A healthy dose of hope

Above is a Great Crested Fly Catcher. I saw one of these beauties in my back yard yesterday. Check out the pompom on the top of his head. Photo by Drew Weber, Bucks County, Pa.., Creative Commons, some rights reserved.

So how are you feeling? The losses seem to keep stacking up. Loss of freedom to move around the way we used to. Loss of control over where we can go and what we can do. The loss of work and income for some of us. We miss seeing each other and being together. About now, we can all use a healthy dose of hope.

Where does our hope come from? A traveler asked this same question in Psalm 121:1. It reads, “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?”

Some say pilgrims might have sung this psalm on their way to Jerusalem, seeing the hills of the city come into view off in the distance.

Others say David might have sung this psalm while on the run from King Saul, watching enemy armies descend toward him from the hills in the distance.

Either way, the singers found their hope in the same place.

My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.

Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper;
the Lord is your shade on your right hand.

The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.

The Lord will keep
 your going out and your coming in
 from this time forth and forevermore.

Regardless of our circumstances, Jesus is our hope today and for the future. May He deeply encourage us today. 

And may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope, 

Finding God’s love and wood ducks in my backyard

We’ve all suffered losses during this time. We can’t move around the way we were used to. We can’t be together at church, and we can’t see our family and friends in person. Some of us have lost jobs. Others have lost loved ones. It hurts. 

And then this morning, I looked out my back door and found two wood ducks sitting in a tree about 15 feet off the ground. Ducks? In a tree? Yes.

While Mrs. Wood Duck nosed around inside a hole in the trunk looking for a place to nest, Mr. Wood Duck perched on the limb above her, watching for anything that might disturb her.  They didn’t appear to be worried about what to wear or what to eat. 

At that moment, the Holy Spirit reminded me that He has our lives in His hands. He knows when we’ll be able to move about again. In the meantime, He’s asking that we trust Him. I took a deep breath and began to sense the peace of Christ. 

At one point during Jesus’ ministry, the crowds asked, “Teacher, what must we do to be doing the works of God?” Don’t you want to know the answer to that question? I do. Here’s what Jesus said (John 6:29). 

Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

That’s it? No good works to accomplish first? Surely it has to be more complicated than that. No, it’s not. Placing our faith in the one whom God has sent. Trusting Him to forgive our sins. That’s what Jesus is asking for. Our faith will lead to good works. 

Peter says it a different way in 1 Peter 5:6,7. 

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 

We can place ourselves squarely in the hands of our loving heavenly Father, and tell Him what’s bothering us. We can even tell Him what we’d like Him to do about it, and then thank Him that He loves us. We can do that today, right now. 

When Waiting Tops your To-Do List

We’re in a season of waiting at what we’ve been told might be the height of the coronavirus pandemic here in the United States. I’m not a very patient person and I don’t wait very well. 

This kind of waiting doesn’t have a deadline. None of us knows when we will be done sheltering in place or what a return to normality might look like. So we wait, and we work, and we trust the Lord. 

If you’re a first responder, many thanks for the work you’re doing while the rest of us wait. We owe you a debt of gratitude If, like me, you’re saving lives by staying home, here are some habits that can help us while we wait. 

  1. Reading scripture every morning. Now that I’m not commuting back and forth to work, I spend even more time reading and studying. Currently I’m reading the gospel of John. During Holy Week, I’ll read about Christ’s trial, crucifixion and resurrection. 
  2. Pray. Pray for the ones you love and the ones they love. Pray for your neighbors. Pray through the headlines. Pray for a miracle. Ask God to be merciful and stem the tide of the pandemic that is upon us. Ask Him to accomplish His kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven. 
  3. Establish a routine. Get up at the same time every morning. Get dressed. Go outside and take a walk, a run or a bike ride, go about the business of your day.  
  4. Keep a journal. Some day this will all be over. Your children and grandchildren will want to know how you survived the pandemic. 
  5. Help people. Check in on your neighbors. Make sure they’re okay. See if you can buy groceries or pick up a prescription or even a package of toilet paper for them.
  6. Finish a project you started. Take a look around the place where you live. How can you improve its appearance? Is there a closet you can clean out or a shelf you can clear? 
  7. Start a hobby. My newest hobby is birding. Almost every morning on my walk, I see a different kinds of birds. It’s fun to track. 
  8.  Thank God for His goodness. Stop, take a breath, listen to the birds, and thank God that He is still good, even in the midst of our current circumstances. Open up your hand, let go of fear, and thank God that He will meet your needs and take care of the details you are worried about. 

