Living in Faith, Writing life

5 things I’m thankful for from 2020

And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name. (1 Chronicles 29:13 ESV)

If I heard it said once, it seems like I heard it a thousand times: 2020 was “unprecedented,” a “year like no other,” a year of “pivoting.” Yes, it was a year of challenges, fear, and frustration. I even wrote about some of my fears in my blog post Faithful Despite the Fear.

But 2020 also had moments of beauty and joy, hope and fulfillment. And while I plan to remember the lessons I learned in 2020 and don’t in any way want to discount the heartaches that so many people experienced, I’m choosing to focus on positive things from the year and be grateful for those as we move into 2021.

Here are five of those things (in no particular order).

Psalm 107:1 Bible verseWorking from home again. I worked from home for almost 18 years while our kids were growing up, but returned to the “real” working world in 2016. I enjoy my job and work with some wonderful people – but I’ve also really enjoyed being able to work from home again. It’s less pressure in a lot of ways and I definitely haven’t missed fighting traffic or spending 2+ hours in my car every day.

More time together as a family. When everything began to change in March, our son was nearing the end of his third year in college and our daughter was two months from her high school graduation. Their shift to online school and our shift to working from home full-time meant that we spent a lot more time together. It wasn’t what they wanted for school, but they made the best of it and my Mama heart loved soaking in every minute of togetherness that I could.

The bits and pieces of “normal.” Our daughter’s class had in-person graduation in late June for those who wanted to attend under then-current protocols (thanks to being able to hold it at Atlanta Motor Speedway). Both their colleges allowed students on campus in the fall, even though many things were different from usual. Our church began holding in-person services again in August, although that was also new and different in many ways. Any glimpses of what we used to consider “normal” were good to see.

Healthy parents. While I’ve been concerned for the health of all our family and friends, I’m incredibly thankful that our parents have been healthy through all of this. They’ve stayed home as much as possible and have followed the rules when they’ve gone out. I thank God for preserving their health and pray that those who test positive for COVID-19 have mild cases and recover quickly.

1 Chronicles 29:13 Bible verseA fresh writing mindset. I began 2020 thinking and praying a lot about things I wanted to do once both kids were at college and I had time to refocus on some things for myself. One of the clear answers was to get back to the writing that I had basically ignored for the past few years because of being focused on work and other things. I joined a new critique group during the summer, began working again on a YA manuscript, entered the first chapter of that manuscript in a contest, and have been getting back in the habit of posting more regularly here on my blog and social media. The responses have been encouraging and I’m excited about doing even more in 2021.

What about you – can you find some glimmers of hope among the craziness and mess we’re connecting with 2020? These are only a few things and I’ve barely scratched the surface of them. What are some things you found to be grateful for in 2020 despite all the uncertainty?

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! (Psalm 107:1 ESV)

Thank you, Lord, for your blessings, even when things around us are uncertain or don’t go the way we want. You teach us many times in Scripture that there are always reasons to be thankful. Help us remember that as we move into this new year and deal with whatever comes our way. Amen.

What I've Learned Lately, Writing life

What I’ve Learned Lately … With Kari Apted

Today I’m thrilled to share my corner of the blogging world with Kari Apted, a friend from my local writer’s group (East Metro Atlanta Christian Writers). Here’s a bit about her to get us started …

Kari Apted is a writer and speaker residing in Georgia with her husband, three sons, two cats, two fish and one dog. She writes a humorous weekly parenting column for The Covington News and freelances for various publications. She placed second for Best Humerous Column in the Georgia Press Association’s 2008 Better Newspaper Contest.

Random House released her first nationally published work on September 12, 2006 — Operation Homecoming: Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Home Front, in the Words of U.S. Troops and Their Families. She also appeared in Muse of Fire, a documentary that accompanies the anthology as it is distributed to libraries and military bases around the world.

And now, here’s Kari!

 

As a busy homeschooling, freelance-writing, three-boys-raising Christian Mama, I can honestly say I learn something new every day. Some of this knowledge is helpful, such as learning that my toddler, Jonah, has mastered the art of screwing off bottle caps. Other bits are completely useless trivia that will only benefit me if I land on a game show someday.

For instance, did you know that an elephant, lacking access to water on a hot day can—and will—swallow his own trunk, suck up his stomach fluid and spray it all over himself to cool down?

Now that I’ve enriched your life by sharing that bit of trivia, I’d like to thank my friend Leigh for allowing me to share a few more of my recent gems—thankfully, none of which are as disgusting as the above.

