Friday, August 5, 2016

The Death of Contentment?


Recently, I headed out the door both excited and a bit apprehensive to attend an “art night” at my friend’s house. While I’d love to consider myself artsy, I’m just… not. I must have been in the other room when God handed out the visually creative genes. I can write (sometimes), and I can sing (a little), and I used to be able to play the piano (before I had three kids and lost too many brain cells), but the truth is, I can barely draw a stick figure. So, the prospect of me doing something that involved painting and drawing was a little scary – no, let me re-phrase that – UBER, extremely, super-dee-duper scary.

Our little group settled in to make ATC’s, which, if you’re a cool, in-the-know artist type, you already recognize the acronym. The rest of you will just have to guess… No, just kidding! ATC stands for Artist Trading Card. It’s like a mini work of art about the same size as a baseball card. Artists use a variety of techniques to decorate these mini canvases, from paint and texture to magazine cut-outs and collages.

So, after instructions by our gracious hostess, I was off and creating. Happily. In my own little artsy world. Until I looked to the left and saw the coolest, most beautiful ATC created by a gal who said she wasn’t artsy or craftsy at all. What? I’m sitting next to an undiscovered Van Gogh!

This ought to be excellent for my budding artist self-esteem.

Then, across the table, another supposed “non-artsy” person was layering color upon gorgeous color with texture and glitter to make yet another fabulous ATC! 

Now, don’t get me wrong. I was happy for these closet artists who were discovering their inner Michelangelos. Really, I was. It was just that my own little humble ATC looked so simple and homely by comparison.

By comparison.

Did you catch those two little cancerous words?

Someone once said, “Comparison is the death of contentment.” Isn’t this so true?

Like I said above, I was happily creating in my own little world UNTIL I started comparing myself to others. The truth is, my mini canvas was beautiful in its own way – it was just DIFFERENT from theirs.

And the truth is, your life, mapped out JUST FOR YOU by a loving and gracious heavenly Father who has carefully crafted EVERY detail, is incredibly beautiful in its own way!

So why we do find ourselves playing the comparison game all the time?

We compare our kids to the ones who are smarter, better behaved, happier, more well-adjusted… or so we think.

We compare our husbands to our friends’ husbands, who we THINK have better jobs, more vacation time, do more around the house, buy better gifts, or write better love notes.  

We compare our lives to the girl next door. And you know what? She does the same!

So how do we get off this never-ending, death-to-contentment, crazy comparison carousel?

As you can see, I definitely don’t have that answer all wrapped up.

One thing I do know: God doesn’t want us comparing ourselves to others. Why? Because it leads to one of two things: 1) Pride (as in “Wow, I’m SO glad MY kids don’t behave that way!”) or 2) Discontent (as in “Man, I wish MY house was decorated like hers.”)

Either way, we’re in the wrong. So what’s a girl to do?

Check out this verse I found in Galatians 6:4-5 (it’s a dead-on paraphrase from The Message and I absolutely LOVE it!):

Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don't be impressed with yourself. Don't compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.

Whoa! Did you get that? Don't compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.

Yes. Yes! That’s it! But it’s oh-so easier said than done, isn’t it, friends?

Here’s what I’m going to do the next time I find myself playing the comparison game, and I hope you’ll join me: 1) Look up Galatians 6:4-5 (or write it down now and have it handy). 2) Read it out loud at least three times. 3) Thank God for three things about whatever or whomever you’re comparing. For example, if you’re comparing your child to someone else’s, think of three things you’re thankful for about YOUR child. 4) Then pray for contentment and freedom from comparison.

Thank you, Lord, for the life you have given me. Help me to stop comparing myself to others, and to keep my focus on You, the author and finisher of my faith!

(Reposted from the archives)                                 

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Gardening Wisdom

Add whimsy to a back porch with some colorful glass bottles. (Photo by Julie Campbell)

As a home and garden writer for a mid-sized daily newspaper, I meet the most fascinating folks. When people invite me to take photos and interview them about their most private sanctuaries their homes and gardens I feel I've been granted a remarkable privilege. Many times interviewees become friends whom I call for advice or meet for the occasional cup of coffee. 

One of my favorite interview subjects was Tom Sacilowski, son of a Polish immigrant who has lived in the same house his entire life. His home was an unassuming single story dwelling made extraordinary by the love and care he committed to every inch, including his garden. Even though he walks with a cane, his spirit and determination to beautify his home has not been limited. 

Here are a few excerpts and photos from my article on Tom that was published in the Herald Bulletin last year. I love this sweet man's outlook on life!

(Photo by Julie Campbell)


As a young boy in the 1930s, Tom Sacilowski loved working in the garden alongside his mother. Today, at age 89, not much has changed.

“I’ve been interested in gardening all my life,” said the retired bank vice president. “You get a good feeling that you’ve completed something when you’re done.”

The son of Polish immigrants, Sacilowski has lived his entire life in the same house just down the road from the former Nicholson File Company, where his father found work when he first arrived in America in 1909.

Sacilowski and his nine siblings were all born and raised in the home, a place that holds many precious memories for him.

