Living Life Unfinished

 

 

If I were organized, I’d be a killer list person.

Alas. If I manage to find a pen in my house (the child security locks on the office cupboard have long been hacked) and write out a few daily tasks, more often than not, I find myself staring at them at the end of the day, in all their bullet point glory, whole and uncrossed.

Let me tell you something. It’s tough to never, ever finish things.

The work ethic in my family is strong. My mom still wakes up at 5:00 am most days to exercise, shower, make breakfast, and tackle what needs to be done. My dad will run the combine at harvest time long into the cool fall nights. My husband will stick with a project for hours until it’s done, or he’s reached a finishing point.

Me, on the other hand? I move around my home in never-ending circles. Load more dishes in the dishwasher. Pick up the deflated socks that seem to be everywhere. Comb someone’s hair. Change the baby. Check the dryer.

Kitchen. Laundry room. Bathroom. Circle. Circle. Circle.

It’s work of the most frustrating kind. Things never, ever stay finished. As soon as the holy grail bottom of the laundry basket appears, someone throws another wrench in my Indiana Jones-like quest for clean clothes. Dishes get dirtied. Something spills and the floor has to be swept. The circle starts all over again.

I know it’s a phase, and that these days of my children being little are like the sunlight hours after daylight savings time: so very short. So I’ve been trying, trying to sit down in the middle of the chaos and be present. To be silly. To take *awesome* family pictures so I can remember life in this season. I’m learning to leave dishes in the sink. I don’t pick up toys every night. I can’t tell you the last time I deep cleaned anything

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But somehow, it’s still not working. I still find myself a little on edge most days, wanting to recount just what it is I’m doing besides endlessly picking up gently browning apple cores left out from morning snack, and supervising cleanup of whatever catastrophe happened while I was nursing the baby last.

Last night at a family birthday party, my sister in law recounted the wonderful stuff she’s been up to lately. Then the tables turned on me. My mind went blank. What have I been doing? Um. *Scramble scramble scramble* I’m…reading a manuscript for a friend! Painting a bedroom! Teaching Ellis not to use an entire bottle of shampoo in one sitting! Making a small attempt at national novel writing month (#nanowrimo y’all!) with the goal of two chapters!

See my exclamation points? Isn’t that big? And exciting? Have I convinced myself I’m worth something because I made a list? Yes? Yes? Yes?

Sigh.

As much as I’ve always wanted to be the serenely-listening Mary in the new testament story when Jesus visits two sisters, deep down, I’ve always know I’m the Martha clanking away in the kitchen, furiously working the dishrag, trying to do all the things.

The things that could have waited.

Because they were just that. Things.

Jesus didn’t care about a clean counter or a swept-up floor. He wanted to be with his friends, Mary and Martha. Likewise, when my daughters come tromping down the stairs in the morning, they aren’t looking around going, Wow. I sure feel safe and secure at home because the house is picked up. Not a chance.

They’re looking for me.

Which means maybe I need to figure out a new approach. Maybe I need to stop measuring the value of my work by the things I’ve accomplished, and starting looking for more places to be available.

Maybe I need to listen to more Edward Sharp and the Magnetic Zeros, because if home is wherever I’m with you, then the best things I can offer my family are my empty, waiting hands.

And maybe one of those creepy automatic vacuum robots.

Maybe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Amateur Farm Hour: The Mug Brownie Moral

mug brownie

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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?

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!

Why writers need groups…and voices in our heads

Hey guys, today my writing group compatriot and dear friend Jackie Sommers is breaking down the necessity of writer’s groups. She should know. Her new book Truest will be published by Harper Collins and out on the shelves in 2015 – much of which saw its first reading in our group discussions.

I’d love for you to head over to her blog and see just why it is that writers like me to do the group thing.

Here’s the intro to get you started.

My Writing Group’s cropped-orangeheaderThoughts on Writing Groups

Today, I’m going to introduce you to a few of the women from my writing critique group here in the Twin Cities. We meet once a month to catch up with one another, to provide feedback on each others projects, and to be a sounding board for any writing-related headaches we’re experiencing. That, in fact, is one of the things I love most about my writing group– that it is full of talented, whip-smart women who are flexible enough to be whatever I need them to be: sometimes I need brutal critics, sometimes I need shoulders to cry on. They do it all.

Keep Reading…

 

writers-toolboxAnd if writing is your thing, but you want a few new ideas and voices to kick you in gear, go check out my friend Addie’s post about her favorite tools of the trade – aka the books she keeps in her writer’s toolbox.

Here’s her intro…

10 Books in my Writer’s Toolbox

Because I spend a good deal of my time writing or thinking about writing or avoiding writing, it’s only natural that I’d have a stack of books on the subject. I thought I’d take a minute to introduce you to some of my favorites.

There are lots of amazing books on writing out there, and the ones that are precious to me are influenced by the kind of work I do. Because I am a Christian, and because I am forever trying to figure out my faith, books that explore that strange and stunning intersection between faith and art are important to me. Because I’m interested in the careful mining my own memories and experiences in the form of memoir or creative nonfiction, a lot of my favorites explore the power and potential of that genre.

Keep reading…

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMeanwhile, here on the farm… it’s Jason and my 10 year anniversary today. Yep. Ten years. Here’s us on our honeymoon, rocking a little mountain laundromat with our coolness and dirty hiking socks.

I’m so glad I married my best friend. Enough said.

Ten years is a big deal, so tonight we are headed out  sans kiddos (thanks grandma and grandpa) to wander and eat our way through some new downtown Minneapolis spots we’ve had our eyes on.

Butcher and the Boar, we’re looking at you…