ACFW Mix and Mingle

Sorry I've neglected this space for a few weeks. With school and fall activities starting, I'd have been insane enough, but throw in a whole bunch of unexpected events (most fantastic, and one of which I will be posting about in the coming days) and it's been completely crazy here at the House of Wen.

A big part of the crazy is that I'm getting ready to go to my very first writers' conference, the ACFW Conference in Grapevine, Texas! Not only have I never been to a writers' conference before, I've never been away from home since I had my kids (except stays in the hospital resulting from making more kids), so this will be quite the growing experience for all involved.

My awesome friend Laurie Tomlinson started this on her blog to help all of us ACFW conference attendees get to know each other. If you want to get to know some other writer-types who are heading to Texas, head on over to Laurie's blog! Here are my answers...

Name: Amanda Wen

Location: Wichita, KS

What you write/tagline/trademark: Contemporary inspirational romance (To my non-writer friends, I explain it as "no smut, but no bonnets, either.") 

Place in the book world: Pre-published author.

On a scale of hugger to 10-foot-pole, please rate your personal space: I'm cool either way, honestly. I love hugs, and will freely give them out, but if that's not something you're comfortable with, I won't be offended.

Something VERY serious: How do you take your Starbucks? I love coffee...but not from Starbucks. (Although if it's Starbucks or no coffee at all, I will cheerfully order a flat white and be super-grateful for it!)

The unique talking points that will get you going for hours: Music (I'm a professional cellist), my kids (they're hilarious), football (I love my Oklahoma Sooners and my New England Patriots), TV (Cold Case is my all time favorite show ever; current addiction is This Is Us), and what my husband has engraved inside his wedding ring.

Loved ones at home you’ll be missing: The aforementioned husband and three Wenlets (boys, 8 and 7, and a girl, 4).

Conference goals we can pray for? That I make the personal connections I need to make and learn what I need to learn.

Anything we can celebrate with you? I just signed with an agent last week!!! 

One or two ways we can help you build your platform? Follow me on Twitter or friend me on  Facebook. (I have an author page on Facebook, too, but my personal page is definitely the more entertaining of the two). 

 

How God Led Me To My Husband (With a Little Help from Tom Brady)

My husband and I recently celebrated our first dozen years of wedded bliss (well, okay, mostly bliss), and as often happens in mid-August, I’ve been reflecting on us and all God has brought us through. In the twelve years of our marriage and the fourteen years we’ve known each other, we’ve mourned the loss of three grandparents, celebrated the birth of our three kids, moved twice, bought a house, endured health scares and hospitalizations, and weathered untold job changes and two massive shifts in career focus (one for each of us). God has been faithful to us, and I am blessed. Not cheap, plastic hashtag-blessed, but truly, deeply blessed. God knew us both before we were even born, and He knew just how right we were for each other.

As a romance writer, I love cooking up stories of how couples meet and how relationships bloom. I love hearing real-life stories just as much. So, on the occasion of our anniversary, I thought I'd share ours.

A little bit of back story: Despite the fact that I grew up in Kansas, I’m a die-hard New England Patriots fan. For this, I blame/thank my mother. She started rooting for the Pats back in the 1970s, when a guy named Steve Grogan was their quarterback. Grogan played college ball at Kansas State, and although K-State routinely pumps out NFL-caliber players now, back in the ‘70s, they were a laughingstock. For someone from a Kansas school to make the NFL was practically unheard of, so when Steve Grogan actually did it, my mom became a lifelong Patriots fan. She tells me that the day I was born, she held snuggly newborn me and watched the Patriots play on TV. They lost, of course, as was to be expected back then. (No one under the age of thirty believes me, but the Pats used to be terrible).

In college, my brother helped me expand my rooting interests to include another equally hapless New England area sports team: the Boston Red Sox. I didn’t know then that I was joining one of the most cursed fan bases in all of sports. I just knew that the Yankees were evil, and therefore, I must root for the Sox.

This all became very important in October, 2003, when I, six weeks into my Master’s degree at the University of Illinois, decided to skip a College of Fine Arts prayer meeting in favor of meeting a fellow Red Sox fan friend of mine at a local sports bar for a playoff watch party. This was not without guilt; I distinctly remember thinking that the fine arts prayer group was where Single, Desperate Me was most likely to come across Husband Candidates. But the husband search could wait, I decided. For that night, there was baseball.

I remember walking into O’Charley’s and spying a table full of guys, to whom my friend Eric hastily introduced me during commercial breaks. The only one that really made an impression was a guy he introduced as Cheech, who wore a Hawaiian shirt and a great smile. That impression was this: Huh. I’ve never met a real person with that name before.

During the course of the game, I chatted with most of the guys at the table, and during the conversation Cheech happened to mention that he rooted for the Pats. “Hey, me, too,” I said.

He stopped and looked at me. “Wait, you like the Pats?”

“Of course.”

“How’d you like to go to a game in November?”

I blinked. “A game? Like a real live Patriots game?”

“Yeah,” he said, with elaborate casualness. “A bunch of us are going to Indy on November 30th to see the Patriots-Colts game. I’ve got an extra ticket if you’re interested.” (I later found out this ticket was promised to a guy friend of his, who was a touch miffed when it was suddenly no longer available).

“Are you kidding?" I said. "I’d love to.”

Game day arrived, and it was a blast. The six of us (Eric, his girlfriend, another Pats fan, and a friend of Cheech's who just wanted to see the game) all went out to lunch beforehand, and I was stunned when Cheech made the meal his treat. He also refused to let me pay him for the ticket. “Yesterday was your birthday, right?”

“Yeah…”

“Okay. Happy birthday.”

More stunned blinking. 

The game was an instant classic. The Patriots had what seemed like a comfortable lead going into the fourth quarter, but as we soon found out, a comfortable lead when Peyton Manning is the opposing quarterback turns out to not be all that comfortable. The Pats held off the Colts, 38-34, thanks to a huge defensive stop on the goal line, directly below where we were sitting. I couldn’t have pictured a more perfect way to see my first Patriots game.

On the way home, Eric’s incredibly subtle girlfriend, Bethany, turned around in her seat and asked me what I was looking for in a guy. I was a little stunned at the question; while I did have three Big Huge Important Non-Negotiables for my future husband, I didn’t feel like sharing them with virtual strangers. Bethany seemed to need an answer, though, so I picked three random things I wouldn’t mind having in an eventual mate, but were definitely not dealbreakers.

“Well, I dunno…somebody who’ll bring me flowers, someone who can give a good back rub, and maybe somebody who speaks a foreign language or has an accent or something.”

Cheech grinned, shrugged, and said, “Well, I’m three for three.”

I remember sitting in the back seat thinking, No way. It cannot be this easy. I’ve been looking for The One for several years now, and there is no way he is sitting in the back seat next to me right now. No way.

But he was. And THREE FOR THREE is engraved on the inside of his wedding ring. 

As an interesting aside, since Cheech and I got together, the Patriots have won four Super Bowls, and the Red Sox broke an 86-year title drought in 2004, the first World Series for which Cheech and I were a couple. For good measure, they added additional titles in 2007 and 2013.

I’m not necessarily saying that our couple-ness was the missing piece of the puzzle for two longsuffering franchises.

But it definitely doesn't hurt.

The Only Thing We Have to Fear...

Nearly four years ago, my husband got a phone call from his younger brother, who was thrilled to announce he was getting married. Now, of course, weddings are a big deal to most families, but to my husband’s family, they are Very Big Deals. As in, far-flung friends and relatives from Taiwan, people I had never met, people my husband had never even met, came to the middle of Illinois in August 2005 for our wedding. Weddings and funerals are the two occasions for which his family reliably gathers. So of course we would come. So where's the wedding, my husband asked.

The answer? New York City.

Now, NYC is probably not intimidating to normal people. But to someone from Kansas, a decided introvert who grew up vacationing in places like Bean Blossom, Indiana, NYC is very intimidating. Especially since our children were, at the time, five, three, and fifteen months.

I looked at my husband with abject terror. You expect me to FLY. With THREE KIDS. To NEW YORK CITY.

He gave me one of those married-person answers, an equivocal do whatever you think is best, dear that of course does not mean that. And after I got over the shock, I realized I really did want to be there for this Important Family Moment. This huge bunch of warm, affectionate people is my family now, too. Our kids are their niece, their nephews, their grandkids.

So we went. The trip was not without its difficulties, of course, but name me one thing involving a five-year-old, a three-year-old, and a fifteen-month-old that is. All things considered, the children were amazing, our experience was unforgettable, and I deepened our bond with my husband’s wonderful parents, his two awesome brothers, and my incredibly sweet sisters-in-law. We visited iconic places like Times Square, Carnegie Hall, and Central Park. We got to eat Peking Duck in Chinatown and real NYC bagels and pizza slices bigger than our heads. We made memories to last a lifetime. 

And I almost missed out on all that because I was afraid.

Flying back to Kansas, feeling like I’d conquered the world, I made a resolution: if the only thing keeping me from doing A Thing is fear, I will bite the bullet and do that Thing anyway.

That resolution has had some pretty far-reaching impacts. Here are three things I’ve done since that trip to New York that I might not have done if I hadn’t decided not to let fear call the shots.

Thing The First: I became a runner.

This seems like a weird thing to be afraid of, but I was, for the longest time. I was one of the least athletic children who ever lived, in part because of my asthma and in part because I preferred being inside with a good book to being outside running around. When we had to run a mile in gym class, I walked at least half of it and always came in toward the back of the pack.

With this checkered history, it may come as a surprise to you—it does to me—that I tried running several different times in college and beyond. I’d always go full-bore, get hurt or burnt out, and quit a couple weeks later. It was a victory to run more than half a mile or so without taking a break to walk. For several years afterward, I was an avowed Non-Runner, probably out of fear that I’d just quit again.

But after New York, I decided to give it one last try. I downloaded a 5K training app onto my phone and promised I would complete the program, sign up for a 5K race, and finish it. After that, if I still hated running, I would know that I’d given it a real, honest-to-goodness shot, declare myself a non-runner, and be done with it once and for all.

