabble in liturgy, he helps us take the plunge. He writes today about the Anglican church in America:

Anglicans can be the most neurotic Christians. I say that upfront so as to not surprise you with it later. Known for our tendency to gravitate toward the middle of theological extremes, it can feel frustrating to try and grasp exactly what we are all about, what it is we believe. You’ll meet Anglicans who lean hard into our Roman Catholic roots of practice and Anglicans who run fast into the charismatic freedom of nondenominational-like belief. You’ll meet a few like me, too, who tend to feel most comfortable between those poles: happy-clappy Jesus-lovers who believe in sitting with the writings of the saints and the reverence of worship with common prayer. There are some essential beliefs that define us broadly, however, and if I were to ever try to convince someone of why they may find Anglicanism a good fit, it would be focused on these: we are a people of the Book, we are a people of the Sacrament, we are a people of the Community.

People of the Book

Anglicans are deeply devoted to the Scripture. Our prayerbook is mostly a weaving together of various psalms, Gospel readings, epistles. Half of our traditional worship service is devoted specifically to the hearing and reading of the Bible. A cycle of readings—one from the Old Testament, a psalm, the New Testament, and finally the Gospel—are read or read communally, are pronounced over us and by us, and then the preaching that follows ideally seeks to make clear the ways in which the readings for a cohesive whole, how God reveals Godself to us when we put the texts of Scripture in conversation with each other. There are more ways than this that Anglicans take the Bible seriously, but this is the one that most often comes to my own mind. We don’t believe in exclusively personal reading of Scripture. We need the community, we need to hear the Gospel literally spoken aloud, the Word, Jesus, literally proclaimed by words. We believe the Spirit makes itself known to us in the reading of Scripture, which pivots into my next point.

People of the Sacrament

Anglicans have a complicated understanding of God’s presence, but it could be said it distills into essentially this: we believe that God is everywhere (a classically Christian perspective) and that the Spirit of God makes itself known in the lives of individual believers (a classically Evangelical perspective). So between the way God is present outside of us and how God is present within us, we have a deep belief in the power of God to guide and direct us corporately and individually into becoming more and more like Jesus. Moreover, we believe that there are certain ways in which God has said that God makes Godself known to us particularly. One such way is Communion. In the Gospel of Luke, we read of the disciples walking with the unknown Jesus on the road to Emmaus that it was in the breaking of the bread that Jesus was made known to them. First they hear Jesus speak of the Scriptures—this serves my first point—and then Jesus breaks bread in a Eucharistic feast. In the breaking the disciples move from having their hearts stirred to recognizing Jesus fully as He is. Anglicans say that in Communion, Jesus makes Himself known to us, that we are filled with the power of the Spirit to continue in that good work that God has called us to personally and together. We are fed from the Table so as to go out into the world to feed it, to tell it where it too can be fed, where it can come and known this Jesus, which leads to this:

People of the Community

Because of our belief in God’s presence and work in this world, Anglicans are naturally inclined to social and political concerns. Our belief about the end times and the afterlife aligns less with a hope in a disembodied heaven where we have harps and sing forever and more about the beautiful and redemptive kingdom that God will bring into fullness with the return of Jesus but has already begun in shadows and imperfection now. “The kingdom of heaven is at hand,” the Gospels remind us, and so we are committed to realizing that kingdom at present. The ways in which this is expressed is as varied as preferences of worship, but it would be fair to say that Anglican theology is essentially practical. We believe in an incarnate Jesus who hallowed bodies in His birth and that such a mystery leads us to make certain conclusions about life, about what we believe about bodies, of what we think God cares most about. We are a people of the community, because our faith obligates us to recognize the ways in which God is making Godself known outside of the walls of the church and, at the same time, how the Church is to be in service of the world in leading it back to the abundant Table of the risen Lord.

