The One Where I Don’t Know What I’m Doing

Today was not my first Lenten service. But it was the first one that made me cry.  I used all the tricks at my disposal when I felt the tears welling up. I quit listening to the minister and told myself a story. I stared at the floor. I counted all the spotlights over the left side of the church (16), and all the chairs in the center row that I could see without turning my head (ten across, six deep). I even went through the alphabet using the Bible verse projected on the screen (It contained 17 different letters. Am I the only one who does this?). I was mostly successful, I think.

The storm didn’t abate when I got home, either. It broke over me, and I locked the bedroom door and sat in my closet on my Bertie Botts beanbag chair (don’t judge; you know you wish you had one, too) and cried and prayed for a long time. I was blindsided by the depth of my feeling, and the kicker is, I’m not even sure what that feeling was. It was far too tangled to parse, and it wasn’t just one emotion. Anger, frustration, fear, a profound hopelessness all blended with an unhealthy mix of mystery ingredients.

And what spawned this whole mess? A Bible verse that I’ve known for a lot of years. It’s the focus of our Lenten devotions. It would make perfect sense if it pertained to sin, and guilt, and hell. Yeah, not so much. The verse? Psalm 46:10: “Be still, and know that I am God.” Not the merest whiff of hell fire therein contained.

One of the most difficult admonitions that I know of.

One of the most difficult admonitions that I know of.

Be still.” That phrase right there is what got to me, shocked me, rocked me to my very core. Be still. It is terrifying in its  simplicity. How do I do that? I don’t even pretend to know. I’ve heard this verse a thousand times. Why is it so earth-shattering now?

The verse holds even more meaning when taken in context with the verses immediately before and after. Imagine the ground crumbling into the sea, mountains imploding, the world as we know it turning literally and figuratively inside-out and upside-down. God says, even then, even in the midst of complete and utter chaos, we’re to trust Him.He’s got this. He can speak the Word, and the world will melt. That’s an image, isn’t it?

That picture of the world? That’s me, inside my head, every minute of every day for the last year or so. Inexplicable anxiety chews me up, as if I can change the world by worrying about it. My brain moves at about a thousand miles an hour, my thoughts ricocheting off one another like pin balls. Those thoughts dash away from me, leaving me empty-handed, forgetful, to the point where I am completely ineffectual as a wife, a parent, an employee, and I despair of ever getting back on the right track. What if this is as good as it gets? That thought right there is enough to send me right on over the edge, friends.

What if I just spend Lent sitting here? You can buy your own thoughtful place here.

What if I just spend Lent sitting here? You can buy your own thoughtful place here.

Stillness is not the same as paralysis. I’m often stuck in the latter, so many weird useless worries drawing together, it’s like all four of the Stooges trying to cram through a doorway at once. Things get blocked up in a jam that’s only remotely funny from the outside.  How can I be still when I can’t even seem to move forward? If I were any more still, I tell myself, I’d be going backward. I’m full of self-love like that.

Being still feels like giving up any hope of productivity. The image in my brain is a tortoise sleeping through the winter. They barely move, the very picture of stillness. I mean, they don’t even poop. Being still maybe means not dropping projects on my to-do list, but instead handing over all the things I am not actually in charge of , demanding of myself that I quit trying to steer the ship when it ain’t my ship. I am not a fan. Can I separate what is mine from what is God’s, or my husband’s, or my church’s, or my kids’? What if everything falls to bits because I take my foot off of the gas? How do I wait when I don’t trust? It’s not God that I don’t trust, it’s the humans into whose hands He has put his work. Potato, po-tah-to. Not my ship. Not my ship. Not my ship.

As long as you can't see me, I'm asleep!

As long as you can’t see me, I’m asleep!

I gave up two things for Lent: sweets, and backseat driving. The irony that I am willing to let my husband navigate the Buick without my input but I’m struggling not to micr0-manage God is not lost on me. Stillness is a foreign concept, and the notion of consciously seeking it during this season of Lent is overwhelming. Already I feel like I have no control over so many things, so how do I just turn over the reins? My honest answer: I don’t know. What I do know is that I want to try.

The what-ifs pile up, thoughts to chew on in that stillness – what if I discover my head is really just full of tumbleweeds? What if this downward spiral of mind and body is the beginning of a terrible end? What if Windows 10 is the best that Microsoft will ever do? But maybe I can counter those thoughts with the tiniest glimmer of hope. What if I didn’t have to be in charge of it all? What if I can sit in the stillness and have peace?

