Letters to My Daughter: On Your Dreams and Never Giving Up

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I have been curious and eager since the day you were born to see what you will become. I can’t wait to see what that one thing is that will make your eyes light up when you talk about it; that one thing that you will spend hours that feel like minutes perfecting and exploring; that one thing that you can’t wait to share with other people. Right now, the things you are enthusiastic about are food, being read to, watching Toy Story, drawing with crayons and waking up from naptime, but someday, you’re going to find fulfillment in something much more; something that will become part of your identity. Maybe you’ll be a songwriter, writing songs with profound lyrics or catchy choruses. Maybe you’ll pick up an instrument, getting lost in the tones you can create with your fingertips, creating a beautiful outlet for all the things that make you happy and all the things that make you sad. Maybe you’ll find a sport you enjoy, constantly carrying a ball or a tool of the sport with you so you can practice in every spare minute you have, dreaming of representing the US in the Olympics someday.

I watch you all the time, waiting, knowing someday you’re going to stumble across something that makes you feel alive, that gives you so much joy that you can’t wait to share it with us—Mommy and Daddy—and when you’re ready, with the rest of the world. I can’t wait to tell you how proud I am of you and how dedicated you are, no matter the initial quality of your attempts, because I know it’s just a matter of time before someone tells you that you aren’t good enough.

Mother with daughter in the park

Daddy and I are not going to be the type of parents who won’t give you structure out of fear that it will “inhibit your creativity.” I had Granddad and Granny for parents, both of whom are proud Marines to the core. I had a structured, sometimes strict upbringing and I’m the most creative person in the family. Daddy and I also do not believe in showering only praise and omitting constructive criticism; this would create an elevated sense of accomplishment in you, distort your self-perception and make taking judgment on your abilities nearly impossible. We believe in honesty; granting applause when it’s due as well as making suggestions for improvement, when applicable.

My ventures (individually) as a singer and a writer haven’t been easy. They’ve been exciting, given me focus, given me joy and ways to serve God, but it’s not always been rainbows and unicorns along the way. I’ve had some hard truths spoken to me over the years, from people who are much more knowledgable and wiser than I am. I’ve been given insincere compliments that meant well, but wound up doing more damage than helping in the end. I’ve also had some cruel things said about myself and my abilities from people who didn’t know better at all.

Regardless of what your heart someday chooses to pursue, I want you to know that I’ve been there, too, and here is what I will tell you.

Strive to Be Your Best, But Don’t Expect to Be The Best.

One of the most difficult things for a person to reconcile with is being told by someone who loves you that you are the very best at what you do, then losing a competition—sometimes not even placing. You expect what Mommy and Daddy speaks to be truth, so if we convince you that no one is better at something than you, you may assume you were somehow judged unfairly. It could give you the impression that you are superior to another person (or people) and this can generate resentment and jealousy, neither of which are ever a good thing. It’s not a bad thing for you to know that we think you’re the best; what’s bad is if we make you believe everyone else should think so, too.

Don’t Do It to Be Famous; Do It Because It’s What You Love to Do.

Looking back on my life, one of the most destructive things ever spoken to me was, “Well, you could be famous already if you wanted it bad enough.” Imagine giving something everything you’ve got and hearing this. It should never be about fame; what a superficial, meaningless goal to have. Saying that to someone is the same as saying, “Your best wasn’t good enough, because it’s not making you famous.” It shifts your focus from using your talents to help others and serve God to prestige for yourself; it stops being about the joy derived from doing something you love and becomes about who knows your name and who thinks you’re great. If someone someday wants to pay you to do the thing you love, awesome. That is fantastic! But sometimes, it’s not in God’s plan for you to make money that way. Maybe it’s just something to help you cope with life; something for you and those you love to enjoy.

It’s Not Always Your Talent That Will Make You a Success; It’s Your Level of Dedication.

Some people have an inherent skill that it seems like they don’t even have to work for—they were just born with it. They win talent shows, outshine everyone else on a stage, win championships and competitions just by showing up. They may sometimes be awarded less than first place, but not often, simply because they are just naturally gifted at what they do.

