My life is full of unanswerable questions. Some are deep and philosophical, some are not. This one is decidedly in the latter category, but it does pop up every December, when I hear Julie Andrews singing about raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, and that question is this: Why on earth is My Favorite Things a Christmas song?
I may never know the answer to that one. But thanks to a couple of my favorite authors (Deb Raney and Becky Wade), from whose blogs I stole/got inspiration for this idea, I present to you a few of MY favorite things. Most of these are not life-changing, but they definitely lift my spirits. And in the dead of winter, when the holidays are past and football season is almost over and my Sooners have lost in the college football playoffs—AGAIN—I think we could all use a little pick-me-up. (Click on the title of the item for a purchase link).
This has been my go-to cleanser for over twenty YEARS. I am not kidding. It’s undergone a couple name changes, but the basic formulation is the same. It is a simple, basic cleanser without fragrance or irritants; it gets the makeup off without drying the skin. Seems like a simple thing, but apparently it’s pretty hard to get this just right, because this cleanser is the only one I’ve ever found that does its job with this level of excellence. If they ever discontinue this, I will CRY.
Soylar Candles is an online candle/soap company owned and operated by Irene Guoz, who seems like one of the sweetest people imaginable. Her products are made with natural, non-toxic ingredients using earth-friendly processes; her candles mostly come in reused baby food jars and aluminum cans. Her list of scents is long, and everything I’ve tried is utterly drool-worthy, plus she includes samples, extras, and a lovely hand-written note with every order. You can customize the intensity of the scent (important for me, since I’m actually not huge on scented candles; I just like to burn one after dinner to eliminate cooking odors and set the tone for a relaxing evening), and even order little free extras like glitter or candy sprinkles on top. Plus, right now, they're offering free shipping on any size order!
I vary my scents with the season, but since two out of three Wenlets were born in January, Birthday Cake seemed very apropos.
I picked up this luxurious faux fur blanket on impulse at Target the day after Christmas, and it has quickly risen to the top of my favorite things list. Since I bought it, I’ve spent many hours on the couch in The Fuzzy Blanket’s cuddly embrace, snuggling Wenlets (the thing is a Wenlet magnet), watching the fire, reading books, listening to football, and seeing just how much parenting I can accomplish while still Under The Blanket (answer: more than I thought!). Cream is the color that followed me home, but the blanket does come in a variety of colors. Grab one. I promise your feelings about winter will be more positive.
I am a fidgeter. I have to have something to do with my hands pretty much all the time. When I was a kid, I was a devotee of Silly Putty (why my mother let us have it, I have no idea). A couple years ago while Christmas shopping for the kids, I discovered this stuff at a local toy store and have been pretty addicted to it ever since. It’s the perfect texture and comes in a lot of different colors and finishes. There’s even a kit where you can combine colors and special effects to create your own custom putty, although I personally have not gone that far yet (Middle Wenlet has; it was one of his Christmas presents). Putty isn’t for everyone, but if you need something pretty and satisfying to play with while you dream up your next novel, I highly recommend this.
I love coffee. And while I adore the idea of having a fresh cup from a French press every morning, two things stop me from doing this: Limited time and the cruel paradox that I must consume coffee to be awake enough to make coffee. When my sister-in-law introduced me to the Keurig a few years ago, a solution was born.
However—and this is a pretty big however—most K-cups taste pretty nasty, at least to me. The only K-cup I have found that I really, really like is this one: Major Dickason’s Blend from Peet’s Coffee. It’s a delicious dark roast, not bitter, just yum, and very effective at getting me from the “Go Away” to the “Now You May Speak” phase of morning. It’s the only K-cup that doesn’t taste like a K-cup to me. Creature of habit that I am, I always drink it out of the same mug, this gorgeous handmade ceramic one I picked up at the College of the Ozarks in Branson, Missouri two summers ago.
So there you have it. A few of my favorite things. But I’m always up for trying something new, so now it’s your turn! What are a few of your favorite things?
“The story of the Bible is Emmanuel.”
One of our pastors said this in a sermon a few weeks back, and I’ve been rolling it over in my head ever since. As a result, I’ve seen the overarching story of the Bible in a whole new way. Though during Advent our focus is the child promised in Isaiah, the one who was born of a virgin and whose name was called Emmanuel, I have seen how each person of the Trinity fulfills the concept of God with us in a unique way.
