Friday, January 18, 2019

Anticipation

My bedroom and bathroom are officially painted as of today. The flooring is mostly done and then all that’s left are details. Trim work, plates over the outlets and switches, things like that. Ryan went home tonight to air the place out (the fumes from the drywall mud burned our eyes and throats within seconds of walking into the house!) and then he’s moving everything we own into those rooms instead now. Our guys will paint in the kitchen/living room and kids’ room this week and then after the minor details of those rooms, we’re done.



Our tiny cabin in the woods, our dream for so long, will finally be complete!

This journey started in August and it’s almost over now.

We’re in the home stretch, almost ready to settle back into a routine and just live in our home.

I have cried many tears over the difficulty of living in such varying conditions but the process, even on those hard days, has honestly been fun. And as my dear friend Anne Shirley once said, “looking forward to things is half the pleasure of them.”


Here’s to the other half.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Homeschooling multiple children

“If we ever have kids,” I told him, “I want to homeschool.”

I didn’t know why I said it. We had been told by a few different doctors that it wasn’t very likely I’d become pregnant… and even if we hadn’t been, we didn’t want to have children. We wanted to travel and explore from an RV. We wanted to live a nomad lifestyle. We certainly didn’t want anybody tagging along who might require homeschooling.

So why did I say it?

My heart knew long before my head did, I think, that I was meant to be a mother.

Not long after that day, a baby grew in my belly. I wondered all day every day who he or she might be.

I took $5 from every paycheck and I got homeschool supplies. I browsed the $.10 shelves of thrift stores for the children’s books I knew and loved. I had Charlotte’s Web and Stone Fox and My Side of the Mountain long before I had an actual baby. I smiled when I found great options at the Target Dollar Spot… alphabet magnets, dry-erase workbooks, magnet boards, science activities. We were deeply invested in homeschool from the very beginning.

We have never once questioned our decision to homeschool. Our decision has been questioned by others, sure (“But he needs socialization!”), but never by us.



This is the good stuff. I watched him put the sounds together and learn to read. I was there when he looked thoughtfully at an addition problem and said, “But if you take it back away… look, now it’s three again!” I was there when his eyes lit up as he finished his first language arts course book and I was there when he gathered up pine needles and sticks and pine cones in the yard to make patterns or tally marks on the steps of our shed. I haven’t missed a thing and that is priceless, completely invaluable.

I have loved every minute of it but all along I have worried about what it will look like to homeschool more than one child at a time. How could I possibly make that work?! I am crazy grateful for The Good and the Beautiful creating family-style science and history courses, meaning I will eventually teach four different language arts and math levels but will always be able to stick to one science curriculum with a lesson extension at the end for my older kids. That took away a lot of my concerns. As my children get older, they will also self-direct quite a bit of their math and language arts lessons. I’ll spend a little time giving them the lesson and then they’ll move on to the reading or the practice problems on their own while I move on to help the others. The actual workload really won’t be as intense as it initially sounded.

The only thing left to worry about was learning styles, the idea of my being an excellent teacher for one child and a horrible teacher for another. What if I can’t figure out how to teach a concept in a way that this or that child fully grasps?

My five-year-old and almost-four-year-old (she would want me to tell you that her birfday is in 24 days) are two very different children. One of them is never not making some kind of noise and the other is frequently silent even when the situation desperately calls for speaking up. One is bold and gregarious around strangers; one is painfully shy. One is sensitive and the other brushes everything off after a minute or two. One is always talking to me, one is always touching me.

I have wondered on so many occasions just how I will manage to teach them both at the same time. I suspect I’ll have to reiterate some of those history and science lessons in a different way to reach both children… but what about math and language arts? How will I switch back and forth between children? How will I know when what works for one won’t work for another? How can I possibly end up doing a great job for two completely different children… and then three, and then four completely different children?



