Category Archives: Writing

A God Who Wastes Nothing

I sliced my thumb today. A pretty solid gash from a freshly-sharpened knife instantly covered the peppers I was chopping for a breakfast scramble. I ran to the sink to inspect the wound, letting my son clean up my mess and take over the chopping.

“Is it as bad as that time in Nashville?” he asked. Ah, yes — the time I sliced open my thumb when visiting him in Nashville. A much bigger cut caused by a porcelain knob that broke off in my hand when I turned on the shower, that one called for a visit to an emergency care facility. I won’t give you all the details, but I was in the shower, he was at work and I had no idea where the nearest facility might be. I pulled on my “big girl pants” after nearly passing out on the floor and found directions on my phone. Six stitches later, my gauze-wrapped thumb and I drove across the city to visit him at his work site.

It’s what moms do.

I rub my fingers over the numb spot on my right thumb and remember that day. It was exactly five years ago this month. I wrote about my visit to Nashville at an important time in my son’s life for Topology Magazine. I’m writing about him again — this time for an entirely different reason.

I first shared our son’s journey through anxiety, panic and depersonalization in a post for Amelia Rhodes’ book Pray A to Z.  An expanded essay is featured in this month’s Redbud Post.

I’m honored to be part of Redbud Writers Guild “a vibrant and diverse movement of Christian women who create in community and who influence culture and faith.” Each month, guild members submit essays to be considered for The Redbud Post. This month’s theme is “Perspectives on Mental Health Issues”.

When I wrote the essay, our son was climbing out of a season of debilitating anxiety. He had moved home after five years of living in Nashville and was receiving therapy to overcome a condition that was taking over his life.

Six months after beginning treatment, this is our son today. Recently, he traveled alone six hours round trip to visit the city where he hopes to relocate, a big deal when we remember there was a time when even leaving the house was a struggle.

I’ve shared my son’s story with his permission because we both are praying that it will help others traveling the same road. You can read about “A God Who Wastes Nothing” on The Redbud Post.

The first time I sat with our son while he was experiencing a panic attack, everything in me wanted to wrap my arms around him and make it stop. All I could do was pray and wait for it to pass. Anxiety and panic are all too familiar to my son’s generation. It’s estimated that at least half of young women born between 1980 and 2000 suffer from an anxiety disorder and a third of young men. Our adventurous, athletic and creative son had his first collision with anxiety and panic in his early 20s. (more…..)

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Everbloom: Stories of Deeply Rooted and Transformed Lives is a beautiful anthology of essays and poetry by authors from The Redbud Writers Guild. It’s now available for purchase here and at book stores. I’ll share more about this lovely book and give away a free copy on May 12, but you can order copies now for the mothers in your life. It would make the perfect Mother’s Day gift.

 

5 Things I Learned While Going 7 Days Without Facebook

Still wide awake at 12:30 a.m. today, I rolled out of bed and did what I’ve done on many other sleepless nights. I grabbed my phone to check in with Facebook — for the first time in 7 days.

A week ago, inspired by a book I’m reading and challenged by my blogging friend Plaidfuzz, I decided to give myself a one week break from Facebook. Besides wanting to change a habit, a big motivation for my self-imposed fast was the climate on Facebook. Don’t get me wrong. There is much that’s good in this online community — inspiring messages, fun recipes, photos of friends and their families, groups of like-minded individuals conversing on topics of interest (writing and hygge). And, Facebook is sometimes a window into the world of my sons, though it’s not often their chosen means of communicating online.

But what I found when dropping in during the middle of the night is that not much has changed in seven days. Attacks and “false news” are still popping up in my news feed, which means I have to do a lot of scrolling to get to stuff I want to read, and, the things I don’t want to pour into my mind still seep in.

I have enjoyed at least 168 hours without the vitriol, and I feel cleansed.

Stepping away  from Facebook — even for just a week — gave me some perspective and taught me a thing or two. Or 5. Here are 5 things I learned during my 7-day break from Facebook:

  1. My friends are still my friends whether I “like” something they say or not. Not one of them unfriended me because of my neglect. Nor did they send me nasty messages.
  2. Picking up my Bible first thing in the morning instead of my phone or I-pad is better for my spiritual, emotional and mental health. I started most days happier, calmer and with a clearer mind. I’ve been reading the book of Jeremiah first thing in the morning, with Eugene Peterson’s great book “Run with the Horses” as my guide. The destruction of Jerusalem and the angry greed of Babylon aren’t so far removed from our world today. (Adding praises from Psalms tempers the message.)
  3. There’s a lot more to read, watch and listen to on the Internet besides what’s in my Facebook feed. Notable sites where I spent time this week included The Redbud Post, The Academy of Ideas, and Jeff Goins’ podcast The Portfolio Life .
  4. My political views didn’t waver in the absence of daily reminders of how divided our country has become. I’m still conservative, right of center, pro-life and praying for our nation.
  5. I can accomplish a lot in the 10 minutes I might spend several times a day scrolling thru, liking (or loving, crying, laughing) and commenting on Facebook posts. Some of my 10-minute fillers were folding a load of laundry, reading a chapter in a book, stirring up a batch of chocolate chip cookies, doing my yoga stretches, having a real conversation with a friend.
  6. I said 5? Here’s a bonus. Twitter is a poor substitute, and it is just as mind-numbing and time-wasting as Facebook. Instagram? Not ready to give that up yet.

Will I return to Facebook permanently? Possibly. I’ve made some great connections and found new friends there. But if I do, I think I’ll rely on it less often to fill spare moments and to connect with people.

My final three words on Facebook? Words I try to apply to everyday life: Discretion, Self-control, Balance.

Mary Richards, Joyce Smith and Me

If I’d owned a blue beret, I would have tossed it in the air. I was a fledgling news reporter in the early 1970s and Mary Richards was my inspiration, my role model. When all you’ve ever wanted is to be a journalist, seeing a young woman succeed in the news business — even in a fictional television sitcom — was affirmation.

“You’re gonna make it after all.”

Mary Tyler Moore as Mary Richards

Learning of the death this week of Mary Richards’ alter ego Mary Tyler Moore was like losing a big sister.

And as I processed the news of Mary Richards’ passing, my next thought was of my one-time editor and mentor, Joyce Smith. Though they were about as different in looks and demeanor as Marilyn Monroe and Carol Burnett, Mary Richards and Joyce Smith will forever be linked as the reasons I spent 20 years as a news reporter and have continued for another 20 as a writer.

Joyce, the first female editor at our small local newspaper, took this timid, 19-year-old college dropout under her wing. I’d been hired as a typist at The News-Sun but I had dreams of earning a desk in the news room. Joyce made that happen. My first reporting assignment was a feature story about my little brother’s T-ball team. Other assignments followed as Joyce patiently taught me to dig for the five Ws and one H (who, what, when, where, why and how) and edit out the “fluff” to make my sentences tight and precise. Joyce also modeled the integrity and impartiality that characterized her brand of good journalism. And she pushed me to get beyond my shyness and insecurity to master the art of the interview and to press in for the “just the facts.”

My years as a cub reporter were more valuable than any college journalism program. Though I came under my editor’s tutelage near the end of her journalism career, she was generous in passing on what she knew. Thanks to Joyce, my skills grew. Over my 20-year career, I was tapped to report on county government, business and agriculture news, as well as serve as the lifestyle editor and a regional reporter. I was honored to receive state and national press association awards for reporting.

All the while, I was channeling Mary Richards.

I never missed an episode of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and watched reruns whenever I could catch them. I followed Moore’s career and personal life, cheering her on as she took other roles and became a respected television producer in real life. Like most of America, I would always see her as Mary Richards, the spunky TV news reporter with the winning smile. Along the way, guys like Woodward and Bernstein added another brand of inspiration, but always, it was Mary Richards that showed me how to be a news woman.

From the New York Times:

“At least a decade before the twin figures of the harried working woman and the neurotic, unwed 30-something became media preoccupations, Ms. Moore’s portrayal — for which she won four of her seven Emmy Awards — expressed both the exuberance and the melancholy of the single career woman who could plot her own course without reference to cultural archetypes. The show, and her portrayal of Mary as a sisterly presence in the office, as well as a source of ingenuity and humor, was a balm to widespread anxieties about women in the work force.”

I was the first in my family to attend college, albeit for only a year. My parents urged me to come home after my freshman year at a state school and get an office job. I came home, but the “office job” put me on the path to my dream career. For me, Mary and Joyce were a balm to my own anxiety about being a young woman in the work force. They pointed the way.

Thank you, Ladies. I am forever grateful.