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” So begins the story. God meticulously crafted perfection in Eden, then created Adam and Eve to live there and care for it, and, more importantly, to enjoy unbroken fellowship with Him. Genesis tells us God would walk with Adam and Eve in the garden in the cool of the evening. All was perfect and right and exactly the way God intended.
But then sin entered the world. Adam and Eve disobeyed God. As a result, that beautiful unbroken fellowship with God was lost, not just for themselves, but for all mankind.
However—and what a glorious ‘however’ this is—God didn’t give up on his people. Through blessing a couple of barren ninety-somethings with a miracle child, he created his chosen nation, Israel, not just to exist, but to illustrate the concept of God with us. He brought them out of slavery in Egypt, guided them through the desert, and led them to a land he had created for them. He was with them.
But this fellowship was not free and unbroken as it had been in Eden. There were strict rules and stipulations that the Israelites were required to follow. And God was not present as he had been in Eden; he dwelled in a specific place, the Holy of Holies. Only the High Priest could enter this chamber, and then only once a year and bearing a blood sacrifice to cover the sin of the nation. This place, in the center of the Temple, was marked by a thick curtain, separating the Holy God from sinful man.
However, the blood of sacrificial animals was a mere foreshadowing of God’s ultimate plan. Paul phrases this beautifully in Romans 8:3. “For what the law was powerless to do…God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man, as an offering for sin.”
It is this iteration of Emmanuel, Jesus, that we focus on most at this time of year. As Jesus, God himself grew in Mary’s womb and suckled at her breast. God Himself was a toddler, a child, a teenager, an ordinary small-town carpenter. God himself came to dwell with us, to walk with us, to experience the struggles of the human experience…and to show us exactly what it looked like to fulfill the law perfectly. God himself, the Word-made-flesh, then gave His life on a Roman cross to cover, once and for all, every sinful thought, word, and deed, committed by every person on earth. “God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us so that in him we could become the righteousness of God.” (1 Corinthians 5:21).
After Jesus defeated sin and death through his crucifixion and resurrection, he ascended into Heaven to assume his rightful place with the Father. But he never intended to leave us alone. In John 16:7, he told his disciples, “It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go I will send him to you.” That Advocate—the Holy Spirit—is Emmanuel, God with us, now. Rather than being limited by geography, as Jesus was, the Holy Spirit can indwell every believer, all at once. The Spirit of God convicts us of sin, guides us along God’s path, and enables us to do his will. The Spirit changes our hearts, gives us the desire and the ability to please God, and is a deposit guaranteeing our glorious inheritance as adopted sons and daughters of God.
And one day, Emmanuel will come again. He will return to earth, wipe it clean of all sin, and set up the new heaven and the new earth. Revelation tells us we will reign with him in this new earth, and once more we will have the unbroken fellowship with the Lord that we were always intended to have. Our existence will be defined by the most complete and perfect iteration of Emmanuel.
So this Christmas, as we let our gaze linger on the baby in the manger, as we marvel at the miracle that is Emmanuel, I pray that we will grasp a larger perspective of God with us and be grateful not only for Jesus in human form, but for the God who didn’t give up on his people and for the Spirit that marks us as his children and shapes us to be more like Him. And may we look forward to the true coming of Emmanuel.
May the peace and joy of Emmanuel truly be yours this Christmas and always.
As many of you know, I recently (and gleefully) signed with my dream agent, Tamela Hancock Murray of the Steve Laube Agency. God's hand was in every aspect of this, and I am floored by all the minute details He worked out so that Tamela and I could connect and click.
The process of finding an agent is often nerve-wracking. The author usually sends out a query to the prospective agent (a very formalized version of, "Hey, Awesome Agent! I wrote Splendiferous Manuscript. It looks like it'd be right up your alley, won a couple of contests, and my mom loves it*! Care to take a look?"). If the query piques the agent's interest, they ask to see some or all of your manuscript. If they love it and believe they can sell it to a publisher, they will offer representation. Usually, they call first, mostly to talk about your project, feel out whether the working relationship will be a good one, and reassure themselves that you're not totally nuts (at least, not in a bad way). Among authors, this is sometimes known as The Call.
