Christmas

Merry Christmas Eve 2012

When I first started this blogging aspect of my journey a little over a year ago, I was in what felt like a miles deep pit of hopelessness, despair, anxiety, and apathy – I was in the throes of depression and I was fighting and scrabbling just to hold on and breathe each new day.

Last Christmas I wrote about choosing life and choosing light and made a commitment and decision to do just that.

There is a lot that looks and feels the same as it did a year ago. The temptation to accept what is obvious on the surfaces of my life and believe I’ve made little progress and that all the words I’ve written and all the actions I’ve taken have been meaningless and futile, is huge for me. It’s too easy to want to believe these lies.

Yesterday I came across a post from Sheri on The Other Side of Ugly, Mirror Mirror Why Do You Lie?, and I paused and thought about things from this perspective.

I have changed and I have grown. My inner darkness is interspersed with rays of light. The inner terror has been tempered with moments of peace. The black hole of despair that weighed me down so heavily isn’t the gravity well it’s felt like and I am not constantly in its depths, as I once was.

I still have a ways to travel on this crooked journey from where I was to where I want to be. It’s effortless to look ahead into the shimmering distance without seeing the destination I desire and believe I have not made any progress, especially when the landscape appears the same as I remember it being in the past.

However, there is evidence that progress is being made and that I am not the same, despite the apparent resemblances between then and now.

I may not necessarily be full of joy and good cheer about tomorrow and how things look in the near future, especially when it comes to my relationships with those important people in my life. However, I’m not filled with dread and the absolute certainty that things are never going to change.

I am able to open myself up and receive more of the good that is in the world around me. I am internalizing less the issues and concerns of others, and learning the boundaries between where they end and I begin.

I am stretching myself by reaching out and interacting with others who are engaged in pursuing wholeness, acceptance, and well being, not just on a personal level, but in a way that brings these things into the world around us in tangible ways.

I may still struggle with the darkness of the depression, the pain and fatigue of the fibromyalgia, as well as the added layers of difficulty they bring when interacting with others and my efforts to clean up my side of the street when working through my relationship challenges. At the same time, though, there is renewed life growing in me. A revival is happening in my spirit. Emotions and thoughts are being repaired. Interests and passions are being restored.

There is a new dawn on the horizon after my long period of darkness. It’s not quite here but I sense the lessening of the darkness that whispers of its arrival. This is what I am celebrating this Christmas.

Sean Paul Mahoney: Author Interview

27042_1355362812997_3806118_nSean Paul Mahoney is one of the first bloggers I “met” and started “following” (because of his post about Chicago and cheesy 80’s love songs) about the time I began this blog about my own journey of healing and recovery. He is the fabulously creative, funny, and glittery gay best friend every straight, frumpy, and self-stifled woman should have. He has an amazing story to tell and he tells it with grace, humor, and great, big, sparkly, disco balls. He has written something for everyone, but especially for those who are striving to make it through the holidays with humor and sobriety. “A Tough Cookie Christmas” is available at Smashwords.com and it can be downloaded and read on Kindles, iPads, smarthphones and computer desktops. And starting this weekend, shoppers can get it for just 99 cents!

Q: What genres and authors do you like and what do you like about them?

My parents used to own a bookstore and I worked there for years, so I sort of like everything. I’ll go through phases. I read lots of memoirs before starting UrTheInspiration. I thought “Guts” by Kristen Johnston was fabulous and “Queer and Pleasant Danger” by Kate Bornstein was terrific too. Nobody talks about mental illness and addiction with more humor and honesty than Carrie Fisher. She kind of created the humorous recovery memoir genre and I hope to humbly follow in her footsteps. I love fiction too. I don’t know if I will ever read a novel better than Junot Diaz’ “Brief and Wondrous life of Oscar Wao“. It blows my mind how good that book is. I love Raymond Carver. His short stories have saved me over and over again and are the kind of thing I’ll probably re-read until I die.