My almost-four-year-old has been interested in her big brother’s homeschool all along, but now she’s grown ecstatic about learning lessons of her own. She wants to play the Eric Carle ABC game and she wants to play the toddler-friendly version we’ve made up of Uno. She wants to trace letters in one of our wipe-off workbooks and she wants to practice counting just about everything she sees. But more than anything, she wants her own The Good and the Beautiful preschool workbook. I printed off a free ABC workbook from Education.com because that was the best I could do financially at the time. She is happy with it and loves doing it, but still she gets a little glassy-eyed when she flips through her brother’s old workbook. Unbeknownst to her, Nana’s already ordered her that preschool workbook to open up on her birthday. If we stick to the schedule I’ve made, we’ll finish the free workbook the morning before her birthday.

She’s excited. I’m excited. You know what? We’re all excited. Daddy isn’t as involved as I am, of course, but he’s still very involved and loves seeing what they did that day when he comes home from work. She has loved adding her own pages to Brother’s stack of things-to-show-Daddy.
Yesterday we wrote a thank you note to Nana and we each signed our own names. I handed B the card since she’s been writing her own name for some time now. I changed two diapers and then came back to check on her. She’d been at the table with a pencil for a long time and I had a feeling she had probably scribbled all over the card, covered up everybody else’s writing. Instead I cried because above her name was a carefully scrawled “THAMK YOU,” slowly copied from Mom’s or Big Brother’s writing.

“Where did you learn to do that?!” I asked exuberantly.

“From me!” she smiled back.

I have nothing to worry about. She will learn at her own pace. I am not really here to teach her, so much as to facilitate her learning. We are a team and we are doing this together. I’ve known these things all along. I’ve liked these things on Facebook statuses and highlighted them in homeschool books. But now I’ve seen and felt and believed them. I’ve got this. No, we’ve got this.  

Friday, January 11, 2019

The Ministry of Ordinary Places

I set a lot of my goals for myself this year but the one I think will be the most challenging might make you laugh. I want to show hospitality 12 times in 2019.



I was so excited to be given the opportunity to read The Ministry of Ordinary Places right at the beginning of the year when I began working on the goal. I just knew it would inspire and encourage me to seek out hospitality opportunities right in front of me.

I was right. The Ministry of Ordinary Places did not disappoint. The writing was brilliant and captivating, and the stories were a little bit of everything… funny, warm, tender, touching. I was inspired not just to host twelve lunch playdates, but instead to live a life rich with kindness and authentic love.

I was so inspired, in fact, that I’ve actually been keeping notes on a potential nonfiction about my hospitality journey. Whether or not I’ll actually ever make anything of it, we shall see.

Shannan Martin’s family moved from their farmhouse into a suburban neighborhood where they live out a life of hospitality. It is not so much that Shannan, who is also an introvert, hosts a lot of playdates and dinner parties. Instead, she just works on loving people the way Jesus did. She opens her heart to the addicts and the felons and “troubled youth.” She doesn’t think twice about showing kindness and love to these people who so desperately need it.

Shannan’s brand of hospitality includes bringing people over for lunch or dinner… but it also includes letting a strung-out addict sleep on her couch, letting strangers in to use her bathroom when their little one starts shouting that they need to go potty during their walk, tutoring an expelled teenager so he won’t fall even more behind when he’s allowed to return to school next year. She moves far beyond the simple “invite someone over each month” I had initially envisioned and moves right on into letting people do life with you, inviting them into the nooks and crannies you prefer to keep hidden away for yourself.

I searched three times for the page and couldn’t find the quote I was looking for, so I’ll update this once I do find it again… but at some point she quotes someone else and explains that the whole reason people turn to a life of drugs, alcohol, and other addictions (crimes) is that they are lonely, hurt, empty, unloved, etc. and are looking for any way to fill that void. The quote says that the opposite of addiction is not sobriety—it’s feeling loved. How profound is that? The opposite of addiction is feeling loved.

So imagine what kind of world it might be if we all made sure everyone we meet walks away feeling loved?

