It Takes a Village, or So They Say

My freshman year at Baylor University, I got locked inside The Sub, the student designated common area that housed a small cafe, a few couches and computers, and the mail room. It was the Sunday before finals week, and I crept out of the dorm just as the sun peeked up over the horizon, because cramming is an art form, and I’d mastered it.

I wanted some place that I knew I could be alone for several hours to study, so I walked to The Sub and tugged on the back door, and it opened! There were a couple of lights on, but otherwise the room was dark and completely silent. I sat down at one of the tables and pulled out my books and notebooks, then set to work.

Thirty minutes in, a man walked around the corner whistling and nearly jumped out of his skin when he saw me sitting at the table. If we hadn’t been so terrified, I think we both would have laughed.

“You know The Sub is closed until 1:00 on Sundays, right?” he asked. He was the custodian making his final rounds before heading to the next building on campus. I nodded my head in response, but really I had no clue the building was closed on Sunday mornings.

These were the small details of life that eluded eighteen-year-old me.

“I’m just studying for finals,” I replied.

“Well, alright then,” he said, giving me a little wink. “You can stay. Just promise you’ll leave by 11:00 so you don’t scare the woman who unlocks the doors as much as you scared me just now.”

I smiled and nodded, and he moved on. I heard him leave the building, and I dug back into conjugating Russian verbs. Around 10:00, I could feel my eyelids growing heavy. I’d put in nearly four hours of work, and I’d had nothing to eat. It was time for breakfast and a nap. I gathered my things and headed for the door…only to find it locked tight.

I checked every door in The Sub, all of them locked. I was stuck, and at a loss for what to do next. This was 1996, which means I didn’t have a cell phone or Facebook, or really any other means for getting in touch with someone. All I had was the campus phone in the corner.

A phone with a cord attached to it. Good grief I’m old.

It took several attempts, but I finally managed to wake up a friend in the dorm and ask her to come see if she could break me out. Long story short, it took about an hour for her to find someone with a set of keys who could set me free.

That was the day I determined that studying early in the morning could legitimately be hazardous.

Image courtesy of Tammy Labuda Photography

Image courtesy of Tammy Labuda Photography

Sometimes motherhood feels like that morning in The Sub. I start out so many days with such noble purposes, and I enter into the day assuming that it’s all going to go according to plan. Then suddenly it’s all bumbled, and I’m locked down in the decisions and the bickering and the never ending to-do list, and I can’t find my way back out.

That’s when I’m grateful for friends who pick up the phone and hear the panic in my voice, rushing to rescue me from the corner into which I’ve backed myself.

My friend, Wendy, said this once, and I do believe it’s true. Because going it alone in these emotionally exhausting years of raising kids starts to feel claustrophobic. If we’re not careful, we just might blame our kids for locking us in, and where would that leave us?

No, friends who pick up their phones when we call (or text…thank you modern technology) help us keep the doors open. They walk us out into the light, and nourish our starving bodies with laughter, conversation, and encouragement. And so it is that motherhood was never meant to be lived alone, but together, with the doors of life open and unlocked.

So this is my cry of thanks to the village of friends who continually rally around me, making sure I don’t get stuck inside these mothering years. They’re the ones that push wide open the door, keeping fresh air flowing through my days  and making me, in turn, a better mother.

I’m glad I don’t have to go it alone.

I’m also glad that technology has given us phones without cords.

Have you thanked a friend today? Bought her coffee? Sent her a card? Or a text?

Would you?

 

Pulling Away to Create

I signed a contract to write a book last week, and in the time since I made it official, I have had zero opportunity to write.

None.

I haven’t been able to blog, to work on the book, or to make edits on another project. We’ve been on vacation, and I purposed this year to be fully engaged in that vacation. In the past, I’ve always pulled away to blog, feeling as though I had to keep the ball rolling so as not to lose momentum.

This year, I had to stop.

Babies change things. Having another baby makes it harder to pull away and work. I’m obviously okay with this, because have you seen how desperately cute that baby is?!

But I needed to make it a plan in my head that I wouldn’t steal time from my family to write words that may or may not be read. I needed to be present, fully, and I was. And it was awesome.

But today it’s time to get back in the swing of things.

Photo Courtesy of Tammy Labuda. TammyLabudaPhotography.com

Photo Courtesy of Tammy Labuda. TammyLabudaPhotography.com

Tonight, two of my creative besties will land in Florida. They’ll make their way across the country from California, and land on the hot tarmac here in Tampa. Tomorrow, the other three will join them, and the six of us will spend the rest of the week cheering one another on as we press toward our individual goals.

We’ll work on books, on photography, on lesson plans for the coming year. And we will do what we’ve always done best. Encourage one another.

Photo Courtesy of Tammy Labuda. TammyLabudaPhotography.com

Photo Courtesy of Tammy Labuda. TammyLabudaPhotography.com

This will be our 5th Annual Creative Retreat, and it will be different this year. We’re on a different coast, and we’re all in different places in our lives. Time will be spent less on creating the perfect meal, and more on the projects that beg for our time.

Tammy doing her thang at our 3rd Annual Retreat.

Tammy doing her thang at our 3rd Annual Retreat.

There’s been a lot of stress leading up to this year’s retreat. Coming in from vacation the day before you’re hosting such an event is not something that I would generally recommend. And it’s the first year my mom hasn’t been around to help with the kids, so a sitter is coming to the rescue.

We work at these retreats, yes. But we also rest, and rest is imperative for the creative soul.

We work at these retreats, yes. But we also rest, and rest is imperative for the creative soul.

All these things beg for my attention, threatening to steal the joy I feel when I surround myself with these talented friends of mine, but just as I had to purpose not to work during vacation, this week I will purpose not to worry while away from my family.

Photo courtesy of Tammy Labuda. TammyLabudaPhotography.com

Photo courtesy of Tammy Labuda. TammyLabudaPhotography.com

The kids will survive a few days without me, and Lee assures me he’s got this handled. Despite the stresses inside his own job, he’s given me a wide blessing to chase after this dream I have of writing books.

So this morning, I’ll get the baby settled for a nap, and pray she takes a long one. Then I’ll head out to pick up groceries, and I’ll prepare myself to leave for a few days. To step away into my craft.

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It’s amazing what we can accomplish when we’re willing to pull away for a few days. Even for a few hours. I pulled away from blogging for almost the entirety of our twelve day vacation, and I found that the quiet spaces actually provided me time to think.

Imagine that.

All the words I need to write began to simmer in those pulled back days, and they’re ready to tumble out. At least, I hope they are. I really hope they are.

And pulling away from my family for just a few days will offer a similar peace of mind so that when I return I’ll have less of the book hanging over my head, and I can focus more fully on them as we continue to enjoy our Summertime Agenda of Awesome.

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I’m looking forward to the refreshment of simply diving into the work this week. And next week?

Next week we play again.

 

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?

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