The Romance in Spontaneity

My mom was was a missionary’s kid of the 1960′s. Her father a pioneer missionary to the West Indies, she spent a significant portion of her childhood in the Turks and Caicos Islands, and the Bahamas. Sounds romantic, right?

It was hard.

They didn’t have running water, and they lived on SPAM. To this day, my mom can’t look at a can of that stuff without gagging. It was hot and dusty, and the kids were constantly sick.

My grandparents finally came to a point where they knew their older children needed better schooling, so they made the decision to send them back to the States to boarding school. My mom and her uncle were ten and twelve at the time, and as summer drew to a close, the departure date closed in on them.

The problem was they didn’t know exactly when they would depart.

They kept their packed suitcases at the ready next to the door, and each day my granddad kept an eye out for landing planes. If someone happened to arrive on the dusty landing strip in South Caicos, where they lived, Poppy Jim would ask them where they were headed next.

If the answer was Miami, he asked if they had room for two children.

And so it was that my mom and her brother returned to the States each year at summer’s end – in the back of a stranger’s small plane, flying over crystal blue waters with the promise that they’d get word to their parents when they’d safely arrived.

My dad grew up in the hills of Kentucky and Tennessee. The son of a hard working father, my dad started working at age 14. He met my mom at 18, and married her when he was only 19, then worked full time and put himself through college.

So it’s not a surprise that my parents, both of whom lived quite independently at young ages, have raised a daughter who craves independence, and thrives on a bit of adventure. And though I baffle my husband at times, I’ve been blessed to marry a man who recognizes my need to explore, and gives me the freedom to do so.

travel

I sometimes feel like I need travel almost as much as I need oxygen. If I go too long without some sort of adventure, I get antsy and start talking nonsense about maybe redecorating the house all by myself, or training to run a marathon, or some other ridiculous proposition that runs completely contrary to my nature.

This is when Lee knows it’s time to get me out of the house.

Last week, Lee came home and said that he heard he needed to travel to Germany for work. After I got my heart rate to slow down a little and my palms quit sweating, I asked if the kids and I could go with him. My parents are living in Munich right now, so it seemed the perfect time to take a new adventure across the ocean. And my sweet husband, who is generally NOT known for his spontaneity, SAID YES.

Thus began three days of intense research. Could we do this? Could we pull this off? Could I manage to get Annika an expedited passport, secure decent flights, and plan a trip for six people to Germany in only 17 days?

The answer is, yes I could. But it wasn’t going to be smart.

We would have only had a week in Germany, and with Lee working most of that time, it would have been just me and the kids with my parents. My young, jet lagged kids. It sounded equal parts SO FUN and a total nightmare. And also? Lee would have missed the kids experiencing Europe for the first time, and where’s the fun in that?!

So I blinked back tears and decided that this just wasn’t the time for us to join him.

Then my mom called.

“Hey. I found a really cheap ticket from Munich to Tampa, and I could really use a couple of weeks at home. Why don’t you come to Germany with Lee and I’ll stay with the kids.”

Two weeks from today, I will land in Germany. Lee and I will fly to different parts of the country so he can work and I can spend some time with dad. But Lee will join dad and I in Munich on the weekend, and we’ll enjoy several days of exploring together.

I’m so grateful for a husband who recognizes my need for exploration and adventure. I’m so thankful for a mom who loves her grandchildren so much she’d fly thousands of miles so she could stay with them and give me a special time away. I’m so thrilled I get to experience Munich with my dad.

There is something romantic and exciting about living life spontaneously. Obviously, when you have children a certain amount of predictability and schedule is necessary to function. But if someone came along and offered us a job that allowed us to travel the world with our kids in tow, I’m not sure that we would turn it down.

Until that happens, though, I’ll simply jump at every opportunity I get to see the world.

I think traveling might be my love language.

 

Paralysis

As I sit here at the computer, my fingers hovered over the keys, I feel the weight of the silence pushing me from all sides. In a house full of children, silence is golden, right? Maybe. Or maybe not.

Those golden moments are precious, and I soak them up. But in the soaking, I want also to be productive. I’ve found that I better serve my family in the bustle. Cleaning the kitchen, folding laundry, straightening up rooms here and there – all of these tasks are more enjoyable to me as I float them in with the every day noise.

But the silence? I want to bottle it up.

I long to use these whispered minutes of my day to create, to feed the writerly part of my soul. And yet recently, when the quiet comes I find myself paralyzed, all the words bottling up instead of spilling out.

It feels forced right now. I’m pushing out the stories because I need to, and yes I want to, but the inspiration is lacking. I watch the clock tick away the silence, and I know the noise is coming back, and I want to make my fingers dance so that I can capture the words before they thunder through me.

But there is no thunder, and that is the problem.