I highly recommend The Ministry of Ordinary Places, both for the wonderful writing and for the inspiration your heart will feel chapter after chapter.


*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review as a part of the Book Look Bloggers program. 

Monday, January 7, 2019

Known

Three times, I typed up the story. Three times, I deleted it when I went through my file of essays saved up for blog material or set aside for future nonfiction projects.

This only matters to you, I told myself. No one is really going to get this.

But today I read a chapter of The Ministry of Ordinary Places that stopped me in my tracks. Shannan Martin was cleaning up after a church event of some kind, a potluck or a party I suppose. A woman cleaning up beside her asked if she’d like to take home some of the baked beans and then a split second later corrected herself, remembering that Shannan’s husband doesn’t like beans. There was something about it that touched her soul because it just feels so good to be known.

I wrote that very same thing on three different occasions.

My heart was beating too fast, setting off alarms at every midwife appointment and making me gasp for breath in the night. I felt dizzy and faint at the drop of a hat so I spent most of my days lying on my left side on the couch, closing my eyes and bracing myself against the feelings of lightheadedness, halfheartedly talking to my children but again and again telling them I felt too dizzy to read stories or play horsey or go for a walk. My belly kept growing, my baby’s numbers kept looking good, but my blood pressure kept dropping and my heart rate kept rising. I was afraid I might die, and take our baby with me. I wondered at times just how much the human heart could truly take. How long can a fetus survive if its mother has had a heart attack? There was talk of admitting me to the hospital for a week and Ryan’s aunt showed up. She brought a favorite book to read to our children and she sat down at the table to make a list of our favorite meals. She planned to make lasagna, chili, tacos. I told her my family had been liking barbecue chicken served with broccoli and baked sweet potatoes and she paused in the middle of her list. “But you don’t like chicken,” she said. “I’ll make you Italian sausage. You love sausage.”

I hadn’t seen her in four years but still she remembered not only that I didn’t like chicken, but also that I love Italian sausage. It touched my soul to somehow still be known after all that time.
It would pop up in my mind on so many occasions and remind me of how much each of us wants to be known. It feels so good when Ryan orders mine with spinach without my asking him to, when my mom comes to visit and hands me a chai tea or when my mother-in-law sends me the gray or navy one without needing to ask me my favorite colors. It’s when my cousin Sabrina tells me I remind her of the very character I think I’m most like, or when Nicole texts me the perfect quote at the exact right time. 

Shannan Martin’s chapter was referring to the way we tend to care for the poor, the way we tend to throw them barbecues with bounce houses and feel we’ve done our part instead of having them over for dinner and simply doing life together. In fact, she said at one point that she thinks we’d all be better off if we’d stop inviting people to join us at church if we haven’t yet invited them to join us for a meal.

I agree with her. I do. But you know, the same concept applies to the loved ones in front of us, too. We don’t need to just like social media posts and offer up a grand gesture on birthdays and Christmases. We need to be there. We need to know them. We need to know how they like their eggs and how they take their coffee, to know what soup they want when they’re sick and what chore they like less than all the others. We need to know their favorite colors and their favorite books, their favorite songs and their favorite places.

We need to practice knowing our people. We need to practice knowing our spouses and our children, our parents and our siblings, our friends and neighbors and acquaintances. We need to put down our phones and hush the inner to-do-list monologues and pay attention to the people right in front of us. We need to make them feel heard, understood, known.

I wonder how much of our hurts and insecurities stem from the exact opposite of that, from the lack of being known?

