Wednesday, April 16, 2014

My Heart is in Third Grade

Pre-3rd grade, but as close as I could get.

In third grade, I sat next to Jeremy. I can't recall his last name. He had spiky blond hair. He was skinny. I think he might have had freckles. If I could find a yearbook from my school for that year, I could tell you for sure, but I only have Kindergarten and 5th grade, and he moved away in 3rd.

I had a crush on Jeremy. He was cute.

This was different for me, a crush on a blond kid. From 1st grade until high school, I was head over heels (not-so-secretly) enamored by a dark haired boy sometimes mistaken for my brother by our bus driver. It was the midnight hair that did it, I think. We were neither Hispanic not Asian, yet our hair was like the wings of ravens.

But I digress.

One day, I looked over at Jeremy's desk. He had been trying to get my attention, nudging my arm or motioning. I can't remember. Whatever the method, it worked, and I glanced his way. His Trapper Keeper was open and, on the cover nearest me, I could read his writing.

"I love Heather."

That's what it said. My little nine-year-old heart fluttered to my throat. I'm sure I blushed. I looked away, looked at my hands, screamed silently with excitement.

But I didn't say a word. I did not write anything on my notebook in way of reply. I just held his message inside me and felt happy and nervous and like the whole world was a beautiful place. My life might just work out like my heroine's.

That heroine would have been Jessica Wakefield. Don't judge me.

Within a few days, the words were erased from Jeremy's notebook. He walked into class with my friend, Ashley. He called her his girlfriend.

My oh-so-romantic third grade love affair had ended. I felt deflated. Why didn't he like me anymore?

In hindsight, it's a sort of duh situation. As far as Jeremy could tell, I had completely ignored his childlike advance. I must have seemed uninterested in playing the role of girlfriend.

The pessimist in me thinks it also could have been a joke, never true in the first place. Later years yielded plenty of those kinds of events. Kids found torturing me a fun distraction. By middle school, I held no hope that ANY BOY would ever write "I love Heather" on his notebook again. Yes, at thirteen years old, I already knew I was romantically doomed.

Why am I telling you this?

I don't know. The memory has been replaying in my head all week. I've chased it around by the tail, trying to figure out a meaning.

I want it to mean that things will be different. That, as a writer, I am putting myself out there. I have an agent and one day I will have a book on a shelf in your local indie bookstore and you will be waiting in line so I can write my own name on the title page. I no longer need anyone else to write my name, in truth or in jest.

But maybe it is the opposite. Maybe I am afraid it is happening again. That I have an agent and editors have praised my writing, but soon the tide will turn and I will see my own beloved career waltzing into class with another writer on its arm. What if the cosmos are playing a horrible joke on me?

Maybe my heart is still in 3rd grade.

Friday, April 11, 2014

National Poetry Month

Some of the poem graphics I've posted to Instagram to celebrate National Poetry Month:

Monday, April 7, 2014

Learning to be a Grown-Up

From just the title, you might think I'm going to write about:

  • Going to college
  • Paying bills
  • Getting married 
  • Having kids
  • Homeschooling
  • Working with teenagers

No. No. No. No. No. And also no.

I want to tell you about being a writer.

You would think, having a job (albeit, still a non-paying job) that does not require changing out of my PJs or even wearing clothes, though I promise I am not writing my book in the nude, would not be conducive to maturation.

For a long time, it wasn't. But, then I realized I wanted to do more than write poems on the fly and, every once in a while, attempt to publish them (sometimes successfully). Instead, I wanted to be that fantastical mythical creature I dreamed of as a small child.

I wanted to be a "real writer."

Specifically, I wanted to be a novelist.

Going from the briefest of fictional scenes and poems to novel-writing required a few things. I had to show up and do the work. Even if I did feel "uninspired" or "blocked." These are words I have not used since completing my first novel-length manuscript. No one will check my time clock at the end of the day or total up my word count or even notice I have typed sentences. No one will tell me what to do either. I have to seek out the teachers I need and be humbly willing to learn. I also have to make narrative decisions for myself. I can brainstorm and discuss with friends, but the story is mine, and it is up to me to do what's best for it (like in parenting, right?).

