Jennifer Sienes

Think Big and Dig Deep

My husband Chris prefers pen and paper over technology, even when it comes to his calendar. The first time I observed his unique process of planning out his week on a yellow legal pad, we were sitting on an airplane heading back to our respective homes after a few days at Disneyland. I literally watched him go from fun-filled vacationer to laser-focused business owner on a ninety-minute plane ride. Chris has never claimed to be tech savvy, and even now, in an age of devices that sync with the tap of a thumb, his calendar hasn’t changed. He writes Monday through Thursday across the top of the page, and halfway down, Friday through Sunday. Then he fills in the lines with appointments, reminders, and phone calls he needs to make.

Honestly, I still have to bite my lip to keep from chuckling as I watch his process. I love to be organized, but seriously? He has a system—whatever doesn’t get accomplished one week automatically gets listed on the next. After we were married, and I was legally bound to give him a Honey-Do list, these items were added as well. It doesn’t mean they get done in a timely manner, but as he often reminds me, the first step is getting it onto the calendar. Some of those pesky chores have been pushed back so often, they’ve become obsolete.

As we were approaching our first New Year’s as a married couple, I glanced at Chris’s calendar and my eyes caught a messy asterisk next to words I couldn’t decipher.

“What’s that?” I jabbed at the gibberish listed under January 1st.

He bent over the legal pad and squinted. It’s bad enough when I can’t read his writing, but when it stumps him, we’re both in trouble. “Yearly goals,” he finally said. “I thought it’d be fun to work on those together.”

Chris wasn’t talking about resolutions, which was a relief. My personal experience was they don’t work. How many treadmills bought with good intentions clutter garages or appear on Facebook Marketing for a steal before St. Patrick’s Day? If I feel the need to make a change, I don’t wait around until the first of the year to do so. Yes, most of us overindulge during the holidays. I am very health-conscious for the most part, but offer me a plate of Christmas cookies, scrumptious holiday appetizers, or carb-loaded celebratory meals, and I cave. By January 1st, I’m craving protein shakes and salads. But I don’t need a resolution to get me back on track.

Coincidentally (or not) I was thinking about this on December 31st when I opened Paul David Tripp’s New Morning Mercies devotional. He wrote, “It is the time for the annual ritual of dramatic New Year’s resolutions fueled by the hope of immediate and significant personal life change…But the reality is that few smokers have actually quit because of a single moment of resolve. Few obese people have become slim and healthy because of one dramatic moment of commitment. Few people who were deeply in debt have changed their financial lifestyles because they resolved to do so as the old year gave way to the new. And few marriages have been changed by means of one dramatic resolution.” My thoughts exactly!

What my husband proposed instead was to set goals for the year. His process for this looks much like the weekly calendar (why reinvent the wheel?) Rather than days, he jots down categories: work, home, ministry, social, and bucket list. What I’ve learned over the last seventeen years with this man is that achieving goals we’ve written down has a much higher success rate than mere resolutions. Who knew?

When he asked what I wanted as my first-ever bucket list goal, I froze. How could I confess my desire to get a book published? It seemed impossible. It was hard enough to say it aloud, let alone write it down, when I knew the process from publisher to published was a long road—much longer than a year. And when there wasn’t a publisher on the horizon interested in my work, well, what was the point? But with very little confidence, I took the plunge and made it real.

There are multiple steps between stating a goal and achieving it. Case in point, my sister-in-law Diane recently told me that she’d always wanted to learn to play guitar. Years ago, she purchased an inexpensive one with the hope of rocking out like Eric Clapton within a week. She was sorely disappointed at the lack of progress she made after a minimum of practice and gave up, not unlike most resolutions. Even though it’s illogical, how often do we have a dream that dies when accomplishing it requires actual work? If all it takes to achieve a dream is stating it aloud, we’d be dancing with Jesus in eternity.

