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?
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.
[Tweet “Life Creative celebrates moms fitting their inspired lives into the ordinary places of motherhood.”]
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.
We didn’t really know what to expect when we stepped into the house. We only knew it would be a unique experience.
A Nigerian family from our church had invited us to celebrate the 50th birthday of their oldest sister with them. She is visiting America for the first time from Nigeria, and they planned a night of unabated joy.
As the evening wore on, more and more people poured through the doors, all of them dressed head to toe in traditional clothing. The women’s dresses were handmade by one of the sisters, their head wraps bold and bright, heels high, and jewelry big.
We began the evening with a hymn, following by praise songs, words of wisdom from the brother and our pastor, then words of affirmation for the birthday girl from anyone who wanted to speak.
They were effusive in their praise, voices singing loud. No one cared if they were on key or not. It wasn’t about a perfect rendering of the song. It was about praise. It was about joy.
It was a celebration.
“We want to thank God that you are still alive today!” they said, over and over. “We praise God because He could have taken you before today, but He didn’t. He gave you 50 years, and we thank Him for that.”
They pulled out drums and sang, the women all gathering around the celebrated sister, and they danced, laughing and clapping. The younger brother dropped to his knees, his arms raised high to the sky. It was worship. It was celebratory. It was praise.
It was joy.
And I sat in the corner with tears wetting my cheeks because this is the joy I long to fill my home. These people come from a country that has seen deep and lasting hardship, but you wouldn’t know. There was nothing melancholy or solemn about the evening. Only smiles that split wide their faces, and the overflowing joy that comes with praise.
It’s something I’ve seen before. I don’t know why, but I’m forever amazed at the ability of those who have walked through pain and suffering to live in the present with great joy and gladness. But what do I expect?
Why do I look for these things in those whose backgrounds have been less blessed than my own? Is it because I’ve been so immersed in the American mentality my whole life that I falsely and wrongly believe that hardship must naturally be dwelled upon?
Is it because I have seen so many people I know, people who have been unendingly blessed, dwell on hurt feelings and heartaches, simmering in anger rather than living in the blessed beauty of forgiveness and joy?
Oh, America. How much we miss when wrapped inside all our ‘blessing’.
We miss the opportunity for joy when we aren’t willing to look past our anger.
We miss true, unadulterated praise when we get stuck dwelling on the heartaches of the past.
We lose sight of every good thing when we constantly look toward an unknown future in fear.
I’m saddened to think that my country is missing out on a great deal of celebration because we’re so blinded by ease.
Easy Street has made us boring.
“In a word, the future is, of all things, the thing least like eternity. Is is the most completely temporal part of time – for the Past is frozen and no longer flow, and the Present is all lit up with eternal rays.” C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
Our nation is caught up in the uncertainty of the future right now. We’re rolling in our hopes and our fears, and it’s stealing joy, siphoning it right off before our eyes.
We spend so much time looking into the past, hoping that it will dictate the future, that somehow we seem to have forgotten how to enjoy the present, which is bright with the rays of eternity. The present is where love takes shape – it’s where memories are made, life is lived, and joy is found.
[Tweet “”For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity.” C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters”]
Oh, friends. May we all experience the joy of living in the present today. May we let go of the anger and hurt of the past, and fear not the uncertainties of the future.
May we touch eternity today, right now, in this very moment.
If you haven’t preordered your copy of my novel, Like a River From Its Course, what are you waiting for?* It’s based on the true stories of men and women I spoke with personally – people who did not dwell on the past, but who lived joyfully in the present. This is a book you don’t want to miss!
There’s a certain flaw in my personality. I know this comes as a shock to you, but it’s true. I am not perfect.
This certain flaw of mine resides firmly inside my stubbornness. I hate being told I have to do something.
Maybe you can relate?
Image Credit: Claudia Otte/Shutterstock.com
My first reaction to someone telling me I have to do something is to dig my heels in and say, “Nope. Not gonna happen. Thanks for asking, though.”
Now that I’m a grown up girl, of course, I’ve gotten better at controlling this impulse. I’m better at listening and receiving advice, and much more willing to concede the wisdom of others than perhaps I once was.
But I still don’t like being told I have to do something.
Writing books is a funny business. You think the book writing part is the hard part, and to a degree it is. As a writer once famously said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at the typewriter and bleed.” (This quote is most often attributed to Earnest Hemingway, but as it turns out, he wasn’t the one who said this. Thanks, internet, for ruining my morning.)
Once you get past the draining nature of bleeding onto paper (screen…whatever), you then get to enjoy the process of finding someone to validate your work. I thought that was the hard part, until I finally got set up with the agent and the publisher, and got back the first, second, and third round of edits.
Surely that was the hard part, right?
It turns out I was wrong about all of it. The hardest part of writing is the marketing and the launching and getting the word out there about all that bleeding you did on paper (screen…whatever).
THIS IS THE HARD PART!
When I’m not nursing sick babies (hello strep throat! You’re no longer welcome), homeschooling, shuttling from baseball to soccer to flag football to youth group to gymnastics, and trying to fit in conversations with my husband, I’m working on the launch plan for the books I’m releasing this year.
