Monday, April 16, 2012

N is for Note

A Devotional by Margot Cioccio

Hebrews 3:13
But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, 
so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.

1 Thessalonians 5:11
Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

Karen reading me portions of her Memoirs Project
I received the following note recently and I thought N would be a good letter to respond to it. In the note my friend Karen asked some good questions that I though might be fun to answer in this post. To help keep thing strait I will make my responses in blue. 

I met Karen 12 years ago when we lived in Sierra Vista, Arizona. She has a daughter who lives here in Spokane and we make a point to get in a visit when she is in town. 

During her most recent visit she read several chapters from her Memoirs Project. As she read aloud to me I found myself more than once moved to tears as she related the deeper struggles of events in her life that I had been aware of from a distance. It was amazing to hear her recount various events and to hear how she had processed through them through prayer, spiritual council, and writing.

Karen sharing what she has learned on the harp
I have always loved that she is a deep thinker. On a previous visit she had shared with me a number of her poems and I marveled at how she was able to capture and express emotions and feelings with such eloquence. I have seen her take on some massive projects and also to find the grace to step back and allow others to rise up to carry them on. She is always an inspiration and an encouragement to me.

While Karen was here I took her to see the River Project that I had just completed and she had begun following this blog at that time. We had a wonderful lunch together and caught up with what was happening in each others lives. 

Dear Margot,
First, I want to tell you how blessed I've been by reading your Devotional Mosaic each day.  Secondly, I want to tell you what an inspiration you are to me to turn these essays out each and every day.  That is the most important practice of a writer --- to write!  Along with reading, it is absolutely the key to becoming more and more skilled.  I do agree that you have significant pastoral gifts --- and your Bible research and references to other writers, plus your own experiences, make your blogs meaty and thought-provoking.  

 I want to thank all of you along with Karen, who have sent notes or made comments on various posts. Some of you who follow me on facebook and comment about things I post there. Also thank you to those of you who read and comment in person when you see me. Your encouragement means so much to me. When I first started this project I had a very small handful of friends who were reading along, it has been exciting to know that people from far of places in the world are visiting. It has been exciting to see the blog's following steadily growing first among friends who have discovered it mainly through facebook. Now it seems to be reaching farther as people are discovering this blog through the A -Z challenge and word of mouth.  I can track things like the number of page views and I can see what addresses have signed up to follow by e-mail. I don't ever know for sure who is reading and have pretty much written with the mind set that my task is to write and to leave the out come of who is reached up to the Lord. 

The bible says we should encourage one another - when you see God moving in the life of others and you see them operating in the gifts that God has given them or you see the fruit of the Spirit growing.  Say something!  You have no idea how many people have to fight through insecurity and self doubt to set out to accomplish a dream, or to express themselves creatively.  I have often battled insecurity and self doubt and it was the encouragement of friends, who saw something in the notes I had been writing to encourage them that suggested I take the step of faith to begin this project. 

My love of writing started in high school and I have probably been journaling since that time. I have written articles for newsletters and did have one article published in Psalmist Magazine many years ago. Creating, expressing and communicating through art, music and the written word have been friends that have been with me through the ups and downs of life. They have helped me to communicate with others and share my thoughts and feelings. I have tried to maintain a life long love of learning and have through the years tried to continue to grow and develop in all three areas.

I got a call last night from a gal at the Lutheran church asking me if I'd be willing to lead a workshop in May for the women of the church on "Finding Peace Through Journaling."  She'd heard about the work I've been doing with my writers' group, I think, and thought our women might respond to this.  I told her yes, and then realized I had a lot of preparation/thinking to do to make this meaningful for the gals, for I want them actually to do some writing in the workshop. 

Sounds like a great workshop, wish I did not live so far away. I run into other writers all the time and I am intrigued by the idea of setting up a forum of sorts that creates a platform where one could share their writing with others and allows other writers to encourage one another. 
When you get a chance, could you send me your thoughts on the following questions?  (You could even incorporate them into a daily devotional, if you want --- just let me know which day they'll be posted).
1.  Why is it so important for you to write these devotionals?  