And then there are some people who have a smaller degree of talent—but talent, nonetheless—and a surplus of persistence and commitment. It doesn’t matter to people like this if they’re the best or not; they just love what they do. Placing fourth is like placing first to them, and if they don’t place at all, it’s an experience they learn from that makes them even better next time. They don’t view people who rank higher as a threat and don’t believe they’ve been unfairly judged. These people persevere because they are the best at what they do in a quiet, less celebrated way. They don’t give up, even when it feels like no one notices them.

Whether you have intrinsic talent or insurmountable dedication, (some people are even blessed with both) one is not preferable over another, and one is definitely not better than the other. How incredibly blessed you are if it comes innately, but what an inspiration you are if you never give up.

Be Discerning and Humble; Learn from People Who Offer Valuable Constructive Criticisms, But Don’t Let People Who Have Nothing Kind to Say Devalue You.

Some people have your best interests at heart. They can see your dedication and potential, but they can also see fixable things you can tweak to improve the quality of your work. They don’t make suggestions to hurt your feelings; they aren’t viewing your flaws as irrevocable failures, they see them as areas of growth. That’s a great compliment when someone offers you constructive criticism, because that means they believe in you; they believe in your ability to get even better at what you do. It takes a lot of humility to say, “Yes, I see what you’re saying. I will work on improving that.” Humility is a rare and under-appreciated trait that makes you a lot more approachable and a more likable person. The more humble you are, the more people are going to want to help you and see you succeed.

However, you must be perceptive. Not everyone has your best interests at heart; some people—whether jealous of you as a person or jealous of your skill and dedication—want to see you fail. Yes, it can be infuriating, and words spoken from such people can cause you to doubt yourself. But you also have to realize that the majority of those people aren’t genuinely speaking out of a malicious heart; most are simply misguided. You have to understand that, perhaps they never had anyone believe in them like someone believes in you. Maybe they’ve been torn down more than they’ve been encouraged. Maybe no one has ever told them that they have what it takes. It doesn’t justify their cruel words, but it can help you empathize with them. Maybe this is an opportunity for you to be the first person to ever build that person up and give them hope, in spite of how harsh they were to you.

Either way, know which words to take to heart, which ones to forgive and forget, and know when you are speaking to a troll.

Know the Difference Between Confidence and Arrogance.

Getting on a stage is confidence; thinking everyone else should go home because you’ve already won is arrogance. Taking a chance on kicking the winning goal because you know you can make it is confidence; thinking the team won because of you is arrogance. Be appreciative of the efforts of others, and realize how much work they’ve put into their abilities, as well.

Don’t Disregard People Who Are Not Experts.

It’s easy to hear something you don’t want to hear, then discount it by saying, “Well, they don’t know what they’re talking about.” Sometimes, that is very true. However, depending on what your passion is, it’s not always the “experts” who are going to be watching you. As a writer, sure I read up on advice in the industry and learn from fellow writers and editors, but I also need to be intuitive to the preferences of my readers, because besides myself, my readers are the ones I need to make happy.

Sometimes, Even When You Are the Best, You’re Still Going to Lose.

Honestly, this may be one of the hardest lessons to learn. This could also be the most difficult instance to implement humility, even over being told that there’s something on which you need to improve. Sometimes, people with less talent and/or dedication are going to be the first choice of a judge or a crowd over you. It doesn’t necessarily mean anyone is wrong; perhaps it was the judge or crowd’s perception. It also doesn’t always mean that it was an honest victory. The only consolation I have found in occasions like this is, if you really were the best, you will not be the only one who noticed the undeserved loss. Others will have noticed, too, and most of them will tell you so. Most of the time, though, there’s nothing that can be done to change this. All you can take from it is the lesson in humility and be happy for the person who won.

No Matter What, Mommy and Daddy Will Always Be Your Biggest Cheerleaders.