Some call this writer’s block, and maybe it’s a touch of what I have. But more than that, it’s a paralysis of creative power. Because I’m so hell bent on writing words that matter, stories that resonate, characters that sing, and blog posts that people want to read that I’ve stripped myself of all inspiration.

And so I stare at a blank screen and will the words to come. The good words. Meaningful words that people could share. Instead, my eyes get tired, and I shut it down and stare into the silence until a baby’s cry slices through it.

I don’t quite know anymore how to write a book that will sell. I can’t figure out what publishers want, and I scratch ideas onto a pad of paper, then scribble through them because they sound contrived. Nothing is fresh, but rather my muddled mind screams IT’S ALL BEEN WRITTEN!

It’s true. The publishing industry acknowledges that “there’s nothing new under the sun,” and so we writers simply try to give a new spin on an old tale.

And the blogging. Oh, the blogging. So many words already written, and so many of them are good. They’re really, really good. I read the words and I wonder what else there is to say. So my fingers keep hovering.

typewriter2

But then there’s a little spark. Yesterday I passed a man on the side of the road. I pass him frequently, because he’s always in the same place. Sloan sat beside me and pointed him out. “I wonder why he’s always there,” he said. “What’s his story? He’s always standing in that same spot with his bicycle, just watching the cars go by.”

Just like that, a character was born, and my imagination felt a jolt. It was a small buzz, the kind that zaps you for a moment, then immediately stops. But it was enough to make my heart flutter, because it means there are still stories in there.

And in the fluttering, I remember that this time three years ago I was preparing to board a plane to Tanzania where I would tell, perhaps, some of the most meaningful stories of my career. I typed words that mattered, and I know that there are still stories waiting to be told.

Maybe I just need to be patient.

So I’ll keep hovering in the silence, waiting for the inspiration. And sometimes I’ll force the words, because deadlines dictate that I do so, but I’ll also keep watching in the noisy moments. There are words that want to be written. It’s just a matter of waiting.

So, writer friends, tell me: Do you ever feel a similar paralysis? How do you move past that feeling so that you can catch the waiting words?

Humble Tuesday

Sweet Landon

It’s rare these days that I get any one on one time with my kids. It’s the nature of our season of life. So it was a nice little surprise when I got to go to the store alone with Landon last week.

One of the joys of having a baby with older children in the house is the small amount of freedom it offers. Annika was asleep last Thursday, and I needed to pick Tia up from gymnastics, so I left Sloan home with the sleeping babe, and Landon and I scooted out, swinging by the store to grab some milk.

As we walked the store aisles, I felt a moment of pride sort of puff me up. Lee had been out of town all week, and I had managed the chaos without any major meltdowns. Somehow I didn’t even feel terribly overwhelmed despite going on five days flying solo.

I’ve got this. I’m doing good,” I thought. And yes, I felt proud. Not the healthy “Atta girl” sort of pride, though. More like the unhealthy, thinking-more-highly-of-myself-than-I-ought-to sort of pride.

I grabbed Landon’s hand as we walked, because he’s 7 and he still likes to hold my hand, and I looked down at his little freckled face and smiled.

“I’m glad I get this time with you, buddy,” I said with a smile. “I sure am glad I get to be your mom.”

He grinned, his loose front teeth hanging at a sort of odd angle, and blinked back up at me, big, adoring blue eyes trained on my face.

“I’m glad you’re my mom, too,” he said with a grin.

“Thanks!” I said. “I think you’re awesome!”

He smiled big. “You’re awesome, too. And pretty.”

Aw, I thought. What a sweet boy.

“But not as pretty as my friend at school’s mom.”

Wait, what?

“Her mom is cuter than you.” He looked up at me. “No offense, mom. I’m just saying.”

Um…

Happy Tuesday, everyone! May your day be filled with grace, peace (yes, I am praying for peace), and the perfect dose of reality to keep you humble.

*wink*

 

You Can’t Do It All, And That’s Okay

When I graduated college, I really believed that I was on the path to a huge career. Early on in our marriage, Lee and I sat down and wrote out a list of 100 dreams – because those are things you do when you’re young and married and feel certain that the world is yours for the taking.

My list included such items as:

“Backpack across Europe with Lee” (should’ve taken care of that one before kids came along…)

“Go on an Alaskan Cruise” (should’ve done that when we had income to spare, and practically no bills, and no kids…)

“Own a boat” (we’ve learned it’s much better to be friends with people who own boats…)

“Have 4 kids” (hey look! dreams do come true!)

There were also a lot of ridiculous things on the list – things like, “Be in a commercial, live in the Bahamas for a year, and own an island.” You know, like I actually wanted to buy an island.

Ah, youth.

It’s actually really hard to come up with 100 dreams if you think about it, and for good reason.

This life is so much more than simply living out our wildest dreams. That’s not to say I’m against dreaming. But when you set a task for yourself to write down 100 dreams?

You’re bound to let yourself down.