Q: Have you always been a writer or known you wanted to be an author?

I think so. I grew obsessed with Shel Silverstein, Jim Henson, Russel Hoban, Maurice Sendak and Judy Blume – all storytellers who used different mediums. I think telling stories is just something I always wanted to do, but when I was really young I didn’t know it was writing that would help me achieve that goal. Whether it was creating plays with my stuffed animals or drawing my own comic books, I think I started practicing telling stories at a really young age. When I actually started writing – poems, stories, journals – I knew had found “it”, the thing I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

Q: Do you have a favorite place to think or a special space where you think and create?

The shower! Hands down. All my ideas come from a hot shower. I only wish they made waterproof laptops. I also love walking and many of my ideas spring up after a long walk.

Q: What inspires you and influences what and how you write?

I’m a big fan of art, theater, movies, books, and pop culture in general. Those things always inspire me and are always referenced in my work. I grew up watching tons of TV, listening to hours of music, and seeing hundreds of movies. So, it’s part of who I am and I have fun observing that world even in the most remote sense. This is reflected in what I write. Travel inspires me too. Seeing how other people live in different places can only make me a better writer. I try to take any chance I get to be exposed to something other than my own little bubble. Emotional mysteries and transformations are what drive my work. How do people come back from really dark places? How do we live on a crowded planet that can feel so lonely and still find love? What’s the next chapter AFTER we’ve recovered from something awful? These are kind of things I find really interesting and want my work to try and answer.

Q: How would you describe your journey from alcoholism and addiction?

A total blessing. I know that sounds like Pollyanna garbage but it is the truth. All of the hard times-divorce, alcoholism, addiction, HIV- have turned me into a stronger and more compassionate person. Plus for the first time ever, I really like who I am and I sincerely want to use my creative outlets to help other people.

Q: When did you realize you had a book, a story to share with the rest of us?

With “A Tough Cookie Christmas,” it was just one of those inspired things. I hadn’t really planned on it and the whole process from inception to release was about a week. The e-book revolution is awesome like that! It’s so empowering to have an idea and just publish it without going through all the channels and self-doubt. I felt compelled, after hearing so many people I know in recovery talk about dealing with the holidays sober, to write about my own experience.

Q: Where did you get your strength and encouragement from when going through the experiences that helped you give life to this book?

This is going to sound corny or like some hip hop artist at the Grammys but really it all comes from my Higher Power. Without my own version of God, I don’t know how well I’d create things. I tried for many years and just stalled out over and over again. So with faith, an incredible family, a reliable support system, and a truly wonderful husband, I’m able to get through the tough stuff and hopefully share those experiences with others.

Q: How did the journey of writing and getting this book publish change you?

Being an addict and alcoholic, so much of my life has been living in denial or living in lies. So I aim to just tell the truth when I write. Even if it’s a play or fiction, it has to come from a real place. This book, recipes and all, does that. It’s just me and my observations. If it resonates – fantastic! If not? That’s okay, too. I feel like it’s authentic, which is really all you can ask for. As far as the publishing journey goes, I self-published and it was really fun and educational. It takes a lot of patience and work, but it’s super creative in the sense that you have the ultimate say in how it looks and reads. I think it changed me in the fact that now I know what an incredible amount of work it is! I now have a lot of respect for indie authors who’ve built their own little empires.

Q: What do you want readers to take away with them from reading your words?

Oh gosh. I try to keep my goals with readers simple. If they were able to smile or laugh or feel a little hope after reading my stuff, then I’ve done my job.

Q: Do you have other creative avocations that you are passionate about or express yourself through?

I love cooking and baking so I was thrilled to add that element into “A Tough Cookie Christmas“. Cooking is a really meditative and relaxing form of self expression for me. For a long time I wished I could sing or play guitar. Sadly, I’ve come to the realization that I’ll never be Prince or Stevie Nicks. But I’m totally okay with being a writer who can also make an amazing chocolate chip cookie.