None of this is easy. We are living through times unlike any we’ve ever seen before.  May God richly bless you as we wait together in the midst of our ambiguity. 


An encouraging word about Coronavirus

Recently, our pastor, Scott George, was interviewed on the radio. Almost a year ago, his son Austin suffered a traumatic brain injury during a swimming accident. Scott and his family have spent the past eight months first in Miami, then in Atlanta, getting Austin the best possible care. Doctors call his recovery a miracle. The family moved back to Orlando in February, just in time for the onset of the new coronavirus.

During this interview, Pastor Scott updates us on Austin’s health and gives us his perspective to face the weeks ahead of us. You can listen below.

How to Crank out the Work (without Becoming Cranky)

Most of us who work for non-profits have more work to do than we have time to do it. So we prioritize, focus on the task at hand and try not to think about what’s waiting for us when we’re finished with the task at hand. So what’s a writer to do?

Do the minimum amount of work required, and then pass the project on to the next level. Repeat. There is little room for perfection or excellence. Do your best work, make it count, but do the minimum amount of work required, then pass it on.

If you write stories about the work of your non-profit, find one big idea. Why did someone pick this story to best illustrate how your mission works? How is this person accomplishing the goals of your organization?

Anyone remember the move City Slickers? Three men in the 40s, each having a mid-life crisis, leave wives and children behind to join a cattle drive out West. On the drive, the wizend, crusty, aging cowboy who has spend a lifetime doing what he loves, gives one of the men a valuable piece of advice. To paraphrase the scene, the cowboy says that the meaning of life is one thing. Taking the bait, one of the 40-somethings asks what that one thing is.  “That’s what you’ve got to figure out,” the cowboy answers.

Fortunately, while you do have to figure out what your one main point is going to be, you have a few guidelines. What’s the stated purpose of your mission? How about your vision statement? With purpose and vision statement in hand, ask yourself:  How the people in this story best demonstrate the mission and vision of our organization? 

Let that become your focus statement. For example,

Insert name here, fulfills our mission of insert mission here, when she insert description of work here

Now, smooth that out so it’s readable and interesting to your readers.

Next, pick the details that match your focus statement. Details could include:

  • a scene from her work
  • statistics collected during the previous year
  • her background (how did her life circumstances prepare her for the work she’s doing?)
  • the background of the work she’s doing (what happened before she arrived, when she arrived, now that she’s been there?)
  • a statement about the future (leave room for growth. No work is ever truly finished.)

You’re done. Turn it in, take a well-deserved break, and then repeat the process with the next assignment.

Improve your productivity by working faster. Set absurd deadlines for yourself. If you have the information in front of you, see how much of this you can get done in an hour. Do your best work, but know when you’re done.

As I have written, edited and coached other writers, my own skills and the skills of the people I work with have improved based on the numbers of projects they have written. As you repeat the process, your work improves. This is a case where quantity over quality, as long as you are doing the best work you can in that moment, leads to more work done and better writing skills.

How can you keep from becoming cranky? Know what done looks like. Know what is expected. Fulfill the requirements of the assignment and pass it on.

Happy writing.

How Long does it Take to Write a Blog Post?

How much time does it take to think of an idea and write a blog post? It’s a good question.

I’m part of a team curating content for an online community. We invite our members to submit their best ideas in the form of 600-800-word blog posts. Normally we give them a 2-week deadline to add urgency to our request. If they need more time, we give them an extra week.

So far, most of the menbers who have promised to write something have done it in the timeframe we have asked for.

Why don’t we give them more time? A few reasons.

