Just Two Hours

A radio host recently asked me for my best advice for aspiring writers.

I said, “write.”

I know it’s a terrible thing to say, but I meant it. I know too many of us who have a burning desire to write a book that’s in us, but we cannot get it out of us.

I suggest writing for two hours a day. Make an appointment with yourself. After two hours, stop. You’re finished for the day. Stop when it’s going great, and you’ll pick up tomorrow. You might argue that you don’t have two hours to give away to writing. Trust me: you do!

In those two hours, if you wrote just a thousand words (about 3 pages), you’d have the word count for an average manuscript in just forty days. 

Think of it this way: if you want to become a runner, there’s no use continuing to read books about running, visit the races of other runners, or ask advice from your running friends. Just lace up your shoes and hit the pavement. Run! You’ll gain what you need along the way.

Schedule your two hours, and see what comes of it. I’m so excited for you!


Prayers to Live By: Psalm 141

This morning I read Psalm 141 and note the wise requests of David. Written during a time of distress, this psalm shows us David’s focus. I love the way David thinks of God. He asks God to do 10 things that we might also pray today:

  1. In verse 1, David asks for the Lord to come quickly and to hear him.
  2. In verse 2, David asks that his prayer is pleasing to God as an acceptable sacrifice.
  3. In verse 3, David asks that God would guard his speech.
  4. In verse 4, David asks that his heart not be drawn to what is evil.
  5. In verse 5, David asks for righteous men to correct him when he needs it.
  6. In verse 6, David asks that his words will prove correct in the face of evil.
  7. In verse 7, David asks that the wicked would understand their destiny.
  8. In verse 8, David asks for safety since his eyes are fixed on God.
  9. In verse 9, David asks that he not fall into any traps or snares
  10. In verse 10, David asks that the wicked instead will fall into these traps.

Psalm 141

A psalm of David.

I call to you, Lord, come quickly to me;
    hear me when I call to you.
May my prayer be set before you like incense;
    may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.

Set a guard over my mouth, Lord;
    keep watch over the door of my lips.
Do not let my heart be drawn to what is evil
    so that I take part in wicked deeds
along with those who are evildoers;
    do not let me eat their delicacies.

Let a righteous man strike me—that is a kindness;
    let him rebuke me—that is oil on my head.
My head will not refuse it,
    for my prayer will still be against the deeds of evildoers.

Their rulers will be thrown down from the cliffs,
    and the wicked will learn that my words were well spoken.
They will say, “As one plows and breaks up the earth,
    so our bones have been scattered at the mouth of the grave.”

But my eyes are fixed on you, Sovereign Lord;
    in you I take refuge—do not give me over to death.
Keep me safe from the traps set by evildoers,
    from the snares they have laid for me.
10 Let the wicked fall into their own nets,
    while I pass by in safety.


The Thermos Soup They Love

Lately my daughters and I all take the same delicious soup to school / work in our lunchbox thermos. It’s such an easy crockpot recipe that will serve you all week long.

To your crockpot, add:

  • two boxes chicken broth
  • the meat pulled from one grocery store, plain rotisserie chicken
  • one bag frozen sweet corn kernels
  • one bag frozen cauliflower
  • three cups chopped celery
  • two tablespoons parsley
  • one tablespoon thyme
  • two tablespoons dried minced onion
  • 1 teaspoon salt (or more to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon pepper

Heat in crockpot for several hours until celery and frozen vegetables are cooked. Cool and store in the fridge. Reheat each morning and put a serving in your thermos. So good!


When You Quote Your Own 7th Grade Teacher

My 7th grader asks me for tips on public speaking for her speech due tomorrow. Her teacher calls this a 3-5 minute TED talk. I’m lounging next to her bed as she puts the final touches on her document on her laptop. I had just returned the night before from a speaking event in South Carolina.

How different my 7th grade life was without laptops and TED talks! Yet I have some advice to offer from decades before–from 1988–when I sat with a notepad and pencil in Mrs. Ellen Phillips’ Speech class at Carl Sandburg Middle School.

Oh, how I loved that wonderful woman!

I stand up before my daughter and dramatically position my hands by my sides in a ready position to begin speaking. I tell her what Mrs. Phillips told me two decades ago. “Three things, Kate: Eyes, Hands, and Feet. You make eye contact around the room. You make hand gestures that match what your sentence says. You move to the right, left, and then the middle as you accentuate key points. And then, you chose a key word in each sentence to emphasize. You have to modulate your voice.”

I can’t believe I remember so clearly that year of Speech class and then the personal weekly coaching of Mrs. Phillips as I began to compete in oratory competitions that year. I wrote speeches for the Optimist Oratory Club, and Mrs. Phillips went with me to every competition–on weeknights, on weekends, and then even traveling across the state when I advanced from Districts to Regionals and then to States. I wore a dress my mother sewed for me, and I remember the weight of the medals placed around my neck for each prize-winning speech.

The whole time, Mrs. Phillips coached me. She taught me about poise and power and winning and losing graciously. Why? Why me? Why then? I was 12 years old and spending every day memorizing speeches I titled, “Destiny! Choice Not Chance” and “Challenge the Summit.” My parents cheered me on as I paced around the house to work on Eyes, Hands, Feet, and that accentuated key word. I became an expert in speech writing and memorization.