Q: Was this a one time project or do we have more to look forward to?

So much more to come! My new play, The Singing Room opens in April. My collection of essays will be out next year too. And I really loved the process of publishing short stories in e-book form that I have a few more I want to publish next year too. My blog UrTheInspiration is nearly a year old and I’ll still be writing over there as well. Plus another play and a pilot for a TV show that I’ve had in my brain for a long time. That should keep me out of trouble for the next year (hopefully)

tough cookie one

Here is a taste of what you will get inside:

Now, any baker worth their parchment paper has one or two cookie recipes they can bust out by memory in a moment’s notice. I, too, have a fail-proof cookie recipe stored in my brain, just in case. But If we’re going to split hairs, my cookie throwdown recipe is actually a bar. I know. An alcoholic who’s memorized a bar. What are the odds? Anyway, here it is:

Your Favorite Bar

Crumb Topping

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup sugar

1 cup chopped pecans

1 cup butter, softened

1 egg

Filling

¾ cup of preserves, jam, cooked fruit, melted chocolate, etc.

Heat oven to 350°F. Grease a 8- or 9-inch square baking pan.

Combine all crumb mixture ingredients in large bowl and beat at low speed, scraping bowl often, until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Set aside 2 cups of the crumb mixture. Press the remaining crumbs in your greased up pan. Spread your filling within ½ of edge. I like these with apricot or raspberry preserves. But go ahead get creative. You want melted caramels and cooked apple slices? Go for it. You like walnuts more than pecans? Get down with your bad self. You have a half of a can of cherry pie filling in your fridge that you need to use? Rock it out. Just keep the proportions the same and you can do whatever your crazy cookie-making ass desires. It’s called ‘Your Favorite Bar’ for a reason, boo. Crumble those remaining crumbs over the filling.Bake 40-50 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool completely; cut into bars.

Marc Alan Schelske: Author Interview

Marc is someone I’ve known personally for the last 16 years or so. We don’t know each other well, however he has had a huge impact in my life.  I first met him when he was a youth and worship pastor at a large church in a large denomination and I was a single mom, struggling to keep up with two young children running in opposite directions. He baptized my son, had a heart for ministry, and a passion for worship. One of my favorite memories of Christmas was when he and a friend of his, performed “Little Drummer Boy” with their acoustic guitars and vocals only. It is one of the few Christmas memories I have and I treasure it.

I have watched him progress from those early days to become the pastor, husband, father, friend, and teacher he is today. Now he has added published author to his roles and list of accomplishments. He has a special offer for those who are interested in obtaining a copy of “Discovering Your Authentic Core Values,” so head on over to his blog to find out more, after you’ve read the interview, of course.

For those of you who may find it too long to read in one sitting, go check out his blog and book first, then come back, with a cup of your favorite winter beverage and hang out with us for a spell.

Q: What genres and authors do you like and what do you like about them?

I love good writing in whatever form it comes. Presently I’m reading a lot of non-fiction about the brain and emotion. I’ll have seasons where I read fantasy. Other seasons where I read theology. I love a good historical fiction when I can find them. And I probably read too many blogs.

I do tend to go back to fantasy often. I think more than any other genre, fantasy creates a space to deal with the big and universal issues of life. Who are we? What is our purpose? How do our actions impact the world? I think Tad Williams may be a favorite of mine for fantasy. In theology I’ve recently been taken with Tim Keller. His book “Prodigal God” is stunningly good and could be life-changing. In January I re-read “East of Eden,” and was more moved by it than anything I’ve read in a long time. It’s a crazy smorgasbord.

Q: You are a talented musician and I know that music has played an important role in your life and might even be a passion. It seems that writing might be a calling for you. Is there a connection between these two things?

It’s all creating. Taking the bits at hand, and making something new and meaningful out of them. I’m not writing music these days, but I listen to music all the time, and I won’t rule out writing music in the future. For right now, my focus is learning how to shape my words.