It won’t matter if you hit a sour note, missed the winning game ball, forgot your lines in a play, fell on your face in the middle of a dance or in a gymnastics competition. We will always be proud of you because you tried; because you put yourself out there to be judged when there are so many people who are too scared to do that. We will be proud of you because you are doing what makes you happy; because you inspire others by doing your best. No mortifying mistake would ever make us embarrassed of you or love you less.

It will only mean you’re human.

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A Special Valentine’s Day Post For My Single Friends

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As an author—and a romantic—one of my favorite things to write about is love. I love taking two characters and watching them interact, watching the foreshadowing of things to come between them. Sometimes they fall quickly and passionately in love, knowing the instant they see one another that they’re meant to be together. Other times, they fall in love slowly and cautiously, holding back out of circumstances or fear, until barriers are broken and they find themselves in each other’s arms at last.

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iStockphoto

Being an author has given me more than just a passion to pursue and an aspiration for a career. As a Christian, it has given me insight to the way I think God must view us. My methods of writing are what most consider to be an obstruction to creativity. I write out timelines and outlines before starting a novel. I know exactly what is going to happen from beginning to end before I even pen the first word. I do an extensive 20-60 page interview with all of my integral characters before I begin writing them. By doing this, I know everything there is to know about who they are, from the trivial favorite color to their most guarded, darkest secrets that sometimes, even my readers never discover.

Putting these characters into the prearranged storyline is like stitching two bright new colors of string in an already completed cross-stitch pattern. I get so much joy seeing their lives materialize the way I see them in my head. Writing well—constructing not only a great story but weaving in an alluring romance—will cause readers to gain an interest in me as an author and seek more of my work in the future.

It is the same way with God.

Single or married, right now, He is writing your romance; He is writing the story of your life. Before you were even born, he already knew every single detail about you, from your favorite color to the secrets that haunt you. He delights in watching the story He crafted transpire; He wants you to see that it points back to Him, to show that the Great Creator has gone to painstaking efforts to shape every aspect of your life for a grand purpose.

Don’t feel sad or miserable this Valentine’s Day, if you’re single for the first time in days or months or years. No matter the circumstances, He is writing your life story—a story conceived by Him to bring Him glory. There is even foreshadowing in your life; little hints He’s dropped along the way of things to come, showing that a great tale is being written by a great God.

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Lightstock

Focus on that today. Don’t spend it gorging on pity chocolates and crying by yourself as you watch Noah and Allie smear vanilla ice cream on each others’ faces, or Elizabeth turning down Mr. Darcy’s proposal in the rain, or as Jack lets Rose “fly” on the deck of the Titanic. Spend time with God; that’s what this time is for:

“I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.” – 1 Corinthians 7:32-35

See? Every Christian couple is a delegator of their time—time spent with their husband or wife, and time spent with God. Your single years are the period of your life where God is setting up your story, developing you as a character—a character who knows and loves Him. This process is not the same as in a great romantic book or movie, though; you are not being prepared for an epic finale of a culminating romance. Your life is a bright string being added into a story that has already been planned out. Perhaps an element of your role will include a significant other character someday, but that is not the purpose of your existence…

God is. Spend today with the One who shaped your heart and spent time getting to know who you are before you were even born. Later, when you’re trying to divvy up time between God, a date night with your spouse and finding a baby sitter, you’ll wish you had used this time a little more wisely.

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Seven Deadlies Anonymous

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I have a horrible habit when it comes to dieting. I am not one of those people who can eat the predetermined villainous foods in moderation. I just can’t. If I have a cheat day, it leads to me making exceptions for one more soda, one more bite of chocolate, one extra slice of pizza until I am so far off course that I don’t even bother to reset my sails:

“How’s the diet going, Steph?”

“Oh, you know. It’s not.”

I have done this and will probably continue to do this for the rest of my life. I am the type of person who can only succeed with dieting if I cut everything bad out without compromising for cravings or holidays. Just being honest.

