Stories of Dark and Light: Hooking up with Night Driving Synchroblog

night drivingIt was dark the spring of my sophomore year of college, even though daylight savings time had bartered sleep for sun and the streetlights of Christian community artificially lit the campus where I lived all night long.

That year, dark did a strange thing to me.

Time stopped.

I mean this in the truest sense. In my world, time stopped passing normally. My anxiety was one of reverse chronophobia – instead of hours passing too quickly, they became painfully slow. Days seemed to widen and spread like the mold on the last few pieces of cheap bread I had in the kitchen cupboard. Hours that were not spoken for by class became a gaping chasm where I laid in my bed, pretending to read with my face to the wall.

The clock became an obsession. Twenty minutes in the shower. Ten minutes to get ready. Five minutes to eat breakfast. Seven minutes to walk to class. Class. Class. Then Break. A dreaded break. Where would I go? What would I do?  I’d plot where I’d walk, how long it would take me, and how to avoid eye-contact. Each move had to be calculated, or the wheels of my strange anxiety would hit pavement and I’d speed onto a highway of full-blown panic.

No one knew.

It was too hard to explain, and I didn’t really get it either. I didn’t know about triggers, and how easy it was to fall under the dark spell of depression. Meanwhile, the rest of my world was busy moving forward – something my anxiety with the clock prevented me from doing.  Other classmates excelled. Friends made new friends. A boy from another school that I’d had a deep friendship with told me he saw us always, and only, being friends.

I spent hours in my bed, clutching my bible like some sort of holy talisman. Sometimes I read it. Sometimes I just held the green canvas cover to my chest and mumbled intelligible prayers about wanting to wake up three hours later,  feeling normal.

And there, on the bottom bunk, staring at the brown metal springs of my roommate’s bed above, God did something strange. He held me. Quietly. Solidly. He pointed me deep into the Psalms, where I found David, a writer who seemed to understand how I felt in the pit and tangle of my fear.

I read. I read and I slept. My dip into depression was not deep, lasting about three months, though they were literally the longest months of my life.

Alone in my room, I read until I knew enough about God to believe what He told the writer of an Old Testament book called Ecclesiastes – that there was a time for everything and that somehow, time was not the enemy I made him out to be.

That spring, I also took a poetry class. I didn’t know anything about contemporary poetry, but I fell headlong into a world of metaphor and simile that threw me another means of rescue. My professor Judy encouraged me to submit my work to the campus literary journal, and my first published poem buoyed me to keep pushing into my darkness, prying into what it meant, and why it was happening.

I tell you this because I believe everyone has a story about dark and light. These are stories that deserve honor and space in our worlds for what they can reveal, and the ropes they can throw us.

Addie Zierman’s Night Driving is one of those stories. It catches you whole, packing you along with her carefully labeled totes and snacks and two small boys, and drives you down the interstate in a frenzy of giddy, winter escape. It makes you laugh with along with her wit and wisdom about gas station coffee and hotel pools, and think deeply about faith and the places you run from.

Night Driving is a perfect spring read, a realization that even a seasonal escape cannot bypass the reality that faith, like all living things, must endure the necessary dark and barren stretches in order to once again show green signs of life.

ANDDDDDDD… it releases today, which means you can buy it NOW at places like Barnes and Noble or IndieBound or Amazon.

Go ahead. Get one. You can thank me later.

 

 

 

 

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Three reasons I respectfully decline your network marketing invitations

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Photo credit: Sheknows.com

I don’t get worked up about very many things. Call it my stoic Swedish side, the one I passed on to my twin daughters who poker face their way through all shopping trips.

However, I’ve read quite a few articles and posts about network marketing lately, and as an average age-bracket, targeted consumer, I feel prompted to speak up.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been approached numerous times. Maybe it’s because my Jamberries ripped, my Doterra spilled in the car, and my hamburger didn’t fit in my Shakeology food portion jailers. Or maybe, it’s because I see a few problems with the how network marketing views me as a potential customer.

  1. Network marketing breeds negative comparison

I can’t scroll through my Facebook or Instagram feeds without seeing someone’s tan and muscled abdomen, someone’s stylized protein shake, someone’s sparkling sink or someone else’s glowing skin.

We live in an age where advertising is almost impossible to escape. But now that it has infiltrated social media through network marketing, we are forced not just to compare ourselves to the nameless face on the billboard, but to Sally, the girl we know and went to college with.

Combine that with the fact that the average adult spends 4.7 hours a day looking at social media on their phone, and suddenly, the time we potentially spend battling comparison skyrockets into almost a third of our day.