My career dreams were even more ambitious than my life dreams. I wanted to write and publish ten books and be on the New York Times Bestseller List before age 30 (again, I may have wanted to edit this list when kids started showing up at age 25).

I was going to do all this with my perfect, angelic children by my side. And somehow my life would be spotless and easy throughout the process.

In short, I believed the biggest lie sold to women of my generation – the lie that said we could do, and have, it all.

I watched this video today, and I found myself nodding so ferociously that I thought I would get whiplash. It’s time more women stood up and acknowledged that having it all is just a myth.

I loved when Ally said, “You may have it all, but it will be in different season.”

YES!

Ladies – Moms – Life is messy beautiful. Motherhood is messy beautiful. Careers are messy beautiful. Marriage is messy beautiful.  But you know what? Dreams are simply beautiful.

When we dream, we don’t see the messy. We only see the beautiful. And then the messy shows up, and the dream gets muddy, and we miss the beauty, and we wonder why it’s so hard to do all the things we dream of doing.

That’s because we can’t do it all – not all at the same time.

Everything we do – every choice we make – will require sacrifice. Motherhood will require a sacrifice of time, of brain power, of focus, of sanity. In the early seasons of motherhood, that sacrifice will be huge. But as your children grow, the sacrifice lessens to a degree, leaving space for new experiences.

Chasing a career will require sacrifice. It will require a sacrifice of time, of brain power, of the freedom to get up and go. And if you’re pursuing a career with young children at home, that sacrifice will be greater for a time. But as your children grow, the sacrifice lessens to a degree.

Do you see a pattern?

We can’t have it all at once, ladies. And if someone tries to convince you that you can, you should kick her in the shins and flee.

Make no mistake, that woman you’re watching – the one that you think has it all and balances it so perfectly – is making a sacrifice. She is sacrificing something, and that’s okay. We can’t judge one another, because we’re all doing it. We’re all sacrificing in some area of life so that we can provide in another area of life.

That’s what makes womanhood, motherhood, life in general, so beautiful. And so very messy.

So can you have it all? No, you simply can’t. Not all at the same time. But string the years together and walk faithfully toward the things set before you in each moment, and you just might be surprised when you get to the end and look back and see that you had a great many things.

You may even see that dreams you never dared to dream came true.

Every Writer Needs a Bethany

Bethany

It’s dinner time and the pasta on the stove is bubbling over. The boys come screeching through the house pretending to slaughter one another as they play ‘Hunger Games,’ and the baby hollers in the living room for the toy that’s rolled out of her reach. There are pressing matters that need my attention, and yet I cannot fully focus because there is this story I’m working on, and the characters just aren’t right. I grab my phone.

“I need your help!” I text. “Do you have ten minutes to read this story and tell me if I’m on the right track, or if I should just scrap it altogether and go back to the drawing board?”

I shoot the text to Bethany, and I close the computer because sometimes you just have to walk away. In no time, I got her reply: “Yes!! Absolutely!! Email it to me. I love stories! And you know I won’t flinch from giving edit.”

I don’t know what I would do without Bethany. She is my lobster in so many ways – the heart sister the Lord gave me who shares my love of books and learning. Bethany is the one who challenges me to be better as a wife, a mom, a writer, and a friend.

Bethany isn’t satisfied with mediocrity, as can sometimes be my tendency, and so I know when I hand her something I’ve written, she’ll will come back to me with an honesty that’s refreshing. She knows that I don’t want to settle for “good,” but that I’m striving for “great.”

As a writer, I need someone like that in my corner. Bethany not only believes in my ability to tell a story, but she makes sure I believe in my ability to tell a story. Because sometimes I forget that I can do this. Sometimes I get bogged down in the trying, and I start to question why I’m doing this in the first place. Bethany is there to keep me from walking away.

Also, Bethany is wicked smart. She’s smarter than me. She’s probably smarter than all of you, too.

When she returned the edits, I breathed a sigh of relief, because it was exactly what I needed to hear. “You have a really good base,” she wrote. “But the story is flat. I need you bring it to life. Stop TELLING me the story. SHOW me. Do what you do best. Make me love the characters.”

What would I do without a friend who wasn’t afraid to push me? What would I do if there wasn’t someone who had my back, someone who was willing to tell me the hard things so that I could get better?

We all need Bethany’s in life. We need someone who will look us in the eye and tell us what we need to hear, not just what we want to hear. As a writer, I’ve been blessed to have a whole group of women surround me in support. The buzz word nowadays is “Tribe,” and I believe mine to be one of the best.

I put up my first short story today over at Short Fiction Break. Short stories are a new challenge for this novelist. It’s an art form all it’s own, and I am excited about the challenge. I’m also immensely grateful to Bethany for pushing me to infuse the story with life. When I was doubting my ability to pull it off, she gave me the courage I needed to hit publish.

Every writer needs a Bethany.

Do you have yours?