Two weeks is long enough for our members to figure out whether or not they can do the assignment. If they can’t do it, giving them more time only adds to their frustration.

If they are busy and they need more time, we give them an extra week. If that’s not enough time, then they are too busy, and we invited them to write a different time.

If they are perpetually too busy, or, if don’t want to write it themselves, we schedule an interview. We can write their story for them in first-person. That becomes a piece that is by them, with us. Or, we can write their piece in third-person. That becomes a piece about, by us.

Either way, we accomplish our goal of giving them a voice in our community.

So, how long does it take to write a guest blog post for another site, or, even a blog post for your own site? Under two weeks. If that’s not enough time, switch gears and conduct an interview, then write up the interview as a blog post instead.

Happy writing, and happy editing.



Is Good Enough Good Enough?

So, your standard is good enough. Aren’t you settling for mediocrity? Not at all. You are doing the best work you know how to do. It’s good enough. Imperfect action beats perfect inaction every time.

Let’s set some minimum standards.

Does your piece have a main point? Think high school English. Or Freshman Composition 101. What’s your thesis statement? Look for the one idea that ties the entire piece together. In journalism circles, we call this the focus statement. It’s a single sentence (or two) that makes a promise to the reader. If they read the words you have written they will learn (insert your focus statement here).

Think about a train. A focus statement is the engine that drives your piece forward. The details are the train cars connected to the engine, heading in the same direction, arriving at the same location.

Once you’ve picked your focus statement and the details, decide how you want to order them. Which cars are you going to attach to the engine? Are all of the details heading the same direction? Does it make sense for them to arrive at the same destination as the engine?

Every analogy breaks down somewhere. Here’s where this one breaks down. In real life, the engine of a train always comes first because it pulls the cars behind it. While the focus statement of your story should appear early in your text, you don’t have to begin with it.

If you’re writing or editing a short piece, you might want to lead with the focus statement. If it’s a longer piece, you might want to find an interesting story or example to begin with that illustrates your focus.

So, here’s a standard for good enough:

  • Find the main point of your story, the engine that drives the piece along.
  • Choose the details that support your main point, the cars that follow the engine.

If a piece meets these two criteria, then it’s good enough. Your writing style or the style of the author of the piece you are editing will improve with practice. Be willing to allow yourself of the person creating the content to be where they are right now today. And then to find a way to be better next time.

What’s your Standard?

What’s your standard? It’s a good question. Most of us can agree that perfection is unattainable. At Mirriam-Webster.com, perfect is defined as the state of being entirely without fault or defect: Flawless. Who wants to attempt to write to that standard? No one I know. Let’s agree that perfection is unattainable, at least in this life.

What about excellence? Certainly excellence is a good standard to strive for? To call work excellent, it means the work is done to the highest possible standard. Very few of us begin any enterprise by doing excellent work. For most of us, excellence comes after years of practice. If a writer can’t attain excellence, it’s too easy to quit. Then writing becomes a task for the experts who have already attained excellence. Novices need not apply.

How about good enough? Anyone with a big idea can type words onto a screen, publish those words almost immediately, and gain a worldwide audience. Or not. But, the secret it to be the best you can be today. If you show up, do your best work today, and then show up again tomorrow and do the same, your best work will improve to the point where someday it will be excellent because you have practiced.

So make a decision. Show up today. Write. And be good enough. Do it again tomorrow. And the day after that. Continue to practice and your writing will improve. Be good enough today. Be even better next week. And watch your writing improve over time.

Creating Content and Defining Terms

landscape.JPGFocus on people; focus on results, we tell ourselves. How do we communicate that the mission is accomplishing its goals? Stories and statistics. Stories prove we’re doing what we say we’re doing on an individual level. Statistics show that we’re accomplishing our goals on a broader level. The two work together.

Every one of us who writes for the Internet has to listen closely to the needs of our audience and then determine the types of content we can create to meet those needs. Those of us who write for nonprofits understand we define ourselves by the stories we tell, the people we profile and the events we write about.


What kinds of content can you create for your audience?