I didn’t plan on falling in love with it, but I did. Running is my me time, my get away from the kids and actually have a complete thought time, my brain chemistry is out of whack and I need some endorphins so I can think clearly time. I am quite slow, I will never win a race, I will never plaster my car with marathon stickers, or even half-marathon stickers...and I don’t care. I get out of running what I need to get out of it, and I would never have done it if I’d kept on being afraid of failing.

Thing the Second: I sent my children to public school.

Before I begin, a bit of disclaimer: I have nothing against homeschooling. I think it’s great, and for many kids and parents, it’s clearly the best choice and everyone thrives. If that’s you, if that’s what God has called you to do, then hallelujah! I wholeheartedly support your decision, and wish you nothing but the best.

Homeschooling was my plan in the spring of 2014, when Yakko, my oldest, was getting ready to start kindergarten. However, after a lot of prayer and soul-searching and never really having peace about the idea, I realized my main motivation for homeschooling would not be because God called me to do that, but because I was afraid. Afraid of bullying and school shootings. Afraid of teachers not challenging him or not respecting his needs. Afraid of him not making friends or learning things that run contrary to our beliefs and a whole host of other things.

But God made it very, very clear, in a variety of ways, that I was to send Yakko to our local public schools, and guess what? My son is thriving. He has had amazing teachers and made wonderful friends and gotten some experiences and opportunities that I would never have been able to provide him at home. Is it perfect? No, of course not. Are there things I don't like about our public schools? Of course there are. But I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we are right were God wants us.

I’m still afraid of bullying and school violence and whatnot, but I’m putting my fears in the hands of a God who controls it all, and I pray for Yakko and Wakko far more than I probably would if I were teaching them myself. My faith has grown by leaps and bounds as I see how God meets their needs, both large and small, in our local schools. If God calls us to homeschool at any point, of course we will, but for now, it is working, and working well.

Thing the Third: I started pursuing publication.

I’ve written for fun for a long time, but I was terrified of letting anyone see it, let alone a Real Writer or Agent or Editor. My critique partner, herself an award-winning, multi-published historical romance author, has known me since age eleven, when we were middle school besties. Anyone who has known me since the days of orthodontic appliances, Mariah Carey, Doc Martens, brick-wall bangs, and chokers when they were popular the first time has already seen me at my very worst and most outstandingly awkward, so showing her a story I had written would be cake, right?

Wrong. It took me months to get up the guts to show her my work, and I was utterly terrified of her response. But she told me I had promise, showed me all the beginning-writer craft mistakes I was making, and proceeded to take me under her wing.

Post-New York, I grabbed the proverbial bull by the horns and started writing novels. I wrote a couple that were okay, but when I finished my third one, my critique partner said, “Y’know, you really should start thinking about entering some contests.”

Contests. Contests? Like, where people I don’t know, who don’t unconditionally love me will read my work?? No. I can’t do that. That’s far too terrifying.

And yet, because I had stopped letting fear drive the car, I sucked it up, paid the fee, and entered my first contest last October. I had no expectations other than getting some helpful feedback from people who didn’t know me and who hadn’t been my BFF since middle school.

I got far more than feedback from that contest. I won it. And that encouragement plunged me headfirst into this crazy writing world and into a pursuit of publication.

A few months ago, I went to a meet-and-greet with three area authors at a local bookstore. While standing there in the shelves, hiding from them until I was sure I could speak Coherent English and not Squeeing Fangirl, I found myself face-to-face with a sign that read, “A life lived in fear is a life half-lived.” How like God is that, to send me a literal sign when I needed it most, a sign that summed up a conclusion I’d reached nearly three years before?

I bought that sign that day, and it serves as a gentle reminder that God gives us not a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power and love (2 Timothy 1:7).  I am dependent every day on Him to give me the courage to do what He’s called me to do.

Your turn: What have you been afraid to do, yet have done anyway? What are you not doing solely because you’re afraid?

Me at Lincoln Center, thrilled to have survived the trip!

Me at Lincoln Center, thrilled to have survived the trip!

Hit The Road

In his book “The Longest Road,” author Philip Caputo writes of his experience covering a nomadic people group in Israel. An anthropologist familiar with the tribe's culture said they sometimes move not to follow herds or water, but just for the sake of moving. It seems ingrained in their genetic code.

While my family is anything but nomadic—I am a fifth-generation Kansan—we do, every so often, get the itch to throw stuff in the car and just go. The vacations of my childhood consisted of loading our minivan to (and sometimes beyond) capacity and covering multiple states over a span of two to three weeks.  Mom’s genealogical research usually served as our guide, as she always had a list of small, ancestor-infested towns she wanted to visit. 

While the House of Wen has not yet been brave enough to try a road trip of that caliber, we did venture to Branson last year, and will do so again this summer. Branson was a favorite destination of my grandparents, who liked it even before it was cool. Their primary vacation pastime was fishing, and by “fishing” I mean “go for at least a month in the fall and another month in the spring, take the boat, rent a condo, and do nothing but fish from dawn to dusk.” While Branson has grown dramatically in the last thirty years, we visited the site of my grandparents' old condo last summer and found it happily unchanged. It was as close to time travel as I’ll ever come.

When we can't travel, or when I get the itch but it's not the right time yet, I’ve done the next best thing: read my two favorite travel books. I read these books faithfully every summer, and when we do plan a vacation, I try to read these around that time. The first, and the one I’ve had the longest, is Bill Bryson’s “The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America." It remains one of my all-time favorite books and the only book I’ve had to replace twice (the first copy was loaned and never returned, and frequent rereadings wore out the second. Come to think of it, my third copy is looking pretty shabby...) 

Written in the late 1980s, “The Lost Continent” is the story of Bryson’s epic road trip all around the United States. Having lived abroad for many years and reeling from the death of his father, Bryson decided to see the nation of his youth, visiting many favorite childhood vacation spots and traveling through a few places he'd always wanted to see. His travelogue is a snapshot of the US as it was thirty years ago, and it is amusing and eye-opening to see how the country has changed even during my lifetime.

Bryson’s beautiful word pictures paint a setting like no other, and he is a direct influence on that aspect of my own writing. Plus, he's hilarious in a droll, snarky way (which is my favorite way). Even in his mid-thirties, he was his amusing grumpy-old-man self.  The opening sentences never fail to bring a smile to my face. “I come from Des Moines," he writes. "Somebody had to.”

The other book, Philip Caputo’s “The Longest Road,” is a more recent discovery. Published in 2010, it details Caputo’s journey from the southernmost point in the United States (Key West, Florida) to the northernmost point reachable by road (Deadhorse, Alaska). Like Bryson, Caputo’s journey was inspired by his father’s death, but unlike Bryson, Caputo did not travel alone. His companions were his longsuffering wife, Leslie, a pair of English Setters (Sage and Sky), his truck (Fred), and his borrowed Airstream trailer (Ethel), all of whom combined for some hilarious anecdotes.

During his trip, Caputo sought to answer a thought-provoking question: In a country so vast and varied as the United States, where Inupiat Eskimos in Alaska pledge allegiance to the same flag as the children of Cuban immigrants in Key West, what holds us together? He asked this question of several people along the way, and the answer was always different and enlightening. As our nation seemingly becomes more divided with each passing year, it is always refreshing to retrace Caputo’s steps and remind myself of the glue that unites these United States.

Your turn: Any favorite vacation spots or stories you’d like to share? Any favorite travel books? I’m always looking for a good one.

 

A Change Will Do You Good

Believe it or not, some people thrive on change.

I count among friends people like this. People who aren’t content to stay put for too long, be it geographically or in their working life. People who aren’t unsettled when something different comes their way, but who embrace the difference and make the best of their circumstances. 

As you can probably guess, I am not one of those people.

Left to my own devices, I change very little about my life and surroundings. While some chase after the latest technology, I cheerfully use obsolete devices until such time as they refuse to function (something that happens quicker and quicker these days, alas and alack). I rarely remodel, redecorate, or even rearrange furniture in my home. All three of my pregnancies were surprises. In short, I leave my comfort zone only when God makes it abundantly clear that I have no choice. Not infrequently, a great deal of kicking and screaming is involved.

I’ll give but one example. I met my husband while attending graduate school in Illinois. After I graduated, we got married, bought a house, and put down roots. We thought Illinois was home, and for several years, it was. We loved our church, we had some great friends, and my husband was commuting to a school in Chicago and making steady progress toward his degree.

But then we had a baby. A colicky, high-need baby. We were hundreds of miles away from either set of parents. My husband's part-time income plummeted. And with the aforementioned colicky, high-need baby, neither of us were comfortable with him commuting to Chicago, so he put his degree on pause. In short, everything unraveled in the short span of a few months. One night, it became crystal clear: Illinois was no longer where God wanted us. He was getting ready to put us somewhere else.

That somewhere else turned out to be somewhere I never thought I’d live again: my hometown. And to be honest, when we came back, I felt like I had flunked adulting in some key way. After all, once you make it out of here, you’re not supposed to come back, right?

Except come back we did, and God has blessed us abundantly. We’ve added two more children (neither of whom were colicky as babies, thankfully), we both have jobs we love, we bought another house that works far better for our family than the old one would have. We live only a few minutes away from my parents, who are able to be an integral part of my kids' lives, to the immense benefit of all involved. We’ve made some great friends. I got back in touch with my middle school bestie, who, over the years, became my writing mentor/critique partner. In nearly every facet of our lives, and in ways both large and small, God had proven over and over again that He has us right where He wants us.

Not all discontent and discomfort means God wants to move you, of course. This is where prayer for wisdom and discernment come in. Sometimes God will leave you in the midst of an uncomfortable situation in order to grow you. In that case, He will enable you to stick it out, and in due time, you will reap the harvest He has planned for you.

 But I’ve found that when situations that were fine suddenly aren’t, when a place where you were once a perfect fit now feels makes you feel like the proverbial square peg in the round hole, when everything suddenly seems to be coming apart...sometimes that's God’s gift in disguise. His answer to our prayer for guidance. He may be preparing you for a new career. A new church. Maybe even a whole new location.