Even though comparison is the basis for selling most things, network marketing, with its targeted audience of friends, co-workers, family members, and acquaintances, creates a major source of unnecessary, unhealthy comparison in our lives.

I don’t particularly want to be targeted that way. Do you?

2. Network marketing doesn’t want your one-time sale. They want a line item in your budget.

This is not a new tactic for anyone in sales. Every business wants to bring customers back for more of what they’re selling. The difference with network marketing products is that they’re often priced in such a way that the average consumer can’t, or isn’t comfortable, making room for them in their budget.

I hear this over and over again: “I tried this product and I loved it! Then I realized I got a discount on the product if I sold it, so now you should buy it too!

Subtext 1: “I tried a great product. I don’t want to stop using it. But I can’t afford it unless I get a discount.”

Subtext 2: “I tried a great product. I don’t want to stop using it. But if I sell it to other people, they can pay my way.

Unfortunately, in a majority of instances, this doesn’t work either. In a study published by the FTC, a staggering 99% of those involved in multi-level or network marketing lost money instead of making it.

Every product aims to build repeat customers. That’s the foundation of good business. But when the product is priced in such a way that the consumer can’t afford it without selling, distributing, or working for the business that makes it, the model is flawed.

3. Network marketing inflates discontent

In the final season of Parenthood, Adam and Crosby counsel their niece Amber about finances and job choices. Adam reminds her, “Amber, remember. Money can’t buy happiness.” Crosby replies, “Don’t believe him. Money can buy peace of mind, which is basically the same thing.”

When we see network marketing professionals posting about their news cars, their vacation plans, and the things they can do because of their disposable income, we naturally question our own choices, and allow discontent to shade how we see our lives.

Maybe we do need more money. I haven’t been on an airplane in ages. I always wanted to take my kids to Mexico. And I’ve been wearing the same coat for at least three years. And the car needs new tires. I wouldn’t worry about that if I had extra money. 

But when a multi-level marketing scheme promises financial freedom, and waves around flyers for trips to Cabo and keys to a new Mercedes, beware. What they’re really doing is asking you to feel discontent enough with your own life that you’ll buy into their version.

In my personal experience with times of financial want and plenty, when I wanted more money, what I really wanted were more things and experiences and esteem, none of which had the lasting ability to give me happiness.

They did the opposite, in fact. Once I took a big trip, I just wanted to travel more. When I bought an expensive dress, I felt like I needed three others like it. Having extra money simply created a vacuum of false need, which inflated my sense of discontent.

If you are a network marketing professional, please understand one thing. I’m not attacking you or your choices. If you’ve been able to meet financial goals, stay home with your kids, quit your day job, or travel the globe because of your network marketing job, I offer you my sincere congratulations.

What I wish is that the industry as a whole would look for a more positive model for selling their products. A model that didn’t thrive on making me, as a potential consumer, feel compelled to purchase something out of guilt, shame, or discontent.

I don’t need to be sold on the fact that my life isn’t perfect. What I believe is that perfection (or network marketing’s perception of it) isn’t necessary for me to have a life worth living. 

Someone bottle that truth up and market it. I dare you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amateur Farm Hour: The Mug Brownie Moral

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Picture courtesy theworstchef.com

It started with a mug brownie.

You know. One of those fad cooking things that sprouted, bloomed, and faded after a few months in the fickle soil of the interwebs.

Take a few things. Chocolate, mostly. Mix them in a coffee mug. Microwave. Bada bing, bada boom. Single serving mug brownie.

Somehow, I missed this craze. (Or just I always wanted more than one brownie.) Either way, I’d never tried the mug method before, until last week.

The opportunity arose. I had a little extra pumpkin bar batter. And since it was a new recipe that I was sending out the door with my husband for a community event, I wanted to make sure the product was edible. So I poured the leftover batter in the mug, put it in the microwave, and closed the door.

At this juncture, a reasonable person would have googled an actual mug brownie recipe to get an idea of how long you’re supposed to microwave this magic.

Apparently, I’m not reasonable. And I also lack a little common sense. Somehow, in the mess and muddle of my day, my pointer finger beeped out FOUR MINUTES, and hit start. I realized this was a little long, but I figured I’d check it after a minute or two and see what was happening.

And then.

And then.

Somehow, one thing led to another and I left sight of the microwave because my two year old announced she had to go potty, and this announcement/action chain goes much better when supervised.

Which means I forgot about the mug.

***

This is how it goes, right? We find ourselves with what seems like a really good idea, and we even manage the wherewithal to start acting on it.

And then.

And then.