These are not features exclusive to Anglicans, of course. As I mentioned above, our middling position often means we share territory of belief and boarders with many in the larger Christian community. What tends to be unique, what keeps me confirmed an Anglican, confirmed in its ways of teaching me to pray, is the sense of great freedom the tradition offers within a context of accountability that is not only to a local community or a larger denomination but also to the Church in and across time. Within this vast territory, there’s room to express faith in a variety of ways that keep both a hold on a sense of orthodoxy and a lose grip on preference of tradition.

Some people find it chaotic, I find it oddly reassuring—we’re family here, struggling through and fighting and laughing and eating and celebrating. There’s a chair at this table for you, too.

About Today’s Guest Blogger

PrestonYancey.Headshot-23 copy Yancey is an Anglican priest-in-training, an author, sometimes-painter, sometimes-baker, sometimes-scholar interested in Christian theology and the arts.

He’s a happy-clappy, Jesus-loving, liturgy-liking evangelical Anglican confirmed in the Anglican Church in North America. He wrote a book about that and is also in the process of becoming a priest, with a likely ordination in November 2015.

About Denomination Derby

This series invites ministers or ministry volunteers with seminary training to share what they love about their denominations so that readers will have a greater awareness of and appreciation for the good things happening throughout the church.

We have several writers lined up to write about their respective denominations, but nominations for guest bloggers or requests for a particular denomination are welcome.

Subscribe to my RSS email list to make sure you get the posts each Friday as they go live.

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My Post at Deeper Story: The Gift of a Finish Line

Calendar-family-loss

I posted this week over at A Deeper Story about the passing of my grandfather and a moment of confirmation about the direction of my life: 

This past October my paternal grandfather just stopped breathing one morning. He was 92. He had lived a full life and had spent a good deal of time with his family throughout retirement. We knew this day was coming. All the same, nothing prepares you for the grief of loss. My dad called me about 30 minutes after it happened. I was making lunch for our toddler and warming up a bottle for our newborn. Lunch had to go on even as I heard the news of Pop Pop’s passing.

While I quietly processed his loss, our toddler jumped and danced to a drum line video on YouTube while our newborn gulped and guzzled his bottle, looking up at me with wide eyes.

How strange?

I couldn’t just stop and grieve at that precise moment when the wind got knocked out of me. These two little people needed to eat. Playing is what they do. They wouldn’t understand what was going on.

Even as I absorbed the news, I also knew that I was doing the exact thing I wanted to do and felt called to do. At that moment I was caring for my boys, and I couldn’t resent them.

Read the Rest at A Deeper Story

When Your 20’s Feel Like Darkness that Could Ruin Your Entire Life

Light-in-darkness-20s

When I turned 30 I was in the midst of a career switch and a season of transition that felt unstable and uncertain. I wondered what I’d done with all of those years between college and graduation. How did I end up here?

I hadn’t accomplished enough. In fact, I felt more lost than certain about the direction of my life.

Career changes, unemployment, moving, wasted money, unused degrees, disappointment, and fear about the future marked my twenties and my clunky transition into my 30’s. Looking over my career, I felt like I’d done nothing but make bad decisions and screw up anything positive about the good decisions.

Life hadn’t been hard, per se. I’d just invested a ton of time and money into a degree that I wasn’t using all that much and then worked a dead end job in a sector where I had no interest in advancing before blowing it all up to stumble around as a freelance writer and author.

I wondered if I was lazy. Why did I feel so uninspired each day at work? And why couldn’t I figure out my next step? I couldn’t see very far into the future. It was this murky mass of chaos and tragedy ready to swallow me up.

Most of us start to grasp our own mortality throughout our 20’s as well. We realize that there will be a moment when we will close our eyes and everything changes forever. Suddenly the days feel shorter and we attach greater weight to everything we do. We don’t want to waste our time on some dead end career.

But how do you take a step forward when every step feels wrong?

Where do you go when you feel perpetually lost and you can’t think straight because you can only hear the clock ticking?

* * *

It’s hard to find the light in your 20’s. So many things are dark, confusing, and end up being “not as advertised.”

I thought I was on course to become a pastor. That crashed and burned.