Are you feeling restless and discontent?

Buckle up. God just may be getting ready to take you for the ride of your life.

"Stop Playing In The Bathroom Sink!" and Other Tales of Working From Home

With the advent of technology, more and more people are able to work from home. In fact, I think the vast majority of writers work from home. Sure, some of us have day jobs that require putting on real pants and leaving the house, but all our writing generally occurs at home.

As you can imagine, working from home does have its perks (see above, about real pants), but it also has its challenges. A big one? Children.

I think we can all agree that children are wonderful blessings, but sometimes, especially in the early years, those wonderful blessings can alter our to-do lists somewhat. And by “alter,” I of course mean “put those to-do lists in a blender, forget the lid, and turn it on.” Sometimes they do this literally, especially if they’re anything like my kids.

For years, my dedicated writing time has been a couple hours in the early afternoon. When my children were little, I could sometimes (with quiet trumpet fanfares and a chorus of hallelujahs) get all three of them to nap at the same time. My boys, Yakko and Wakko, have long since outgrown their naps, but Dot still naps more days that not, so during the summer, if I want to get anything accomplished, we have to have Quiet Time.

During a recent bout of frustration, when my writing time was interrupted—yet again—by a fight over Minecraft, I was reminded of a particularly challenging day years ago, when Dot was a Certified Squishy Delicious Baby (she’s four now), so my boys were probably four and two. As is my wont, I documented this day, and was (miraculously) able to dig it out of my computer files.

If you’ve got young kids, or remember what it’s like to have them around, some of this will probably seem familiar. Editorial notes in italics.

 

12:20                     Put Dot in her crib for her nap. (Sigh. Sometimes I miss Squishy Delicious Baby Dot.)

12:30                     Finish feeding boys lunch.

12:35                     Read boys stories, put them in Quiet Time. (I cannot believe there was a time when this only took ten minutes.)

12:45                     Eat half my salad and answer one email while microwaving lunch. (Silly Past Amanda. You eat WHILE they’re eating. Don’t wait until after).

12:48                     The recently potty-trained Wakko announces a Need to Pee and heads for the bathroom.

12:51                     Check on Wakko, who is Quiet and In The Bathroom (never a good combination). The Need to Pee seems to have been a bit more dramatic than first assumed, and unfortunately it was not a Complete Success, if you get my drift.

12:52-12:57         Clean up, supervise hand-washing, etc.

12:58                     Dot wakes up and fusses well before her nap should be over.  (I do not miss this particular aspect of Squishy Delicious Baby Dot.) Leaving Wakko with instructions to finish washing his hands and return to his room, I go to Dot’s bedroom to perform the standard Rock and Comfort Ritual.

1:03                        Attempt to return Dot to her crib.  She voices her objection.  Sigh and repeat Rock and Comfort Ritual.

1:08                        Return Dot to bed without further objection.  Leave Dot’s room to discover Wakko in the bathroom playing in the sink.  Inform Wakko, for the eight billionth time, that this is not an Approved Quiet Time Activity, and that he should return to his room. (Dude. He still does this. Not even five minutes ago, I had to tell him to quit playing in the bathroom sink.)

1:09                        Sit down and have two bites of salad.

1:10                        Yakko announces, from the basement (where he used to spend Quiet Time), that there is also a Need to Pee. There is a bathroom in the basement, with a functional toilet and everything. When reminded of this fact, Yakko responds that there is a spider in said basement bathroom, so he absolutely will not use it. Faced with the choice between a Child Upstairs and more clean-up, I allow him to come upstairs. (This post was written, like, four years ago, and they STILL won’t use the basement bathroom. That was one very influential spider.)

1:11                        Yakko uses bathroom, washes hands, and returns to the basement.

1:13                        Dot fusses.  I decide to wait until she’s serious and start scarfing down the leftover pasta bake that is my lunch.

1: 15                       Wakko announces another Need to Pee. This time, I elect to supervise. Success! He returns to bedroom. Hearing blessed quiet from Dot’s room, I continue scarfing lunch.

1:21                        Finish eating lunch.  VICTORY IS MINE. Time for productivity. Attempt to engage Creative Juices.

1:24                        Hear an odd noise that I cannot immediately identify. On further investigation, I discover Wakko, pantsless and wearing a crown, jumping on his brother’s bed.  Remind him, for the eight billionth time, that jumping on the bed is also not an Approved Quiet Time Activity. 

1:26                        Creative Juices clogged by disruption. A few minutes of procrastination is necessary to re-start the flow. To the Internet!!

1:30                        Reading something funny online, I giggle.  Yakko, from the basement, hears the giggle and wants to know what’s funny. I attempt to explain, which results in more questions and more explanation and MORE questions and MORE explanation, after which Yakko informs me that it really wasn’t that funny in the first place.

1:33                        Wakko comes in needing help removing his sweater.

1:34                        Okay. Dot is quiet, boys are occupied. Time to Get Serious and Be Creative.

1:40                        Ominous Thud from the boys’ bedroom.  Activate House of Wen Ominous Thud Threat Detection Protocol, which states that if an Ominous Thud is not immediately followed by a scream, it can be ignored. (This protocol is still in effect).

1:41                        Another Ominous Thud.

1:43                        Hearing no scream, and no further Ominous Thuds, I resume Attempting to Create.

1:49                        Yakko asks if he can come upstairs and be done with Quiet Time and commences whining when the answer is no.

1:50-1:53            Attempt to Create.

1:54                        Ominous Thud #3.  I go to the boys’ room and inform Wakko that jumping OFF the bed is ALSO not an Appproved Quiet Time Activity.

1:55-2:02              Attempt to Create.

2:03                        Yakko asks, again, if he can come up.  Again, the answer is no.  I tell him he has 30 more minutes, but if he’s quiet, I’ll consider letting him come up early.

2:04-2:14              Attempt, once more, to Create.

2:14                        Dot fusses.  Creative juices finally flowing, I opt to wait a few minutes and see if she’s serious.

2:15                        Yakko asks if he’s been quiet enough to come up early.  I relent, thinking he’ll just play computer games, and if Dot’s not serious, I might still be able to get in a few minutes of Creating.

2:19                        She’s serious.  And thus endeth Quiet Time.

 

I think this is the part of the blog post where I’m supposed to say something Wise and Profound, but all I can come up with is, yeah. Having kids at home all the time is hard. Especially if you’re trying to accomplish something in addition to keeping them alive and fed and entertained and reasonably happy. But I don’t think that the fact that it’s hard necessarily means that one should stop trying to accomplish something over and above all the kid stuff. I know God calls some to set everything else aside during the Small Needy Kid Years, and if that’s what He’s calling you to do, then by all means, listen and do it.

But some, He calls to just keep going, and that’s what He did with me. My priorities got a serious adjustment when I had the kids, and every day it’s still a challenge to make time to write. Some days all I get done is a paragraph. Some days it’s just a single sentence.

But the cool thing about creativity and perseverance, especially when God is in it, is that He takes those paragraphs and sentences and snippets of time and blesses them. Because if you string together enough sentences and paragraphs, you have a book. And then, if you keep going, you have another one. And another one.

So whatever your calling is, whatever your life looks like right now, just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Keep doing the next thing. Keep proceeding through whatever doors God opens for you, and the ones He closes, rest in the assurance that whatever was behind those closed doors wasn’t His best for you.

And remember that kids aren’t this little and this needy forever. This, too, shall pass.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go tell Wakko to stop playing in the bathroom sink.

What Medical Bills and a Broken Radio Taught Me About Forgiveness

A couple weeks before Christmas, my husband was hanging lights on our house when the ladder collapsed, taking him with it. He suffered a nasty gash on the back of his ankle, which—to make a very, very long story very, very short—got infected, went septic, and landed him in the hospital for nine days. 

As you can imagine, nine days in the hospital and all the associated doctor visits, surgery, and medications did not come cheap. To make matters worse, the insurance claim was denied. That meant that the entire $129,000 plus it cost to treat him would fall on us.

Most people don’t have a spare hundred and twenty-nine grand lying around, and we are no exception. This was a debt there was no way we could pay, and the idea of being under it was staggering. Obviously, the hospital would take this into account and give us something of a discount, but even so, we were looking at a debt of many, many thousands of dollars, with years of monthly payments, payments we would struggle to afford.

However, this past Monday, I received a notice in the mail from the hospital. They appealed our claim, and the insurance company decided to pay it.

In full.

Patient responsibility $0.00.

Just like that, our debt was erased. Canceled.

Let me tell you, that felt pretty awesome.

To make another long story extremely short, two weeks ago, my two boys disabled the radio in our car. Disabled as in “when turned on, it played no music, but instead emitted foul-smelling smoke.” To be fair, I expected my offspring to damage our car at some point, but I did not expect that point to be now, when they are eight and six.

The radio, unfortunately, could not be resurrected, and we had to buy a new one, to the tune about $129. This has irritated me to no end, as I don’t like spending money when stuff breaks on its own. When it is actively destroyed by one more more Wenlets, that goes beyond “dislike.”

Last night, I was haranguing the boys AGAIN about the radio, and my oldest (Yakko, for purposes of this blog; you’re welcome, Animaniacs fans) said, “Mom? Could you please not bring up the radio so often?”

It was at that point that God pricked my heart with a reminder: the parable of the wicked servant. Y’know, the guy who was forgiven a huge debt, one of millions and millions of dollars, one he had no hope of ever being able to repay? The guy who immediately ran into someone who owed him a few bucks and choked him, demanding to be repaid then and there?

That was me. I had just been forgiven a $129,000 debt, and I was angry about a $129 radio.

I had become the wicked servant.

It was not a good look for me.

In the parable of the wicked servant, the servant is brought back before the king and held accountable for how he treated the man who owed him money. The angry king rescinded the offer of forgiveness and ordered the man thrown into prison until his debts were paid. Jesus’ sobering warning is this: God will treat us this way if we do not forgive those who have wronged us.