The Lord has been talking to me for several years about leaving a legacy of faith. I have long been inspired by people like Keith Green, Rich Mullens, Bach, Michelangelo, Oswald Chambers, C.S Lewis, Jullian of Norwich, and many other believers who now stand among the great cloud of witnesses. I am amazed how their thoughts, music and art still inspire me though some have been long dead. God has put it in my heart to somehow be like them and to leave a legacy of faith that will continue to inspire and encourage people long after my days on this earth are over.  I realized that legacies don't just happen. I must make purposeful steps to accomplishing the things God shows me and puts on my heart to do. I have learned that holding an honest view of where I am today and the vision of the completed project simultaneously creates a useful structural tension that helps to propel you towards the desired goal. I originally only did this with art projects until one day it dawned on me that I could take that same process and apply it to other areas of creativity and even my life. 

I have to say that it took the encouragement of a friend to help me to realize that I did have something to say. One of the things on my bucket list has been to write a daily devotional and so in the beginning the idea of accomplishing that in a little over a years time was my motivation for setting up a Monday - Friday posting schedule. I knew that it would stretch me and I knew I would need to set it up with some form of accountability. The idea of writing daily Monday through Friday and the goal of creating a 365 day devotional was intentionally too big and would require faith, trust and the Lord's empowering to accomplish. I was sharing with someone just yesterday how I manage to not become overwhelmed by the big projects I take on. It is often difficult, and can even seem impossible, to see how to get from here to there. Each day I assess what I have to work with and I do what I can do today trusting that God will supply what I will need for future steps when the time comes.
2.  What have you learned over the months you've been doing them? I have learned that I can write and post M-F. Doing something daily means that I have to write on days that I am inspired as well as days that I am not. I am a very creative, moved by inspiration kind of person so the dailyness has been an area of growth for me. It is easy to write when you are inspired, happy and things are going good it is much harder to have to write and share the more difficult days. Writing daily has forced me to be open and honest about the ups and the downs of life and to not just paint a rosy one sided picture with my words. I think too often we put on our Sunday best game face and try to hide the fact that we are struggling.

There are some skills like learning to play the piano that require steady ongoing discipline, commitment and practice to master. That discipline seems to be something that the Lord has been working to develop in my art, music and writing. 

One of my goals has been to become more open and transparent. For the person on the inside and the person on the outside to become the same. I could have just written these posts in a journal but God has been on me to go ahead and share my writing, and songs even in their less than perfect state. At first that was very hard to know that there would be typos and some clumsy wording and that people would see my imperfections.

I am also endeavoring to model that we need to learn to be open and honest with each other. To have to pretend that we have got it all together leaves people isolated and lonely. I tell my vocal students to sing loudly - because then I can hear what they are doing and help them correct it. In some ways I choose to live loudly and publicly. I have learned to give myself permission to experiment and to fail because doing so allows me to adjust and refine.  I learned though writing one year for NANOWIMO (National Novel Writing Month) that sometimes we need to turn off our inner editor and just write with abandon.  Sure I could re read and edit more but I run out of time and just need to post and get on with my day. I have learned that the accountability of knowing that people are following and reading along helps me to keep writing. Even when it was just a few people reading it helped me to know that they were encouraged in their walk each day by the thing I was writing and posting.

3.  Have you experienced peace through the process, or have they stirred up unrest, questions, anxiety? There have been some posts that there was tremendous spiritual battle surrounding. The oppression was so heavy and writing was like trying to walk through waist high mud. I could finish and hit post and that heavy oppression would suddenly lift. I began to realize there was a spiritual battle going on and have tried to gather some faithful folks to pray for this project.  I had to realize that the things I was writing and posting was helping others to get free and as such the enemy would try to discourage and stop me from writing. I had to press through that and believe that the word says to resist the devil and he will flee. I am thankful that for the most part I am writing during the quiet time I spend with the Lord and it is generally within the protection of his presence and from a place of peace. Sometimes the things I am writing about do stir up some unrest, and bring up old hurts or broken places and while moving through those things is difficult, I always have a sense of the Lord walking right beside me and helping me and in the end there is healing and peace.