My thoughts are too big to fit into a single blog post. I’ve already sailed past my personal maximum and had to slide this into the long-reads category. Imagine how long it would be if I hadn’t whittled some stuff out. But this idea of stillness is just way too big. It also reaches well beyond religion, and doctrine, and creed? Stillness, giving up steering other people’s ships, might be a good prescription for anyone.

How about you? When is the last time you quit backseat driving the universe? Was it difficult or liberating? I really want to hear about your experience. You can answer in the comments, on Twitter, or just email me.

Room For Improvement

Dear friends, it’s a brand new year. The slate is wiped clear, and we all get to start fresh. All of us. Let’s do this together, shall we? Working together can make the world a better place.

I have goals for myself, of course. It wouldn’t be quite fair otherwise.

My Goals For Self-Improvement

  • This is the year I will finish my current manuscript and begin querying agents. I’m hoping the manuscript itself will be finished in the next month or so, a first draft at any rate. And then on to rewrites, finding beta readers, and then the query. I am excited and terrified. This particular novel is a departure from anything I’ve ever written.
  • I need to do a bit of work on the ole physique. Yeah, I know it’s cliché. Have we met? I made a conscious decision to eat whatever I wanted over the holidays. This morning, I looked in the mirror and discovered all the fluffy pigeons had come home to roost. Right on my bum-bum. I must do better. I will get back to regular exercise and intentional eating. Although I would argue my Christmas eating was pretty intentional. I intended to eat that entire basket of candy bars without sharing.
  • If I buy books, I must immediately add them to my To Be Read list. It takes the commitment level up a notch to publicly commit to reading it. No more saying “I’d like to read this new book sometime.” I’ll post my list later this week.
  • To be as generous of spirit and selfless as my husband. The other day, I went downstairs to get a movie for us to watch, and I knew that no matter what I chose, my husband would happily watch it. I could have brought “Twilight,” and he’d have still smiled. At least on the outside.

My Wishes For the World

  • For words to be used properly.  The two that come to mind at the moment are “artisan” and “handcrafted.” Here’s a flow chart to let you know if the word is being used properly.
My first flow chart. Any recommendations for programs?

My first flow chart. Any recommendations for programs?

  • For reviewers to stop expecting that every female protagonist is a role model. There is a recent trend to upbraid authors for writing women and girls that aren’t paragons of modern feminism, especially in YA. As a writer, this trend really bugs me. I’m not writing role models; I’m writing people. Not every person I meet in life is someone I will look up to. I don’t see book characters any differently. Just because the protagonist isn’t a hero doesn’t mean the book is a bad one. Flawed characters are more interesting.
  • For us to make this the year we get the facts before forming an opinion. Or taking action. Even if it involves reading a primary source. I have to turn off social media periodically when some celebrity/political figure I may or may not have heard of is accused of doing/saying/thinking something horrific, so my feed blows up with folks calling for a tarring and feathering. And then it turns out that (*gasp*) the person in question was misrepresented and the media was making mountains out of tiny little mole hills. Hear something that bugged you? Research it a little. It feels terrible to get the proverbial knickers in a knot and later find out it was a tempest in a teapot. Don’t believe me? Ask Goodreads. And I could think of at least five other examples without really trying.
  • For all of us to quit being mean in the name of Jesus. In researching my current novel, I came across two websites by two different Christian groups that broke my heart. Both sites were busy trashing other Christians for what they thought the other believed. That’s not what it’s about, friends. If we’re caught up in mocking a group of people because they believe in predestination versus free will (or salvation instead of sanctification), we’ve missed the whole point and we might as well go home. Jesus was pretty clear that the most important thing after loving the Lord is to love our neighbor as ourselves. How’s ’bout we get busy doing that? Seems more productive in the long run.

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And what are your hopes for the coming year?

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Virgin Shaming

I had another post all lined up for today. It was a happy one. I wanted it to run this morning, but I am frustrated. Yesterday, I was too angry to write about it. Today, the rage has faded, leaving me sad and without a lot of hope.

I’m not sure exactly how to start. I don’t even know quite how to tag this post. Is it about religion? books? stupid things that people say? stereotypes? I guess? yes? all of the above? This is hard. I don’t want it to be a long, rambly rant. I have points, and I’d love for other people to understand them. Here goes.

I unfollowed two blogs this weekend. I don’t do that often because I am pretty selective about who I follow in the first place. But I clicked “unsubscribe” with no hesitation at all. In the last few days, I dumped two blogs whose authors vilified parents who teach abstinence to their teens. Don’t leave yet! Hang with me for a few more sentences.