But even more than learning to write longer stories, learning to follow the minute details of submission guidelines, and having to sum up my writing accomplishments in letter form, I have been growing up a lot since getting an agent. I have a wonderful agent. I found him through a friend, and I am daily grateful for his faith in my writing.

Having an agent means I do the writing work and he does the selling work. He uses his industry contacts to land my novel in the inboxes of editors I never could have approached on my own. He writes the emails and talks about my book. I sit at home and keep on writing. It is strange, after years of submitting and researching agencies and waiting on emails and crying over rejections… Suddenly, all of that has gone quiet.

Now, on my part, there is a whole lot of waiting. Publishers don't read manuscripts overnight. They don't call back within 24 hours. Jacques sends my manuscript and then…

we wait.

Waiting. Is. Hard.

Here is where I am learning to be a grown-up.

If I were to email Jacques as often as my fingers itch to, I would be the worst most annoying writer he ever represented. He is waiting too. No amount of, "Heard anything yet?" emails will make the publishers contact him faster. So, I might shoot off an email every few weeks, keep him up to date on my current project's progress and any writing related news in my life, but mostly I am working on self-discipline.

When I have a complete panicky meltdown, certain no one is ever going to buy Tornado and I will never be published and I will have to go on forever in obscurity, I am learning to take a deep breath and not pour my panic into massive email tomes of despair.

Instead, I am doing something else. I think Ann Patchett said it well. I am reading a volume of her essays and came across this gem:

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Not That I Don't Love Clothes

The second week of 7 focuses on clothes. My "fasts" for the week:

  1. Only wear 7 articles of clothing, including shoes, for 7 days.
  2. No jewelry, besides wedding rings, and no accessories.
  3. Give away at least one article of clothing per day for 7 days.

Honestly, I did not expect this week to be difficult and it was not. But, that is because I have focused on this area of my life for a long time. I have been working at paring down my wardrobe, learning to shop for quality versus quantity, etc… I am mostly a homebody. I do not require work clothes or workout clothes or anything like that. I already wear the same pair of jeans for too many days in a  row before noticing and tossing them in the wash.

Not that I don't love clothes. And shoes. And bags. I am no different than most women in this area. I just learned years ago that the high I get from buying something new fades way too fast to be a good method of finding happiness. About a year ago, when I started losing weight, I made a rule for myself, since I would need to buy clothes that fit.

If I don't 100% adore the piece and love every aspect of how it looks on my body, I will not buy it. I don't care if it is on clearance at $1. If I don't absolutely love it, I will not wear it. It will hang in my closet or molder in a drawer. It is a waste of money and space.

This rule has served me well. I've discovered a love for long jersey skirts and piko tops. I feel good when I put them on. I like dark wash jeans and tunic style tops. I still love funny t-shirts, but I no longer feel the need to wear them daily or own every one that makes me laugh. I'm learning my personality shows through in… you guess it… my personality. My clothes don't have to go before me, telling everyone everything they need to know.

What I took away from this week is this:

I want to be more aware of the brands I am buying. I want to support companies that value human dignity and also companies that are working to further the good of charities.

I asked my Facebook friends their favorite places to shop to support charities and here is what they gave me:

What about you? Do you have some awesome charity shops to share with me?

Monday, March 31, 2014

Making My Own Struggle Worth It

Over the weekend, I blogged a bit about the 7 study I am a part of. I said I would share about the second half of my Food Week, meaning the part where I did something instead of just NOT doing something. In a way, it was still fasting. I fasted from sleeping in on Saturday and staying in my pajamas pretty much all day. When I got home from my few hours of service, I checked in with the Middle Sisters on our Facebook group. I will share with you what I wrote to them:

So, 7.