First, I learned just yesterday that trying to force my 16-month-old cuddle bug to cry-it-out at bedtime is just pointless. My older two sons were such great sleepers. Zach is 13 and Eli is almost 9, and practically from birth, they slept happily in their own beds. The idea of co-sleeping in a family bed was so foreign to me. I couldn’t imagine it.

Then came Jonah. They say the third child comes to shake up everything you thought you knew about parenthood, and I can vouch for the truth in that.

My column that’s running in the Covington News today is about this very topic. What that piece doesn’t mention is that we did try letting Jonah cry in his crib a couple of nights this week and it left him so wakeful and cranky that it just wasn’t worth it. So, back into my bed he went. We’ll still try to sneak him into his crib whenever he’s asleep, so that he’ll get used to being there. But I just don’t have the heart to leave him to cry when all he wants is the safety of being tucked between his parents at night. Maybe this child just needs that more than the other two did?

Which brings me to an overall life lesson I’ve learned since having my third child: attachment parenting isn’t just for crunchy granola types. I’m about as non-crunchy as they come. Politically conservative, I don’t recycle, I’ve never owned a pair of Birkenstocks, hugged a tree or even considered adopting a vegan lifestyle. (A life without cheese? I wouldn’t want to live it!)

But my baby wears cloth diapers, is still breastfeeding, and I already mentioned that co-sleeping thing, all of which I once thought I’d never do. I guess one of the blessings of being over 40 is that you stop caring so much about what other people think and just do what works for you.

I just learned something new from the mouth of my 8-year-old, even as I type. He is reading about lobsters and informed me that they can live to be 100 years old and grow up to 4 feet in length. Additionally, a lobster that has lost both its claws is called a bullet or a dummy, but this doesn’t hurt his self-esteem because he has the superpower of growing them back. Thank you, Eli, for giving me another set of gems for my “Future ‘Jeopardy’ Appearance” file.

Probably the most valuable thing I’ve learned lately came from my pastor last Sunday. He’s been speaking about abiding in Christ, and this week focused on the role the word of God should play in our lives. Basically, he said that if we neglect to read our Bibles, we’re showing contempt for the gift that God has given us in his word. That really hit me hard.

Here in America, we make it easy to neglect our prayer and devotion times, filling our lives up with things we enjoy, but are spiritually void, working hard for material things that please us but have no eternal value. And then we wonder why things are so hard, or why we aren’t blessed.

Pastor Chad summed it up with this verse, Joshua 1:8: “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.”

And there you have it, my friends: the most valuable thing I’ve learned lately is the secret to prosperity and success; something that many people pursue but never find. How amazing to learn that it’s so simple, and right under our noses.

I hope that one day I can write a blog post about things I’ve learned and testify that I’ve finally learned how to give God rightful ownership of my entire life, instead of always snatching bits back from him. I’m just so thankful he is a patient father, a more patient parent than I am to my kids.

Because a toddler who’s mastered screw-tops and nabbed the ointment can wreak more havoc than you can possibly imagine.

 

Thanks, Kari, for being my guest today and for sharing a slice from your life. Visitors, leave a comment or ask Kari a question, and be sure to visit her website for more glimpses into a writing mom’s life.

Wednesday Writings, What I've Learned Lately, Writing life

What I’ve Learned Lately … with Dina Sleiman

Today I’m happy to welcome fellow writer  Dina Sleiman as our guest blogger. Dina and I met at the Blue Ridge Christian Writers Conference in 2009; she’s a joy to be around and a very talented writer.

A little background and intro … Dina writes lyrical stories that dance with light. She is an aspiring novelist and a published poet, but she is also much more. Most of the time you will find this Virginia Beach resident reading, biking, dancing, or hanging out with her husband and three children, preferably at the oceanfront. She is passionate about anything related to creativity. Over the years she has enjoyed many opportunities to teach literature, writing, and the arts. Her primary goal is to serve God and live a spirit-led life. Join her as she discovers the unforced rhythms of grace. For more info visit her at http://dinasleiman.com/

 

The Importance of Being Still

God, my shepherd! I don’t need a thing.
You have bedded me down in lush meadows,
you find me quiet pools to drink from.
True to your word,
you let me catch my breath
and send me in the right direction. ~ Psalm 23:1-3 (The Message)

 

Not quite revolutionary. I know. But as I considered what I’ve learned recently, the importance of being still kept moving to the forefront of my mind. I mean, if you’ve been a Christian for any length of time you should be aware of this concept. Be still and know that I am God and all of that, but how many of us actually take the advice to heart? Even if we take out a few moments each day for prayer and Bible study, how much of that time is spent actively doing something, and how much is spent being still and listening?