 

 

 

Nashville: Making Culture in Community

Where we are — the place where we are breathing, working, loving and living — that place, that community, forms us, even in the midst of trial and change. One of my adult sons was making a new life far from home a few years back, wrestling with change and trying to get a handle on the future. I was able to drop in on his life for a few days and wrote about his world from my perspective. My essay is included today at Topology:

The slap-crack of skateboards hitting cement punctuates the air. The town park vibrates with laughter, conversation, dog yelps, honking horns. Overhead, dark clouds roll, hanging low, heavy with moisture….(read more)

Topology is the online journal of *culture is not optional, an intentional community based in Three Rivers, Michigan. From their website:

“The mission of *culture is not optional is to model and encourage creative communities, rooted in the love of Christ in Three Rivers and beyond. Perhaps our first value is in our name: *culture is not optional. But what kind of culture? And why is it “not optional?” We believe humans are created to make something of the world, and what we make is “culture.” We can’t help but make culture in our homes, neighborhoods, churches and workplaces. The culture we make can be life-giving or destructive, beautiful or scarring, compassionate or self-centered. As followers of Christ, we aspire to make culture that is loving, just and joyful.”

I’m engaged in making “culture” today as I write and, later, as I handle issues faced by my aging parents. This morning, my community is the farm where I live in northeastern Indiana. Later, it will be a small town hospital where my Mom is being treated for multiple challenging health problems. Wherever today finds you, be present and let your presence be life-giving, loving, just and joyful.

One more thing ~

You may notice a lovely new icon on the right side of the page. I am beyond delighted to be part of the Redbud Writers Guild. This international community of authors, writers and speakers exists to “communicate in order to empower women to use their voices to be world-changers.” My affiliation with these many gifted women sets the bar high for any writing I do in the future.

 

 

 

Story Matters: Sharing a Family Story at “Breathe”

When a girl grows up casting her Daddy as the hero in every story, it’s natural that one day she will tell his story.

My father’s story is far from a fairy tale. The years immediately after my mother left our family must have been rough for my father as he took on the task of raising three little girls, ages 3, 2 and 1…….read more about how I was inspired to tell my father’s story in a guest post on the blog at Breathe Christian Writers website. 

And while you’re there, sign up to attend the 2016 Breathe Christian Writers’ Conference October 7 and 8 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This event is, hands down, my favorite writers’ conference. This year’s keynote speaker will be author and storyteller James Scott Bell.

Breathe ChristianWriters Conference (1)

The Waterway That Marks My Place in the World

A few years ago, I struck up a conversation with some nice folks at a booth at The Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College in Grand Rapids. The booth offered information on The Huss Project and *culture is not optional. I was interested in the intentional community they were establishing in a former schoolhouse in Three Rivers, Michigan. It was pleasant to share words with like-minded folk.

This week, an essay I wrote titled “The Creek” is featured in their online magazine, Topology. It is an honor to share thoughts on the waterway that marks my place in the world. Stop by Topology and enjoy other essays, poetry and images by artists from around the country.

Speaking of The Festival of Faith and Writing, I’ll be making my biennial pilgrimage to this outstanding writers/readers conference later this week. Don’t envy me as I rub shoulders with the likes of Lucy Shaw, Leslie Leyland Fields, Zadie Smith and Tobias Wolff. I’m certain I’ll come home inspired as a writer, and with a lengthy reading list for the coming year.

 

 

A Kindred Soul Can Span the Decades: Emma Smith

kindred :  having the same belief, attitude, or feeling, associated by origin, nature, qualities, etc.

Stumbling upon a “kindred spirit” is a special kind of surprise. It was that way for me recently when I discovered the British author Emma Smith. Emma’s words, in my header above, showed up as I was doing research for a writing project. They resonated so deeply with me that I had to know more about her.

Emma Smith photographed unawares on the banks of the Seine, 1948. Photograph: Robert Doisneau/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

Emma Smith photographed unawares on the banks of the Seine, 1948. Photograph: Robert Doisneau/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

Emma, 93, lives in southwest London. She published her two-part memoir “The Great Western Beach” and “As Green As Grass” in 2008 and 2013 respectively — at ages 85 and 90. They cover her life up to 1951, ending at the time of her marriage at age 28. By that time, Emma had published two well-received novels in 1948 and 1949, “Maidens Trip” and “The Far Cry”, both set in Britain during WW II.

When she married, Emma stopped writing for a time, focusing on her family. She returned to writing out of necessity when her husband’s sudden death after just six years of marriage left her as the sole provider for her two children.

Prior to marriage, Emma (whose real name is Elspeth Hallsmith) was an adventurer. She traveled to India to help shoot a documentary and worked as crew for canal boats that carried heavy cargoes between London and the industrial Midlands of England during WW II, both experiences providing backdrops for her novels.