I’m not complaining about this – not in the slightest. It’s terribly exciting, and the process is invigorating, of only slightly overwhelming. But there’s one problem:
This process of launching books can take over your life.
Every spare moment I have – every quiet, free second when the kids are playing, or the baby is sleeping – I am working on my plan to launch these books. And the more that I feel pressured to do to make this a “successful” launch, the more I want to dig in my heels, shake my head, and say, “Nope. Not gonna happen. Thanks for asking, though.”
Here’s the thing: I see the wisdom in all these things. If I were to do everything that was recommended to successfully launch and market my books, I can quite easily see how it would work.
But I can also see how it can control a person.
It will be summertime when I launch my novel – the time of year when all my children are home all day every day. Those are short months we’re given each year in which we get to make memories – to enjoy one another as a family without all the pressures of life.
I refuse to be controlled by book launches. I refuse to sacrifice my summer, and my children’s summer, with marketing. So, what does that mean?
It means I have to be strategic. It means I’m listening to the advice of my launch manager who is helping me control my strategy so that it doesn’t control me.
I’m working ahead of schedule as much as possible so that when summertime rolls around I’ve got a bulk of the work pre-done.
I’m listening to the words of wisdom, and I’m sifting through it, tailoring it to fit my life – the life of a mother with four young children who don’t necessarily need me to be a bestselling author.
They need me to be their mom.
Image Credit: jakkapan/Shutterstock.com
Do I want to see these books thrive?
Would I love to hit a bestseller list?
Am I will to put in the work to make that happen?
Yes…but not at the sacrifice of the people closest to me.
So I’m navigating these waters cautiously. I may not be doing as much as I should be. I’m dropping balls left and right (some of them here at home, and some of them in marketing).
But I refuse to be consumed completely.
[Tweet “Dreams are meant to be chased, but not at the expense of the ones I love most.”]
Turns out that stubbornness of mine comes in handy now and again.
Our little house sat nestled on a five-acre field, the sprawling Wisconsin woods providing the backdrop to what was a pretty idyllic scene. I was a child, so my memories of Wisconsin winters are filled with nothing more than magic. Hours spent tunneling through the snow, building igloos, eating snacks inside our burrowed out snow caverns in six and seven foot drifts.
We lived at the top of a large hill, so the neighborhood descended upon our back yard daily to sled. We’d bring out pitchers of water at the end of each day, and build up a ramp of snow, sprinkling it with water between each layer. By morning, we’d have a frozen solid launching pad for our toboggans.
My bedroom was on the second story, and I’d wake up each morning to look out over the stark white landscape, a wonderland of possibility for my imaginative mind. I didn’t need a wardrobe to reach Narnia. It waited for me in my backyard.
It’s easy to remember those Wisconsin years with great fondness. I was a child, and my only responsibility was to bundle up and give in to the imagination. As an adult, I shudder at the thoughts of frigid winters and snowy fields, but as a child?
I lived for winter.
When I was little, there were few things I enjoyed more than exploring. My brother and I would wake early and make plans to traverse the woods behind our house. Of course, during hunting season it was imperative that we wore bright colors and made enough noise to not be mistaken for deer, but in the summer, when the snow finally melted and the trees turned vibrant, we’d spend hours and hours in their shade.
There’s magic in exploration, and I miss it.
There are days when the mundane feels like a blanket over my head. The predictability of life presses down, and I find myself longing for those early years when I was nothing more than the girl in the trees, swinging from one grand adventure to the next.
There are other days, however, when I’m completely smitten with this life I’m living. As the cooler Florida weather kisses my bare arms (I’ll take a Florida winter over a Wisconsin winter any day of the week now), I watch my husband and kids play in the backyard.
The boys kick the soccer ball, whooping and hollering in delight with each scored goal.
Tia flips and tumbles over her mats, the very same mats upon which I used to flip and tumble in my Wisconsin yard as a child, and I feel her delight as she takes in the world upside down.
And Annika tromps through the yard, high stepping over the areas where the grass is a little too high. Her face is filled with that rapturous delight that only toddlers possess when they’re given the freedom to roam unhindered.
All the sights and sound assail my senses, and I realize there’s plenty of adventure left. Some of the adventure is awesome, the imaginations of my small people lighting the path for grand adventures.
Some of the adventure I could do without – like broken bottles of nail polish and shattered snow globes, and everything else the rambunctious toddler longs to attack inside the house.
It’s all an adventure, even the monotony. I guess it’s just a matter of perspective, and a willingness to use your imagination. Because the truth is, we were made for adventure. We weren’t made for monotony because it leads to complacency, and there’s no power in complacency.
[Tweet “You and me – we were made for adventure.”]
If you sit back and think about it, I imagine you’re seeking adventure just like I am. Maybe you’re an obvious thrill seeker, always open and game for the next wild endeavor.
Or maybe you’re a homebody, content to stay nestled inside your comfort zone.
But I imagine you still long for adventure.
So what does adventure look like for you? Is it the challenge of your work? Is it the delight you take in watching your children grow? Is it travel? Do you find adventure in a good book, or in the creativity of your every day life?
What is it that breaks you free from the monotony of the day to day? When was your last adventure?
Has it been too long?
Helen Keller told us that “Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing at all.” If this is true, and if you believe it, then what are you doing to enjoy the ride?