From the moment an author hits 'send' on that first query, they start dreaming about The Call. Hoping for it. Drooling with anticipation over it. Jumping out of their skin every time the phone rings, especially if it’s an unfamiliar area code. (Or maybe a familiar one, because they memorized their Dream Agent’s phone number. Ahem. Not that I know anyone who did this. *looks around furtively*).
Although sometimes The Call comes out of the blue and is a total surprise, in some cases (like mine) the agent schedules it beforehand. So when Tamela's (totally not memorized) number flashed on my caller ID, it was not a surprise...but I still took a moment before I answered to sear that moment into my memory. My Dream Agent was finally calling me. This was it. The Call.
Lots of information is out there dealing with how authors can prepare for The Call, what questions they should ask of the agent, what information to cover, and the like. There’s also a lot of advice on how to inform other agents who may have your query or manuscript that you’ve received an offer, how to handle multiple offers, etc. But what I wasn’t prepared for—and didn’t find a lot of information about—was the utter emotional roller-coaster I went on in the days following The Call.
We’ve all heard about the five stages of grief, and I found after The Call that I went through about five different (more fun) stages as well. So I now present to you, without further ado and with an appropriate amount of fanfare, the five stages of After The Call.
Stage 1: Elation.
I GOT THE CALL!!!!!!!!!!!!! AWESOME AGENT LIKES ME!!!!!!!! Finally, after all the queries and rejections and revisions and research, AWESOME AGENT WANTS TO WORK WITH ME!!!!!! This is the BEST DAY EVER!!!!!!!!!! I have to call EVERYONE I KNOW! No. Wait. I have to SAVOR IT. No. Wait. I have to plan a clever WAY to tell everyone I know. No. Wait…oh, screw it. AWESOME AGENT JUST OFFERED REPRESENTATION!!!!!!!!!
Stage 2: Disbelief.
Awesome Agent. Likes me.
Awesome Agent. Wants to represent…me.
Wait. She does know who I am, right? Did she mean to dial my number? Spendiferous Manuscript…that’s the one she’s in love with? Wait, did she read it? She did, right? She wouldn’t be offering if she didn’t. Did she see the part in Chapter Sixteen where I'm all redundant and ridiculous and go on too long about my hero's mommy issues? She did? And she still wants to represent me?
Maybe I dreamed The Call. Maybe she didn’t really call me and it’s all in my head. *checks phone log* No, she really did call me.
She’s serious, right? She’s not going to call me back tomorrow and go, ‘LOL, just kidding, I thought you were someone else, I don’t really want to represent you.’ Right? Right????
Stage 3: Second Guessing
Awesome Agent wants to represent me!!!! But but but but a couple of other Awesome Agents also have my manuscript. What if one of them offers? I mean, that’d be great and all, but what do I do then? How do I decide? What if I pick the wrong Awesome Agent?
Or what if they don’t offer? What if Awesome Agent is the only one who offers? That means she’s The One, right? By default, she’s The One. Of course she is. But what if she somehow isn’t? Will I know?
What if I screw it up somehow? What if I take too long to get back to Awesome Agent and she changes her mind? What if I inadvertently offend her somehow? What if she decides she doesn’t actually want to take me on? What if I really do get that 'LOL, just kidding' call or email?
Stage 4: Panic
Holy falafel, I’m really gonna do this.
I’m really gonna sign an agreement with Awesome Agent.
And she is going to have my book. My book. My baby. And I barely know her. I mean, yeah, we clicked on the phone, but that was just one call and my head was in the clouds and I barely even registered the first half of the conversation because I WAS TALKING TO AWESOME AGENT, but now I’m going to put my baby in this person’s hands, and she’s going to show it to publishers and maybe get me a contract and possibly even a career and AIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE I’m not sure I’m ready for this.
Stage 5: Readiness
Okay. I’m ready. I’m at peace. I’ve prayed about it, thought about it, and slept on it. She really is The One, and I’m really going to do this. I’m going to call her back and share the good news, I'm going to scribble my name on that agency agreement, I’m going to post the pic to Facebook I’m going to celebrate with all my loved ones…
And then I’m going to get to work. Because Awesome Agent and I…we’re a team now. She loves my book. She believes in my book.
And together, we are going to get it out into the world.