I think being still, in this context, is more a state of mind than an issue of what we’re doing. In our modern culture, we feel we must always be pressing forward, always accomplishing something. But what about taking time to dwell in God’s presence? To relax in a lush meadow and drink from a quiet pool? To imbibe upon the very essence of divinity?

In late November I felt God calling me to be still. Specifically, to be still in my writing career. I was not at all thrilled with this instruction. I needed to find a new agent. My latest novel had been requested by several editors, and I wanted to get moving on that. After all, my first book seemed to be going nowhere fast. And realizing that many novelists don’t get published until they write their third or fourth book, I figured I should get started on my next big project. Quick!

Be still…

Well, the Christmas season was coming. Extra shopping, Extra cooking. Extra visiting. Okay. I could be still. Until approximately 8:32 am on January 3rd when the kids started back to school. Then I would work up a storm. So I focused on family and friends. I spent extra time mentoring some local writers. I even choreographed and directed a Christmas dance for church. And when January 3rd came, I was poised and ready to go.

Be still…

Unfair, God! This is not amusing. I took a six week break already. This little sabbatical is getting out of hand. I took a mental break. I realized my writing had been a bit obsessive. I refocused on what was important. I need to…

Be still!

All right, already. When God makes his orders that clear, we really don’t have much choice. So I did it. I was still. I spent extra time in his presence. I rested. I read. I even watched some television.

And you know what. Those few weeks turned out to be incredibly productive. God actually had a point in all of this. Who knew?

During that time, I discovered that I actually only have about two or three free hours a day to write. No wonder I kept falling behind with life. In addition, I figured out some scheduling and organizational issues that freed up another hour or two per day. I got some minor health issues sorted out. And, I also realized that the new novel I was so anxious to send to publishers was not by any means finished.

Oh, but that’s not all. Not nearly. Mid January I discovered that my top choice for new agent would be speaking within driving distance of my house. I had total peace about taking a road trip with a friend who is an aspiring novelist. I’m sure you’re not surprised to hear that it turned out to be the perfect opportunity to talk to the agent, and I have since submitted to her in a much more targeted and personal way than I ever could have otherwise.

There’s more. Late January I received a note via email. “Loved your rewrite. You’ll be hearing from us soon. Wink. Wink.” This was concerning my first novel, which I had just about given up on.

Now, none of this is official yet. But here’s the thing. As I was busy being still, God was clearly working on my behalf behind the scenes and accomplishing more than I ever could have one my own.

February has arrived, and I am back to working diligently once again. Rewrites are underway for that novel I thought I had finished. Proposals have been emailed. I’ve been invited to work on several novella collections. But, this time I’ll remember to do it in his strength, not my own. And to take time out to be still and listen. Because after all, being still is not even the real point here. The real point is knowing God’s voice and allowing him to lead.

 

Leigh here … What a great lesson to learn, and one that I have so much trouble with! I have a terrible time slowing down enough to hear God’s voice sometimes, let alone listening well enough to actually follow it. I think nothing’s happening, but God’s always working in ways I have no idea about — until He’s ready to let me know.  Thanks for the reminder, Dina, and keep us posted on how things go from here!

Writing life

Getting it on paper

One of my biggest challenges with writing fiction is getting all those ideas on the page so I can work with them. It’s not that I don’t know what to say — I’m rarely at a loss for words anytime, but especially not when I’m lost in Story World. The ideas are great in my head and I know a lot about where I want to go. The problem is that I want these wonderful scenes to be great once they hit the page — but those of us who are writers know that’s rarely the case. I know that too, which is why I love editing … and tweaking … and playing with my thesaurus or Flip Dictionary until everything in that scene is just so.

So what’s the problem with that, some of you might ask. The problem is that I can get so hung up on making a scene work perfectly that it’s hard to keep moving. I need to learn the art of dumping ideas on the page and getting the basic story down before I fiddle it to perfection. Writing the bones and then adding muscles and flesh, as some writers call it. How do I do that? I’m not really sure, but I’m getting better at highlighting words I know I want to change and leaving blanks to fill in later instead of wracking my brain for the right phrase. Maybe that’s a step in the right direction, but I’ll take all the help I can get.

Any advice from you other writers who are much better at getting that initial draft knocked out than I am? What’s your trick for keeping things moving instead of getting bogged down in trying to make it right the first time? I’ll take all the help I can get! 🙂