I thought I could reinvent myself in the nonprofit sector. That didn’t work out.

I thought I was on the path to becoming a full time author. I had an image of that kind of success, and I just fell flat on my face—over and over and over again. I turned 35 this past August, and I think I’m just now getting over all of that.

I spent the first few years of my 30’s lamenting all of my failures, facing all that I’d done wrong, wondering if I’d missed out on everything in life. I thought I was a lost cause. I’d burned up, burned out, and didn’t have any light left to give.

If you’re looking for a guy who had his act together in his 20’s, I’m not your guy. If you’re looking for someone who was plagued by self-doubt, anxiety, career-missteps, failure, wastes of time, and miscalculations, then I’m totally your guy.

I can’t speak definitively about “being in one’s 20’s,” and I’m pretty sure my 20’s weren’t as bad as some of the stuff others folks have gone through or are going through, but we’ve all had our share of crap to sort through. And hey, I ended up in the emergency room thanks to an anxiety attack in my mid-twenties, so I’m most likely a little crazier than some of you.

I see lots of really talented, smart, kind, funny 20-somethings taking wild stabs in the dark and fearing the worst. I see lots of self-doubt and therapy, and it breaks my heart. If I could say just one thing to these 20-somethings, it would be this:

You can be a total screw up and still be really great.

Not a little screwing up here and there… I mean epic fail, mom calls asking if everything’s alright kind of screw up.

I know that it’s hard to seek the light when everything is dark and confusing and hostile. I know you want to have your act together. I know there are hundreds of thousands of people who have their acts more together than you and are buying homes, starting families, and getting promoted in their careers. I could post links to their profiles on LinkedIn if you like. I know who they are. I get it. But some of us need to fight it out, and I don’t know why that is, but it’s ok to fight and thrash and fear and worry.

You are more than your past failures or your ambitions. If I made a mistake in my 20’s, it’s that I longed for a title, a series of accomplishments that would help me identify myself.

Whether you’re in your 20’s right now, you’re struggling through your 30’s or 40’s, or you’re wondering what the heck you’ll do when you hit retirement age or beyond, I wanted to offer a few words of encouragement and shifts in perspective:

 

1 Find a Mentor

It’s really OK to ask someone for help. It’s OK to admit you feel lost. It may actually be the most liberating thing you can do.

I know you may think YOU are the exception. You just need more time or luck or whatever. If you’re thinking that, then you really, really need a mentor. You need someone who has walked a bit further down the road to help you gain some perspective. And honestly, the truth is that older folks need younger folks to remind them just how valuable and helpful they are. Self-doubt doesn’t go “poof” at the age of 40, 50, or 60.

If you’re young, you have encouragement to offer and wisdom to gain from a mentor. If you’re receiving AARP catalogues, younger folks need you and can offer exactly what you need during this season of life.

If anything, our culture has been captivated with the latest shiny, beautiful people who Instagram cute life-quotes on images of sunsets and flowers. If you rely on people with huge Facebook or Twitter followings to guide you through career change or a demanding season of life, you’re pretty much screwed. Tragically, older folks rarely know just how badly the younger generations need them.

To make matter worse… Older folks can’t fit their wisdom on a picture of a sunset.

 

2 Experience Isn’t a Waste

The most important thing I’ve learned since diving into writing and publishing in 2005 has been the simple truth that nothing in writing or publishing is ever wasted. Sure, you may fall on your face, but you won’t get a bloody nose in vain. Everything I’ve ever written has helped me write better for my next project. That’s why you often hear about authors who have drawers full of novels they can’t get anyone to publish and then they finally write something that wins awards and makes all of the money—and by that I mean a few thousand dollars since this IS publishing I’m talking about.

I could see that with my writing, but I couldn’t see that in my life experiences. It took a trusted friend to point out the value in my life experiences. In other words, I asked a mentor for help, and he truly delivered.