So these are the stages I went through when Tamela called me. You may not go through all of these. Or any of these. Your five stages may look different from mine. Or you might have more than five. Or fewer. If there’s anything I’ve learned from this process, it’s that the process looks slightly different for everyone…and that it’s all normal.
Normal for writers, anyway.
For those of you who may have queries or manuscripts out with agents and are anxiously awaiting The Call, know that I’m praying for you! I pray you’ll have peace in knowing that God has your career completely under His control, and He will guide you to just the right person at just the right time.
For those of you who have received The Call, I would love to hear your story! Did you go through any of these stages? All of them? None of them? Let me know in the comments!
*Note to people who are querying: Don't actually tell the agent your mom loves the book.
We have recently made it through a round of The Creeping Crud here at the House of Wen, one that has attacked all five of us in turn and given me a renewed sense of gratitude for the good health our family usually enjoys.
When my kids were babies, they had one mode during sickness: Pathetic. Seriously. There is nothing more pathetic than a sick baby. But as they’ve gotten older, they’ve developed Modes of Illness that correspond with their individual personalities. Sort of like the three kids in PJ Masks transform at night to become their superhero alter egos, my kids each transform into a modified version of themselves: Picky, Clingy, and Zonked.
A caveat here: Yakko does not BECOME picky when he is sick, as though the rest of the time he is not picky at all. Hahahahaha. Far from it. From the moment Yakko was born, he’s been on the lookout for Things Which Do Not Meet His Standards, of which there are many, as his standards are high and exacting. When he is sick, he becomes exponentially more so. Last week, during the throes of his illness, he requested a Popsicle. We have some, even in the one flavor he likes, but these Popsicles once melted and refroze during a fit of temper from our freezer, and he now refuses to eat them because “they taste funny.” He expressed extreme displeasure with my pronouncement that no, I would not drop everything and run to the grocery store to purchase new Popsicles when we had some in—this bears repeating, HIS FAVORITE FLAVOR—that might have been a little misshapen. Similarly, he refused oyster crackers a few days ago because “they tasted stale.” Fair enough; the box had been open a while and they may very well have been stale. But he ALSO refused to eat the apple slices that briefly TOUCHED the oyster crackers because, in his words, “The apples taste stale now, too.”
Meanwhile, Dot becomes…Clingy!
Dot is normally pretty independent, but when she is sick, she wants to be physically attached to me at all times. ALL times. Day, night, it makes no difference whatsoever. She wants to be in my lap, snuggled up next to me, climbing on me, laying on me…it makes no particular difference to her, as long as we are basically glued together. When she was younger and easier to haul around, this was less of an issue. But now that she’s half as tall as I am and no longer a featherweight, getting around has become exceedingly more difficult. Last time I checked, they didn’t make Baby Bjorns to fit an almost-five-year-old (but even if they did, there is no way I would be able to figure out how to use it. Baby carriers always, always, ALWAYS confounded me).
And last, but not least, Wakko becomes…Zonked!
Wakko is my highest-energy kid, my child who, if he is not actively engaged in an Approved Activity, he will FIND an activity on his own that may or not fall under the umbrella of “Approved.” Over the years, Wakko has committed various shenanigans including, but not limited to: decorating the basement walls with Sharpie, coloring himself with marker, painting himself, putting Play-Doh in various kitchen implements, cutting his sister’s hair, cutting his own hair, cutting his sister’s hair AGAIN, etc. etc. etc.. If you follow me on Facebook, pretty much any adventure I relate containing an “unnamed Wenlet” can be traced back to Wakko.
HOWEVER. When Wakko is sick, he completely shuts down. Seriously. All that kid does is sleep. He will occasionally wake up long enough to take medication or nourishment, and then he’s out again. There are times when I have very nearly forgotten that Wakko is even HOME when he’s sick, which is why I’ve taken to putting him on the living room couch. Much more difficult to walk off and forget about him.
The caveat with this, of course, is that when he does wake up, nine times out of ten he is 100% well and back to his usual shenanigan-y self. I’m always glad to see him up and around and feeling better…but I do have to remember to lock up the Sharpies.
YOUR TURN: What are your kids like when they’re sick? Any fun sick kid stories to share?