Once she was married, Emma left travel and writing behind. After her husband’s death, she moved her little family to Wales and devoted the next 20 years to raising her children. During that time, she authored a couple of children’s books, but they never achieved the attention garnered by her novels.

With resurgent interest in and the reprinting of her two novels, Emma has experienced a sort of “renaissance” in her later years. That’s where I find her now, and where I expect to dive into her memoirs and her novels.

The kindredness? This:

“I loved being a mother and I wouldn’t change it for anything. I would swap all my books for my children.” ~ Emma Smith

In like spirit, I can say I willingly swap all the books I have not yet written for the privilege of raising my four children. But unearthing a treasure like Emma Smith gives me hope that I still have a good 20 years to write a first book. To quote Emma:

water-5“Life is like the river, sometimes it sweeps you gently along and sometimes the rapids come out of nowhere.”

 

Words: On Fear, Contentment and Life

I’ve yet to meet anyone who is totally confident in their abilities as a “creative”. Whether it’s painting, making music, designing living spaces, creating a great meal or writing, every creative individual I know faces a moment of fear (perhaps many of them) when they think that maybe they don’t have what it takes.

I’ve offered a guest post on the blog at Breathe Christian Writers website about a time I nearly let the darkness of doubt overwhelm me.

Even in the stark cold of winter, we find little gifts of color. Harvested on my Christmas Day walk in the valley.

Even in the stark cold of winter, we find little gifts of color. Harvested on my Christmas Day walk in the valley.

During the Christmas season, I came across a short essay by a writing friend that gave me a focus for the coming year. I wasn’t searching for one and had even sworn off the “My One Word” tradition, but her simple yet profound piece gave me encouragement and pause. She spoke words that I purpose to live out in 2016, and beyond:

“allow it”

My friend shares that she was struck by the simplicity of this submissive statement and the attitude it implies: “a consent of both heart and mind. ‘Allow it’ and relax. No bracing, straining, plotting to change or avoid.” (I’ll send you to Nancy Nordenson’s lovely blog to read the rest of her words here. )

For me, those words are a passageway to contentment. How often do I strain against what I cannot change or plot to influence situations or people it’s not my business to change?

The Merriam Webster definition of contentment is “the state of being happy and satisfied”. When things do not go my way or when people in my life cause discouragement, choosing to simply allow it in both my heart and my mind can only be healthy for me — in body and spirit.

And ultimately, I think this one choice will save time as I refrain from the unproductive habit of fretting and stewing.

It will take practice, but I’m claiming “allow it” as my resolution, my intention, my mantra and my one word (okay, two) for 2016.

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Finally, because I love sharing good things, I want to direct you to one more website and blog. A writer I met in October has shared an important season in her life in the beautiful book “So Many Africas: Six Years in a Zambian Village”. Jill Kandel’s award-winning memoir takes you to a country and on a journey most will never experience, but which may shed light on periods of struggle and growth in your own life.

Jill’s beautifully written account of her life in Zambia lingers in my mind long after I’ve passed her book on for others to read. I’m expecting to read it again.

Jill’s work has been featured in numerous periodicals and anthologies (both print and online). You can get a taste of her multi-cultural life in and around Fargo, North Dakota, by visiting her website www.jillkandel.com.

 

Exercising My Creativity with a Bullet Journal (and Getting Organized in the Process)

When a girl with a lifelong passion for pen and paper collides with a fun and practical way to use said pen and paper, a new hobby is born.

A week into it, and I can see that keeping a Bullet Journal (BuJo to the growing number of enthusiasts) will become more than a hobby. If I use it right, it could be a major tool in my quest to live more intentionally.

The Bullet Journal concept has been around for a few years. Developed and promoted by entrepreneur Ryder Carroll, the standard BuJo is simply a small notebook, such as a Moleskine, with dotted graph pages rather than lines. The pages are set up with monthly and daily plans and logs, along with lists. The idea is to contain all our many notes, lists and planners in one convenient location.

Ryder’s BuJo looks like something a guy would design and use.  Practical, but a little boring.

bujo1

Enter the female version of BuJo (this one by blogger Boho Berry).

bujo2

I discovered the BuJo through my online friend Plaid Fuzz, a blogger from South Dakota who is a fellow planner fanatic. She pointed me to BoHo Berry. I caught their excitement and was inspired by their journals. After a little research, I decided it might be the tool for me.

It turns out I’m not alone. There are online communities and Facebook walls where thousands of BuJo fans share ideas, prompts and new products.

