There really isn’t a non-awkward way to begin this post. It’s been nearly ten months since I last posted in this space. In internet years that’s practically a lifetime.
A lot can (and did) happen in ten months. For those of you who don’t follow me on Facebook or Instagram, here is the abridged version of events.
We adopted Sawyer in November, and while we thought we were prepared for the adoption journey, there was much about Sawyer’s health that wasn’t disclosed to us, so the learning curve has been straight uphill.
Shortly after bringing Sawyer home, when we were still reeling from the whirlwind that was China, our oldest son got sick. After a solid month of running a fever, and an ultrasound that revealed a swollen spleen, he was diagnosed with mono. A month after that, he was diagnosed with pneumonia.
On the same day that he was diagnosed with pneumonia, I was diagnosed with mono. This happened to be the same day that Sawyer had major surgery to repair his cleft palate.
The months of January-April are a bit of a blur. We were just trying to survive. We have seen more doctors and specialists than I ever knew existed, and we’ve met our family medical deductible for the first time in our lives, an accomplishment that isn’t nearly as exciting as it sounds.
There’s so much more I could share about these last ten months. They have been some of the hardest, most exhausting, emotionally charged, physically taxing, spiritually formative months of my entire life.
But it’s more than a simple blog post can handle, so I’ll simply leave it at this:
God is good because He is God. Hope is slow, but it is never ending. Life is hard and unpredictable while simultaneously beautiful and miraculous.
In the midst of this hard season, I’ve found myself craving the process of writing like never before. It was my lifeline when the mono knocked me out. In the wee hours of the morning, when fear and despair seemed to constantly drive me from my bed, tapping away at the keys brought and unexpected solace.
And through the storm of life, a new story has evolved.
This fall, I will release my second novel, A Silver Willow by the Shore.
A brief synopsis:
How do you face the future if you don’t know your own past?
When an unexpected pregnancy changes her dreams, seventeen-year-old Annie tries to keep it from her mother and her grandmother. But secrets have a way of coming out. In a household of strong women, the arrival of a new life sets off a spiral of truth that reveals a past full of whispers and lies—a past that existed in another world under the heavy hand of Soviet oppression. This history has dictated the circumstances of the present, but hope, redemption, and forgiveness will grow in the rocky places of these generational differences.
A Silver Willow by the Shore is the story of the unshakeable love between mothers and daughters and of the impact that past decisions can have on present day circumstances. This novel weaves together the stories of generations of women, from the gulags of 1930’s Siberia, to the quiet oppression of 1980’s Soviet Moscow, to present day Tennessee. It is an unforgettable narrative of the treachery of secrets, and of the light that unites the heart of a family.
In the weeks to come, I will be sharing more about the book and opportunities to help spread the word. In the meantime, if you aren’t following me on Instagram, hop on over as I’m posting updates there regularly about this newest novel, my crazy life, and the art of the written word.
It’s awkward to jump back in this way after so many months away. It’s like trying to reinsert yourself into a conversation that you walked away from.
But here we are. We’re alive and (mostly) well. We’re surviving, and perhaps even thriving. By God’s grace alone, we’re standing in this place, humbled, changed, and excited about what the future holds.
Now, fill me in on you! What has life thrown your way in the last ten months?
Nine years ago, I started my first blog. Like a lot of people, I didn’t start off smoothly. It was a rough few months figuring out exactly what a blog should be, how to tell a story in a way that was interesting, how to share what was happening in our lives without oversharing.
Blogging filled a need for me. I was a writer, but I needed to practice the art of the written word, and I learned a lot in those early blogging days. I also had a lot of fun.
I owe a world of gratitude to the blogging community and all it has offered me. This is why it’s sort of painful for me to step away from it, but more and more over the last few months I’ve felt that it was time for me to take a hiatus from the blogging world.
I’ve fought this decision. I didn’t want to stop blogging, and discontinuing my blog goes against all conventional wisdom for writing and marketing books, but the current life stage in which I find myself demands that I make some changes.
Right now, my heart’s desire is to continue to build my publishing career, and with four kids, homeschooling, taxiing said children to ALL THE SPORTING EVENTS IN THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD, and every other daily responsibility that falls on my shoulders, something has to give.
Right now, I can either write good books, or I can write good blog posts. But I can’t do both.
So I will be taking a hiatus from the blogging world. I don’t know if I’m stepping away forever or for a time – I just know I need to give myself the freedom to walk away so I can focus on writing my next novel, as well as the novella I’ve been mulling over. I’m also fleshing out an idea for a new nonfiction book.
My brain is spinning with ideas, and this is exciting!