“The best memory was always working in the garden,” he recalled. “My mother and I would work out in the garden all summer – plant potatoes and other vegetables and then we’d can them.”

Although the plants and trees in the yard have changed over the past 89 years, the benefits of working in the garden are just as valuable to Sacilowski. As he became an adult, he turned to gardening as a stress reliever.

“I worked in a bank all my life, and I would get tense so when I came home, I’d work out in the yard to relieve that tension.”

Sacilowski is also a Korean War veteran who served in the United States Army Infantry and was a recipient of the Bronze Star, a medal awarded for heroic service.

“I was proud to do it,” he said. “And I was lucky to get back.”

Now, as a senior citizen, Sacilowski enjoys the exercise he gets from gardening as well as the fruit of his labor.

“Tomatoes are my specialty,” he said, pointing out that the recent torrential rains have not been kind to his plants.

Asiatic lilies flourish in Tom's garden. (Photo by Julie Campbell)

In addition to tomato and zucchini plants, the neat, virtually weed-free yard also features ornamental grasses, rose bushes, Asiatic lilies, several different types of ivy and a fragrant patch of mint.

Gardening as a senior citizen is often a challenge, but Sacilowski said he has adapted his gardening to fit his stage of life.

“Right now I can’t get down on my hands and knees like I used to, but I can still garden. Well, I can get down on my knees, but I can’t get back up!” he said with a laugh.

Sacilowski recommends that his fellow “golden years” gardeners take advantage of the container gardening trend.

“I do most of my gardening in pots,” he said. “Right now I’m into these Calibrachoa flowers.”

(Photo by Julie Campbell)


Sacilowski creates vibrant pots by planting two or three different colors of the delicate blossoms in the same container. The effect is simply beautiful.

Another simple yet valuable piece of advice from Sacilowski to other senior citizens interested in gardening:  “Just do a little bit at a time.”
 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Picture Book Power


The off-white couch was covered with clear vinyl, the kind that would crinkle and squeak if you moved around too much. But this was where the magic happened. In her distinct voice, slightly hoarse and weathered with time,  my grandma would read picture books to me, opening my imagination to new worlds and tales of days gone by. 

A vivid memory of a book of "Uncle Remus" folktales stands out among the dim snapshots in my mind, and I remember in particular being a bit scared of the story of Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby. In this tale, Brer Fox designs a sticky doll or "tar baby" as a way to capture Brer Rabbit. When Brer Rabbit encounters the tar baby, he speaks to it, but the doll won't answer back. So the annoyed rabbit grabs ahold of the tar baby's arm, only to find himself hopelessly stuck and at the mercy of Brer Fox. I won't give away the ending, in case you're not familiar with the story and want to read it for yourself. 

Looking back, I'm not really sure what exactly frightened me about the story, but I do know this: Picture books have the power to stay with you. Just like the tar baby stuck to Brer Rabbit, this story by Joel Chandler Harris has stuck in my imagination for 40 years, evoking memories of my grandma and her vinyl covered couch.

As a children's activity book writer and an aspiring picture book author, I'm participating for the second time in Picture Book Idea Month, otherwise known as PiBoIdMo, during the month of November. Tired of watching novelists have all the fun in November with NaNoWriMo, children's author Tara Lazar created PiBoIdMo as a 30-day challenge for picture book writers. 

According to Lazar's blog, "The challenge is to create 30 picture book concepts in 30 days. You don't have to write a manuscript (but you can if the mood strikes). You don't need potential best-seller ideas. You might think of a clever title. Or a name for a character. Or just a silly thing like "purple polka-dot pony." The object is to heighten your picture-book-idea-generating senses. Ideas may build upon other ideas and your list of potential stories will grow stronger as the days pass." 

"Daily blog posts by picture book authors, illustrators, editors and other kidlit professionals will help inspire you. By the end of the month, you'll have a fat file of ideas to spark new stories." 

Registration has begun at Tara's blog, and those who register and complete the 30-day challenge will be eligible for amazing prizes like signed picture books, original artwork, critiques and wait for it... feedback from one of 10 agents! Whoa! It's a super fun way to generate ideas, build community with other writers and learn from the wealth of knowledge that Tara's guest bloggers will impart during the month. 

Have you always wanted to write a picture book? What are you waiting for? Grab your idea notebook, sign up for PiBoIdMo and join the fun! 

Friday, June 20, 2014

Five Minute Friday - Releasing My Grip

 
 
The rope strains as it’s pulled tight on either side. A ribbon in the middle shows the progress of one side against the other – back and forth, back and forth. Lingering on one side for a bit longer, then yanked back in the other direction. On and on the game goes. No one seems to win.

I’m often engaged in this endless game of tug-of-war, a war between what I should do and what I want to do.

Living with open hands has never been easy for me. I want to hold tight – to my “stuff,” to my kids, to my home, to my comfort, even to my burdens and my problems. I want to fix things myself.  Sometimes my attitude can be easily summed up in a favorite vocabulary word of a two-year-old: “Mine.”

But then there are those moments when the light clicks on and I realize it’s not mine. It’s all God’s. And the problems and burdens? I don’t need to carry them or try to fix them myself either, because God doesn’t need my help. He’s waiting for me to release my white-knuckled grip, wanting me to grasp for His strength instead of my own.

