Tag Archives: Writing

Breathe: Why I Write and Attend Conferences

A good friend called my cell phone recently while I was attending a writers’ conference in Holland, Michigan. I’ve done some freelance work for her and she had a request. When I told her where I was, she asked “Why do you go to a conference when you already know how to write?”

I had to smile. Why, indeed?

First, I can always improve my writing, so there’s that.

But just as importantly, I go because these are my people. I love writers and appreciate their tenacity, their creativity, their worldview. Ann Kroeker, a writing coach, recently advised her podcast listeners to surround themselves with good writers — in books, in writing groups and, yes, at writing conferences.

Who are your “people”? Where do you go to get energized, inspired? I have a good friend who runs an online supply company for those who knit and crochet. She goes to craft conferences regularly. I get it.

So, I go to my gatherings and come away with fresh ideas and new connections. Today, I’m writing about writing on a blog for one of my very favorite writing communities — Breathe Christian Writers Conference. When I attend their conference in October, I’ll have the honor and privilege to share a Saturday morning devotional on creativity.

Do you write? Or would you like to write? This is the place to go. Great mentoring and sharing happen at the Breathe Christian Writers Conference. And, this year’s keynote speaker is the wonderful non-fiction author Leslie Leland Fields.

For more information on Breathe and to read my little piece about why I write, hop on over here.

For You — ‘Everbloom: Stories of Deeply Rooted and Transformed Lives’

“And then the day came, when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to Bloom.” Anais Nin

I would love to give every woman in my life a copy of Everbloom: Stories of Living Deeply Rooted and Transformed Lives. Instead, I’m going to share bits of it here (and give away one copy) in hopes that you will give yourselves this gift of life-changing stories.

This beautiful collection of essays and poems, written by the women of Redbud Writers Guild, is dedicated to:

“…all women who have yet to find freedom in Christ in order to embrace their story and share it with the world. We believe in you, and we pray this book will help you ‘walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help.’ ” (Hebrews 4:16 from The Message)

Every story and poem in Everbloom picks up a thread in the analogy of a tree – roots, trunk, branches and blossoms. Just like the women of the Guild, they are diverse and rich in story. With vulnerability and sensitivity, they point the way for all of us as we experience loss, fear, joy, confusion — life.

From a lovely essay by Bronwyn Lea titled “No Story Wasted”:

“I went into motherhood expecting a time of spiritual drought. After years of vocational ministry and a rich spiritual diet of study, prayer, and witnessing the Spirit at work, I anticipated that maternity leave would mean switching from go-go-go to idling in neutral.
I did not expect God to shop up in the nursery, whispering to me that the tenderness and love I felt toward my baby was just a fraction of how he felt about me. How her dependence on me was just a fraction of my dependence on him.
The Spirit met me in the silent spaces. In the wild and surprisingly solitary clearing of motherhood, God showed me an artesian well I hadn’t known was there and whispered “Plant yourself here, my thirsty one. Blessed is the one who walks with me: she is like a tree planted by streams of water, she yields fruit in season, her leaves do not wither.”

And this, a piece by Sarah Rennicke about feeling displaced as her career took her far from home. It is entitled “Untangled”:

“Following Jesus requires my all, not pieces scattered here and there, given then taken away because it doesn’t feel right. He calls for complete devotion, but allows the freedom of struggle as I mourn what I have given up in the process. For me, it was familiarity, belonging, and the way I laid out my days. But of course, the best way to push up from the ground is to lay down my life, hand him my heart, and have trust he will settle me where it will be for his glory and my gain.”

And “When a Baby Dies”, words from PeggySue Wells about the loss of an unborn child:

“We buried Violet Trust on May 1. We took pictures of our tiny daughter; my favorite is the photo of her next to my wedding ring. We tenderly swaddled her in the cloth Estee prepared and wrapped her in Leilani’s white satin blanket. After we placed her in the casket Josiah had made, the box was only half-full. Estee and three-year-old Hannah brought out a basket of gifts they had made for the coming baby. Lovely created yarn dolls, bead necklaces, and carefully colored pictures filled the wooden box to the brim. Holly added dried flower petals. Violet was nestled in a box filled with gifts of love from her family and friends.
Nothing was left to do but nail the top on the casket. The ringing of the hammer sounded devastatingly final. We read aloud poems and Scripture friends had sent to encourage our hearts. We prayed and sang worship songs.
Everything within me protested as we laid Violet in her final resting place. I didn’t want my baby to be cold, wet, or alone.”

I met the members of Redbud Writers Guild at the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in the spring of 2016. But I’d actually stumbled upon these women in writing groups here and there over several years. They were writers of intent whose generosity and faith in the goodness of a giving God drew me to them. During the past year, as a member of this sisterhood, I’ve been inspired, encouraged, challenged, humbled and admittedly, sometimes intimidated. But mostly, I’ve felt nurtured and accepted for who I am – a wife and mother living in a rural community, a one-time newspaper reporter turned blogger, and a writer who aspires to inspire by using the gift of writing.