1. Story

Stories contain a likable main character who confronts a problem and solves it, requiring the main character to make a difficult decision, follow it up with hard work and become a better person in the end.

While stories resonate with our readers, they are difficult to write because the author has to show life change. Sometimes that change happens inside a person’s heart. That kind of change is harder to identify and write about. Frequently this happens when a person comes to Christ or starts to grow in their faith.

How do you show life-change? Ask your story subjects if they can give you an example. Whenever you can, write about their response to a difficult situation, demonstrating how they changed.


2. Personality Profile

This is a summary of a person’s life experiences, answering questions like: What do they do, and what experiences have led them to do it? It’s not a story because there is no problem to confront and solve, however, you will want to identify a common theme, think of it as your focus, to write about throughout the entire story.

It’s possible you will write about someone who participates in your work on a regular basis. Even though they might not have an obstacle to overcome, they show up week after week, accomplishing the goals of your mission.

You can show what a day in their lives might look like so people can imagine themselves stepping into the work you’re doing.


3. Biographical Summary

This, too, is a summary of a person’s life, only it’s more a listing of the facts as they happened. The writer doesn’t pick a theme to write about in every paragraph or present the main character as having a problem to confront and solve. Instead, it’s a telling of important life events, usually in chronological order.

Inexperienced writers might choose this format to help them gather all of the necessary facts. Once the facts are gathered and assembled, an experienced editor can help identify a focus that could allow the writer to create a personality profile.


4. Report

A report explains what happened and answers questions your readers might be asking. For example, what happened? When did it happen? Where did it happen? Who was there? How does it show our mission in action?

According to writing coach Roy Peter Clark, the difference between a story and a report is this: A report tells the facts of what happened. A story evokes an emotional response. A report shows scope on a large scale. 500 students came to our fall retreat. A story shows life-change in an individual. One of the students made a decision to trust Christ to forgive her sins.


5. Tribute

This is a summary of a person’s life events that includes quotes from four or five people who explain what this person means to them. This works well when you want to celebrate a birthday or an anniversary of a well-known person.


Each of these forms has its place on your website, in your emails and in your publications. Know what they are and understand the purpose they serve. If you are the editor, know the difference between each piece of content, and be clear with the writer exactly what you expect. If you are the writer, understand the differences between each piece of content, and ask questions to help you understand what your editor expects from you.


Because variety is the spice of life, consider varying the types of content you put in front of your readers. Know the difference between each one. Try each one out to see if it helps you accomplish your goals.

Peer Editing–Be Brave

Earlier this week, I sent an email to my daughter’s academic advisor explaining I was supportive of her plans to finish the semester at home if her professors would allow it. In the email, I wrote that Bethany is a conscientious student. I copied her and my husband, Mark as a courtesy.

The next morning, Mark very gently pointed out to me that I had written Bethany is a very contentious student.

No, she’s very agreeable. I’m the one who’s contentious. Sigh. Mark would have caught the mistake had he read my email before I sent it.

While it’s not practical for someone else to read every email we send, we can improve the quality of our work if we allow each other to read what we have written before we turn it in. We call this process peer editing.

If you are the writer, consider finding someone to read your piece. Then ask these questions:

1. Does it make sense?

2. Is it interesting?

3. At what point did you want to stop reading?

Pay close attention to the spot where your reader wanted to stop reading. Check your verbs. Are they active enough? Can you find a more compelling way to move the action along in your prose?

If you read someone else’s work, ask yourself these questions:

1. Does the writer pull one main point all the way through the piece?

2. Is the piece organized so that you can easily understand it without the writer’s help?

3. Is it interesting?

Use the answers to these questions to give helpful feedback.

From time to time, my son, the engineering student, sends me research papers to read for him. I’m the perfect audience. While I don’t understand much of the technical material, I can figure out whether or not his information follows a logical progression. After I provided feedback on one of his pieces, he added illustrations so that his readers could see what he described.

Your work isn’t published until someone else reads it. Maybe the bravest part of the process is turning your work over to someone else so you can listen to their feedback.