Q: What inspires you and influences what and how you write?

I know that creating things is a part of any life that is going to be emotionally and spiritually healthy for me. It’s part self-expression, part therapy, part helping me make sense of my own thoughts. I also want what I create to serve others. I want to prompt new ideas for them, help them experience a better life, maybe even help them see God in a new, more healthy and transformative way.

When these two things come together, you have something really powerful. I learned that years ago when I wrote a worship song called “Just For Today.”  It’s one of the simplest songs I’ve ever written. It was written at first as an expression of prayer, the cry of my own heart. But the melody, quite unintentionally, is ideal for group singing. I’ve gotten more positive feedback from that little song than anything I’ve ever created.

So my self-expression was a part of that song, but the real magic happens when it’s no longer about me at all. I really try to keep this in mind. How can I share out of my authentic story, but at the same time share something that serves other people’s hearts well.

Q: How would you describe your journey from being the Marc who baptized my son, almost 16 years ago, to the Marc who wrote “Discovering Your Authentic Core Values”?

I’ve always cared a great deal about living intentionally. But the shadow side of intentional living is perfectionism. In the past intentionality was a way to try to think about every detail with the goal of making the best choices and avoiding mistakes. I’m still very compelled by the idea of intentionality, but my focus is changing. Being less driven by a need to avoid mistakes or pain or disappointment, for example, and choosing the way I spend my time and resources so that my time can be life-giving for me and those around me.

“Discovering Your Authentic Core Values” came out of that very idea. In therapy my counselor suggested I might want to spend some time reflecting on who I thought I was, and who other people experienced me as. This led to a discussion of core values. I also participated in an executive coaching process that helped me see some of the differences between how I see myself and how others see me. It became very clear that I’m acting according to a number of deeply embedded motivations. Some good, some not so much. Now that I have a handle on that, I can be much more thoughtful in choosing the way I am in my relationships.

Q: How do you navigate and integrate the various roles: Husband, Father, Friend, Brother, Son, Pastor, and Author in order to sustain the creativity and essence of being Marc?

Historically, not very well. I’ve had a pretty strong perfectionist streak in my life. Perfectionists nearly always think of themselves as very organized and efficient, but the truth is that most of them don’t get a lot of big stuff done. Why? Because big stuff takes risks and there are always too many messy edges to manage. I’ve discovered that perfectionism is a mask for fear of failure. I wrote a bit about that here. And of course, if you don’t try, you can’t fail, right?

I’m into a new season of life. I’ve been in counseling for a long while and I’ve been focusing a lot in my own journaling and reading on being aware of my emotional state and how it’s connected to what’s going on around me. I’ve been able to acknowledge and see my perfectionism and how it’s been such a limiting factor for me, and even for the people around me. So a lot of the standards I’ve held in the past just don’t apply anymore. These days I’m not trying to be a good husband, father, friend, brother, son, pastor and author. That’s all too much. I’m trying to be in the present moment I am in, and bring my very best self to whatever that moment contains. (And I’m honestly not very good at this yet.)

I think as a result of this is that I’ve been much more creative lately. I’m certainly thinking a lot more about what I can create!

Q: Have you always been a writer or known you wanted to be an author? When did you realize you had a book to share with the rest of us?

I’ve always been a maker of things as long as I could remember. I’ve drawn and built with Legos. I’ve written music. I’ve written plays. I’m a hobbyist chef. At every point in my life, when I’ve been in a good space, I’ve been making stuff. I think writing is just another expression of that.

I turned a corner a few years ago in thinking about myself as someone who could be a writer, though. I realized one day that as a pastor who speaks most weekends and writes these presentations as manuscripts, that I’m already writing books. In an average year I write nearly 90,000 words. That’s just counting my sermons, and I’ve been doing that for many years. It occurred to me that with some focus, I could take what I’m already doing, what I’ve already learned how to do well, and turn it into something bigger. There have been plenty of false starts and insecurity. Then this past year I started following a blogger and author, Jeff Goins. With his motivation I decided I just needed to start calling myself a writer and get to writing.