You can read more outstanding pieces by subscribing to The Redbud Post. This month, my essay on our son’s collision with anxiety is a featured post.

Please leave a comment to win a copy of Everbloom. A winner will be chosen at random and notified by e-mail.

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.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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.

 

 

Investing Our Talents: 31 Days of Selah

“For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”

Matthew 25:29

What “talent” has God given to you? What one measure of giftedness has been inscribed on your DNA that makes you unique?

In the parable of the talents, a man going on a journey entrusted each of his three servants with a different number of talents — varying measures of the man’s valuable possessions. The one with five talents invested well and doubled his measure, as did the servant with two talents. He also prospered because of his efforts.

But the man who was given just one precious talent buried it because he was afraid. When he was confronted by his master, he could show him only empty hands.

Speaking at a Christian writer’s conference in Grand Rapids last weekend, writer and teacher Steven James compared this servant’s one unused talent to the one story a writer feels he or she must tell — but never does.

Imagine taking that one story and burying it in a notebook, he said, aspiring to one day pull it out and put it to use. Imagine standing before God with your best intentions, only to find those intentions have no worth because they have been lost. The notebook is empty.

the canvas is blank

the song is never heard

the photograph, never taken

the landscape, never painted

In the end, the giver of talents rewards the servants who invested their gifts. I don’t want to stand before my Giver of Talents with empty hands. My desire is to hand Him an abundant harvest.

“For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.”   Selah

Write the Vision: 31 Days of Selah

“Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it.”

Habakkuk 2:2

When God spoke these words to Habakkuk, He was responding to the prophet’s challenge: “How long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear?” (Habakkuk 1:2)

Often, the same words are on my tongue….will you not hear?

It’s then that I write.

My prayer journals are filed with beseeching pleas for understanding, for action, for answers. Like Habakkuk, I see pain, destruction, injustice, violence all around me, and sometimes I don’t see how God can remain silent.

When innocent people are shot and killed on a college campus.

When torrential rains wash away homes and take lives.

Or when individuals who’ve promised to protect citizens and preserve freedom lose their lives in senseless killings.

And when loved ones suffer because of the sin of others.

I need to find a way to understand.

So I “write the vision.” I write out the desires of my heart. I express my confusion and dissatisfaction over circumstances, and I tell God how I believe things should play out in a perfect world. Of course, we don’t live in a perfect world, so my vision rarely comes to pass. But, I know God hears my pleas and grieves along with me.

This blog, “The Journey”, is a place where I can “write the vision.” It’s a venue where I can share what God has placed on my heart with the hope that you will join the conversation.

What is the cry of your heart? Do you see God answering your prayers?

I’m not on this journey alone. Won’t you join me in this practice of selah over the next 21 days? Please take time to pause, ponder God’s word and offer praise to Him. And if you’d like, join me as I respond to God’s command to “write the vision” by sharing your thoughts here.

Lord, there is so much I do not understand, but you have said your Word “is a lamp to my feet and a light to my  path.” When I’m confused and need peace and understanding, point me to your Word, that I will hear only your voice rising above the confusion of this world. Thank you, Lord, that you have given me the ability to “write the vision” and that you welcome me to the conversation.

How I Found My Tribe and a Book Give-away

Nobody operates in a vacuum. Whatever you do in life, you probably have fellow travelers who share your passion — whether it’s cooking, parenting, building houses or writing. I have friends and acquaintances in all walks of life, but fellow writers are my “people”. I’m writing today for the blog at Breathe Christian Writers’ Conference about how to find and nurture your “tribe”. Join me there and check out the other awesome blog posts.

Back in the days when I was a news reporter sitting in a little cubicle writing feature stories and obituaries, I was energized by the buzz of conversation and activity swirling around the newsroom. Whenever I needed encouragement or information, I’d stop by a fellow reporter’s desk for a chat and come away refreshed and ready to get back to the task at hand. Fellow journalists were my first writers’ group. (Read more)

And here’s something special for you — a beautiful new book.photo (3)

What are you reading during this most Holy of weeks leading up to Easter? I’ve been in the Gospels, considering each of the accounts of the Passion of Christ during Lent, but this week I’m seeing the life of Christ through the eyes of five women in scripture.

In “The Day I Met Jesus”, encounters with Christ are written as diaries of the woman caught in adultery, the prostitute, the Samaritan woman, the woman with a flow of blood and the woman Jesus loved.

Mary DeMuth has beautifully recreated the stories told in the gospels with words that might have been hidden in the hearts of these women. Co-author Frank Viola adds a scripture-based commentary on each of the diaries.

Reading these poignant stories as I prepare to celebrate Christ’s resurrection has personalized for me the Savior’s impact on people who knew Him when He walked the earth.

I am making a copy of “The Day I Met Jesus” available to someone who reads the full blog post at Breathe and returns here with a comment. I’m trusting you!