I love color, so my BuJo will have colorful accents throughout. I’m also adding inspirational quotes, scripture and art. The best aspects of planning and journaling by this method are that it is flexible and personal. In the pages where I’m planning and journaling for January, I’m inserting lists and goals that can be referenced or repeated throughout the year — whatever I decide I need as the year unfolds. The format of my planner/journal pages also can change if what I’ve designed at the beginning isn’t working for me in, say, June.

Of course, to get the greatest benefit from my BuJo, I’ll have to actually USE it — to record plans and thoughts, as well as to track progress on things like reading, writing, and developing healthy lifestyle habits.

I’ve purposed to live more intentionally in the past, but never had a tool to hold me accountable and to visualize my progress. I think the BuJo just might work for me.

Besides, it’s fun!

Here’s a tour of my very first BuJo.

bujocover

This is a Leuchtturm1917 (ordered on Amazon) in lovely orange! I’m still settling on which pens work best, but I love the vivid color of the Pilot G2. I’m also using colored pencils.

bujoflub

Highlighting my “life verse” seemed to be the perfect way to begin the year. The picture on the right is covering a major “flub”, but I really love it. Snatched from an old day journal I couldn’t bear to discard and secured with decorative tape.

bujoannual

Goals for the year and an annual calendar. “Allow It” are my words for the year (more on that in a future blog).

bujolist

A couple of lists (also called collections) will replace the many lists I make and lose almost every week! Again, part of my quest to become more intentional.

bujodaily

I’ve created a 3-month planning calendar, followed by this daily journal. I think next month I’ll insert a monthly calendar between the two. We’ll see. The “dailies” will also evolve, I think.

bujovoskamp

Because I follow and appreciate the blogger/author Ann Voskamp, I’m inserting a couple of her downloadable graphics for inspiration and beauty. I’ll keep my “gratitude log” in my BuJo and I’m working on things I “purpose” to do in 2016. You can find her lovely free illustrations @aholyexperience.com

So, there you have it. I’m also tracking some healthy habits, giving myself a space to “brain dump” and at the end of the month I expect to journal the highlights of the month, as well as plans for February. I realize that as I’m posting photos from my BuJo, I’m also letting you into my personal world a little bit. I know you’ll treat me with kindness and respect.

A Product of the Company We Keep

Waves tumble across the surface of Lake Michigan, creating a constant thrum that provides background music for an afternoon of writing. It’s taken me a few days to derive comfort from this intrusive sound in what is an otherwise a peaceful setting.

Water striking a sandy beach isn’t a common sight in my world of soybean fields and slow-moving rivers. Sitting here, at the intersection of three tall windows that afford a panoramic view of the lake, has caused me to consider whether my view of the world at large will be altered when I return to Indiana farmland.

We are a product of the company we keep, and I think that must also include our physical environment. I remember the thrilling and frightening freedom I felt standing at the edge of The Grand Canyon. The expanse of it made me brave as I stepped out for a robust hike on the canyon trails. In the same way, standing at the edge of a wooded path can carry me into quiet contemplation as I wind my way through trees.

I am drawn to water. It’s always been so. I feel more alive when there is moving water within view. One of the features that I love most about the little farm my husband and I bought months before our wedding is the spring-fed creek that runs year-around along our driveway. I can hear the creek bubbling and tumbling over rocks and roots whenever I walk out our front door. It’s a constant sight and sound that gives a specific character and essence to our rural life.

So here, yards from the narrow strip of beach that holds back the tumbling surf, there’s been an awakening of sorts. Not just to the sound of surf, wind and moving water, but also to the beauty of women from diverse backgrounds who carry in their hearts a love of language. The hours we’ve gathered in a circle before a roaring fire to break open the gift of words has opened a door into their worlds.

Our days at the lakeshore have been but a moment stolen from a busy life occupied with family, work, responsibilities and other equally worthwhile activity. But perhaps we’ll each carry a broader view of life back into our everyday worlds.

I have photographs of the lake that will remind me of this respite, though I know it won’t be the same as being here. Still, I hope the images might inspire me to look at life from a different angle, even when I’m sitting on my porch across from the bean field or catching a view of red barns through the window by my desk.

I’ll also carry home with me photos of the women I’ve come to know in our retreat from the world. They’ve inspired and expanded me during meals around the table, words shared amidst tears, songs lifted in harmony, laughter ringing in the rafters, hikes through dunes rising above the shore.

If we are indeed defined by the company we keep, the waves and the water, the smiles, tears and stories have left their mark and I’m driving home tomorrow a different woman.