Last weekend, I dived back into Orchestra World for a performance of British orchestral music, the centerpiece of which was Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations. Even if you’ve never heard of Elgar, I can pretty much guarantee that you’ve heard one of his pieces, especially if you’ve ever been to a high school graduation ceremony. That stately, quasi-repetitive piece the band always plows its way through while the graduates file in is his “Pomp and Circumstance” march. That is not necessarily my favorite of Elgar’s works, but his cello concerto and his Enigma Variations most certainly are.
The story of the Enigma Variations is a fun one. Tired after a long day of teaching violin lessons, Elgar sat down at the piano and started fooling around with a melody. His wife, Alice, liked the tune and asked what it was. “Nothing,” he replied. “But something might be made of it.” He began then trying to characterize various of their friends by playing the tune in different ways, and before long, the Enigma Variations were born, a set of fourteen variations on this tune that portray people important or memorable to Elgar: fellow musicians, his wife, and even a friend’s bulldog.
But the most famous, most beautiful, and most stirring of these variations is the ninth one. In fact, even if you’ve never heard of Elgar or the Enigma Variations, you’ve likely heard this one. Performed frequently at British state funerals and other occasions, and having appeared in films and TV shows such as Homeland, Elizabeth,and Dunkirk, it bears the seemingly unelegant nickname of “Nimrod.”
Now when I was a kid, “nimrod” was a slang term for someone who was nerdy, geeky, or socially awkward, but as a teenager I was surprised to learn that Nimrod was a real person. A Biblical one, in fact. The great-grandson of Noah, Nimrod is described in Genesis 10:9 as “a mighty hunter before the Lord.” The title of the movement is a play on the last name of Augustus Jaeger, Elgar’s close friend and the subject of this variation, which, in German, means “hunter.”
As Elgar’s editor, Jaeger sometimes delivered severe critiques of his work, but as his friend, Jaeger was a stalwart encourager. The variation centers around a night when Elgar was in his forties. He’d been composing for a while, with modest success, but he’d yet to truly establish himself as a composer. He’d hit a low point, depressed about his lack of progress, despairing over the future of his compositional career, and debating quitting composing altogether. I can picture Jaeger sitting quietly by Elgar’s side while his friend poured his heart out, nodding and sympathizing, and then crossing to the piano and playing the opening of Beethoven’s “Pathetique” piano sonata. Jaeger reminded Elgar that Beethoven had his share of problems and setbacks—his deafness being but one of those—and yet he kept on composing, gracing the world with stunning works such as the famous Ninth Symphony. “And that is what you must do,” Jaeger told his friend.
The variation itself, its soaring melody and deep emotion, the fact that it brings pretty much everyone who listens to it to tears, is a testament to the importance of this moment in Elgar’s life, and the finale, which quotes both the variation potraying Elgar’s wife and the Nimrod variation, cements Jaeger’s importance, both personally and professionally, to the composer.
The story of “Nimrod” is of the necessity of enduring creative setbacks and dry spells, but it also speaks clearly of how crucial it is for us creative types to have stalwarts in our corner. People who endure our mood swings and our threats to quit, calmly listen to our rants, and then tell us, “Okay. Now keep going. Don’t quit.”
Who is that person for you? Is it a friend? Your spouse? Your critique partner? Your agent? Your editor? Who has refused to let you quit when every other voice was shrieking for you to do exactly that? Perhaps you can’t write a gorgeous symphonic movement for that person, but there might be some way to express your appreciation. At the very least, listen to this gorgeous wor and take a moment to thank God for how He used that person in your life.
A little postscript: The Enigma Variations premiered in 1899 and proved to be Elgar’s big break. This piece established his career as a composer. In the ensuing years, Elgar would receive countless awards and honorary degrees. He would be knighted in 1904, named Master of the King’s Musick in 1924, and appointed a Baronet in 1931. His music is regularly performed all over the world, and he remains one of Britain’s best known composers.
All because of the encouragement of a friend.
So who is your Nimrod?
Who would consider you theirs?
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).
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?”
“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?”
“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.
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?
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.
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.
Those of you who know me know I’m a pretty competitive person.
I keep it under wraps, at least, most of the time. Very rarely do I initiate a game of one-upmanship. Most of the time, the people with whom I’m competing have no idea. But if someone starts it with me? If I know someone is trying to “beat” me at something? Oh, it is on like Donkey Kong.
