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.

——————

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

What I’m Into: January, 2015

What I'm Into buttonI love being let into the minds and lives of other people. I hope that’s not weird. In grad school, we called this idea “filling the well”, which sounds better and less nosy. Basically, the premise is that by hearing what others are reading, listening, doing, and trying, you find yourself inspired to seek out things that spark your own creativity.

Anyway, there’s a lovely writer in the blogosphere named Leigh Kramer who does a link up called What I’m Into. Every month, I binge-read her linked posts and check out the ideas. And today, well, today I felt like playing along. (Spoiler alert: I’m definitely not as cool as everyone else – I didn’t see Parenthood last night.)

On the #Oneword2015 Front:

I’ve never been a New Year resolution person. I don’t like promising things I can’t be sure I’ll deliver, and let’s be honest. With three girls three and under at home, I’m a little… distracted.

What I do like is the idea of picking a word for the year. Incorporating a word into my everyday life seems more manageable. And after a rocky start to the new year, I realized that the one word that made sense to me for 2015 was this:

Expand.

When life feels narrow, I need to expand my expectations. When I feel hurt, I need to expand my ability to show grace. When comparison creeps up behind me, I need to expand in love. Simple concept, crazy opportunity for application. Expand. (For more on the quote and ideas that sparked my word, check out these amazing words from my friend and writing group compatriot Addie Zierman.)

On the Reading Front:

keepersI just finished Keepers of the Covenant as part of the Bethany House Blogger Book Review program. I know, I know. Historical fiction can be iffy. But I have a soft spot for history. I’ve also always been enamored with the story of Esther, the Old Testament queen who risked her life to save the entire Jewish nation living in Babylon at the time. This book doesn’t focus on Esther though – it tells the story from the perspective of the Jewish community. As a person, I loved getting lost in another time and place. As a Christian, I appreciated listening to how people wrestled with what to do when evil abruptly entered their lives. As a writer, I found the stories a little too neat for my taste. The characters wrestled with difficult questions, but their answers and responses were predictable. Overall, it was a good reason to wake up with late night book reading hangover.

gruffaloIn little girl land, we tend to read the same stories over and over. There’s science behind that – recognition, repetition, all that jazz. There’s also the fact that it’s a lot of effort to get everyone to the library. But once in a while, we manage, and this time, we came across a great gem called The Gruffalo. The rhymes are divine, the pictures great, and the story-line is spooky and funny. It’s a major hit at our house, and is requested to be told in spoken word form at least twice a day. No, I do not do outside performances.

On the Eating Front:

Pizza. My amazing mother-in-law gave me a great cook book for Christmas called No Need to Knead, and now I can’t stop baking. dunawayPizza has always been a challenge for me, because perfecting a thin crust that’s still chewy in the middle is IMPOSSIBLE. At least it was for me until I used Dunaway’s method. (Aged dough, 500 degree oven, cast iron pizza pan, 7 minutes flat.) Other winners? Foccacia, Kalamata Olive Filoncino, and Ciabatta to name a few. Plus, all three girls eat it no questions asked (it’s pizza, c’mon) which is a full WIN. Bonus: it’s fast, simple, and adaptable to what you have on hand.

On the Watching Front:

Downton Abbey is on again, and even though I missed two seasons, I’m happily diving into season five with hold-my-schedule-it’s-Sunday-night fervor. Otherwise, since we don’t have cable, we’re relegated to the land of Netflix, where I eagerly await the last season of Parenthood. (I know it’s on network tv now, but I hate commercials and love watching four episodes at a time. Netflix all the way.) Meanwhile, I’m working my way through Chopped (Netflix again)– a cooking contest where you have to use four mystery basket ingredients to make an actual palatable dish. (Think combos like tamarind paste, lamb top round, mustard greens, and coke.) I mean, why not.

On the Listening Front:

I’m sure this is old news, but Brandi Carlile came out with a new album that I’m loving. I also found a band called Man in the Ring on my Black Keys Pandora station; they play some great bluesy stuff that’s fun to cook too. Oh, and don’t forget about King’s Kaleidoscope – if you need upbeat songs to focus and center your day on what’s important, these guys are it.