When I jotted down that first lofty goal of getting a book published, it was on par with dipping my toes into the pool to see how the water felt. The dream had been placed on my heart before I was a teen, but I didn’t know how to accomplish it. Yes, I needed to actually write a novel worthy of publication, and that’s where things got sticky right from the start. I’d written books, but no one would mistake them for good literature. Self-publishing was an option, but it didn’t feel as if that’s what I was called to do. So, I took a leap of faith.

I began by attending yearly writer’s conferences and monthly critique groups. I submitted my work to contests and literary agents. The feedback wasn’t always positive; in fact, some of it was downright discouraging. Critiques can be harsh but necessary if we want to grow. And every year, I continued to jot down book publication as my bucket list goal. It was a dream that just wouldn’t die. Of course, I know now it wasn’t something I plucked out of thin air, but it was planted in me by the Lord. And it was His perfect timing that finally brought it about. Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus—Philippians 1:6

If someone told me five years ago that I’d be juggling four books at once for my publisher, I would have laughed outright. I thought it’d be a miracle to be working on one. And had I known this would be the case, I probably would have suffered severe anxiety. This is most likely one reason we don’t get a glimpse of God’s ultimate plans for us—we couldn’t handle it. Fortunately, He doesn’t usually throw us into the deep end; He eases us into shallow waters and guides us one baby step at a time until we’re able to tread rather than drown.

What started as a desire for my own fame has grown as a ministry for the Lord’s glory. He keeps putting stories on my heart, and I walk in obedience. It’s that easy…and that hard.

I write all this to encourage you to search deep into your heart for whatever desires the Lord has planted there. It doesn’t matter if it feels as if you’re reaching for the stars. Think big. Then think bigger. Map out the steps toward success and move toward it. Be warned, though, whatever you envision as success may not be the Lord’s will. But I guarantee you, if it’s in His hands, it’ll be much better.


Susan K. Beatty

Fiona’s Journal

Last month, I introduced you to Fiona Hanlon, the main character in my next novel, The Fragrance of Violets. Let’s take a closer peek at her through her journal.

September 2—Labor Day

Lottie sure lit into me today. Can’t blame her, I guess. I just wallowed in self-pity until she came home and sent me for a run. That’s what best friends are for, I guess, but I should have figured it out for myself. I know a run always makes me feel better.

And I needed it after the week I’ve had.

I can’t believe I didn’t get the promotion. I was so angry I could have spit. Why didn’t I get it?

On top of that, no way could I ever have imagined I’d run into Nason after 15 years! Especially at the resort. And Ricky’s getting married? It seems like just yesterday he was my 8-year-old kid brother. He’s so grown up now. And I’m not allowed to think of him as my kid brother. Cuz you know. The DNA doesn’t lie.

How sick is it I have to be on Ricky’s wedding planning team at the resort? Nothing against Ricky, but I’ll have to deal with Nason. And Irina. That wicked step-mother has always hated me, and I didn’t see any change in her attitude.

What will I tell mom? She’ll freak out if I tell her I’ve seen him. She might start her obsession with stalking him again. Then again, do I really know if she ever stopped?

Lord, I don’t know what to do with these terrible feelings I have about him. Why did he leave us? Just because the stupid DNA test said I wasn’t really his daughter? What about those first 12 years?

If he would just explain and ask for forgiveness.

I think the final straw this weekend was because of Trevor. I told Lottie I didn’t want to meet anybody. But he was so handsome. His blue eyes are so startling. He looks a little like that Superman actor Harry Cavill, or maybe Chris Pine from the Star Trek movie.

Why would Trevor want to date me? He’s a model, for Pete’s sake! Way outta my league. Maybe I should cancel it. Stop it before anything gets started.

Between mom’s problems and seeing Nason, I don’t need a relationship to muddy up my life.

Lord, I’m worried I’ll have another major anxiety attack. It would help if I could get my relationship, or lack thereof, settled with my supposed father/not father. And forgive me if I’m not doing the praying thing right. You know I’ve only been part of Your Kingdom for a little while. Please give me some wisdom and peace.


The Fragrance of Violets, book 2 in my Faces of Courage series, releases in May and is available for pre-order now at a special low price and comes with a gift offer.