Somehow, we get sidetracked. The great blog series we planned/exercise regiment we started/DIY project we bought supplies for/committee we volunteered on gets swallowed by this thing called NEED – which usually belongs to someone else – and all the good things we hoped to accomplish start to smolder and gather coats of ash.

We are left with two choices. We can blow on the coals of those ideas and intentions and watch the flames come back to life, or we can do nothing and watch the ash slowly turn grayish white as the heat dissipates.

For the last month, I’ve been a little out of breath.  Maybe you have too. Maybe the kids are still in the after-shock of daylight savings time. Maybe work is going all crazytown before the end of the year. Maybe the looming HOLIDAY season sends you less into hot cocoa land and more into snarl zone.

Whatever it may be that’s taking your breath away, please don’t let go without a fight. You NEED to foster the things that give you life. They are what make you unique, joyful, and fulfilled.

Which is why today I’m blowing on my coals, sitting at my desk, watching words fall off my fingertips and onto the screen.

I didn’t have an epiphany. I didn’t get a day all to myself to rest and recharge. I simply remembered something. Writing gives me energy.

Doing the things I love to do wakes me up, shakes me out, and resettles me a little more happily into my life. 

Meanwhile, in case you’re wondering, four minutes is WAYYYYY too long to microwave a mug brownie, or a pumpkin bar, or really much of anything.

I finished helping my daughter in the bathroom only to return to the kitchen and find noxious clouds of billowing green smoke emanating from my microwave. The timer dinged before I could race over and open the door, but it didn’t matter.

The stench. The smoke. I gagged and coughed as I opened the door and waves of burnt cake smog assaulted my eyeballs. What remained in the bottom of the mug resembled charcoal and smelled like acrid darth vader death breath.

The next hour would have made a comical video. My daughters and I waved vinegar-spritzed rags like helicopters all around the kitchen. We concocted vinegar and lemon oil “soup” to boil on the stove top and the wood stove. We opened the doors, turned on the fans, turned up the music and shiver-danced to move the air around.

The stench didn’t completely leave, but we at least found a way to get our breath back. And so I leave you with this.

Moral of the story: Don’t cook a mug brownie/pumpkin bar for four minutes.

Other moral of the story: Don’t let what has sidetracked you permanently* keep you there, on the sidelines. Take a deep breath. Find the thing you love that’s been set aside, and fan it back to life.

I’m rooting for you.

 

Comment below and tell me about the things you love that always take a back burner (or a four minute death ride in the microwave).

*My house feels like it’s permanently going to be clinging to this reek, so if anyone has any good smell-busting ideas, I’m all ears!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

June and the Perfect Imperfection

June was full of moments. Moments that filled me, steady and constant, like a green water hose in a plastic bucket. I wanted summer every day. I wanted sun and the relaxing drone of the lawnmower cutting fresh tracks across the yard. I wanted little girls bursting out of the front door, ready for play. I wanted LIFE – vibrant greens, newborn kittens curling into my elbow, the violet clematis unfurling wide into every morning.

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I wanted summer legs and bare feet. I wanted trip after trip to the garden to watch the plants coax their growth from dirt. I wanted to hear the satisfying grind and crunch of the pea gravel we hauled in to complete our raised bed garden, bag by fifty pound bag.

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Most of all, I wanted to eat outside. There’s nothing so free and wonderful as laughter and wind and food eaten out of doors. Who cares if the lawn is perfect, the menu is summery enough, or the tablecloths match. It’s the act of eating in the same place the food grew that feels all at once wild and perfect.

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Then there was the other side of June. The side no one photographed. The sad blueness of a sprained ankle. The way my husband’s eyes could barely stay open after surgery. The camera was put away while we coughed and sneezed, and felt our cheeks flush with the pink heat of fever. There was no one taking pictures during the phone call when our renters gave us notice instead of buying the house as formerly planned, and our world fell off kilter as we raced to put our former home back on market.

No cameras. No lenses. And yet, I couldn’t show you all the good things without acknowledging that there are two sides to every coin. That life isn’t always freshly minted, gleaming and perfect in organized rolls. That even in the most perfect of seasons, imperfection is present, and it’s up to us to figure out how to live with them both.

Perfect. Imperfect.

Both hedging in, threatening to glorify or nudge out the other.

And it’s up to us what to make of them. Every time. Every. Single. Time. Because no matter how many things I read or prayers I pour out or conversations I have, the decision of what to dwell on in my mind is as constant as the nagging need for coffee first thing in the morning.

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That whether the moment is picture perfect or camera shy, how I choose to perceive it in terms of the whole is what makes all the difference.