And it was all because of her.

Mrs. Phillips was the best coach I ever had. Bless her. I thought of her all day as I stood before my own daughter, as Mrs. Phillips stood before me, and passed on her legacy. And how could Mrs. Phillips ever know that I would one day speak on stages all over the nation as part of my career? Of all my teachers, today I am most thankful for her.


Everything You Do

This morning I remember Psalm 33. Here we read how God forms our hearts and considers “everything” we do.

I remember how I’m under the watchful care of a loving God who sees everything happening to me.

He sees us and cares about everything. No matter how large or small, He sees and cares.


Take What Comes

I’m learning that the where or what doesn’t matter as long as I know the Who. It’s a powerful jump in maturity to know you can go anywhere and do anything because Jesus is with you. Where doesn’t matter. Who matters.

I remember early days of great risk in my life when I did things I seriously never thought I could do–whether public speaking, travel, various academic presentations, knee surgery, even marriage and children–and each time, I’d cry out, “Jesus, are You here?” When I realized that He was, everything began to settle down inside of me.

In airports, elevators in strange hotels, public bathrooms before big events, or any private space where I could run away from whatever it was I was about to do, I’d whisper the question and know the truth: Jesus is here.

And now I can take what comes because I know He’s with me. Nothing else really matters.


Rejoicing in the Cold, Driving Rain

After nearly 8 years of daily blogging (I cannot believe it, and for those counting, nearly 2,900 blog posts), I still practice the original mission of living with flair. I really do. I set this same heart to look for the beautiful thing especially in the ordinary or even difficult thing.

Like just now: All day, I complain of the cold, driving rain. It’s the kind of gloppy wet that falls sideways and sneaks its way into even your purse, even down your collar, even into your socks. Under the umbrella, I burrow down into myself to make it to the next building on campus. It’s freezing and unexpected in light of yesterday’s 70 degree weather. It’s messy and sad and the kind of weather that makes me long for my bed.

But then, I tumble into my classroom, embraced by the warm air. For once Penn State’s classroom temperature matches what’s needed. In here, it’s dry and light and cozy. Students arrive, equally annoyed by the weather, but now happy to have made it. It almost feels like a homecoming, it’s that warm and inviting compared to what’s outside. We shed wet coats and toss umbrellas under desks so that they look like obedient dogs at our feet.

It’s now different: there’s an out there and now an in here. 

And I’m suddenly so thankful for the weather that chases us all inside together like this.


Lifting Up the Room

My friend says that when she enters a room, she wants to “lift up the room” not “suck out the air” from negativity, complaint, or neediness. I love the image of walking into a space and thinking how to “lift it” with joyful interactions, intentional speech to bless and encourage others, a cheerful heart, and an attitude of helpfulness and selflessness.

Let’s go! Let’s lift the room!


Warm Relationships Matter Most for Happiness

Today I share with my students the results of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, the longest research study on happiness and health ever conducted. For nearly 80 years, researchers followed the lives of 268 Harvard sophomores–and then their children (who now make the number of research participants 1,300)– to answer the question, “What makes a truly happy and healthy adult life?”

I reveal the results: the single most determining factor in happiness and health is close relationships. The single most determining factor in an unhappy and unhealthy life? Use of alcohol. 

This month, we debunk the myths surrounding the pursuit of fame and wealth (the top cultural values of young people today) as what forms a happy adult life. We listen to celebrities talking about how much they dislike fame. Then, we add some complexity to this goal of being “happy adults”; we read this article entitled, There’s More to Life Than Being Happy,” about how the very pursuit of happiness thwarts happiness. We ask questions like these: Is there something more important than happiness? How do we foster warm relationships? What contributes to the epidemic of loneliness on college campuses? How will I build my adult life?

Students work on defining the very terms that make up how we imagine what it means to be human and the most controversial phrases appearing in their desired professions.

I’m not sure I can imagine a more important essay topic than this.




Being Someone’s Success-Maker

I read a post on this day from two years ago, and it still brings tears to my eyes when I think about this teacher:

Something to Say to Any Child 

My youngest daughter yammers away as I’m dropping off her older sister to youth group last night. I’m hearing all about math projects, music class, and the lunchtime dramas of a 5th grade girl. Then she tells me this:

“Mom, in music, Mrs. Begg asked us if we all had a success-maker in our lives. We were supposed to raise our hand to share who our success-maker was.”

“What’s a success-maker?” I say, distracted and focused on the traffic.

“The loving adult in your life who wants to make you a success. I said you were mine.”

Long pause.

She continues. “Some kids shared about their moms or dads, and one person asked if it was OK if your success-maker wasn’t alive anymore.”

Long pause.

“And some kids didn’t raise their hands at all, so Mrs. Begg said that if you didn’t have a success-maker in your life to email her any time of day, no matter how much time has passed–when you are long gone from elementary school–and that she would show up on your doorstep to be your success-maker.”

Long pause. I feel tears on my cheek.

“And she said that every child can ask an adult to take care of them and be their success-maker. And I was thinking that that’s the best thing to be for someone else.”

I couldn’t speak. I loved Mrs. Begg so much in that moment for the way she was a success-maker for our whole little elementary school. And I wanted to find every child I could today and say, “Do you need a success-maker in your life?”

And then I’d show up on the doorstep of her life to be that person.