This week is food, and I was very convicted about not just abstaining from some sweet or something, but actually DOING something. The Isaiah scripture about the kind of fast day God desires hit me hard in the gut. As soon as I read it, I emailed a lady from church who is the liaison for our food pantry and clothes closet (Helping Hands). I asked if I could volunteer this Saturday.

Turns out, this week's team is their smallest team, most in need of volunteers. So I made myself go this morning. I always do that, plan to do something and then get over anxious and bail. I knew I couldn't bail, b/c I am LEADING the 7 study and I told my group I was going to do this. I have spent the last few days thinking, "I just want to help bag the food, God. Can I just do that? I don't want to work up front with the people."

That sounds horrible, I know. But small talk with strangers = possible anxiety attack to me and I felt terrified. But, I also knew I would never request not to work with people, and I knew, KNEW, God was going to make me work with people.


I got there this AM and was sent to intake.

You know… with people.

Before I even started shadowing my first interview, a lady I know from church motioned for me to follow her. She said, "I need you. You are here today for this reason."

I was introduced to a mom who is struggling. I'll leave the details out. Suffice it to say, parenting Haydn and having spent my own adolescence in a similar place, I was able to encourage her and give her some ideas. I was able to pray with her and accept her tears and make my own struggle WORTH IT.

And I had zero anxiety as I continued, learning how to complete the brief intake form, get them into the clothes closet and write out a prayer paper to go to our church prayer room.

I'm joining the volunteer group and foresee many saturday mornings at Helping Hands. Why did it take me 5 years to overcome my fears and join this ministry?

From Isaiah 58

1-3 “Shout! A full-throated shout!
    Hold nothing back—a trumpet-blast shout!
Tell my people what’s wrong with their lives,
    face my family Jacob with their sins!
They’re busy, busy, busy at worship,
    and love studying all about me.
To all appearances they’re a nation of right-living people—
    law-abiding, God-honoring.
They ask me, ‘What’s the right thing to do?’
    and love having me on their side.
But they also complain,
    ‘Why do we fast and you don’t look our way?
    Why do we humble ourselves and you don’t even notice?’
3-5 “Well, here’s why:
“The bottom line on your ‘fast days’ is profit.
    You drive your employees much too hard.
You fast, but at the same time you bicker and fight.
    You fast, but you swing a mean fist.
The kind of fasting you do
    won’t get your prayers off the ground.
Do you think this is the kind of fast day I’m after:
    a day to show off humility?
To put on a pious long face
    and parade around solemnly in black?
Do you call that fasting,
    a fast day that I, God, would like?
6-9 “This is the kind of fast day I’m after:
    to break the chains of injustice,
    get rid of exploitation in the workplace,
    free the oppressed,
    cancel debts.
What I’m interested in seeing you do is:
    sharing your food with the hungry,
    inviting the homeless poor into your homes,
    putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,
    being available to your own families.
Do this and the lights will turn on,
    and your lives will turn around at once.
Your righteousness will pave your way.
    The God of glory will secure your passage.
Then when you pray, God will answer.
    You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.’

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Sunday Poem: Build for Beth

An eye for an eye and then none of us
can see,
but I'm sitting here looking wide
at a woman overflowing
with grace,
and I want to hold her hand 
and give back all she's lost,
but I cannot.
I can't undo her painful history,
so I look deeper,
and I see what her mercy,
her hope in the face
of devastation
has gained for her.

Jesus wept with her
at the graveside of a man
who lay down everything.
He wept then and He
weeps now,
watching how one act of hatred
has spread into a full field
of love growing.
One seed
of violence,
one broken bloody flower,
and generosity spills
from the cracks in her heart.
Unity spreads her wings
and flies.