IMG_7288On the Home Front:

I rearranged the living room to make room for a piano. Except that we don’t have a piano. So I keep stalking craigslist for something local, which isn’t easy. If you have any leads on a lovely old upright for a reasonable (or free) price, let me know.

There are only 8 weeks till spring, and I’m starting to plot the layout for our raised bed garden boxes. New on the list this year? Broccolini.

IMG_7230The twins are starting to be more aware of one another, and I can’t stop taking pictures of them. Seeing them interact is one of the sweetest things EVER. My twin mama heart overflows when they randomly hug one another.

There you have it. Life in the month of January. Go check out the other amazing ideas you’ll find in Leigh Kramer’s What I’m Into link-up, and don’t forget to tell me (and others) what YOU’RE into this month.

Please and thank you.

When creativity goes missing

IMG_7177Forgive me for being quiet lately.

My creative process packed a rucksack and went whistling away down December’s open road.

It hasn’t yet come wandering back. And now I’m on a mission to find it.

This is easier said than done. With three small girls at home with me during the day, the needs are endless. Someone is hungry. There are booster trays to wash, and sink traps clogged with tiny trees of broccoli. There are miniature fights to break up. Frowns to tickle out. Books to be read.

Every day, creative ideas form and cluster like soap bubbles. And then I look at the clock. And my to-do list. And back to the clock.

Someone <skips a nap><cuts a molar><scribbles on the computer screen with permanent marker>. The soap bubble idea pops.

Everything falls in a swirl down the drain.

***

One of the authors I studied in grad school was a psychologist named Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, ($5 if you can pronounce that) who says, “Creative persons differ from one another in a variety of ways, but in one respect they are unanimous: They all love what they do.”

I fell into a slump after Christmas. The house felt claustrophobic and close – newly gifted items didn’t fit into my already less-than-perfect organization scheme. Suitcases from coming and going needed to be unpacked. Everything needed attention.

Finally, I gave in and spent two weeks using my free time (a precious commodity) doing things I didn’t necessarily love. I organized. I laundered. I folded. I scrubbed. I purged. I went to bed strangely stressed, and woke up tired even after eight hours of solid sleep.

I had no idea something was wrong until the night I put the girls to bed, kissed my husband, and went to worship team practice at my church. For the next hour and half, I banged out chords on that big black grand piano. I sang. Slowly, I fell out myself and into Grace.

Leaving the building that night, I felt lighter. It occurred to me that singing was the only thing I’d done in two weeks that was for sheer enjoyment.

Not because I had to. Not because I needed to. Because I wanted to.

Just then, I saw my creative process waving in the distance.

Deep breath. Right.

***

The last couple of weeks have been a study in balance, and slowly but surely, I can see my creativity levels start to build.

I’m baking bread. I’m making up stories for the girls. I’m going to the gym with a regularity that surprises even me. Today I’m sitting down at the computer, wading through the rhythm of putting words the page.

They aren’t perfect. They don’t have to be. I’m happily lost in my craft, and that’s the point. When I’m doing the things I love, I’m a better, kinder, more expansive version of myself.

Friend, if you’ve somehow found yourself in a similar creative slump, please take a deep breath. Ignore the overflowing laundry basket, put in a pizza, and schedule a block of time to get out and do something you love.

Let it overtake you. Change you. Give you new ideas. Your creativity is the truest expression of who you are. Don’t let it get away.

Why Your Mama Blog Matters

I have a confession. Lately, I struggle with blogging. It’s harder and harder to find pockets of time to write, and when I do, I find that a little bit of the party is over. We made it through pregnancy, we survived the first year with 3 under 2, and now…

Now we raise. All the adorable matching outfits are tucked away in a bin. Mismatched play clothes with mud and grass stains dominate the drawers. Every day I dance around keeping enough activities going to leave the TV off. Some days we win. Some, we lose.