Does this mean that those of us who are saved can lose our salvation if we—even unknowingly—hold a grudge against another person?

I don’t think so. Remember, salvation and cleansing from sin are free gifts. Jesus said, on the cross, "It is finished." He died once and for all. We forgive not to earn forgiveness, but as a demonstration that we understand how much God has forgiven us. 

John Piper puts it this way: "If the forgiveness that we received at the cost of the blood of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, is so ineffective in our hearts that we are bent on holding unforgiving grudges and bitterness against someone, we are not a good tree. We are not saved. We don’t cherish this forgiveness. We don’t trust in this forgiveness. We don’t embrace and treasure this forgiveness. We are hypocrites. We are just mouthing. We haven’t ever felt the piercing, joyful wonder that God paid the life of his Son." (http://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/if-i-fail-to-forgive-others-will-god-not-forgive-me)

Piper goes on in the same interview to reassure those of us who struggle with the issue of forgiveness. "Struggling to forgive is not what destroys us. As long as we are in the flesh, we will do our good deeds imperfectly, including forgiving and loving others. Jesus died to cover those imperfections. What destroys us is the settled position that we are not going to forgive and we have no intention to forgive....If we think we can be indwelt by the Spirit of Christ and not make war on that attitude, we are deluded." 

I realize that a hospital bill is not a perfect analogy. Our insurance company didn’t pay our bill out of the goodness of their hearts; they paid it because we have a contract with them and are faithful to pay our monthly premium. But cancellation of a debt is cancellation of a debt, and a lesson from God is a lesson from God.  If I’d been forgiven over a hundred grand, couldn’t I find it in my heart to not hold a hundred bucks over my sons’ heads?

I’m grateful for Yakko’s honesty with me, and the way God used him to gently remind me. So I told Yakko and his brother, Wakko, that yes, they were right, I had held a grudge against them, and they were officially forgiven for breaking the radio.

Will they be allowed to play in my car anytime soon? Not likely. 

Will they still suffer some consequences for the destruction of property in an effort to teach them to respect things that belong to someone else? Absolutely.

But will I hold that hundred-dollar radio over their heads anymore? Will I bring it up every time they displease me?

No. I won't.

I have been forgiven much more.

HospitalBill

 

Your turn: What debts, financial or otherwise, have been canceled for you recently? What debts have you canceled—or need to cancel—for others?

Wisdom From My Dad

One of God’s greatest blessings to me was to give me a wise, intelligent, hilarious man of integrity as my dad.  So, in honor of Father’s Day, I thought I’d tell you a bit about him.

My dad is one of the smartest people I know, though, due to boredom, his grades in school did not reflect this. He filled the time with pranks and mischief, which he (sort of) outgrew thanks to the influence of my wonderful mother. After a stint in the US Air Force and a long career in the aviation industry, he is now enjoying retirement. Fortunately for all of us, they only live a few minutes away, so he is able to be an integral part of the Wenlets’ everyday lives as well.

My dad is a lover of books and music, a decided introvert, and the DIY champion of the known universe. He loves anything mechanical, a good NASCAR race, goosebery pie, and a strong cup of coffee. There is nothing he doesn’t want to learn, especially about nature or history, and there is very little he can’t fix.

My dad is the one who introduced me to Dave Barry. The one who took off work to be at every school event he possibly could, because he wanted us to know that we were his priority. The one who modeled for me what I should look for in a husband and father for my kids.

Through the years, he’s impressed several things upon me. Here are three of them, and how I’ve applied them to my writing.

1. "You can learn from good examples and bad examples."

We’re often told to analyze our favorite books. Why do we love them so much? What specific thing does the author do to reach through the page and grab our hearts? How can we do this in our own work?

But I’ve found that the opposite is also true. When I find a book with which I have trouble connecting, I analyze that, too. What specific characteristics about the book don’t work for me? Is it something to do with craft? With characterization? With pacing? Analyzing what doesn’t work about a book can often be just as instructive as analyzing what does work.

2.  "There are only two good places to be stationed: where you’ve been, and where you’re going."

This is a variation of the old “grass is always greener” adage. The past becomes rosy with nostalgia, and the future gleams golden with possibility, but typically where you are always seems gray and drab. I’ve found this to be true on my writing journey. I can look back fondly on the past, when I was just discovering writing, when I did it completely for fun without the pressures of a platform, of trying for publication. When I was totally ignorant of what POV and WIP stood for, when I didn’t know what a literary agent even was or that they needed to be queried. When ‘show, don’t tell’ and ‘passive voice’ were completely meaningless concepts.

Similarly, the future seems bright. Sometimes I allow myself to daydream about what my life might look like if I were a multi-published, best-selling, award-winning, spiritually impactful author. Of course, even if that actually happens (a rather large ‘if,’), there’s no way my life will look like the rosy picture my imagination paints. The future will have flaws, I just have no way of knowing what they are yet.

But here in the present,  I can see clearly all the warts and bumps in the road. The disappointments, the rejections, the daily frustration of never having enough time to do all the writing, reading, and studying I want to do. If only I could go back! If only I could move forward! This is the trap all of us fall into if we’re not careful. Instead, I pray to be content where I am, to learn the lessons God has for me, and to see His hand at work even when circumstances are frustrating.

3. "We can do that!"

My mother has been tracing our family history for about forty years now. (Some of that family history has woven its way into my WIP, in fact!) Back in the days before everything was online, the only way to conduct research was to go to the places where one’s ancestors had lived. So while everyone else in my class growing up would vacation somewhere cool like Hawaii or New York City, my vacation destinations were places like Bean Blossom, Indiana. (Yes, that is a real place. Ask me how I know!). Many of my childhood vacation memories consist of my brother and me camped out in some dusty, un-air conditioned library in Podunkville, USA, with a pile of Calvin and Hobbes books, trying to quiet the growls of our neglected stomachs, because sometimes, in her frenzy, my mother would completely forget about the Need for Lunch.

It was on these vacations that my father’s optimism would surface. My mother would hatch some crazy plan, usually involving a library, a courthouse, and/or cemetery near the aforementioned Podunkville, with a quick jaunt over to Nowhere County because her great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandmother’s first cousin twice removed is buried there, and besides, it’s only this far on the map.

My dad would look at her, smile, and say, “We can do that.”

And we always could.

This spirit of optimism has stayed with me through the years, and especially as I’ve launched into this whole writing thing. It’s caused me to remember that, rather than focus on the odds, I need to keep my eyes on the One who makes all things possible. The one who gives us the strength to do anything and everything He has called us to do. Since I believe God has called me and gifted me as a writer, I know that whatever He has for me, I will be able to do it. Not in my strength, but in His.

I love you, Dad! Thanks for all you have taught me in the past, and for all you continue to teach me in the present. I am beyond grateful to be your daughter.

 

Writing When You Don't Have Time

Photo by JackF/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by JackF/iStock / Getty Images

My children are home on summer break. This is both wonderful and not-so-wonderful.

It’s wonderful because they really are pretty awesome kids. And I enjoy having them around (most of the time). Perhaps even more than that, I enjoy the down time. I enjoy not having to spend my evenings drilling spelling words and listening to reading assignments and nagging them to practice. I enjoy letting them stay up a bit later. I like the lack of scheduled things and the generally more relaxed vibe that summertime brings.

Most of all, I enjoy lazy mornings when we can all roll out of bed a bit later. When nobody has to be anywhere right away. When I don’t have to spend my mornings yelling at people to get up and get dressed and no, you cannot wear your pajamas to school, today is not Pajama Day and are you KIDDING me a T-shirt and one sock does NOT constitute ‘getting dressed’ and eat breakfast and no, that is not breakfast and NO YOU MAY NOT JUST EAT A COUPLE SPOONFULS OF NUTELLA AND CALL IT BREAKFAST and what do you MEAN it’s due today and get your shoes on, the bus is coming and what do you MEAN you can’t find your shoes and well where were you when you took them off and YES YOUR SHOES HAVE TO MATCH and OKAY FINE they don’t have to MATCH, they just have to be for the right feet and NO, NOT LITERALLY THE RIGHT FEET, YOU MAY NOT WEAR TWO RIGHT SHOES TO SCHOOL and I don’t CARE that it doesn’t bother you, it bothers ME, so it SHOULD bother you, and you need your glasses and SERIOUSLY THE BUS IS COMING RIGHT NOW AIIIEEEEEEE.

I’m sure I am not alone.  

But for all these perks, there is one definite down side.

The children are home.

All three of them.

All the time.

This means that those blissful quiet hours in which I used to write are now filled with the following:

“Mo-om! HE HIT ME!” (I cannot EVEN with the two-syllable ‘mom.’ Where do they learn it? Is it taught in schools?)

“HE STARTED IT!”

“No, you may NOT have a snack, you just finished breakfast fifteen minutes ago.”

“Why is this wet?”

“WHO LEFT A HALF EATEN PIECE OF CHEESE ON THE COUCH?!?”

“In or out, guys. Shut the door.”

“MOM! THE iPAD’S DEAD!”

“MO-OMMMMM. HE HIT ME AGAIN!”

“SHUT THE DOOR!”

“Can I have a snack?”

“Who ate all the Popsicles?”

“SERIOUSLY. WE DO NOT NEED TO AIR CONDITION THE OUTSIDE!”

“No, I am NOT running to Dillons just to buy Popsicles.”

“IF YOU ARE THE LAST PERSON TO FINISH AN ITEM OF FOOD, THROW THE EMPTY CONTAINER AWAY! DO NOT JUST PUT IT BACK IN THE CABINET!”

“HE HIT ME AGAIN!”

“But you just HAD a snack!”

And, of course, the dreaded “I’M BORRRRREEEEDDDD.”

All of this, naturally, cuts into both my writing time and my writing focus. Even during “quiet time,” which is when my daughter naps, I have two boys, who are older and who do not nap and who believe that “quiet time” means “fight about Minecraft at a volume level that is only two nanodecibels softer than the volume at which we usually fight.”