I desperately miss my brother, whom I haven’t seen in almost five years and rarely get to talk to. It is not so much the general concept of being in the same room that I miss, although I do miss that, but it’s simply knowing each other that I miss. I don’t know him and he does not know me. My only brother, my only sibling, doesn’t know me at all. It stings. He doesn’t know what books are on my shelves or what kind of food I keep in my refrigerator. The walk we so frequently take to the end of our property? He has no idea what that looks like. He doesn’t know what my shampoo smells like or what I exclaim when I drop something or what voices I use when I play with my children. There are three construction workers from a few towns over who know all those things… but my own brother doesn’t and that aches. And I haven’t a clue about him, either. I don’t know what he listens to when he drives to work or what he reads—or if he’s even still the reader he was all those years ago—and I don’t know what he says when he can’t find his keys. I don’t know what can always be found in his freezer or what he watches on NetFlix. I don’t know if he still wears Old Spice deodorant or where he would go on a dream vacation. I knew him better than nearly anyone for the first fifteen years of his life but now I don’t know him at all. I hate it.

I want not only to be known, but also to know. I pride myself on knowing my children well enough to surprise them with the perfect gift and to intuit just why this one is so grumpy today. I love knowing Ryan’s heart so well and learning all the intricate details of it a little more each year. I love that I know whether or not I should recommend a book to a particular friend and whether or not to recommend a movie to my dad.

Sometimes we share interests and sometimes we don’t… but that’s okay. It isn’t about being the same; it’s about knowing each other. It’s about choosing to know the people around us, even when we don’t always see eye-to-eye and don’t always appear to have anything in common. It’s about allowing ourselves to be known, choosing to move beyond coexisting on planet Earth and instead to living a life that is rich with the love and laughter of others.


This week I will practice knowing and I will allow myself to be known. I will remember that all of us desire little more out of our lives than to love and be loved, to know and be known. Will you join me?

Friday, January 4, 2019

Fiction and Nonfiction

I bleed words.

Where God filled your veins with blood, he filled mine with words. I bleed them. Novels and essays course through my veins and spill out into neat stacks of pages each time I cut myself.



For a long time, it was exclusively fiction. That was all I would read and all I would write. There was a Chronicles of Narnia rip-off, hand-written with accompanying pencil illustrations, filling first a shiny green notebook and then spilling over into a purple Mead spiral. Still, I would win an essay contest later that year about What the Pledge of Allegiance Means to Me. I wrote a 78-page novel called Dancing for Melody the summer after sixth grade, its title made with rainbow gradient Word Art and ballet slipper clipart on each side. It contained twins and ballet and a young girl becoming paralyzed in an accident and then miraculously waking up one morning and walking again. Emily rode her bike two miles to my house to pick up a printed copy of the manuscript and I was so nervous for her critique I threw up later that day.

We heard a lot in middle school about the troubles that came with teenage pregnancy and an idea imbedded itself in my mind like a weed in a garden bed. It grew so fast, it was out of control. I thought about it all the time and had no choice but to write about it. I read Annie’s Baby and I watched Sugar and Spice at Heidi’s house. In my first real attempt at getting inside a character’s head, I created a fake blog and wrote it as a pregnant teenager in an attempt to see how other people would truthfully react to a pregnant teen. My mom found the blog and I abandoned the project, too embarrassed to keep it going.

In high school I wrote about three high schoolers whose relationships mimicked mine and my friends’. The story was fiction but very much based on fact and the project fizzled out when my own friendship crashed and burned in fiery blaze. I tried to fix the relationship in my story but my real life still ached. I discovered for the first time that words couldn’t always offer a skin graft over my burnt spirit. Opening that Word document was painful and I avoided it for so long that one day I realized I had officially abandoned the story. The characters are still so alive in my heart I almost know I’ll eventually write them back into existence someday.

After that, I switched to poetry. I wrote poems and short stories on a daily basis. One of them, a poem called Eyes, won a prize. It was written about no one’s eyes in particular but it was wrought with emotion and when pressed, like someone who feels silly admitting there isn’t a special meaning behind their tattoo, I would grow embarrassed and mutter that it was about a boyfriend it simply wasn’t about. Another poem, one in which I accidentally used the word “incestuous” in place of “incessant,” really freaked my mom out. My friends and I filled up notebook after notebook with letters to each other and we often wrote short stories and poems inside them. Skye and I started a blog together and filled it with strange creative musings that nobody understood.