So, while I’ll be stepping away from blogging, I’m not completely disappearing. I still want to connect with all of you!
I’m going to start posting Facebook videos a couple of times a week on my Facebook page, and I would love to have you join me there. I’ll be discussing books I’m reading, talking about the writing process, telling funny stories – pretty much everything I would have done here only in short 2-5 minutes video bites.
I will miss sharing my life in this medium, but for now this is the right decision. To whomever has hung on with me from the beginning (and there are a few of you!), I thank you for taking this life journey with me. You all have been such a blessing.
And for those of you who are new, I sure hope you’ll continue to follow along, because if I’ve learned anything during this blogging journey it’s that life is so much more fun when it’s shared!
When I first met my husband, he was freshly graduated from college, and he was in the prime of his glory days as a scholarship collegiate basketball player.
He had come down to Waco, TX to interview for the position of Area Director for a ministry called K-Life, for which I was a volunteer. I was nineteen, he was twenty-three. He sat with his back against the wall, a baseball cap pulled down low over his forehead, and I was immediately smitten.
Two years after that initial meeting, he and I were married. I had worked my magic and made him mine. *wink*
When we married, the only images I had of my husband were from our time in youth ministry. He was the guy who dunked a ball over three high school students at a three-on-three tournament.
He was the guy who dressed in ridiculous costumes and made junior high students howl with laughter.
He was spontaneous and funny and completely goofy, and I loved him for it.
But when we got married, he decided to enter the business world. As much as he loved youth ministry, it seemed he had some dreams outside of putting on skits. And suddenly, I didn’t know who he was.
Turns out, this man of mine had business savvy. A bit of a wanderer at heart, the business world allowed him to stretch his wings. It baffled me for a long time, because I had a hard time reconciling the business man with the basketball star. And his constant influx of business ideas often left me on edge.
Now, however, I see the brilliance, and even the creativity, in this forward thinking man of mine. And I’ve learned a lot about what it means to run a business just by watching him.
Before we were even married, my husband began closing deals not for himself, but for me. We met Joe White, the director and owner of Kanakuk Kamps in Branson, MO my senior year at Baylor and by the end of the evening, Lee had convinced him to hire me as the ghostwriter for his next book. I would end up co-authoring that book in 2004.
Lee has always been my cheerleader, pushing me to see the bigger picture of what I could do. And his advice is always the same: “Treat this like a business.”
The key in taking our creative hobby and turning it into something more is to take it seriously enough to call it a business. An excerpt from my upcoming book explains more:
Several years ago as I began ramping up my career as a writer and editor, I took on a lot of jobs without pay. I rationalized this choice by convincing myself that I needed to build a name for myself, and show that I had experience. But as the work took off it became a lot to manage, and suddenly I found myself stressed over everything. That’s when my husband pulled me aside one evening after the kids were tucked into bed.
“You need to stop working for free,” he told me as we sat nestled on our wicker couch on the front porch, enjoying the cool, September air. “If you don’t value your time and skill, the people you’re working for won’t either.” I tried to defend my reasoning for offering free services, but he stopped me, and I knew it was time to listen. My husband is a successful businessman. I needed to hear his words and ingest them.
“I know that you’re gifted,” he said. “I know that you’re good at what you do. In fact, lots of people know it. But it’s time that you believe that you’re good enough to start charging for it.” That was a turning point for me professionally, but it wasn’t easy to retrain my thoughts. I was fearful that I would lose opportunity if I started charging, and I did on occasion. Some people simply couldn’t afford to pay me, and I had to walk away from those projects. But the people who were willing to pay agreed with the value I had placed on my time and skill, and I found that working with the promise of compensation gave me more confidence, thereby eliminating much of my stress, which in turn relieved some of the burden and stress from my family who had to live with me.
Taking your creative hobby to the next level requires that you look at it like a business. It’s not just “something you do for fun.” You are providing value to a world that needs it. You’re making beauty in a world that often feels like it’s spinning out of control.
Co-authored with Wendy Speake, this book is specifically for the creative mom who wonders why on earth God designed her creative, and then gave her children. It’s full of encouragement and stories of renaissance moms who are impacting the world with their art, oftentimes with little ones by their side.
As a special incentive, if you buy your copy by the end of September you will receive a free pdf downloadable that expands more on how to turn your creative hobby into a thriving business. Offering practical tools that will help you take your art to the next level, this is the encouragement you need to move forward toward your creative pursuits.
I was twenty years old, and I was living alone in Kiev, Ukraine.
Not totally alone, of course. I was living with a young, Ukrainian couple who spoke English (but often refused to speak it because they wanted me to become fluent in Russian), but I didn’t have any peers with me on the trip.
