Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Location Rotation

Photo by xandert.

The first half of our marriage seemed broken into distinct segments, because every five years we made a major move.

After we'd been in our current city for about four years, we developed an itch to unpitch our tent and move on.

Out went the resumes. Up went our expectations for a new adventure. In came an offer for a new job. 

Right here. 

In the same city.

So we adjusted our attitudes. Threw out those tingly hopes of getting out of Dodge. Settled in to a new routine. And enjoyed it.

But another five years flew by, and that itch returned, bringing with it another new job for hubby. 

Right here in the same city.

It's been a little over three years since that last urge for newness. Already, we feel the itch engines coughing to life. They'll sputter to a full roar soon.

This time, though, as I consider What Might Come Next, I'm not as eager to pull out the packing tape and call the realtor. Sure, we'll move if that's what our good God has in store for us. 

But now, having survived two full itches that led--literally--nowhere, I'm so aware of the Lord's goodness and kindness right here. Where we've been the last 13 and a half years. 

We didn't have to move to experience more good stuff because He is good. And He is with us wherever we go. 

Or stay.

Sometimes a geographical location rotation is just what the Lord has in mind. But sometimes I only need to readjust my gaze back to Him and His ever-present goodness. 

Right here. 

Right now.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Blog Tour---My Writing Process

Photo by Jusben.

Today is Blog Tour Day! This blog tour is about the writing process of, well, writers. My friend Lisha Cauthen tagged me for this tour. Lisha writes young adult novels for boys that girls like to read, too. You can check out her blog here.

What am I working on?
Currently, I'm working on a few profile pieces for a local magazine. Stories have the power to change people--whether those stories are fiction or nonfiction. When people share their stories, readers can see themselves reflected in the lives of strangers and leave with a little bit of hope or a feeling of being connected to a larger community.

I'm also searching for an agent for my picture book!

How does my work differ from others in its genre?
Whether I'm working on a picture book or a nonfiction article for a magazine, I always try to layer in humor. Even serious articles benefit from little doses of funny. Wit, in its various forms, helps "take the edge off" so readers can relax and feel safe with you. And it doesn't have to be a belly-laugh-inducing joke. It can be subtle like a play on words or an outlandish character in a picture book. 

Why do I write what I do?
I love the short form of picture books and the freedom they offer to play with language and be silly. Nonfiction articles for adults give me the opportunity to share unique ideas and fascinating stories with others. In both cases, my hope is to expand my world in the writing process and then invite readers to expand theirs.

How does my writing process work? 
Deadlines are my friend! If an editor assigns a project, I will move my little piece of heaven and earth to get that project done (and done to the best of my ability) on time or even before time. I never want editors to refer to me as difficult or unreliable. When it comes to my own projects and ideas, I give myself due dates to keep me writing and on track. I don't always listen to me, though, so I deeply appreciate writer friends who threaten me within an inch of my life to "Query another agent for that picture book!" For instance.

My actual process involves several notebooks, the backs of napkins and restaurant receipts, and even the Notes app on my phone. Once my idea has percolated in several places, I dump it all in a Word document and start cutting and pasting and adding and deleting and pacing and checking email and writing some more. After I have the skeleton down, I start editing, which is my favorite part of the process. How many words can I cut and still tell a great story? I don't know, but I'm sure as heck going to find out! Then I submit it to my critique group. And because they are a great group of writers and I trust their perspectives and opinions, I take my writing back to my computer and edit some more. Then, and only then, do I even consider sending it out in the world.

So, that's me. Leave a comment and let me hear about your writing processes. I'm always looking for new ways to improve how I work. And you might hold that key!

Next week...
On May 12, be sure to check out how these awesome bloggers handle their writing processes!

Sue Ford is an instructor through the Institute of Children's Literature, and she writes for children under her maiden name, Susan Uhlig. Her website (SusanUhlig.com) is packed full of writing resources, writerly quotes, and recommendations for children's books. You can also look there to find out about Sue's professional editing and critiquing services. Follow her on Twitter @susanuhlig.

Tanyalynnette Palmo is the CEO at the Allaxoung Group, Inc., (the parent company of EverydayWindshield.com) along with being a wife and mother of seven in a loving, blended family. 

What does she see as the goal of Everyday Windshield? "I want to bring style, fun, and sophistication to everything! The goal of EW is to become a platform of knowledge as an 'Online Magazine dedicated to the Celebration of the Journey of Life thru Faith, Family, Food and Fun'" 

Tanyalynnette has spent 20 years in the Information Technology field and is kinda-a-rockstar with all that stuff. =)

Kim Stokely is the wife of a submariner and has lived in eight states over the last 20 years. In 2004 the Navy transferred her family to Omaha, Nebraska, a perfectly logical move that never made sense to her mother. Kim's a member of the Nebraska Writer's Workshop, the Nebraska Writers Guild, the Heart of America Christian Writers Network, and the Christian Writers Guild (CWG).

Kim's novel Winter Trees was a semi-finalist in the CWG's 2010 Operation First Novel contest. Her first published novel, Woman of Flames, has received more than 25 five-star reviews and is available on Amazon.com and B&N.com.