On my first day at Chick Fil A, Veronica clomped up the stairs and plopped down beside me at the tiny, scratched table where I sat watching hours of training video. She offered me a chicken strip without introducing herself. “I don’t eat chicken,” I shrugged. “But thank you.” “You don’t eat… why are you working at Chick Fil A if you don’t eat chicken?” I shrugged again. “I just needed a job.” She laughed, then pulled out a bright red notebook and asked me to turn down the training video I was watching. “I’m trying to write my poetry,” she said. I told myself to tell her that I wrote too but I couldn’t do it. She might ask to read my writing. She’d see all the silly pain I felt over nothing at all, over boys and friends and mean girls at school when really I had a pretty decent life. We eventually became the best of friends, hoping our shifts would line up so we always worked together, especially if Peaches worked with us too. The lunch bell would ring and we’d run out to Veronica’s crazy, paint-covered car where we’d either get Burger King—chicken fries for her and cheeseburger patty torn up into a side salad for me—or bread bowls of soup with string cheese ripped up over the top from Safeway. We’d sit in her car (especially challenging when you’re eating a bread bowl of soup) and read each other our writing, or we’d talk about all the dramatic high school anguish that was happening to us and about how things were going to be so much better when we graduated.

Then I wrote a silly short story, a Romeo and Juliet spinoff about skunks. I felt an uncharacteristic burst of confidence in my writing, perhaps because Sean and Dianna had both just paid me to write papers for them and had come back to thank me for the easy A, and I posted the story on my MySpace page. The comments section erupted in a way I’d never seen of my own work before. Even my quiet friend Ryan Bell left a comment to say he thought it was really good. Friends, family, acquaintances, a popular girl who didn’t seem to like me very much… lots and lots of people told me it was good, told me I should write more, told me I should be a writer. My glory was short-lived. I called my boyfriend, the one who earlier that year had encouraged me to quit the drama club I so loved since it was too dorky, and asked if he had read it. “Yep,” he said. “It’s… um… I think you should take it down.”

So I did. I stopped writing for over a year. And then we broke up.

I was in the room when Barbara’s first baby was born and I was amazed. The moment was so raw, so real. I processed it by writing about it. I turned it in for my assignment in Creative Writing and not only did I get an A, my teacher submitted it to the college magazine. It was accepted and I sent a copy to Barbara who told me she cried when she read it. But I wrote in the essay that I could tell in that moment she and her baby’s father would be together forever… and then they weren’t. I was embarrassed. I buried the magazine in a sea of old Awana awards and Participation certificates and told myself to forget about it.

I wrote a feel-good novella and a handful of short stories over the summer, then got overwhelmed with college assignments and found it impossible to make time for writing. Where I had once plowed through books I now found it difficult to read even twelve books a year. I was more stressed than I had ever been before but the writing that had once provided me such a necessary escape felt too distant to even bother reaching for.

A few months later, I started dating Ryan. We spent a very short summer riding around in his truck listening to music, roasting hot dogs in the woods and playing Guitar Hero as soon as I clocked out from my job as a dental assistant… and then school started back up. When we got off work, we’d do homework side-by-side. We found time to do other things here and there but for the most part, our lives were lived for school. We set my laptop next to his desktop computer and together we wrote papers and took online quizzes, shouted at uncooperative graphing calculators, memorized definitions, read and reviewed the minimum number of peers’ discussion board posts. Ryan complained one day that he loathed writing essays and I admitted that I actually didn’t mind them. I confessed to him that my dream was to be a writer. I told him about all the writing I had done in the past and he asked me what I was writing now. I confessed that I wasn’t. “Well, why not? If you love it… you should just do it.”