I was in Ukraine for two solid months before I even met another American. Looking back, I know this was a good thing. It forced me to adapt to the culture and the language, and it made me brave.
But I was lonely those four months. Trying to communicate in another language is exhausting. In the early days when I was completely alone, my only respite came from 3:00-4:00 in the afternoons after school.
I’d arrive home to an empty apartment and turn on the TV. Beverly Hills 90210 played weekday afternoons, and the translation lagged just enough behind the English that I could tune it out and listen to the show in my native tongue.
I never watched that show as a young girl, but I saw nearly every episode in Ukraine. I became well acquainted with Brandon, and Brenda, and Dillan, and Kelly, and all the others whose names I can’t remember now…
Outside of riveting television, though, I found my greatest comfort inside the pages of my journals. I wrote until my hand hurt, recording everything from the mundane moments of my days to the hysterical gaffes I made (I slipped on ice and fell on my butt more than once rushing to and from school).
After a weekend excursion to Prague, I came home with an English language copy of the book Jane Eyre, which I’d found in a little store near Charles Bridge. I devoured that book twice in my remaining months in Ukraine, and suddenly my journal pages were filled with poetic imagery. I used language like, “the leaves dance to the ground in a silent waltz,” and “the birds soar above my head on wings of freedom.”
WHO TALKS LIKE THAT?!
Twenty-Year-Olds who have too much alone time, that’s who.
It’s been 18 years since that life-changing experience. 18 years since I sat on a bench on a Ukrainian hillside overlooking the Dnieper River, and vowed to become a storyteller.
But what’s even more amazing is that it was just the beginning. That was only the first spark in my creative journey. It’s been a slow burn, sometimes dimmed by the pressures of every day life.
Motherhood slowed down the dream, but in a good way, because motherhood was a dream in and of itself. I’m living both dreams side-by-side, and it’s a messy little blending of the two. But I wouldn’t have it any other way, because this is better than anything I could have imagined 18 years ago as a lonely American student in Ukraine.
It’s also harder than I thought it would be.
Beautiful. Hard. Messy. Dream.
Those words all fit together in this puzzle of life. They’re tangled up, each piece getting its turn to take the spotlight.
Life Creative: Inspiration for Today’s Renaissance Mom releases on September 27. This is a book written for moms who are walking the line between motherhood and art. It’s a book for moms who had dreams long before they had children, and they want to know if it’s possible to blend the two parts of themselves.
Creative moms are coming together and linking arms, all of us agreeing that this life creative is equal parts grand and exhausting. We’d love to have you join us as we bring this encouraging message to all the moms who remember dreaming on a hillside so many years ago.
When working on Like a River From Its Course, I knew that I wanted to give as historically accurate a glimpse into World War II Soviet Ukraine as I could while still offering myself plenty of creative license with the stories. Having so many real life stories to draw from helped shape many of the characters and their narratives, but what about the side stories?
What about the real life men and women responsible for the heinous acts of the 1940’s?
Writing a book about World War II is daunting. The market is fairly saturated with stories from that era, so how would I write about those days in a way that was fresh and new? I needed to add an element of realism to make those wretched years come alive.
I spent countless hours researching the events that took place in Kiev, Ukraine, with the largest tragedy occurring at Babi Yar, the “killing ditch” where roughly 34,000 men, women, and children were killed in just two days time.
The mastermind behind that horrific event was a man named Paul Blobel.
A wicked, wretched little man, Blobel not only took credit for ordering thousands of Jews killed, but he was known to speak highly of his involvement in these mass executions.
In one of the books I read, a story was told of the day that Blobel and one of the Gestapo leaders drove past Babi Yar. The decomposing bodies of the Jews lay smoldering in the narrow ravine, and as the story goes, Blobel looked at the smoke, rising into the air in plumes of heartache, and said to his comrade, “This is my ditch. Isn’t it grand?”
The level of hatred that this one man possessed, and the demons that operated from his shell of a body were hard for me to comprehend. There were days when I had to swallow hard the bile of anger as I considered his actions, and those of the many like him.
It is these aspects of the book that make the story gritty and tough to read. I couldn’t possibly gloss over the sheer darkness of those days and somehow honor the fallen. If we are to respect their memories at all, then we must respect the wretched ways in which they died.
Including some of the real life characters in the book gave me a chance to show the extreme depravity of these men. But it also shined a light on the beauty and resilience of those who fought and survived those years.