And suddenly I find myself in a sea of mamas just like me, trying to do the best for their kids and trying to write about it once in a while, because writing makes sense.

Literally.

Writing helps us sort through what it means to give up one version of ourselves and take on another. Writing makes us speak in full sentences. Writing is a way to process all the broken pieces of the day and remind ourselves of their whole.

I read two very different blog posts this week. One was an open letter To Moms With Kids Under 5: This is Our Time. The other was Dear Stay at Home Moms, Please Shut Up.

One redirected my day, making me take stock of the special moments I usually want to pass up because I have a dishwasher to unload or two bottoms that need changing immediately. It calmed me at 4:00 am this morning when my daughter woke up because she had the snorts and just wanted to snuggle.

The other made me insecure. I thought of all the times I sat down with my friends in some sort of harried, exhausted state, gushing out my parenting struggles like a broken toilet. Was I now the annoying stay at home mom boop booping her minivan fob, looking all privileged and disheveled in sunglasses and stretch pants?

Both posts made me realize the importance of words. Words that matter.

Because they do. Your words. My words. All of us coming unraveled, untangled as we stare at our thoughts on the screen and wind them back into stories.

But it’s how we choose to re-spin and wind our experiences that matters most. When I’m stealing a few minutes in the bathroom, reading your blog posts or your articles on parenting, you have the power to leave me encouraged or disheartened.

As a writer, as a parent, as a person, what would you rather read?

Whenever I can, I seek out words that make me want to have and extend grace. Grace that is greater than all my shortcomings and frustrations.

So please keep writing. Processing. Sharing your heart for your kids, your frustrations in the day to day. Do it with love. Do it in a way that makes me see the shine under the layers of dirt, the silver hiding behind tarnish.

Why? Because I’m here, reading. Listening to your ideas. Tasting your recipes. Trying your method for getting your kid to eat peas. When I hear that you’ve succeeded, I find a little hope. When I hear that you’ve failed, I know I’m not alone.

That’s the beauty of our social media networked lives. I may not know you beyond the words you put on the page, and vice versa. But through those words, we come together. We share a minute or two of pausing in the busy of our days, and when we’re done, we are re-energized.

Somehow, brighter.

Here at the farm, we have a few favorite g-words. Grace. Gratitude. God. Gruyere. If this is the first time we’ve met, consider yourself hugged. Really, for real, hugged. I hope you’ll join in the conversation and come back again soon!

#MyWritingProcess and why it works (for me)

When I first was asked to take part in the #MyWritingProcess blog hop, I laughed. Unlike other writers, I don’t have much of a formal process. I sit at a desk. I write. I get up and separate children and toys. I drink more coffee. I change a diaper. I write some more.

That’s not very inspiring. It’s definitely not a cabin in the woods, or a quiet coffee shop. But maybe that’s the thing. Writing for me isn’t about the perfect setting and the best computer and the quiet and the trendy music playing in the background. Writing is about clearing a space in the mess of normal living for something that’s important.

quoteStephanie from Uptownerupnorth knows all too well what that means. She and her husband and baby are on a 4th generation family farm – a real, functioning, machinery-filled farm – in Northern Minnesota. Farms take time. Farms take everything. But in the middle of all that, they give you the most amazing things to notice, and through her blog posts, I see Stephanie taking advantage of that. Stephanie, thanks for inviting me to take part in the hop, and for the words you too are making time to put down.

So. What am I working on?

I think this is supposed to be a “my next big project” sort of question, but who am I kidding. I have twins and a toddler. I’m working on making sure we have enough diapers to cover tiny butts and enough apples in the fridge to satisfy my daughter’s new three a day habit.

In the odd times I find myself at the computer, I hammer out a blog post, scramble to keep up with emails, and scour Craigslist for things like “medium-sized outdoor dogs that don’t eat chickens.”

Someday I’ll save enough cash to go back and finish my MFA in Creative Writing. In the meantime, I go back and edit my poems, save them in yellow electronic folders marked “done” or “in progress” or “what the.” Once in a while, I do this scary thing called submitting.