As a pastor, I’ve had the opportunity to research deeply into a wide variety of topics, and I’ve found many that I’m excited about and personally connect to. So, my problem isn’t discovering if I “have a book in me.” My problem is crowd-control; telling all the books in my head to get in line and wait their turn!

Q: Where did you get your strength and encouragement from when going through the experiences that helped you give life to this book?

There have been a lot of people who have expressed their belief in me. I think this is one of the things that helps the most. When Christina, my wife, expresses her belief in me, doesn’t begrudge me the time to write, that empowers me. When people respond after a sermon, or comment on a blog post and share how it impacted them, that motivates me. A couple of close friends have made it clear that they love me regardless of how I perform and that has freed me from the shadow of my perfectionist tendencies. I guess we give each other strength, and maybe why it’s so vital for us to express care and support to the people around us. Everyone is just trying to make it through. Maybe it’s your encouragement that will help carry them over the next hurdle.

Q: How did the journey of writing and getting this book publish change you?

I’m in the process of researching and writing a book about the intersection of faith and emotions. It’s a vital topic, especially since there is so much emotional brokenness and immaturity in the Christian church. I suspect this is one of the things that undermines our effectiveness in the world. But this book is a massive project, and while I’ve been plugging away at it, I’ve had a hard time getting my head around it. So, instead I took on a shorter project. “Discovering Your Authentic Core Values” is just a little guide-book. It’s 70 pages, about 15,000 words. The scale was just so much less intimidating for me.

So, I decided to follow this little book all the way through. I wanted to learn the process. All the steps. Manuscript. Editing. Interior design. Cover design. Formatting for eBooks. POD publishing. What parts could I do myself? What parts did I need to hire someone else? What parts did I enjoy? On the technical side, I’ve learned an enormous amount. I feel much more competent and prepared for the larger books that are still standing in line.

More importantly, I’ve crossed an important line in my own heart. Following this little book all the way through from concept to sale means that, in my own heart, I really can call myself a writer. I started a project that I finished. I fought back the pressure of perfectionism, never being ready to “ship” because there’s always one more thing to get right. If I never wrote another thing, that would be a huge lesson for me. But I’ve found that instead my motivation to write has only increased. I’m so excited to have this one book out, and my mind is whirling onto the next one.

Q: What do you want readers to take away with them from reading your words?

I believe our lives matter. I believe God created each of us as an artful expression of God’s own character, and that we have a good and beautiful purpose in the world. The tragedy of last week — the Clackamas Town Center shooting, followed so quickly by the massacre in Newtown, CT — has really underscored for me how much each day matters. We have no guarantee of tomorrow or next month. I want to use this day before me to make the most difference that I can.

I hope that my writing inspires people in that way. I want people to find grace in my words, encouragement and hope. I want to offer tools and resources that will lead to more meaningful and impactful spiritual lives. The more we are each living in that way, the more meaningful our lives will be.

Q: What kinds of projects can we expect to see from you in the future?

There will always be something! I’m continuing to build my blog and the social media platform that supports it. But that’s all to serve the greater purpose of helping people find a more intentional and meaningful spiritual life. I think the next book is going to be a “manifesto” of sorts, focusing on what I’m calling the 210 Life–an understanding of identify and purpose that grows out of Ephesians 2:10, but I’m also working on a collaborative project on perfectionism, developing a book on John 3:16, and I still have the emotions and faith book percolating away in the background. So, who knows!

The more people engage and talk back, the more I’ll learn how I can best serve with my writing. I’m looking forward to seeing what develops.

And that, dear readers, concludes the interview. Thank you so much for reading. Please visit Marc’s blog and check out his book on Amazon.com

Marc's book