* * *

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Falling Forward into a Better Story

Photo by matthew_hull.

A few days ago, I ran with the unicorns at Donald Miller’s Storyline conference. I say “unicorns” because we were all in What if? and vision-casting mode for our lives. And because “unicorns” is a word you don’t hear every day. 

Storylines goal is to help you clarify your goals so you can live a better story. 

I came home Sunday buzzing with anticipation. And possibilities. And an eighth of a teaspoon of gumption.

But Monday came. Fortunately, a spare set of boot straps helped me pull myself up to a respectable height Tuesday. But it’s Thursday, and Im groaning into the suds while I scrub pots and pans.

Why the angst after Don and his buddies inspired me so well over the weekend?

I stop washing. Slow my breathing. What is this feeling? I reach around inside and pull up Fear. How can I be afraid? I just spent a weekend in San Diego, for Pete’s sake! Fear keeps thrumming, so I rustle around inside some more and pull out a scrap of paper that reads, “What if I can’t make a great story? Or worsewhat if I dont really want to change?” 

Oh, God. Couldn’t I just have pulled out the flimsier-and-easier-to-deal-with feeling of Apathy? With apathy, you hardly have to feel at all. Status quo. Just keep going. Everything’s fine.

But the groaning continues, so I rummage around again. Dig deeper. I pull out Longing. Longing for more. Not more stuff. Not more money. What then? I concentrate harder. Ah, there it is. Glowing in the darkness behind that broken dream I forgot. The groaning for more Life. Not longer life. Just more packed into what I’m already allotted. I hear an echo in my heart: Jesus came that we may have life, and have it abundantly (John 10:10b).

Normally, Id be whooping it up over a promise like that. Except, the word that catches my attention isnt abundantly; the word that hooks me and reels me in is may. As in, I have permission. I can if I want. But heres the question: Do I really want? Will I really grab life by the throat and say, “Come on! We’ve got STUFF to do, FUN to have, PEOPLE to love”? I want to say You bet! But theres that fear thing tugging my sleeve. Urging me to use wisdom and think this through before making any rash decisions.

Remember when Jesus asked that blind guy what he wanted? I used to think that was a stupid question. Obviously, he wants so SEE, Jesus! Everyone knows that. Pffft. (Insert dramatic eye rolling here.)

But as the “blind guy” myself now, facing the Great Physician, knowing my whole life stands on the brink of Change or Not Change, I get why Jesus asked that question. And I see His kindness in letting me choose what and how much I want. Or how little.

Oh, how I want to want this promised abundant life.

As I drain the sink and watch the bubbles pop, I think about the first part of John 10:10, which says the thief comes to kill, steal, and destroy. 

But what if the devil isn’t the only one causing me mayhem, stealing and destroying all the good stuff God intends for me to enjoy? What if I am sometimes the thief in my own life, simply because I would rather watch from the sidelines than take part? Maybe the devil doesn’t have to show up so often because I do a pretty good job myself just by letting entropy take its course. 

A sobering thought: I help the thief ruin my life.

Um, about that question, Jesus: I wantI choosea better story. Abundant life. Not the path of No Good Story Here. 

So, yes, please. I choose a better story. (Did You hear me over the sound of my knocking knees?)

What about you, friend? Does longing hide behind a broken dream in your heart? Do you long for a more lively, abundant life—a real page turner? As Donald Miller said last weekend, “Pick a direction and move toward it.” It’s that easy. And that hard. 

Come on. We can do this together. We’re sure to make a lot of mistakes, but at least we’ll be falling forward. Together.

(And if your knees are knocking like mine are, do yourself a favor and read Jon Acuff’s article, The Ugly Truth About Bravery.)

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Simple and Few

 Photo by hotblack.
I've already met one of my resolutions for the New Year--begin the year without stepping on the scale--and 2014 is only several hours old. Success on Day One. I like it.

To keep that feeling of success, my goals for this new year are simple and few:
  1. Blog more, even if that means doing it less purfeckly. (Oh, how I want to fix that word!)
  2. Read a gajillion books minus nine. (That way, I can figure out once and for all--scientifically--how much a gajillion is.)
  3. Spot more wildlife! (The highlights for me this year were spotting a whale off the coast of Bar Harbor, Maine; a shrew in Broadmayne, England; an owl, sitting by the roadside at dusk three weeks ago; and a heron perched on a rock in the middle of a frozen creek near our home last Sunday.)
  4. End the year without stepping on the scale.

That's it for me. How about you? If your goals are not simple and fun, would you consider rewriting them? Let me know.

New Every Morning
Susan Coolidge
(1835 - 1905)

Every day is a fresh beginning,
Listen my soul to the glad refrain.
And, spite of old sorrows
And older sinning, 
Troubles forecasted
And possible pain,
Take heart with the day and begin again.


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Hidden in Plain Sight

Photo by pschubert.