4.  If some have resulted in more peace and others in more unrest, what has made the difference?
 I often will write as a result of things that I am working through in my own life. If we are honest there are times of peace and times of unrest in all of our lives. I think that sometimes it is the difficulties in life that are the hidden blessings that cause us to have to come up with ways to overcome. Becoming more open and honest has at times caused me some unrest to my tendency towards being a very private introvert. It is not nearly as hard as it was at first. It is kind of like getting that snowball started at the top of the hill - it eventually picks up its own momentum. More and more I am seeing that happen. It has become a welcome part of my day to sit and write these posts. I am often thinking about future posts and looking for topics that will carry me along as I write them. The elusive letter M post was like that - it took a while to find the right word or topic but once discovered it almost leads me along and pulls things out of me.
5.  Have writing them brought about any surprises?  If so, what?
That my experiences and the things I have written are making a difference for people. That people seem to enjoy reading and following along. I guess I am always kind of humbled and surprised when the things that I have created begin to take on a life of their own. I see God doing that with this project and am humbled that my journey, thoughts and words are impacting others. 
I guess like king David I find myself saying "Who am I that you are mindful of me Lord" I think our culture tries kill of anything that is different from the norm.  The kid in school that is different is picked on and teased by the more "normal" kids. I've had to come to grips with God having given me some natural talents that I have worked to develop as well as some spiritual gifts. I am responsible to do something with those things. They have often made me stick out and feel different, and sometimes to feel bad because God has given me so much. They have caused me to have to deal with the jealousy from some and often to not be understood by others. I am somewhat compelled to create and the ideas will wrestle and stew to develop and be given birth. I have tired through the year to just blend in but in the end the need to express and create wins out. I guess I have been surprised to find that maybe I'm not so different and that there is a creative spark of uniqueness in all of us that takes courage to express because as children learned quickly to fit in or to be how to invisible or risk the torment of the insecure.
Thanks so much ---
One other thing.  Would you like some help in proofreading your essays?  I sometimes come across some misspellings or awkward wordings, which are so easy to overlook when we're the only one reading our work --- if you'd like another set of eyes to look them over before you post them, I'd be happy to do that for you.  Just let me know what kind of timetable that would involve --- I'd like them a couple days before you're going to post them, as I might not be able to get to them until later in the day.
Let me know.
Love, Karen

My goal is to write 365 days of devotionals and then to go back and take a second pass at each of these posts myself and with hopefully with some gifted editors.  I am not sure the next steps in the editing and publishing journey at very least I will produce an e-book version or some smaller thematic collections. When I first started I had a twenty day head start which was good because it took some time to develop the habit of daily writing. At this point I sometimes get a day or two ahead but most of the time I am needing to post the same day that I am writing a post. My perfectionist tendency would be to over edit and so I have had to come to accept that the posts will not be perfect and hope that their content will inspire and encourage in spite of their imperfections. I had to get to that same place with sharing my music. Its just me my guitar and my computer and I resisted God about sharing them publicly but then my friend Terri needed encouraged and I found myself posting them in their raw form. I discovered that people who need encouraged don't care about the perfection they need the grace of God that is poured out to them in that moment. My focus shifted and it became less about me and more about hurting people who needed encouraged. In some ways it is very similar to what you would get if you came to my house and I was sharing with you my latest project. 
I asked a friend recently if I was dressed ok to go to a evening event. Their comment was "Margot you are always a little rumpled but that's what I love about you". Its true I am generally covered with glitter like residue from glass I have been cutting, most of my clothes have a spots of paint on them because I am always creating something.  I see each project as a journey of discovery and I suppose it is the journey that is more important to me than even the finished project. 
Anyway all that to say I would welcome any editing help but I would probably have editors start with the older posts rather than add a step to the daily posting process.  I could probably copy and paste them into a word file for editing purposes. The other way is to send me a comment on the post telling me of typos to go back and fix. All blog comments come to me for approval and would allow readers to let me know they saw a typo or wording issue.  I would likely just fix the the problem and not post the correction comment but post a comment thanking you for your editing help. 

Well this post has gotten long but I hope it answered Karen's questions and gave you some insight into my journey of writing these devotional blog posts. 

Dear Lord, 
I thank you for the encouragers who come along side us. Those people who notice something special in us and speak up to help fan the flames of that creative spark. I pray that those reading today would be encouraged to embrace those things that are different or special about them, things that they may have even come to view as handicaps or faults. Lord help us to see the wonderful textures that you have created in each of our lives.  Help us to begin to discover our own spiritual gifts and to discover how they fit into the body. Help those of us who are feet to not be jealous of those who are hands but to discover and develop in our own area of giftedness and learn to function together in love.

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