The freedom that comes from realizing this is nothing short of amazing. I wish I could say that I feel this freedom all the time. But most of the time, I’m still learning to let go, constantly reminding myself to release to God what was really His in the first place. Learning to go to Him with my worries and problems, instead of freaking out first and remembering to pray after all else fails.

Lord, teach me to release my grasp on the things of this world. As I learn to cling to You, help me to point others to Your light and Your salvation. True freedom comes as I let go of my wants and desires and replace them with Yours. I can let go, because You will never let go of me.
 

This is an entry for Five Minute Friday. Every Friday hundreds of writers join in this five minute writing exercise at Lisa-Jo Baker's blog, Tales from a Gypsy Mama.

We write for five minutes flat. All on the same prompt that Lisa-Jo posts on her blog. And we connect on Twitter with the hashtag #FMFParty.

No extreme editing; no worrying about perfect grammar, font, or punctuation.

Unscripted. Unedited. Real.

Have a blog? You can join in, too!
 

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Time to Fly

Card by Hallmark
"She stepped out on faith... and found she had wings."

My firstborn is getting ready to fly.

She graduates high school today, and like all the parents who are in my shoes, I can't help thinking, "Where has the time gone?"

Seventeen years seem like an eternity when you're a new parent, gazing into the face of this tiny human being in your arms and wondering how in the world you're going to do it all just right. 

But 17 years fly by so quickly.

Now she's ready to take her first solo flight, going out into the world to pursue her dreams in college. She's spreading the wings her dad and I have so lovingly nurtured over the years, and I feel like my heart might burst with a mixture of joy and pride (and a wee bit of sadness). It's difficult even for a writer to put into words. but I'll do my best.

Alyssa, your dad and I could not be more proud of the young woman you have become. As our firstborn, you've endured our parenting mistakes with love and grace, quick to forgive and extend us the benefit of the doubt as we learned (and are still learning!) how to be parents. Watching you grow and mature has been one of the greatest joys of our lives. 

Homeschooling you for the past nine years has been nothing short of amazing. I count it as one of my highest privileges to have been your teacher and your mentor, an honor higher than any award or title than I could ever have earned. Looking back on these years, I see God's hand at work in your life, gently shaping the beautiful person who stands before me in her cap and gown, ready to take on the world. 



There will be days filled with successes and joys ahead, but there will also be those days when it all comes crashing down and you feel like giving up. On those days, especially, I want you to remember this: You are God's masterpiece. He has an amazing plan with your name on it, a plan He has hand-crafted for you since before you were born. Spread your wings, step out in faith and soar as fast and as high as you can toward His plan, knowing that my love and prayers will follow you always... no matter where you fly. 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Just Do It



Can I tell you a secret? I'm afraid. There, I said it. Ideas have been swirling in my head for a month, but I just can't bring myself to start. My toe is on the line, the pop of the starting gun is ringing in my ears, and I'm just standing here. Frozen. Stuck. Paralyzed.

Ever felt like me? You want desperately to start, but you don't know how? You don't even know where to begin. Heck, you don't even know if you want to begin.

Guess what? You're not alone. That's always a comforting thought to me.

This spring, I'm getting myself un-stuck. Want to join me? A familiar motto is running through my brain, and I hope you'll embrace it, too. Here it is (drumroll please): Just Do It. Yeah, I think I've heard that somewhere before, haven't you? Not bad advice, if you ask me.

This advice goes for anything – creative or not – writing, cleaning out your clutter, creating art, changing your eating/exercising habits, making music, calling that friend you've been meaning to call for the past few years, sewing, acting, or painting that room you've been wanting to makeover. You've got to START SOMEWHERE. And when you start, you'll say (like I usually do): "Wow. Why didn't I do this sooner?"

So this spring, I'm going for it. I'm jumping in with both feet, creating and writing and doing what I was made to do. God made me for more than just sitting on the sidelines, so NO MORE FEAR. No more standing paralyzed at the start line.

In the words of Julia Cameron, author of The Artist's Way:

For today, all you need is the grace to begin beginning.

Give yourself some grace and go create. Go make that call. Go learn that new skill. Go write that first chapter. Just do it.

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Linking up today over at Jennifer Dukes Lee's wonderful blog. Each week she features a #TellHisStory link up for writers. Check out her latest post here.



Saturday, February 8, 2014

Winter Weary?


Polar vortex, sun dogs, bone chilling temperatures, record breaking snows... The winter of 2014 is turning out to be quite a chore, isn't it? If you're anywhere other than California or Arizona (even Florida has seen colder-than-normal temps), you're probably, like me, a little winter weary.

Cheer up! Spring is less than 40 days away! We can make it that long, can't we? Say it with me: "Yes, we can!" (Wow, that was awesome!)

To tide you over, here are some photos to remind you that better days are ahead. Sunny days, beach days, sit-out-in-your-yard-and-read-a-book days... Remember, we're not living in Narnia, even though it may feel like it. Spring and summer WILL come again. I promise!

 
 
 
 
All images are © Copyright 2014 by Julie Campbell.