Again, I’m pretty sure I’m not alone.

But maybe it’s not kids for you. Maybe it’s something else entirely, like a time-consuming job, or a family crisis, or something else altogether that is sucking your writing time away from you. Perhaps it’s just for a season, or perhaps this is just the way your life looks right now. Here are a few survival tips I’ve come across during my years of trying to combine motherhood and writing:

1.       Schedule your writing time.

Maybe you’re a morning person and you do your best work before the sun comes up. Maybe you’re a night owl and your brain clicks most effectively after everyone else goes to bed. Maybe you’ve got a lunch break or, like me, a block of an hour or two when you’re home and things are somewhat quiet. Make the most of that. For the last three years or so, quiet time has been my writing time. Often, this is the only time I have to write in any given day. And yet, by dedicating this time, I was able to finish an 85,000-word manuscript in just over a year. Granted, this pace will not set any speed records, but I was still able to complete a book. I say that not to toot my own horn, but to encourage you. If I can do it, so can you.

 

2.       Be open to the ways life can contribute to your story.

Even when you’re not writing, if you keep your story’s tab open in your mental browser, you’ll find things that can help with your story. Maybe it’s a song on the radio that inspires a scene. Maybe it’s a coffee shop that would be a perfect setting for a chapter. Just today, I was having coffee with my critique partner in a coffee shop that’s a converted century-old farmhouse. Since my WIP involves a century-old farmhouse, I found myself distracted in conversation admiring the windowsills and the wooden staircase and other Old House Features.

When you find yourself with one of those awkward windows of time (waiting on a kid’s piano lesson, waiting at the doctor’s office, etc.), you can use this time in a multitude of ways. Read part of a book. Take advantage of wi-fi and research something. Or, put the phone away and people-watch. Daydream. Let your mind wander. You might be surprised at what it comes up with. Just be sure to carry with you a way to record any brilliant insights you might have.

 

3.       Touch the Story Every Day

I saved the best tip for last. Because some days are so insane, so off-the-wall busy, that even your dedicated writing time disappears. On those days, just touch the WIP. Open it up and work on a paragraph. Tweak a sentence. Change a single word. Even if that is all you do, your story is still in your mind. Your marvelous brain is still working on it. Slow momentum is better than no momentum.

This single tip is why I have a finished manuscript. Some days, I lacked either the time, the energy, or the motivation to write. I promised myself that I would touch the story, and then I could quit. Some days, that one word is all I wrote. But other days, the act of touching the story reawakened my interest in and passion for it, and I found myself catching a second wind and moving on well past that single word.

Your turn: I am, of course, always looking for new ways to squeeze in writing time. What are your favorite tricks? I’d love to hear them!

Take Five

This is what my TBR pile looks like right now...

This is what my TBR pile looks like right now...

To hear my mom tell it, I started reading when I was a toddler. (There is a picture of me at about 18 months old “reading” a book about butterflies). While I doubt I was reading real words at that age, there’s no denying that books and I have never been far from one another throughout my life. And real books are definitely my preference. My Kindle is cool, and I like taking it on trips, but there’s just something about real pages that makes the reading experience that much better. I also have a Kindle app on my phone, which I’ve grown to dislike. Reading a book on a phone screen just seems wrong, although it is definitely better than nothing!

Since I decided to try my hand at writing books, my reading habits have changed. For one thing, I no longer read purely for pleasure. Reading is something we writer-types must do to stay abreast of what’s current, what’s being done, what’s being overdone, etc. And for another, the more I learn about writing, the harder I am to please because the more mistakes I can spot. It is a rare book that makes me turn off my inner critic and get sucked into the story, which definitely makes me more sympathetic to agents and editors!

But there have been a few books I’ve read recently that have accomplished this for me. So, without further ado, here are my five favorite books of 2017 (so far).

 

When I Fall In Love (Susan May Warren)

Cautious, afraid-to-try-anything-new Grace gets paired up with determined, flirtatious, intense, can’t-afford-to-make-a-mistake Max for a cooking competition in Hawaii. Max helps Grace overcome her fears and embrace life, but what Grace doesn’t know is that Max likely doesn’t have a lot of life left; he’s a carrier for Huntington’s Disease, a progressive, fatal disease he’ll contract in a few years.

These are some of the clearest character arcs and most compelling conflicts I’ve ever read. This book is a great example of the instruction we have to make things bad for our characters, and then make them even worse. And I love, love, love that the Huntington’s angle wasn’t dealt with via miraculous healing. Sometimes God does that, but frequently He doesn’t, and it is the latter that makes for more compelling stories. 

 

Grace and the Preacher (Kim Vogel Sawyer)

I had the privilege of meeting Kim at a multi-author book signing recently and picked this up having never read any of her work. Grace is a preacher’s daughter in small-town Kansas in the 1880s who falls in love via letter with Rufus Dille, the recent seminary graduate who’s on his way to take over for Grace’s retiring uncle. However, when Rufus arrives, she's confused: the real guy doesn't match the guy whose letters she's been receiving. This is because “Rufus” is actually Theo, a man on the run from vengeful cousins and who, in a matter of fortuitous timing, was able to commit identity theft, nineteeth-century style. This book had lots of twists and turns and a really compelling conflict; there is no easy way to resolve this level of deception. I felt like the resolution was almost a bit too quick, but it was believable enough to be very satisfying.

 

A Twist of Faith (Pepper Basham)

I’d never read any of Pepper’s books, either, but after reading this one, a contemporary take on Pygmalion, I kind of want to be her BFF. Dr. Adelina “Dee” Roseland places a bet with a co-worker that she can eliminate Appalachian country boy Reese Mitchell’s strong accent and reform his atrocious grammar so he can get a job in Chicago. But Dee’s in over her head with Reese’s loving family and her powerful feelings for him, and Reese must confront trust issues from his first wife’s betrayal. This book had everything I require in a book: smart, snarky humor, passionate kisses, angst, and characters who love the Lord and want to serve Him, but still notice each other’s physical appearances and have the feelings associated with that noticing. I’m all for purity, both in books and in life, but so often inspirational books go too far the other direction and have the characters not notice things about one another’s appearance at all. Pepper Basham strikes the balance exactly right. I can’t wait to read more of her books!

 

A Note Yet Unsung (Tamera Alexander)

This is not only one of my favorite books of the year, but one of my favorites ever. As a musician, I am a sucker for books with musician characters. But because I’m a musician, I notice errors that non-musicians probably wouldn't. Tamera Alexander nailed her portrayal of violinist Rebekah Carrington, who seeks to become the first woman to audition for the Nashville Philharmonic. Maestro Nathaniel Tate Whitcomb isn’t quite ready to push the envelope that far, but he does recognize talent when he sees it, so he makes her his assistant. Though Rebekah’s not thrilled with this assignment at first, she and Tate soon learn what a powerful team they make, both musically and personally. Tate’s back story was amazing, his angst was believable, and the conflict of women onstage in an era when that just wasn’t done was resolved in a most creative way.

 

Home At Last—Deborah Raney

I started this one last night, and even though I’m still a few chapters from the end, it’s safe to put this one on the list. Link Whitman and Shayla Michaels have all kinds of obstacles thrown at their budding relationship, from Shayla’s complicated life situation to their racial differences. As half of an interracial couple myself, I have to cheer every time the lead characters are from different backgrounds. While my husband and I haven’t had to deal with some of the difficulties Link and Shayla have, we’ve had our own challenges, and I found myself nodding along with many scenes in this book. As always, Deb Raney creates believably flawed, sympathetic, three-dimensional characters (I’m pretty sure I fell in love with Link on page 1) and witty dialogue, and I applaud her for tackling such a hot-button, timely issue. This book is opening my eyes and causing me to think about some things differently, and I highly, highly recommend it.

 

Your Turn: What are you reading currently? Have any books so far in 2017 really stuck with you? My TBR pile is already as tall as I am, but it won’t hurt to add another few titles…

Honoring our Heroes

In what I hope will become my debut novel, the hero, Jesse, wears a memorial bracelet to honor someone who was killed serving in Afghanistan. (That someone just happens to be the heroine's husband, but that's another show...). Jesse's bracelet features prominently throughout the book, tying hero and heroine together in unexpected ways.

I, too, have a memorial bracelet. This slender circle of steel honors a dear childhood friend, 1LT Michael R. Adams, who died in Iraq in 2004. 

Michael was born to be a soldier. A leader. Always an overachiever, he made Eagle Scout at sixteen and graduated from West Point, after which he became an armor officer. His unit deployed to Iraq in 2003, and he got to live out his calling. He told his parents in an email that he had the best job in the world, and he couldn't believe he got paid for it.

His greatest fear, I'm told, was that he'd lose one of the men entrusted to his command. He didn't. They all came home safe. 

All of them except for him.

Michael was killed as his convoy departed Iraq for the United States. For home. He died instantly in what amounted to a tragic traffic accident. His mission accomplished, he bypassed his earthly home for his real one. His eternal, heavenly one.

Michael loved the outdoors. He loved to hunt and fly fish. He listened to classical music. He was a military history major and dreamed of writing books about the Vietnam War. He was great with words, had a wicked sense of humor, and also a strong faith. His favorite Bible verse was John 3:16. He used it in his email address, his personal web page...it was a part of his identity. Fitting, then, that he went to be with Jesus on March 16th. 3/16.

MichaelBracelet.jpg

For me, Memorial Day will always be about Michael and all the countless others like him who wrote a blank check to the United States. He knew the potential cost, and he was glad to pay it. As John 15:13 says, greater love has no man than this: that he lay down his life for his friends. So, this weekend, take a moment to pause and thank God for those brave men and women who have paid the ultimate price. Pray for their families and loved ones who still mourn their loss.

And praise Him for all the many ways He has used those people, and continues to use them, even after they have finished their mission.
 