When you pay attention, you can find neat things spattered all around the space you occupy. Taking a closer look is what makes "old" or familiar things seem new or more interesting.
 When I flew round trip to Detroit last year, I spent considerable time in the Chicago airport there and back. On my return trip, the layout of the airport was more familiar, so I decided to kill time by "seeing what I could see."

As I meandered from gate to gate and from shop to shop, I discovered five previously unnoticed things:
  1. A currency exchange bank. Instead of buying a cup of coffee, I might have been able to buy rand, real, or ringgit. Imagine that!
  2. mental_floss magazine. Want to laugh and learn fun stuff at the same time? This is the magazine for you. I hadn't seen one at the Kansas City or Detroit airports' newsstands. 
  3. A shoe hospital. Evidently, if your shoes need something more than a simple shine, you can take them to the Chicago airport to re-dandify them.
  4. A Best Buy kiosk! To be fair, I have seen these in the Kansas City airport since my trip to Chicago. But at the time, this was an eye-peeler for me. Did you lose your camera? It's okay. Just swipe your credit card and a shiny new one will drop out of the kiosk before you can say, "What's my interest rate?". You're welcome.
  5. Ruth from Maine. Sorry, but you are highly unlikely to find this one in your travels as she is a one-of-a-kind and is prone to moving about the country. I bet if you try, though, you can meet someone just as interesting. I dare you.
No travel plans in the near future? Look harder and closer right at home. Challenge your family or friends: "Whoever pays attention and finds the most interesting thing in their day today gets to...." (eat the first piece of dessert, choose our next fun night activity, decide what we're eating for dinner, etc.).

There's a whole year of neat stuff hidden in plain sight. Go ahead and be the one to win first dibs on dessert tonight!


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Better Late Than Never

Here she is, just as I promised. 

Isn't she lovely? Look at that smile, those friendly eyes, and that gorgeous natural silver hair. (My dad refers to his as platinum blond.)

When I first spotted her, she was walking in the opposite direction way across the concourse in the Chicago airport. I did a double-take. Hey! That's the same kind of naturally gorgeous silver locks I'm trying to cultivate! 

Then the battle:  

Should I track her down and tell her I like her hair? 

Don't be silly. Walking up to a stranger in the middle of the Chicago airport on a Thursday just to tell her you love her silver strands is ludicrous. We do not do ludicrous. 

Oh, okay. 

So I steered myself back to my gate, stuffed my ears with earbuds, and listened to Switchfoot's Gone. Tried to concentrate on blending in to my chair. But on my second time through the song, when they got to the part that says, "She believes in living bigger, bigger than she's living now," I hoisted myself off the plastic and went in search of that particular silver-haired woman. In the midst of a swarm of hundreds.

Against many odds, I finally found her in the food court. She looked so pleasant that introducing myself and telling her I loved her hair wasn't so hard after all. Although I was nervous and didn't learn as much as if I'd been a braver version of myself, I did learn these things:

  • Ruth and her husband Dave raised their three kids in Chicago. Since Dave is self-employed, they decided to cut loose seven years ago and make a move based on pure fun.
  • So they up and moved to a little town called Norway, Maine, and bought a house with three acres on a lake.
  • Their kids thought they were crazy.
  • Ruth and Dave are having the time of their lives.
I want to be more like Ruth--silver hair, crazy moves, and having the time of my life. 

What if I hadn't renounced my airport chair and gone in search of the silver-haired lady? I would have been fine, but I also would have missed out on exercising my brave muscles. Even worse, I would have missed inspiration in the flesh. I'm so glad I did it. Even if it took me a year to tell you about it.

How about you? Do you have an "airport chair" you need to break up with? Think what you could be missing! 

Friday, January 11, 2013

Chains That Bind You

Photo by mconners.

In 2011, I posted about grief--to help me move through mine and hopefully help someone else move through theirs. Then I trumpeted 2012 with a January prescription to Take Joy. And fell silent for 11 months.

What happened? March came, and I meant to post about a lovely silver-headed woman I met in the Chicago airport. Her hair was so stunning that I spent 15 minutes of my layover trying to find her so I could tell her how beautiful her natural silver was. When I found her, she answered all my questions and graciously gave her permission for me to write about her on my blog.

Which I never did. Never even posted her picture.

Big deal, right? It's not like anyone died because of my procrastination or fear or busy-ness or whatever it was. Right? Right.

But this did happen: In the crack of that broken promise, something sneaky and life-sucking (shame and disappointment in myself) wormed its way in and rendered me motionless. 

So I've decided to fight back. I'm taking up the banner of Better Late Than Never and am going to tell you in my next post about Ruth. She'll probably never see I kept my promise to her, and for that I'm sorry. But I'm keeping my promise to me, and that's a big matter.

Are you blocked in your life somewhere? My experimental recipe might help you: Think back to right before you encountered that block. Did you promise something to yourself or someone else and fail to follow through? Go back and do it. No matter how stupid you feel or how much time has passed or how little you think it matters. And if you can't do it and it involves another person, swallow your pride and apologize to that person if you can. 

Unless you enjoy having a blockage you can't get around.

I'm cheering for you from over here. Let me know how it goes.