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I was pondering this the other day and discovered a commonality between my dieting failures and life as a Christian. Though all sin is sin in God’s eyes, we as individuals have different thresholds of strength depending on which variant of the Seven Deadly Sins we experience, whether it be lust, gluttony, greed, slothfulness, wrath, envy, or pride. Most of those words you probably skimmed over, but there was at least one that had you readjusting in your seat, wasn’t there?

Wasn’t there? Come on. We’re friends here.

Though I am certain I—as we all have—have struggled with all of these sins at certain points in life, this post is about what I believe is personally my biggest stumbling block—gluttony. My favorite foods are my favorites for a reason. I love soda. I love pizza. If I could drink and eat those every day for every meal and not gain weight, I would absolutely do it.

What I don’t realize in the moment I’m stuffing my “gob” with multiple slices of cheesy, pepperoni deliciousness (I learned that word from Disney’s Brave, by the way), I’m not only breaking my diet, but I’m actually sinning. I am killing two birds with one stone, here. Not only am I canceling out all the hard work I put into losing weight, but I’m not practicing self-control. I’m like a starving lion encountering an unsuspecting heard of impalas in the savanna. Sometimes, I eat so fast I don’t even taste it…

Seriously, though. I stop counting slices and just eat until I feel sick. Why is this wrong, you may ask? Currently, in our society, we have a battle going on between unattainable bodily perfection and unaccountable eating habits in the name of acceptance. Some people are skinny by nature or as a result of medical issues; some people are heavier by nature or as a result of medical issues…

And then some people, like me, are in complete denial and want to eat whatever they want without a side of guilt. That is what makes it wrong. You know who you are.

The bible says, in 2 Timothy (1:7) “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” To me, this is saying that my gluttonous inner lion is in stark contradiction to who I am in Christ. Put it in perspective this way; when I overindulge myself with those extra slices of pizza because I “just can’t help myself,” I am denying Christ, because He has already given me the ability to say no. This is evident in 1 Corinthians 10:13:

“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

The question is not whether the temptation is there or not—the question is, “Are you going to fall for it? Are you going to imply to Jesus by your actions that He is not enough to make you turn away?”

It’s hard. I know. Even as I write this, I know there are going to be days ahead of me where I still yield to the want for an extra soda or a couple extra slices of pizza. But here’s the crazy, amazing, unfathomable thing about the future…

GOD HAS ALREADY FORGIVEN US FOR IT! Jesus has already paid the price for not only the sin of yesterday, but for tomorrow, too. When you fall off a bike, you do not have to re-learn how to ride a bike. You simply dust yourself off and get back on. Right? Following Jesus is essentially the same way; it’s not about how many times you fall, it’s about how many times you let Him help you up.

God is constant; God is consistent. We humans are not, but letting our ships go off course tomorrow is no excuse to let it continue in the wrong direction in the days that follow. The beauty of God is that He offers unwearied, unfailing love and forgiveness to us on both our bad days and good days. The beauty of humans is visible when we are willing to repent of our shortcomings, admit responsibility for the direction our ships are going and ask God to be the wind in our sails who redirects our route.

“It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out.” – Proverbs 25:2

That is one of my favorite bible verses. It can be painful to let go of sin, especially this day in age, where society lives by a mantra of “If it feels good, do it! If it’s not hurting anyone else, do it!” Often, it feels like we are basically holding our potential for living a God-filled life hostage unless God lays out the blueprints for the moment (or our entire lives) out before us. Proverbs 25:2 shows that it is okay to ask God, “Why?” but we must ask this while on the journey of seeking out His glory, not like a petulant child who won’t budge unless all of our questions are answered first.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, don’t let yesterday’s sin be an excuse for tomorrow’s. Let yesterday’s forgiveness give you hope for tomorrow, and know that when you accepted Christ as your Savior, it was not under the condition that you would be perfect; on the contrary. It was an agreement to remain imperfect, but a promise to find your strength in Him when you can’t find it in yourself.

That, ultimately, is the greatest loss when falling to the temptation of any of the Seven Deadlies. Not so much that our ship has gone astray, but that we did not use the opportunity to bring glory to God.

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