Use Your Words

Any of us who have survived the toddler phase with our little darlings have undoubtedly told those darlings, more times than we care to count, to “use your words.” Sometimes I still have to say this to mine, despite the fact that all three of them have long since graduated from toddlerhood. If I’m feeling especially obnoxious, I sing the Daniel Tiger song. Any of you with kids the same ages as mine can sing along with me. “Use your wo-o-o-ords, use your words!” (You will now have that song stuck in your head the rest of the day. You’re welcome).

 

For those of us who are called to be Christian writers, this is the essence of that calling: to use our words. Use them to glorify God and give hope to those mired in a messy world. Use them to point the way to the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ Himself. Use them to uplift. Inspire. Encourage. Leave everyone who reads your writing slightly better for having read it.

But what if you’re not yet published? What if your words are stuck in the slush pile, or tied up in committee, or still on your hard drive, not yet released even to your critique partners? What then?

The cool thing about God is that this calling doesn’t require a published novel, an impressive platform, or a public ministry. Any time we write anything that anyone else sees, we can use our words to live out our mission. Here are just a few examples:

1. Do you have a Facebook page? A Twitter account? A blog? Whether these are slick, polished, professional pages or personal ones where you mainly talk about your kids’ shenanigans (not that I would know anything about this, ahem ahem), if you’re on social media, you have a spot where your words can be seen by however many friends or followers you have. Use this to your advantage! Rather than getting mired in the latest mommy war or political controversy, use your words on social media to encourage whoever reads them. Come alongside your friends and reassure them that they’re not alone.

My early years of motherhood were, to put it mildly, difficult. My oldest (Yakko, for purposes of this blog) was colicky as a baby, and he’d just barely grown out of this when I learned I was unexpectedly pregnant again with his little brother, Wakko. In addition, Wakko was born with cleft palate, which meant that feeding him, in any form, was a messy and time-consuming proposition for the first year of his life. That part of my life was without a doubt the most difficult time I’ve had so far. But having gone through that, I am blessed to be able to encourage young moms I know on social media who are where I was. By using my words, I am able to reassure them that this, too, shall pass, and that life is about to get a whole lot better.

2. ‘Tis the season for end-of-year teacher gifts, at least in these parts. Many of the other moms will painstakingly produce clever, hand-crafted gifts that would do Pinterest proud. Other moms will let their money do the talking. Please know that I am in no way criticizing these moms! I envied them, to be quite honest…until I realized that I, too, have something to offer. Because God has given me the gift of writing, I can put into words exactly how much I appreciate these teachers, and how grateful I am for their influence in my children’s lives.
 

3. Do you text? I’m old enough to remember when texting was clunky, awkward, and time-consuming; when you had to press the phone keys a specific number of times to get the letter you wanted. Using the phone to actually talk was so much easier. But now, with keypads and all the other technological advances, it is an admittedly rare thing for me to use my phone as an actual phone. As an introvert, I am more than okay with this. Texting and emailing gives me time to think about my responses and craft them into something clever. (It also helps me avoid putting my foot in my mouth when I speak without thinking, which is something I am sadly prone to do).

These are just a few of the ways we can live out our calling and use our words, without ever hitting the bestseller list or even having a buy link for our book yet.  In Isaiah 55:11, God promises that not a single word that goes out from His mouth will return to Him empty, “…but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” While the verse refers to God’s own words, I believe that He won’t waste a single word we offer for His glory and the good of His people, either. Whether it’s an email, text, Tweet, Facebook post, greeting card, or simply a word of encouragement to a stranger on the street, we can use the gift God has given us, even if that manuscript never sees the shelves of a store.

How can you use your words today?

Five Ways Music is NOT Like Writing

Last week on the blog, we discussed how many aspects of a writing career give a sense of warm, fuzzy familiarity to those who are coming at it from a career in another creative field.  But as I’ve dipped my toes into the swimming pool that is the writing life, I’ve noticed a few things that are very different from my experience with music. Sometimes refreshingly so.

 

Unlike music, writing is not live.

For me, this has been the most welcome change. If I have an off day on the day of a performance—illness, bad sleep, just plain not being at the top of my game—that can sometimes spell bad news. Not always; sometimes God comes through to help me deliver a performance that is far better than the one I should be able to deliver in the circumstances. But all musical performances exist only in that moment; whatever happens, happens. Missed notes? Came in at the wrong spot? Sorry. It happened. Just let it go and move on; nothing to be done about it now.

But with writing, you can take the time you need to polish it until it’s just the way you like it. If you have a bad day of writing, so what? You can delete every single word you wrote on that day if need be. No one ever has to know. While it’s important to push through and write even—especially—on the days you don’t feel like it, you’re never stuck with what you produce on those days. To someone whose day job requires me to be “on” on days when I might not be, this is a comforting and encouraging change.

 

Unlike music, writing is more open-ended

This has been another refreshing change. Last week, I talked about how each orchestra has a set number of positions for each instrument. If a cello section has ten spots, it’s because the Powers That Be in that orchestra have determined that that’s how many they can pay. They’re not going to make an eleventh spot, even if the one who wants it is Yo-Yo Ma.

When there is at last an opening, there are auditions. And it’s not enough to be in the top five. Or even the top three. No matter how talented everyone else is, to win the job, you have to be the best. (Or, at the very least, the one who plays the best on that day and at that time. See above!).

But with writing, I’ve found that there’s always room for talent. Some agents are closed to submissions—they’ve got the clients they want, and they can’t take on any more—but most I’ve researched are always willing to take on another talented writer whose work they love and believe in. It’s true that, to be published, you have to create a niche for yourself and wedge your work onto an already-crowded bookshelf, but being the absolute best in your genre is not required.  As a wise friend once told me, these things are always subjective, but the best finds a way to rise to the top.

It’s so encouraging that there’s room at the top for more than just one.

Orchestra

 

Unlike music, writing is more isolated.

While it’s true that most of the top musicians spend hours alone in a practice room, the paid portion of one’s job, at least for those of us who play orchestral instruments, is done in community. When I go to work as a musician, I’m with a quartet at a wedding, or with an orchestra onstage, or with a worship band at a church. I’m almost never alone, and even though I’m an introvert, I find that comforting.

I've found writing to be a much more isolated profession. When I “go to work” as a writer, it’s just me and my laptop (although my beloved Wenlets do their very best to remind me that I am not alone, sometimes as often as every two minutes! SO kind of them...). That’s why I’m grateful for my critique partners, my local chapter of the ACFW, and all the amazing friends I’ve made online. It helps me know that I’m not in this by myself, that I’ve got a whole cheering section, and I am happily a member of everyone else’s fan club, as well. Plus, there are writers’ retreats and conferences, ranging from small weekend getaways to full-blown national conventions. (The introverted among us find that prospect quite intimidating, and even a little puzzling. Who decided a bunch of introverted writers needed to get together? In person? An extrovert must’ve sneaked into our ranks…)

 

Unlike music, writing is a bit more personal.

When I perform the Elgar cello concerto (my favorite concerto), I put my heart and soul into it, as any good performer would. And if someone criticizes my interpretation of it, of course there’s a sting.

But what if someone says they thought I did a great job, and gave a passionate performance, but they just don’t like the Elgar concerto because they think it’s boring? Obviously there’s a difference of opinion, but ultimately the criticism isn’t aimed at me. It’s aimed at Elgar, who has been dead for decades and no longer cares what anyone thinks of his cello concerto.

Writing, however, is one’s own creation. It’s not my interpretation of something that sprang from someone else’s imagination. It sprang from my imagination. If I write a book that encompasses my hopes, my dreams, things that came from the deepest part of my mind and heart, and you think that’s boring? That tends to cut a bit deeper.

 

Unlike music, writing is less immediate.

For me, this has been the biggest difference. When auditioning for an orchestra job, you practice for months, yes, but the actual getting of the job happens very quickly. You arrive at the site, check in, warm up, play your audition, wait around for everyone else to finish (usually a couple of hours with the orchestras for which I’ve auditioned; with big ones like the New York Phil it can be a couple of days), and then someone emerges to tell everyone the results. Sometimes there’s another round of auditions, where they winnow out the best of the best and have those people play again. But with all but the largest orchestras, the vast majority of the time the day you perform is the day you find out.

You writers are chuckling right now, because you know what’s coming. The timeline with writing is greatly expanded. First of all, it takes several weeks to several months (or several years) to write, revise, edit, re-revise, get critiqued, re-revise, re-edit, and polish a novel. Then you hit “send” on that query, and you wait. And wait. And wait. If an agent requests more material from you, you celebrate, hit “send,” and then wait. And wait. And wait.

If the agent wants to represent you, congratulations!! But then your work goes on submission, and you wait. And wait. And wait. And even after you sign that contract, it can be several months to a couple of years before your book is actually out in the world, available for people to purchase, and by then I’d imagine you’ve almost forgotten what you wrote about!

But in both careers, some degree of patience is required, and what I’ve noticed with both of them is that dependence on God is an absolute must. He knows all the ins and outs of your career far, far better than you do, so I have learned—kicking and screaming, but I have learned—to back off and let Him do his thing. Even if it seems like it takes forever.

Because in the end, that standing ovation? That box of books with your name on it? The feeling you get when someone tells you your performance touched them, or yourbook changed them?

That is always worth whatever wait it takes to get there.

Five Ways Music Is Like Writing

You might not know this about me, but I’m a professional cellist. I’ve got two college degrees in cello performance and over twenty years’ experience as a paid musician. I perform with orchestras, teach private lessons, play weddings and other gigs, and improvise worship music with our church’s band.  As “day jobs” go, mine is the best. I get paid to make music.

Photo courtesy all-free-download.com

Photo courtesy all-free-download.com

As I embark on a writing career (not to replace music, but to add to it), I can’t help but compare the two fields. Some things I’ve been through as a writer make me smile at how familiar it feels. Other things are new, sometimes refreshingly so. This week, I’m going to examine the ways the writing and music fields are similar, and next week I’ll take a look at how they’re different.

1. Like writing, music is competitive.

Every time I turn around, someone is telling me how stacked the odds are against anyone trying to make it in the writing business. “96% of author submissions to agents are rejected!” trumpets one article. “Fourteen Reasons Why Your Odds Of Making It As A Writer Are Forty-Seven Zillion To One,” says another. And I can’t help but smile, because the music world is just like that.