Juxtaposed against Paul Blobel’s ugliness was the beauty of Ivan Kyrilovich, a man who was willing to give his life for his Jewish neighbors. Maria Ivanovna was willing to take a beating for her friend. Luda Michaelvna chose love over hatred after being assaulted. Sergei Ivanov worked as a partisan, despite the danger it put him in.
For all the horror of World War II, there was a whole lot of hope, and when you start mining through all these stories you find that the wretchedness of men like Paul Blobel cannot withstand the ultimate beauty of the human spirit.
We live in a day when fear is ever present. Tensions are high around the world, and there’s no better time than now to look at the past and to remember that the spirit of a man cannot be so easily quenched.
There’s still time to enter the Kindle Fire Giveaway if you haven’t done so yet. It’s quick and easy to enter, and the prize is great! You can win a copy of Like a River Form Its Course, a Kindle Fire with the case of your choice, and a $30 Amazon gift card.
When I first set out to write a novel set in World War II Soviet Ukraine, I did not intend to add an element of faith. This was, after all, a time of great spiritual oppression, with Stalin’s communist regime silencing anyone who might pose a threat to them. And there was, perhaps, no people group greater persecuted than those of the Church.
I met three fascinating World War II survivors in Odessa, Ukraine, all of whom had been Christians in those dark days of war. Two of the men were forced to serve in the penalty battalion of the Red Army after they were caught hiding and harboring Jews. Both credited God’s protection for their survival.
I wanted to tell these stories and, in fact, in one of the earlier versions of Like a River From Its Course, I did have a storyline that was based on one of these men’s experiences. But it became apparent early on that not all the stories could be told.
It would have been an impossible book to read.
So I whittled the stories down to four, and I planned to leave the spiritual component out of the book altogether. But then I began to wonder…
What does war do to a person?In the case of Ivan, after having survived the horror of Babi Yar, how would such an experience define how he saw the world? Would there be any questions of God in such a time of darkness?
I began to research how people of faith responded to the Nazi invasion, and I discovered that in the years between 1941-1945 there was a resurgence of the Church throughout the Soviet Union. Long oppressed and forced underground, they experienced a bit of freedom during the war years because the leadership of their country was so occupied with the fighting.
And so I began to explore the idea that perhaps people sought out answers to some really tough questions during that time. These were people who had survived the collectivization of their farms, Stalin’s purges in which millions of innocent people were sent to the Gulags if they were at all perceived threatening, and the famine of the early ’30’s that decimated the population.
Tradition tells the story of the apostle Andrew visiting Kiev in his missionary journeys, and it’s said that Princess Olga was one of the first in the monarchy to accept Christianity. In 988, Princess Olga’s grandson, Prince Vladimir the Great, established Christianity in its Byzantine-Slavic rite as the national religion of Kievan-Rus.
The Church has a long history in Ukraine, which made the exploration of how a character would seek God in communist USSR a fascinating topic for me.
But here’s the kicker: I needed this to be authentic.
Ivan Kyrilovich was a man raised under the talons of communism. Thanks to the quiet prayers of his mother, he had at least some exposure to faith, but it was minimal. I wanted his journey to be one of questioning. I wanted to show that he struggled with this concept of faith, because wouldn’t he?
I couldn’t wrap a neat little bow around this quest for faith, because the truth is that after the war, the church had to move back underground. My intention wasn’t to show some western-like grand conversion, but rather to display nuggets of truth inside one man’s quest for understanding.
As for how the faith played itself out, the predominant form of Christianity present in those days (and dating back to Vladimir the Great) was the Russian Orthodox Church, which does look very similar in nature to Roman Catholicism.
Mary plays a big role in the Russian Orthodox faith, as do the many saints. There is the belief that you have a saint who shares your name, and you can pray specifically to that saint when in need.
Icons also play a major role in the Church, and if you ever have the chance to visit an Orthodox church in the former Soviet Union, I hope you’ll study the icons closely. They are fascinating pieces of art depicting a long oppressed and persecuted faith.
If I was going to write an authentic story, then I needed Ivan and Tanya’s quest for faith to be authentic. It wasn’t going to be western in any way. It had to be real to both the time and the culture.
Beyond that, though, my prayer is that we can all be encouraged by the brief message of faith in Like a River From Its Course. For many years, man attempted to erase God from that land. They sent religious leaders to prison camps, turned churches into communist training facilities, and threatened anyone who attempted to spread Christianity with death.
But faith is not so easily snuffed out.
In the midst of one of the darkest periods of history, the Church surged back into the land and provided hope where there seemed to be none. In the words of Father Kyrilovich, “Life is a series of trials, all strung together by moments of beauty. But when the string of joy and beauty breaks, what is left to hold life together if there is no God?”