Let me be really clear here. These authors weren’t merely disagreeing with the stance. I follow all kinds of blogs whose authors have views different than my own. It’s a big world. If I only hung out with people who see things my way, I would have a very small circle indeed. In this circumstance, the authors were angry, disrespectful, and tried to present us as stupid. Not just ignorant. Stupid. Me no likey.

This is a loaded issue, and a personal one. That’s what really gets me. It was so personal. One of the authors went so far as to say that she felt sorry for our kids. She tried to clarify that statement in her comments, but her explanation was even muddier than the original phrasing. What I did see quite clearly is that there are underlying assumptions about teaching abstinence that border on myth.

Myth #1 – People who believe in abstinence are uptight. 

You might be surprised.

Myth #2 Teaching abstinence means that sex education involves saying “Don’t have sex until you’re married. I’ll give you a pamphlet on your wedding night.” 

I am not going into too much detail because it’s not necessary, and I’m also trying to keep this post under a million words. Suffice it to say that sex ed in my opinion should never be so black and white. There are many shades of grey. (Insert requisite Fifty Shades reference  and guffaw like a middle schooler here. Because I know I did.)

Myth #3 – By teaching my children to wait until they are married to have sex, I am judging those who do not. 

I think this may be the biggest one. There’s often the assumption that by saying something is wrong for my family, I am pointing a finger at the rest of the world. Trust me. If I’m looking for a someone to shake my finger at, I need look no further than my mirror. I’ve got enough to be going on with right here, thanks.

Myth #4 – Abstinence is unrealistic. 

I won’t disagree that it’s difficult. Learning to drive is hard, too, but if I think it’s not a good idea to run into mailboxes and school children, I’m going to teach my kids the skills to avoid them. I would be selling my kids short if I didn’t have high ideals for them. It would be inconsistent, actually. I’m going to tell my kids that they can be a marine biologist or an artist if they’re willing to work hard enough, so it would be strange to say I don’t have faith that they can delay certain pleasures until they’re married.

Both blog posts in question were in reference to things that are happening within the publishing industry, specifically with young adult fiction. I’ll address that particular topic in a future post, now that you know where I’m coming from.

If you’re new to my blog, welcome! If you’ve been here a long time, welcome back! Feel free to leave a comment below.

We’re Doing It Wrong

I started running again. I have never been a serious runner. It’s easy to make excuses to sit at home on my behind.

“I’m reading a book, so I’m actually exercising my mind.”

“I don’t have time for this stuff. I barely have enough time to do the things I really want to do.”

“I am not built properly. I’ll injure myself.”

“Runners’ feet stink. I don’t want that to happen to me.” ***

“I just don’t like to run.”

“I was humiliated in high school by their running program. They made me feel terrible about myself. No thanks.”

But I am motivated when I watch my husband. He’s a very serious runner. 30+ miles a week, up at 5:45 every morning to get it done, and he’s a basket case if the weather or illness prevents him from running for several days in a row.

My desire to run isn’t because he shoves books about ultra-marathoning under my nose. He has those books. He reads them, but he doesn’t expect me to read them. I’m not a marathoner. He has given me books, of course; books by John “The Penguin” Bingham like “The Courage to Start.” The Penguin is on my wavelength. He’s not fast, but he perseveres for the joy and benefits of running. It’s inspirational to a potato such as myself.

My motivation to run doesn’t come from the health nuts on television screaming that America is the fattest nation on earth. That 2/3 of us are overweight. That obesity is moving up as the number one preventable cause of death in this country. *Yawn* All those poor, fat people. That’s them, not me.

I want to run because I want what my husband has. The peace he has after a long run is enviable, sure. And the knowledge that in a zombie apocalypse, the ability to run faster than the shuffling hoard can mean survival is pretty cool, too. But mostly, I covet his ability to polish off three bowls of pasta and remain fighting trim. I want that. Desperately. So I get up off my duff on days that it’s not raining or icy and do a bit of running.

Is it pretty? No. What I do is not so much running, or even jogging. I’d call my form “joggling.” But it works for me. And it’s getting me to where I want to be. I made it through the holidays, and my pants still fit. That’s what I call results, folks. And I like how I feel.

I wish that more of us would take the same approach with the matter of religion. I wish that we would all live our lives in such a way that non-believers would want what we had.

When it comes to Christ’s love, I wish that we could set aside the telling and move on to the showing. Telling doesn’t usually work so well; not in health pursuits, not in writing, not in religion. Saying “I love all God’s children” sounds great. Helping a stranger get their car out of a ditch in terrible weather might just carry a stronger message. Or buying a meal for someone who is hungry.