Nothing is wasted because YOU are the investment, and with every thing you try, you gain experience. And experience is really, really valuable. It may be a really painful process, and it may leave you feeling like “the worst,” but every experience you gain represents a piece of the map in your life. You know the lay of the land just a tiny bit better.

You may hate the lay of the land, but at least you’ll know where you’re at. You’ll be able to try something else out that will give you a little more experience, another piece of the map, and may even help you take a step forward.

 

3 Accomplishments Are OK

I’ve spent a lot of time looking at everything I haven’t accomplished or at least looking at all of the ways I haven’t accomplished enough. I’ve also seen people who have basically lived what I thought my dream would be, and they’re always looking at people who are more successful and hating the downsides of their success that I never could have foreseen.

Some people think that I’m really living the dream because I’ve published a few books. Others have even asked for advice on how to do what I do.

At times it’s really hard to stop myself from laughing and saying, “Oh, you don’t want to do what I do!”

Here’s the thing, lately, I can see how all of my experiences have guided me to where I’m at today. Yes, I’ve made some huge mistakes and had some truly embarrassing failures—not that most people noticed or even remembers what they were. However, I do have a good bit of clarity about my life right now. There was no other way to arrive at this point than to try a bunch of stuff out and see where it got me.

So you can try to do what I do, but it probably won’t take you to where you think it’s going to take and it probably won’t make you feel the way you expect it will make you feel.

The stuff that has been successful has been OK, but it simply can’t be the measure that I use for myself. It’s a battle, but I’m trying to measure my success according to how loved I feel by God, how well I love my family, and whether I can work on a few projects that tie into the gifts God has given me. I have to support our family, at least in part, with my freelancing work, but the goal isn’t to earn the most or to write the most popular books.

Words like success, dreams, or goals have been replaced with the word: faithfulness. Am I faithful to love God first? Am I faithfully loving my wife and son? Am I faithfully using my creative gifts in ways that I feel led?

Success is fleeting and fickle. The triumphs of yesterday quickly give way to fears of tomorrow. There are a thousand things you can’t control.

So we all have a choice.

We can look at the thousand things we can’t control and have constant anxiety attacks… which I’ve done for most of my life… or we can realize that we are loved beyond our wildest imaginations.

Each evening I tuck my son into bed and pray with him. We pray basically the same prayer every time, and as I pray that he’ll know God loves him and is with him, I’m reminded that God loves both of us with a love that surpasses my unshakable love for him.

We always try to think of exceptions for ourselves, but if “God so loved the world” in John 3:16 and you’re currently part of “the world,” then you’re in luck.

* * *

I’m certain that every stage of life offers its fair share of disappointments, uncertainties, and dark moments. I also know that my 20’s felt like this irredeemable pile of crap that would never amount to anything. I didn’t have much hope of ever sorting things out.

We stumble, fall, and take cautious steps forward.

I’m not that much further down the road, but looking back from the vantage point of 35, I can see that things aren’t necessarily always going to be “OK,” since hard stuff always happens, but there always would be hope. There is light. There’s always light.

For all of the things that we can’t control about the future, we can’t change the constant of God’s love for us. And we can control how much we love our family. We can control the things we try out and the new habits we shape for ourselves. We can control finding a mentor to help us process the good and the bad.

And as often as we see our failures and deficiencies, I can tell my friends that I see so much potential in them every day. I see gifted writers, loving parents, and passionate storytellers who have so much to offer their friends, families, and anyone else who crosses their paths.

Perhaps part of the tragedy of our 20’s is that we start our adult lives holding tightly to a picture of the future or fearing there’s no picture at all. When our picture fails to develop or we can’t even find a picture for the future in the first place, we lose sight of every good thing we already have.

It’s hard to believe this, but I see light in every person I know. I see it every single day. For every person who has given a reason why he/she is unworthy or doing everything wrong, I can give three reasons why they’re loved and doing so many things right.

And if you can’t believe that there is a light for you right now, I pray that myself and others will keep holding it up for you so that one day you’ll be able to see it. May we always hold up the light for each other.