The enemy sought to slay.
he sought to end Jesus
in my friend's life,
but the enemy failed.
He did not kill Love
when he shattered that beautiful
Instead, in all the cracks and holes
he left behind,
God's grace pours in
and it pours out
and the enemy is drowned
when we


This poem is in reference to the death of an officer in our community. I blogged about it here: Gale Stauffer, Thank You and you can follow Build for Beth via Facebook.

Saturday, March 29, 2014


I recently read 7 by Jen Hatmaker. The book spoke to something that had been stirring inside me for quiet a while. There were some other things happening and I eventually felt led to start a small group at church. We are using The 7 Experiment to "stage our own mutiny against excess." I mentioned this on Facebook and my friend Belinda asked to read what I write during the experience.

And I realized I hadn't been writing at all.

Well, yes, I have been writing. A few hundred to a few thousand words a day. On a novel.

I haven't done a lot of blogging. I haven't been writing what's going on inside of me, and usually writing is how I figure out just what IS going on inside of me. So, here I am, trying to remedy the situation.

I struggle with blogging about things like fasting. I have done it before (the year I gave up reading for Lent), but whenever I do, I hear "do in secret" being chanted in my brain. For that reason, I have not said much about this year's Lenten fast. But, people are curious about 7. And, let's face it, leading it with a church group makes it no secret that I am fasting something for 7 weeks.

So, I will share my thoughts here, as we go. Last week was food.

In our group, we are each choosing some way to fast, but not always the same way. For food week, I did two things. I gave up buying drinks and candy bars whenever I was out running errands. That may seem small to you, and that is fine. It wasn't your fast. It was mine. And that was hard for me.

See, years ago, Corey and I were poor. Somehow, the man worked two to three jobs and kept us from becoming homeless or living with our parents, but I am baffled when I try to figure out how. My man works hard, no doubt about it. And he's good with our money. He can look at numbers and make sense of them. Twice he's tried to let me handle bills and both times were dismal failures. He doesn't do the finances because of some adherence to conservative gender roles. He does them because he is good at them and I am not.

So, anyhow, we were poor. Corey had been through a divorce and I had no job and was pregnant and then had a baby and postpartum depression. I was not employable. Corey delivered pizzas for Domino's and eventually became assistant manager and would have gone onto become a store manager and who knows what else but for God calling him back into ministry. Even when he was just delivering pizzas though, he made amazing tips. He was the fastest driver on staff. People liked him. We survived.

But I remember being poor. I remember digging for change in the couch cushions so I could buy milk. I remember waiting in line at the grocery store and wanting a Coke from the little fridge but knowing I could not afford those kinds of luxuries.

And then, one day, I was waiting in line somewhere with my two boys and I looked at the fridge and I realized, "We aren't poor anymore. I can buy a Coke."

So I bought one.

And that started it. I had to buy drinks after that. Drinks and snacks in the checkout line was my way of celebrating our emergence from those financial trials. Even after I quit drinking soda, I still found myself buying bottles of water or bottled iced lattes and, here lately, canned Starbucks Refreshers. It became, at best, a habit, and at worst an addiction.

By American standards, we still are not wealthy. But, by world standards, we make more money than 99% of the population. That's staggering.

And how much money I spend on drinks and candy bars?

Also staggering.

So I gave that up for the week and did okay. I bought a bottle of water on a short road trip and didn't even notice I'd done it until that evening. I wanted to punch myself. Then, on a quick trip to Walmart for toilet paper and for my son to spend his birthday money, I had to talk myself through the checkout. It was harder than it should be. It was ridiculous. I left feeling grumpy and angry with myself and everyone else.

What kind of person am I?

That's what I asked myself all week. Who am I that I can be made unhappy by not buying a $2 drink when I have clean water at home and people around the world are dying for lack of that?

Our focus, however, wasn't just on denying something to ourselves. We were focusing on perspective, on serving and bringing justice to the rest of the world. People are hungry? In what way am I helping to feed them.

So I spent a Saturday morning at Helping Hands, the ministry our church runs for giving food and clothing to those in need in our community. I will blog about that in a day or two.


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