The number of musicians trying to find jobs is exponentially greater than the number of positions available in any given year. Orchestras generally have between eight and twelve cello positions, and if all the positions are filled, you’re out of luck with that orchestra until someone gives one up. When there is an opening, there are auditions. For the bigger orchestras, applicants have to send their resumes and sometimes a recording of their playing even to be considered for the audition, and those that are lucky enough to make it find themselves up against a hand-picked handful of the best players in the country.

One walks away with the job. The rest? “Thank you very much.”

Also, as with writing, the level of talent is extremely high. There are musicians who graduated from Juilliard (widely considered the top performing arts school in the country) who can’t find employment. Many musicians, even incredibly talented ones, must support themselves working jobs they don’t particularly enjoy because the money simply isn’t there as a musician. It is a very difficult career field to break into.

Sound familiar?

2. Like writing, music is subjective.

Athletes have it easy, don’t they? The person who runs the fastest, scores the most points, jumps the highest, lifts the most weight…that person is the winner. If I can run a 100-meter race in 12 seconds and you can run it in 11, you win. The end. It isn’t up for debate.

But writing isn’t like that, and neither is music. Jobs, competitions, reviews, and all the rest are decided entirely by human opinion. And for each human on the planet, there’s an opinion, and they don’t necessarily agree.

Some people think Jacqueline du Pre is the greatest cellist ever to live; others say her playing is sloppy and maudlin, and prefer the tighter, crisper, more technically-correct playing of someone like Janos Starker. Some think Yo-Yo Ma’s Bach cello suites are the gold standard, while others say, no, Pablo Casals’ recording stands the test of time. One audition judge might absolutely love your sound and your interpretation, while the person sitting next to them can’t stand either one, and shudders at the thought of you playing in their orchestra.

Both fields require an incredibly thick skin, and while my skin is not as thick as it could be, it’s a whole lot thicker than it would be if I weren’t a professional musician. Musicians, too, face criticism at every turn, and not all of it friendly. The only way to survive the gauntlet is to remember that when a conductor criticizes your intonation or a professor tells you your bow hold is crap, those people aren’t criticizing you. Divorcing your essence as a person from something you’ve created, no matter how personal, is essential for your mental health in both fields. With music, as with writing, criticism done well, and taken well, will motivate rather than devastate.

3. Like writing, music is expressive.

Think about your favorite piece of music. Why is it your favorite? Chances are, it’s because the first time you heard it, you felt something.  It made an impact on you. Odds are extremely high that the performer felt something, too.

The goal of both music and writing, at their core, is communication. To let the reader or listener know that they’re not alone in this world; that someone else feels the same thing they do. Music and writing seek to move people. Inspire people. Provide what they need, whether it’s a good swift kick in the pants or a sweet moment of escape from how hard life can be.

A well-written book makes you feel what the characters are feeling. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, etc. Sometimes, I get a small amount of perverse pleasure in manipulating the emotions of my readers. (Hope that doesn’t make me a bad person. ;). Well, musicians are the same way. Some of us joke that if someone in the audience cried, then it was a successful performance.

But it’s not pure emotional manipulation. Chances are, that scene that made all the readers cry made its author cry, too. A musician giving a truly emotional performance will be feeling all the things up there on stage, right along with the audience. It is a very personal, vulnerable, and sometimes terrifying way to make a living.

4. Like writing, music is hard.

Being a good writer, and a successful author, takes years of work. Studying craft books. Attending conferences, workshops, or taking writing classes. Meeting with critique groups. Trying different approaches. Reading inside and outside the chosen genre. And, above all else, writing. Writing, writing, writing.

Becoming a professional musician is the same way. Instead of craft books, we have scales, etudes, and other things specifically targeted to improve our technique.  Instead of “editing” or “revising,” we spend hours in a practice room. Instead of sending a chapter to a critique partner, we take private lessons. When writers are going to conferences, we’re going to concerts and music festivals. Instead of reading, we listen to music. All the time. And we play as much as we can, wherever we can, whenever we can.

And, as we’ve already discussed, it’s very hard to make a career in either field.

But…

5. Like writing, music is worth it.

It is so worth it. No matter how hard the piece is, no matter how stressful the rehearsals, when a performance goes right, it makes all the pain worthwhile. Being onstage, playing a great piece, feeling the Holy Spirit flow through you, mingling with your own in a joyful song of praise, knowing that God is pleased with your efforts…there is absolutely nothing like that feeling.

Similarly, I’ve had moments in my writing where it felt like God took over, where the fingers moving on the keyboard were mine, but the words were His, and then I read it back and went, “Wow…” I’ve had moments when I’ve been puzzling over something that just doesn’t work, and then I change one or two words, and all of a sudden everything falls into place. Or when something early in a story that the characters insisted was important turned out to be huge toward the end. Those moments make all the editing and revising worth every painful minute.

Next week, we’ll discuss how music and writing are different, but in the meantime, I’d love to hear from you. What’s your “day job?” Is it something you love, or something you merely tolerate? Have you found any similarities between it and writing?

The Apostle Paul, Cool Runnings, and the Cutie Mark Crusaders

I have a four-year-old daughter, and like many other four-year-old daughters, she is obsessed with “My Little Pony.” While I rarely sit and watch an episode with her (her TV time is my Responsibility Champion time), the episodes I have seen in full are quickly making me a fan. The writing is great, the characters are superb, and there’s a ton of truth woven into these twenty-three minute episodes.

In the mythical land of Equestria, each pony has what’s called a cutie mark: a special symbol on their rear flank that signifies their special talent. The thing that makes that pony unique. The gift they’ve been given, and which they will use to better the community. To put an evangelical spin on it, it’s their “calling.” To put a Blues Brothers spin on it, it’s their “mission from God.”

Ponies receive their cutie marks somewhere during adolescence, though the timing is different for each pony. Young ponies who have received their marks sometimes tease the ones who haven’t by calling them “blank flanks.” Receiving a cutie mark is a rite of passage in Ponyville. What’s more, it’s a symbol of a pony’s identity.

Throughout the series, three young ponies—Sweetie Belle, Apple Bloom, and Scootaloo—have sought after their special talents so they, too, can receive their cutie marks. So dedicated are they to their quest that they’ve banded together as the Cutie Mark Crusaders. For years, these three ponies have been watching. Wondering. Waiting for that magical moment when their flanks are no longer blank.

Finally, in an episode from last season, the little ponies take a break from searching for their special talents, and in the process, help several other ponies find theirs. They’re so fulfilled, so rewarded by taking their focus off themselves and putting it elsewhere that they gleefully announce that they don’t care if they ever get their cutie marks. They’re having so much fun hanging out and helping others that they no longer need the validation.

And then, because this is a kids’ cartoon, all three ponies finally, finally get their cutie marks. Only in total surrender, in letting go of the thing that has so consumed them, only then do they finally receive it. Their special talent is, in fact, helping others find their calling.

There’s so much truth in this episode it’s almost painful. No matter what we want, no matter how wonderful a thing it is, wanting it, straining for it, striving for it, can choke the life out of us if we’re not careful. If we’re focused on finding a spouse, we get jealous every time a friend announces her engagement. If our heart’s desire is to have a baby, it’s painful every time someone else gets pregnant.

If what we want, more than anything, is to be a published author, then it becomes very difficult to celebrate when someone else’s novel debuts.

When our focus narrows and crowds out everything but that One Thing we want so badly, it costs us our joy. We become anxious. Insecure. Fretful. Frightened. Sometimes even downright nasty. (I’m thinking of Gollum from Lord of the Rings, here, with his preeccccciiiooouuusssss. Guys, don’t be Gollum).

These things we want may not be bad. In fact, most of the time they’re not. Marriage, a family, a career, an opportunity to leverage the gifts God has given us for His kingdom…all of those are good things. It isn’t wrong to want them. But when we get tunnel vision, when we put blinders on and see only the object of our desire, we commit idolatry. That thing we want, no matter how worthy, has pushed God off the throne of our hearts.

In the movie Cool Runnings, the coach of the Jamaican bobsled team says this: “A gold medal is a wonderful thing…but if you’re not enough without it, you’ll never be enough with it.” If we’re not content with what God has given us right now, if we’re not content, satisfied, enough, without the thing we so desperately want, then we will never be enough with it.

So how can we be enough? How can we let go and live in peace, even without the thing our heart so desperately wants?

God gives us the answer through the words of the apostle Paul in Philippians 4:13. This is a famous verse, and one of my favorites, but I think we’re guilty of misinterpreting it. The pop-Christianity translation is, “I can reach my goals, follow my dreams, and overcome all odds, through Christ who strengthens me.”

While it is indeed true that God equips His children to do whatever He has called them to do, no matter how stacked the odds may be, that’s not really what Paul is talking about here. He’s talking about contentment. Here’s the verse in context:

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through Him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:11-13)

Here it is, paraphrased for writers:

 “I know what is is to be unpublished, and I know what it is to be a bestseller. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether swimming in five-star reviews or receiving yet another rejection, whether rolling in a great book contract or still querying agents. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

These dreams you have, these things you want, these deep desires of your heart…chances are very good that God put them there. But you must give them back to Him. Put them in His hands. Don’t allow them to become weeds, choking out the beautiful flowers in your garden. Don’t let them steal your joy and contentment. Rest in the fact that God is enough.

Cutie mark or no, He will always be enough.

 

 

 

A Love Letter To ClickList

Last year, our Local Megamart (tm Alton Brown) began a service called ClickList, where you order your groceries online, then pick them up and pay for them at the store without setting foot inside. The ClickList people even load your car for you! Clearly this is the best thing since sliced bread, especially for those of us with small, adorable, but occasionally annoying children who have to come with us. ClickList and services like it mean you are forever free from saying the following things in grocery aisles.

"Stay with me, please."

"No, you cannot have a cake pop at Starbucks."

"Stay with me! I mean it!"