It is perhaps no surprise that I went into a competitive career field. As I’ve discussed before, the classical music field is extremely competitive. For a position in one of the bigger orchestras, there can be hundreds of applicants for a single spot. One person gets it. The rest? Thank you very much.
Sadly, I carry this “must-win” mentality around with me everywhere I go. I constantly compare nearly every aspect of my life with that of other people’s. Often, this comparison takes place through social media, which, as we all know, is everyone’s highlight reel. Bloopers and outtakes rarely make the final Facebook cut (except for when it involves Wakko the Middle Wenlet, because that kid is a human outtake reel. Bless him.)
My fledgling writing career is no exception. It’s difficult not to compare with others, whether it’s word count (“What?!? She wrote four thousand words today?! I only wrote one! Not one thousand, either. One word.), publishing success (“That author just got a killer book deal. How come I don't have one yet?”), or contest triumphs (“How come she won that contest? What’s her story got that mine doesn’t have?”).
The cool thing about God is that His blessings are not finite in number. He does not have a set number of Christian authors who can be successful. He does not jettison talented, deserving children of His just because, “Well, sorry, I’ve only got room for sixty. You have to wait until one of them isn’t writing anymore.” Someone else’s success does not preclude my own. Someone else’s victory is not always my loss.
But sometimes comparison can be sneaky. Tenth Avenue North’s Mike Donehey recently posted this on Facebook:
“A few years back, while praying for a festival set…God convicted me of the prayer we were praying. It was confusing, because it felt like a very noble prayer. I was asking God to use our band. But God, as He does, gently tapped my shoulder and whispered, 'What if I want to use the other bands?'
In that moment, I realized I wasn’t asking God to use our band. I was asking him to use our band more than the other bands. I was using being used by God.”
Ouch. Talk about conviction. I’ve been praying, ever since I started pursuing publication, “God, use my words. Use my book. Use my story to reach people.” And when I play cello, the prayer is the same. “Use my music. Use my instrument.” Me, me, me. And yes, if I'm painfully honest, a part of me wants Him to use me more than He uses everyone else. That shows me where my focus is, and it’s not on Him. It’s on me, and it’s on what I can see around me.
Winning awards and making best-seller lists is wonderful. Of course it is. And I don’t think it’s wrong to dream of and work toward those things. But those dreams, big as they are, are still smaller than the dreams God has for us. He wants to draw people to Himself, to make them more like Him. Me. You. Anyone who reads our words or hears our music or encounters us in any way. And when that’s the dream, then how many copies we sell or what awards we might win…well, those things suddenly seem pretty insignificant.
Fellow Christians, we are not each other’s competition, and we cannot afford for our focus to be on ourselves or on each other. We are soldiers in the same mighty army, an army that faces a formidable enemy. Each of us has our own unique role to play. Our own “enemy soldier” to engage. And our General, God Himself, has uniquely equipped each of us with the words we need to write, to speak, to engage in the particular battles He has for us. What we’ve gone through in our lives, what we write into our fiction, are stories no one can tell but us. And there are people out there who might be deeply touched by your book that might not be by mine. And vice versa. That's why God's called so many of us, and given us each a unique voice and a unique story. As Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
God has prepared a path for each of us. A path that is different from everyone else’s path. But we are all on the same team. The winning team. God's team. While I don’t think it’s wrong to pray that God will use us each individually, our ultimate desire, and our ultimate prayer, should be for God to do His will. For His kingdom to come. Again, from Mike Donehey:
“So now…I simply pray for [God] to move. That way, when he decides to use someone else, I don’t feel the need to compete. Rather, I’m able to celebrate that God is moving.”
So my prayer now, like Mike’s, is that God will move. That He will use each of us as He sees fit. That God will move in all our work. That He will reach the people He has for each of us to meet. That we will all write the words and stories God has for us to write, and that God will guide, direct, and protect each and every one of us. We can’t afford to get distracted by competing with each other.
“Therefore…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Hebrews 12:1)
We’re all in this together. And we’ve got our eyes on a much bigger prize.
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.
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.
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.
Your turn: What debts, financial or otherwise, have been canceled for you recently? What debts have you canceled—or need to cancel—for others?
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.
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!
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…
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.