So I did. I wrote. And I wrote and wrote and wrote. I published three short stories and then I wrote novel after novel which will never see the light of day. And then I really liked one (The End) and I published it… and it did well. Much better than I’d anticipated. I would write it a little differently if I could go back, but mostly I’d just pull out the cuss words. Then I wrote some children’s books I cringe at now. I wrote princess chapter books for my sister-in-law, which should probably have just been given straight to her instead of being published, and some moral-heavy color-it-yourself adventures that flopped greatly, before finding what I thought was my calling in nonfiction. I wrote For the Love of Marriage and didn’t get many sales but did get good reviews. I put together a collection of Birth Stories—Blessed by Birth—and was again disappointed in the low number of sales but buoyed by the positive reviews of those that did sell. I wrote Christmas Joys and have gotten positive feedback, but very few sales or reviews because I can’t get the darn book to show up on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Ryan and I talked about it recently and how a lot of people would consider these failures… but we really don’t. For one thing, I started and finished so many writing projects. If you’ve never written a book before, maybe you won’t understand what a feat that is. It is a lot of work… and especially when you’re working full-time, in school full-time, or parenting full-time. 

The End still sells and I still get a kind email or a nice review from time to time so even though I wish I’d used cleaner language in it and have grown a lot as a writer since then, I think I did alright. My nonfiction hasn’t sold as many copies as I had hoped but people have told me their marriage or their pregnancy was blessed by these books, and in one instance that a horrible situation suddenly seemed to have a little light over it. I pray before every writing session that God will use my fingers to type and that the words I put out there will change at least one life. To me, this is enough. If I never sold a single copy of any of my books—the books I spend so much time writing and editing they truly do equate to that of a full-time job—it wouldn’t really bother me. Would I like to earn a living on my insane amount of work? Of course. But I love it. I have to do it. I can’t help but to write because God put words in my veins instead of blood.

But lately the thing I’ve been trying to figure out, the thing I’ve been working through as I grow and change as a writer, is what kind of words?

For so long, all I wanted to write was fiction. I wanted to spin a good story that got people thinking. I found little to no enjoyment in nonfiction writing at that time, save for the blogs I’ve been writing since my freshman year of high school… but those were more public journal than they were actual collections of writing. Then I loved nonfiction and couldn’t imagine I’d ever go back to fiction writing. Now, I love both… but fiction writing has become quite hard for me. It’s a challenge that goes beyond being a good and stretching challenge some days and becomes simply frustrating and anxiety-producing. The deeper I get into my role as a writer, the more aware I am of how important it is to put good work out into the world. There is a lot of really crummy writing out there, some of it being my own. That’s hard and embarrassing to say, but it’s true. I don’t regret it—I’ve learned so much!—but I also think I’ve come too far and learned too much to accept anything less anymore.
I’ve got a really big, exciting project in the works that I can’t share any details about yet (but will as soon as I can!!) and I’ve been feeling for a while now like this is something God has called me to do. I’ve prayed about it, I’ve read scripture about it, I’ve had friends and family say things that affirmed it, and I still feel really confident this is God’s project and not my own. Especially now that I’m wasit-deep in it. It’s fiction, and fiction is hard. I think only God could convince me to keep plugging away at fiction right about now. I keep plugging away at it and (most days) loving it, but I can’t help but be painfully aware how many fewer words show up on the page at the end of the day when my focus is fiction, how many more paragraphs need serious work when I’m rewriting fiction, how many more nights I lie awake thinking, “That’s just not realistic. I’m going to need to fix that,” when a fiction story is in my brain.

I still want to blog and I'm now working on writing some nonfiction articles I'll share at a later date... but I also want to write fiction that brings light back into the darker places of the world, that points back to God and to the core values I want to share without giving up my story’s integrity. That is hard for me. I’ve read enough mediocre fiction to know that that’s hard for most people. But that, I believe, is what I am supposed to be doing right now… so here I go. 

If you’re taking prayer requests, feel free to pray for my writing with me.