"No, I'm not buying Cookie Crisp. That's not cereal. It's milk and cookies in a bowl."

"If I said no to a cake pop, what makes you think I'll get you a doughnut?"

"I know we usually buy the other brand. But this brand is on sale. I promise you won't notice the difference."

"Okay, fine, you might notice the difference, but until you start buying the groceries, you don't get to decide. The end."

 "STAY. WITH. ME."

"No. Put that back."

"Stop eating the grapes! Yes, I know we're buying them, but we haven't bought them YET."

"I am NOT buying you a unicorn frappuccino, for the love. That is the LAST thing you need." 

"STOP RUNNING AROUND OR SO HELP ME I WILL PUT YOU IN THE CART. NO, I DON'T CARE THAT YOU'RE TOO BIG TO FIT."

"Why is there goldfish food in the cart? We don't even HAVE a goldfish!"

"No, I am NOT buying you a goldfish."

"STAY WITH ME FOR THE LOVE OF FRENCH TOAST."

A bonus, ClickList also frees you from Unpleasant Encounters With The General Public, including, but not limited to:

The Sancti-Mommy, clad in skin-tight designer workout wear, whose cart is full of kale, jicama, responsibly-sourced salmon, quinoa, organic dish soap, and diapers made out of hemp, who silently judges you for the Lunchables, orange juice, and Cheerios you have in your cart. 

The mom with way more children than you, all of whom are way better behaved than yours, who looks at you as though you have failed to grasp some Fundamental Tenet Of Parenting.

The married couple without kids who look at you and your offspring, then reward each other with the secret, smug, annoying smile that only people with disposable income and unlimited freedom can smile.

The woman in the checkout line in front of you who has a stack of coupons three inches thick and who argues with the cashier about each and every one.

and, last but not least...

The elderly woman who sees your fighting, shrieking, squabbling children and tells you to enjoy every single minute with your little darlings, because they'll be grown and gone before you know it. (While this may be true, it is not always helpful in moments like these.

Like I said, ClickList is the best thing since sliced bread.

Of course, to use ClickList effectively, one must plan ahead. As in, y'know, make your list, get on the computer, order your groceries, select your pickup window, and submit your order. All of this requires a certain level of mental acuity, and sometimes, when it's 11:00 the night before you need to go shopping and you still haven't placed your order, you are tempted to just wing it at the store.

I did this last week. I was exhausted, my brain was not functioning, and I knew I wouldn't be able to summon the mental wherewithal to make a menu, let alone a list, so I bought myself some time and decided to just make a grocery run.

Big mistake. Because the next day, all three kids were out of school. Which meant all three of them had to come with me. It was...less than ideal.

 Upon my return from the store, I posted this to Facebook.

**

My dear ClickList,

I underestimated you. I thought I didn't need you. When I was too lazy to fill out an order this morning, I rationalized it. "It'll be fine," I thought. "I like to pick out my own produce, anyway, and I'll have the kids with me, so they can help. Besides, we're dying Easter eggs, and the kids will want to pick out their own kit. It'll be fine."

It was awful, dear ClickList. AWFUL. I felt like issuing a personal apology to each of the 5,385,471,295,285 other people at Dillons this morning. Families with more children than I could count, families with children who were actually BEHAVING and not running wild in the produce aisles or wearing their Easter baskets as hats. People who were going about their day, minding their own business, actually able to concentrate--or, at least they were until the Wenlets showed up.

Summer is coming, ClickList. Summer, where the Wenlets will be out of school, not just for one day, but for ALL OF THE DAYS, and I have realized my error. You are not a mere convenience. You are a NECESSITY. I have seen who I am without you, ClickList, and it is not pretty. Not. Pretty.

Forgive me, ClickList. I have been a fool.

**

As you can see, I've learned my lesson. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a ClickList order to fill out. 

 

Living in the World of Saturday

This is something I posted to my personal Facebook page last year, and it resonated with a lot of people. I'm re-posting it here; I pray it blesses your Easter Saturday.

***

For me, something that has always been lost in the shuffle of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday and Easter Sunday is this day.

Saturday.

The day after Jesus died. The day before He rose. The one full day His body lay in that rock-hewn tomb.

The hours between sundown on Friday and sunup on Sunday must have seemed bleak and endless for those who loved Jesus. It was a Sabbath, that Saturday, so there was no work to distract them, not that they would've been able to concentrate on it if there had been. They must have still been in shock. Stunned by the tragic turn of events. Fearful the Jewish leaders would come for them next. Abandoned. Betrayed. Disillusioned. Perhaps even angry at Jesus for filling their heads with dreams. Sure, He had predicted His death, and He also said He would rise again, but did any of them, in their finite humanness, actually think that would happen? They had seen Him demonstrate His power over death with Lazarus, yes...but I don't think anyone who saw Jesus laid in that tomb ever expected that He really would come out of it.

Jesus, their Messiah, their Rabbi, their Friend, had just been murdered on a Roman cross, and their world no longer made sense.

I can sometimes identify with those Saturday disciples. As the world we inhabit becomes more and more broken, as cruel dictators deploy chemical weapons and divisions in our own country deepen, as natural disasters crush and cripple thousands, as loved ones die and disease is rampant and we all muddle through the unimaginably hard things this fallen world throws at us, it is easy to doubt. To wonder if all those crazy promises God made to us are really true. To wonder if maybe I've just believed in a story that's got a nice ending, but is, ultimately, a work of fiction.

But it is true. It is. All of it.

Because that tomb was empty on Sunday morning. Because those disciples saw Jesus in His resurrected glory. They saw His smile and touched His wounds and received His spirit. They went on to face martyrdom without fear, because they were fully convinced that Jesus was exactly who He said He was. Everything He had said to them, all the promises He had made, all of it was true. Their faith was not in vain.

And because that tomb was empty, because Jesus is risen just as He said, we can be confident that all His promises to us are true as well. That He will never leave us or forsake us. That He makes all things work together for the good of those who love Him. That whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life. That someday we will be with Him forever, in a world with no more sadness, no more fear, no more pain, no more struggle. Where God makes everything right again and all is as it always should have been.

It's Saturday, friends. It's Saturday.

But Sunday is coming.

No, I Don't Write About Amish People (And Other Frequently Asked Questions).

About nine years ago, when I started writing consistently, I did not tell a soul. Only my husband knew what I was spending all my off time doing (and if he thought his wife had suddenly lost her marbles, he kept that opinion to himself, bless him). A few months later, I told a couple of my online friends, but these were people I did not know in real life and would probably never actually meet. Finally, I told a Real Life Friend (who also happens to be a published author; that helped), and then another, and then another.

As I’ve revealed my Super-Awesome Secret Identity to more and more people, especially people who are not readers of inspirational fiction, I’ve heard the same questions pop up a few times. This is a little irreverent to be an actual FAQ document on the site itself, so I figured I’d inauspiciously begin my blog with these.

 

Q: Hey, I didn’t know you wrote Christian romance!

A: Neither did I, and that’s not a question.

 

Q: Sorry. So you write Christian romance, then?

A: Yes.

 

Q: *sly look* Do you write those books with the Amish ladies on the front?

A:  No. While that is a very popular sub-genre, and while there are many, many wonderful books featuring the Amish, mine are not among them. I’m a contemporary Christian romance writer.

 

Q: What does that mean, exactly?

A: Behold. Contemporary Christian Romance, 101.

Contemporary: Plots and characters occur in modern times, and problems are modern in nature. (The official definition, according to the American Christian Fiction Writers, is anything set after the Vietnam War; anything earlier than that is considered Historical.)

Christian: My faith in Jesus is the core of who I am, and it features prominently in my work. Christian/inspirational books, by definition, include faith elements in addition to the main plot of the story. Characters are frequently Christian, and their relationship with God influences their actions, decisions, emotions, etc.

Romance: Love stories are my favorite stories. If a book or a movie doesn’t have a romance in it, I’m much less interested in the plot, and if it does, that is invariably the part in which I am most invested. I love love, I love happily-ever-afters, and I love demonstrating how God, in His wisdom, brings people together in His plan and His way.

And before you ask, no, Christian romances typically do not have sexytimes in them the way mainstream romances do. Not that the characters don’t have sexytimes; married Christian characters definitely do in many books. But the readers are not invited into the bedroom the way they might be in other genres. Also not present in most Christian books are gratuitous violence and foul language.

What I, and other Christian writers, strive to do is inspire, uplift, encourage, and entertain to the glory of God. That’s Christian fiction in a nutshell.

Q: So you write books about Christian characters whose faith impacts their lives, who fall in love, live happily ever after, and grow closer to God in the process?

A: Basically, yes.

 

Q: Your books sound cool! Where can I buy them?

A: Nowhere, yet.

 

Q: Bummer.

A: I know. (And that was also not a question).

 

Q: No wonder you’re a writer. So how come I can’t buy your books yet?

A: Because they are technically not “published.” But I’m working on that, and this website is a great place to stay informed about the process!

 

Q: Okay, so what else do you do with your life?

A: I’m glad you asked! I’m a happily married mother of three adorable and hilarious kids, and I’m also a professional cellist.

 

Q: Really? A professional cellist?

A: Yes! I teach cello lessons, perform with orchestras and worship bands, and play freelance gigs (mostly weddings).

 

Q: And for some reason you decided to start writing books…?

Yes. From the time I was a little kid, I was dreaming up stories and putting them down on paper. Fiction-writing took a backseat to book reports, essays, and term papers in high school and college, but a couple of years after grad school, I got irrevocably bitten by the Writing Bug. Sort of like how Peter Parker got bitten by a spider and turned into a superhero, but instead of wearing a cool costume, shooting webs out of my wrist, and kissing people while hanging upside-down and getting rain up my nose, I wear yoga pants, sit at my laptop, and drink coffee while staring at a blinking cursor. So it’s basically the exact same.

 

Q: So let me get this straight. You’ve already got a job, you’ve got a family, and now you’re writing books, too?

A: That’s right.

 

Q: Are you insane?

A: That is a distinct possibility.