So with that being said, June was wonderful.

Bring on July.

Creativity and a Creative Blogger Award Nomination!

creativebloggerI used to think creativity was a magical, mystical wind that snuck into my bedroom at night and whispered stories and poems into my ear. So romantic. So unpredictable.

Which is why I was completely surprised, a few years back, to read this line from Twyla Tharp’s amazing book The Creative Habit.

Destiny, quite often, is a determined parent.

She was referencing Mozart, a man thought to be one of the most creative musical geniuses ever to compose music. More so, she was talking about Mozart’s father, a skilled musician himself who recognized a talent in his son that prompted him to think something like, Huh, interesting. The kid’s got talent. Let’s see how far he can go.

In short, creativity doesn’t just come to anyone, just as children aren’t inherently well-mannered, kind, and able to compose perfect, flittering sonatinas.

A true creative discovers something that gives them energy and joy, and then commits to the hard, determined work of making it happen. This means that behind the quiet genius façade, a creative person is simply an honest being who is unafraid of work, and who knows two things.

Creativity is process and practice.

This is something that Kayla Johnson, who has just started blogging at The First Twenty Rows, totally gets. She’s got that crazy awesome mix of personality, skill, and literary knowledge in her writing voice, and I love seeing her new posts pop up in my inbox. We’re slowly becoming friends in the shy way that internet people do – commenting, liking, interacting with one another’s words, and it’s good.

Then she went and nominated me for a Creative Blogger Award, and now I have to think of some amazing way to thank her, which might be hard since she’s in Oregon and I’m in Minnesota and I can’t just drop fresh eggs and perennials off on her front porch.

Meanwhile, there’s this matter of the award and a few rules, which are as follow:

  1. Thank the nominee.
  2. Share five facts about myself.
  3. Nominate other blogs and notify them.
  4. Tell the nominees these rules.

I know you’re just dying to hear five facts about me (as though I haven’t overshared on most aspects of my life already) so I’ll dig deep. Enjoy.

  1. One of my strangest pregnancy cravings was raw cake mix. Preferably the Duncan Hines yellow variety. No, I never got worms. Or gestational diabetes. But I probably deserved both.
  2. I love the outdoors. If I can trek it, climb it, swim in it, dig in it, or slide over it, I’m sold. Someday, my husband and I want to hike one of those crazy three month treks like the Appalachian trail, the John Muir trail, the PCT, or the Camino Real.
  3. I never thought I’d live on a (hobby) farm. I’m pretty sure I specifically told my mom that one day while we were doing dishes and talking about my future. I’ve never been so glad to have been wrong.
  4. In sixth grade, I won a young author’s contest for a book entitled, “Clouds, a Foot, and a Little Old Man.” Twenty years later, I still suck at titling.
  5. My favorite place to brush my teeth is in the shower. Next is outside my tent when I’m camping.

There you go. And now, it’s my turn to nominate a few blogs that I read for various reasons, and that all have an understanding of true creativity. Please go say hello!

  1. The Local Kitchen – Kaela makes beautiful, local, drool-worthy food from the Hudson Valley and pens great stories to go along with her recipes. I have a list of her recipes I need to go back and try when I’m done doing my 40-day fast.
  2. Sarah in Small Doses – Need a laugh? Sarah’s on it. Always, always on it. She’s got great insight on writing, creativity, and pop culture. Plus I went to grad school with her and she’s a cool person to boot.
  3. Barren to Beautiful – Rebekah’s blog on faith and motherhood is a fantastic resource for anyone who wants to talk mama business. She’s not a typical mommy blogger doing reviews of plastic toys and obscure clothing labels. She talks Jesus and parenting and contentment and I love it.
  4. Everyday Inklings – This Sarah – she’s got skills. Word skills, parenting skills, life skills. She is incredibly mindful in the everyday and her posts rub off on me in the best way. Plus, she’s my neighbor. Lucky me!
  5. Jackie Lea Sommers – Can I brag for a second? Jackie wrote a book – a CRAZY good book called Truest which comes out SO soon, and you all should go pre-buy a copy now. She’s also in my writing group, which means I get the honor of talking craft, words, and frustrations now and then. So. Great.
  6. The Creative Jayne – Welcome the beautifully designed world of Kayla. She’s got graphic design in her blood and it shows in her blog, in her styling, and in the way she presents her words. Definitely one to keep on your radar!

Change afoot

IMG_4161 (1280x853)Something is moving in my life.