And yelling is even less effective than using plain words. I don’t think I’m the only one who was born with the deep desire to do exactly the opposite of what I’m told I have to do.

I know that eternal damnation is a part of the Bible, just like hill repeats are part of training for a race. But if we throw such an intense training plan in front of someone who hasn’t run a step since 9th grade, they’re not all that likely to lace up those running shoes and hit the trail. If it’s all terror and torment, who wants to be a part of that? Start with the peace; the love. There’s time to cover the rest.

As Christians, we need to take a Hippocratic oath of sorts. “First, do no harm.” So many people are anti-Christian because they have been hurt by The Church. I was one of those. I walked away from religion for many years. I was fortunate. I never walked away from God. But many have. It’s even more important for us not to drive people away from the love of Christ than it is to bring people to God.

My challenge to fellow Christians is to live your lives in such a way that people want what you have. If you believe in a God of peace, have peace. If you believe in a God of forgiveness, you must forgive. If you believe in a  God of love, show love. Ask God to keep His arm around your shoulder, and His hand over your mouth. Let your love for God be demonstrated in all that you do.

Show the Light; don't just tell them it's sunny.

Show the Light; don’t just tell them it’s sunny.

 

 

*** With apologies to my husband. Your feet smell just fine, sweetie!

To the Creators of Bible School Curriculum

Dear friends,

While I have always enjoyed Bible school, there’s always a little room for improvement. There are several different curriculum that my church has purchased over the years, and there are a couple of areas that seem kind of consistent. Here are a few key points where we’re not quite on the same page yet. Come and join me in my world.

Location, location, location! I do enjoy a nice little dance move with  my Bible school songs, but it’s important to keep in mind that many older sanctuaries still use pews. Add a few fast and unexpected toe-touch moves, and it’s likely that one or more leaders will render themselves unconscious when they smack their head on the pew in front of them.

Keep it real, bro. As in, realistic. Preschool games should involve neither rules nor children touching one another. At any time. Ever. Especially at high speeds. Two or three black eyes during a game of freeze tag might be a bit of a downer. Maybe we could play Pass the Ice Pack or Bandage Your Buddy afterward.

Only vampires should sparkle. No craft ever, under any circumstances should require glitter, sand, confetti or red acrylic paint. The church who buys your curriculum will not love you. There is a special place in hell for those who plan glitter crafts. I picture it as a carpeted football field covered and glitter. You’ll be armed with nothing but a whisk broom and a broken dustpan. Good luck with that. The next group will be here in five minutes. Also ill-advised? Anything involving hammers or sewing needles.

The Barefoot Contessa we are not. The snack section of the curriculum should not contain actual recipes. I don’t care if it’s an island theme. No one is getting smoothies. Like, ever. Although the workers may enjoy a nice margarita when it’s all over. If it can’t be purchased at Wal-mart in a stay-fresh pack, it’s not going to happen. Construction theme? Cool, but while the grey Rice Krispy treats do look like boulders, that doesn’t make them appetizing.

Gifts that keep on giving.  Injuries and such. It’s awesome to have something nifty to give the kids at the end of the day, but use the old noggin. A colored pencil that changes colors as you sharpen it? Awesome! But sharpening them before you ship them to us? Are you kidding? Goodbye, hymnals, pew Bibles, thy neighbor’s eye. Hello, emergency room and lawsuit.

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Thank you for your time, friends.

Listen to Squish. Freeze tag bad. Duck Duck Goose bad. No touchy.


Making Choices

Last week I did something that many have warned me not to do. I prayed for patience. And God listened. Gaining patience is a lot like making a diamond. Lots of pressure over along period of time. This week has been a trial by fire, and I’m laid raw. Everything touches me deeply, and my emotions are extremes in every direction.  But what I see here is a choice. I can focus my energy on clogged plumbing and repair bills and wallow in the depths of despair, or I can occupy my brain by appreciating better things. Today, I bring you my joys.

Things I Love About Squish

1) The way he says “Ta-da!” after pooping. I think more people should do this. Life in public restrooms might be more fun. I will if you will.

2) His ability to delay gratification. He is carrying around the same five M&M’s that I gave him early this morning. He can keep a snack as a pet. I wish I could do that. I have never met a snack that I didn’t snarf in five minutes.

3) The way he says M&M’s. It comes out “neminems.” I would feed them to him all day long just to hear him say it.

4) His new phrase is “I can burp my ABC’s!” He gets all the way to “D.” It’s an exciting development, as he has shown no interest in learning the alphabet until now. I will work with what I have. I’m going out to buy him some soda and see if we can get all the way to “Q.”