And every so often, when the warm little bodies of my girls are heavy and horizontal for the night, I find my way to the keyboard. I’m slowly circling around ideas of food and memory and fellowship, and of this strange word called hospitality. I don’t know where it’s going, and that’s ok. Sometimes it’s better that way.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Is this a trick question? My work is simply my own – my musings, my questions. If you wanted to put me in a bucket, I’d tell you I try to write in Midwestern plain speak. That I need my descriptions to be like mirrors. That I have a voice just as you have a voice. That we all deserve to hear one another in whatever medium we choose to speak through.

Why do I write what I do?

There is no escaping the routine of my daily life, but through writing, I make myself take the time to see my routines as rituals, and this makes me want to live differently.

I write about faith because Jesus is constantly shaping me. I write about grace because being shaped hurts. I write about parenting because it is the event that has changed me the most. I write about food because I love to eat. I write about the ideas and words that tail me through my days, hanging out in my rear-view mirror.

I write because I live in a world that deserves examination. Sometimes that’s in poetry, sometimes it’s in a blog post, sometimes it’s creative non-fiction. Sometimes it’s an email, a caption, a hash tag. But all of these things make me pay attention, and that’s what I need.

How does your writing process work?

People are posting great pictures of scrawly notebook pages and favorite places to write, but for me, it’s about efficiency. I don’t have a lot of time to write, so when I do get a moment, it’s serious business. Here are my unofficial rules:

  • Get something to drink. Anything. (Ok not anything. I never drink milk while I write.) Usually it’s either coffee or water. Call me a purist. Or call me cheap. That’s just usually what I have on hand.
  • Sit up straight. I have to pay attention to my words. I don’t write well if I’m slouched over, sprawled on the couch, or even leaning back in my chair. I always sit on the edge of my seat, like some sort of over-eager school girl.
  • Skip any music that has words. I need my mental playing field not to have any opponents. And yes, I did play sixth grade volleyball. How did you know? (My sports metaphors rock.)
  • Know when to break. You can only push so hard on an idea that’s not fully developed. If I’m not getting somewhere with a thought, I leave it and come back.
  • Come back. Preferably with another beverage. Make yourself come back even if you don’t want to. What happens can be amazing. Or it can stink, and then you just save it away as fodder for another idea later on. Either way, come back. Always come back.

The next three writers in the blog hop are crazy different, and crazy talented. Allow me to introduce them, and to encourage you to go visit them next Tuesday for their own thoughts on writing and process.

Kasey Jackson is a fellow twin mama I met in a Facebook group focused on twins born in 2013. Somehow when I was whining about diapers and mopping, she finished a book. I know. Overachiever. She’s also hilarious. There may or may not be a series of Instagram videos entitled “Kasey vs.” that make me snort laugh whenever they show up in my feed. Her blog is focused mainly on her book, Blue, so you should definitely head over and see what it’s about. You can even download a free preview of the first chapter, which means you’ve got something to read on the bus ride/couch/coffee shop chair tonight.

Anna Palmquist is one of the magical people in my life I wish I got to hang out with more. Luckily, she’s a part of my writing group, and sometimes, when she busts out an idea so full of wisdom and humor and reality, I’m floored I get to say I know her. Anna recently started grad school and is focusing on writing Young Adult Fiction, which is totally hip. She also recently started blogging at Writing Young Adult Fiction , which is exactly as is sounds. For those of you that love process and prose and the YA world, this is your new landing pad.

Courtney Fitzgerald possesses a wisdom that comes hard-earned. She writes poignantly real prose in her blog Our Small Moments and her work appears in the collection I Just Want to Be Alone (I Just Want to Pee Alone). She’s a fantastic photographer and busy mama of two, and may or may not have time to take part in the hop but either way, go read her stories, marvel at her pictures and be reminded about the importance of living in appreciation for the ones you love. Oh, and one more brag. She’s family. 🙂