I could call it spring awakening, and perhaps that’s part of it. My outside world has been become broad and welcoming again, the snow replaced with soft brown grass and earth that gives beneath my rain boots. The landscape is damp with life and the promise that in another month or so, my backyard will look like this again.

I could also call it mental awakening. True confession: I used my birthday money to order books. It’s been a while since I felt this hungry for words, but suddenly, I can’t get enough. Consequently, my brain is on overtime, processing stories I’m can’t put down, ideas I don’t want to escape from. The one that’s had the biggest impact thus far is a title called Seven. Don’t read it unless you’re ready to confront the excess in your life HARDCORE.

These new ideas are dovetailing with things I learned from the Bible a long time ago, and I’m suddenly I find myself looking those old stories up in their entirety and spending more time sitting inside God’s words (thank you, biblegateway.com).

IMG_4449 (800x533)I feel strangely alive in the same way it feels before a giant thunderstorm, an unnamed current in the air and everything eerily quiet, waiting.

Something is afoot. And I wish I could tell you what it is.

The scary part is this: I don’t know.

I’m still praying, wrestling a few things out. (Read: arguing with God and trying to lose gracefully.)

But I think it involves a few things that are pretty far outside my physical comfort zone. One of them is a 40 day fast in solidarity with the poor. Don’t choke on your coffee. I’ll eat, but the foods I eat will be the same as the day to day foods the people in X country survive on. More on that later.

It also involves me digging deeper into the idea of who is poor and who isn’t, and what it means when Jesus says “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall see God.”

I might ask a few people to join me in an event to give away our extras and better outfit a local organization that’s doing some great work with women in transition.

I have the feeling all of this is going to involve spending my fringe hours at the computer, writing. It might also involve me reading the book The Fringe Hours to see just how that author went about using her time in such a way as to serve and honor everything she loved.

Best I can say is stay tuned. Keep your heart open. Pray for me if you think of it. And if anything I’m about to say in the next week or two makes sense, please feel free to chime in. Ask questions.

In the meantime, I’m stealing a new line from Linda, my friend and pastor’s wife of our church.

Carry on.

Battling Enough

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This view was pretty 5 months ago. Now it’s just cold.

This week, writing has been like piecing together a busted skeleton. I keep typing, searching out the bones of my experiences but never finding the joints. Nothing comes together. Meanwhile, it snowed. Again.

And here it is. Friday. The four days behind me look like some sort of bipolar episode – incredibly bad rebounding to deliciously good. The computer screen can’t make sense of it, and for the record, either can I.

I wanted to write about Lent, and how even though last year I had an epiphany about giving up ANGER instead of sugar, this year I haven’t managed to do more than remember to pray every morning before I slog my way out of bed. The post I started got deleted (guess who) before I had a chance to publish it, and I was too tired to attempt a rewrite.

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Duck face. It’s still a thing.

I wanted to point you towards my writing group compatriot Addie Zierman’s blogging trip to Armenia for World Vision, and how she’s quietly, perfectly capturing what need looks like.

I wanted you to see the beautiful, laughing pile of girls that gathered in my house to make wantons and nachos and talk about the best and worst parts of their days. How they filled the room with life and grace and ideas, and how, even though my co-leader Brittany and I are supposed to be guiding them, they are the ones showing me a deeper understanding of heart. 

I wanted you to commiserate with me about spring cleaning when it looks nothing like spring, and how clean is a relative term when three little bodies are doing their best to destroy any sense of order I’m attempting to create.

I wanted to do everything I could to stay away from what I’ve really been afraid of, because it’s not clean, or trendy, and it doesn’t look good on Instagram.

But if I take a deep breath and really get down inside everything I wrote this week, the underlying story line is that my feelings of inadequacy come dangerously close to ruining me, over and over. 

Everything I did this week was tainted with insecurity – spiritual failure to find a Lenten practice, parental inability to keep calm, writer’s frustration and envy that others seem to do so much with their words while I struggle to write a six hundred word blog post every week or two.

In short, not enough.

I thought, by now, in my 30’s, I’d be done with this. But it is work. It is constant, demanding work to refocus my thoughts and beat back the voices that tell me I’m not good enough at this, great enough at that, pretty enough for this, thin enough for that, smart enough for this, capable enough for that.

More often, I fail. And yell. And berate myself. And binge on homemade brownies. I start wanting to quit.

And yet somehow, God has the patience to put His finger under my chin, tilting my head up toward the mountains I can’t see, the help I don’t feel.

He’s there. Maker. Creator. Author. Perfector.

Finisher.

He’s not done yet. Either am I.

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Friends, what are you best tactics for fighting insecurity? Can we make a running list and encourage one another?