5) He is growing up. In the good way. I have taught toddler classes at the zoo the last couple of weeks, and he can sit on his bottom and listen. Without a wrangler. He even shared with his friends. And the zoo speaks to his heart the way it does to mine.

Squish, meet Korbin ferret.

6) That boundless energy can be channeled. When we go for our afternoon walks, he can run for over two miles without asking to be carried. This summer, hikes with the family will take on a whole new meaning.

7) He has amazing ability to multi-task. He can suck his thumb and pick his nose with one hand. Who wouldn’t envy that kind of dexterity?

8) He’s an adventurous eater. Who knew that magic marker ink was so tasty? And fun. Turns the tongue bright blue!

9) Little things make him happy. His whole day is brighter when he sees a train. Or a backhoe. Or a garbage truck.

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There’s so much good around me if only I look. Cilantro is making an unexpected appearance in my herb garden. My husband went out to get milk so that I didn’t have to. The baby tortoises are doing great, and I got to give them their first soak and take them outside in the sun. I’ll post an update tomorrow. Complete with pictures because no baby tortoise story is complete without pictures.

 

Sneak peek!

My Week: A Study in Bugs

Yesterday did not turn out as planned. At all. I was on my way to take Squish to Parents’ Day Out so I could take my volunteer shift with the tortoises at the zoo. One of the most awesome things I get to do outside my house. Didn’t happen. When I stopped at the corner station to fill up the tank, the car refused to start. No click, no “rur-rur-rur” of a dying battery. Just nothing. Electrical system dead. Normally this would not be a huge deal. Never mind that my husband works 45 minutes away. I am a resourceful person. I can handle little things like this.

Except I couldn’t. The last few weeks has been a little tough, and I felt myself totally tapped out. (Hang with me. This isn’t a pity party. No, for real.) I stood helplessly in front of my van wondering what in the world I was going to do. The garage that we have used for the last several years has hit new levels of rudeness, and we’re not quite sure they did the last repair that they charged us for. I was a couple of miles away from home with my toddler. It’s within walking distance, but it’s a long walk down a busy, busy road. I needed to get home, though. I knew that getting onto my own turf would buy me some time to think, at least. Or at least the privacy to fall apart. What I really wanted was to get in touch with my husband and turn the whole ordeal over to him. Truth be told, what I really wanted was for him to just come home and hold me on the couch.

The attendant in the booth came out to see if she could help. When she realized that she couldn’t, she offered me her phone. Not the store’s phone. Her fancy smart-ish kind of phone. She told me I could keep it with me while I tried to get things figured out. Then she called a bunch of guys from the affiliated grocery store to help me move the car to a safe place. And then several of them offered to take me home. I tearfully, gratefully accepted. A college-aged kid got permission from his manager, then strapped Squish’s car seat in the back of his jeep and drove us home.

When I got the opportunity, I posted on Facebook asking friends for garage recommendations. Lame, maybe. Time saver, definitely. If you don’t know who to ask, why not ask everyone at once? Several friends chimed in with the same recommendation, which also happened to be really close by. Like, I could walk there. Long story short (oh, too late. Sorry.) I was left astounded at the kindness of strangers and friends alike. Floored.

My day didn’t turn out as planned. We couldn’t pick the car up until late, so we missed our church activities. I regret that part the most. But I learned that sometimes it takes a little adversity to see just how blessed I am. It’s a good lesson, really.

I keep thinking back to our lesson in class on Sunday. One of the verses was 2 Corinthians 4:8…

WAKE UP!!!  Sorry. I know sometimes when someone tosses in a Bible verse, I feel my eyes getting a little heavy. But hang with me. I’m not going all preachy and stuff. You still there? Good.

So as I was saying, the little part that speaks to me most says  “We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed.

Not crushed. Know what that tidbit makes me think of? The ants in my kitchen. I can’t get rid of them. I’ve tried bait boxes, sprays, heck, I’ve even tried stomping them. Ever notice that when you try to stomp a tiny ant, you rarely succeed? Those critters are teeny little specks in this universe, but a shoe, a fly swatter, a rock can’t crush them. Not only are they nearly impossible to squash, they can carry impossibly large loads – like, fifty times their own weight. And when the burden is too large for them to bear on their own, they have other ants to help them.

Wait. I should have taken a right turn at the garbage can.

This week, I realize that I am an ant. A tiny, itsy, bitsy ant. But I am not alone. When I am in danger of  being squashed flat by the weight that I bear, God sends other ants to help me carry it. I need to remember that. I am an ant. I gotta quit trying to be a cockroach. But that’s an entomological blog for another day.