I sat up tall in the chair, elbows resting on the desk as I soaked in every word. I leaned in close, hoping to maybe catch the magic of each phrase and bottle it up for later.

“You each have a story to tell,” the professor said. He wasn’t flashy, like some of my other professors. He didn’t bring in a clunky keyboard, like my Latin professor, and make up quirky songs about the Greek gods.

He didn’t come to class dressed as Chaucer and recite The Canterbury Tales for twenty minutes like my Lit professor.

No, this man was different. He was a writer, and he had the aura of one. He was cool and laid back, with a sharp wit and a mischievous twinkle in his eye. He leaned on the podium and looked at us, one at a time.

“You have a story to tell,” he said again. “And that story is only yours.”

That was a long time ago. A loooooong time ago.


It took me thirteen years, and several drafts to write my story – my first story. Because as soon as one story ends, another begins. In between all that storytelling, you see, is a whole lot of living, and life breeds story.

When I finished my novel, I wondered if I would ever find another story to tell. For several months, I thought I’d used up all my words. It was about this time that my blog began to die, and swirling inside all of that was a healing heart after a terminated adoption.

I had to fall into the heartache for a bit so the wound could scab over. Did it heal? Yes, I believe it did.

But there’s still a mark.

Scars are stories, though, aren’t they? I have scars on my knee that tell of a young girl who could swing the parallel bars…until she landed wrong and tore her ACL. It’s a story, and it’s all mine.

It’s been two years since I finished my novel, and in that time I’ve also written a non-fiction book, a couple of short stories, and lots of online words. But I wanted a new story to tell. And I was getting impatient.

In the last month, I’ve felt the tickling sensation of an idea formulating. It likes to prick at me late at night, usually when I’m tired, and I want nothing more than to crawl up in bed with a cup of hot tea and Netflix. At first I tried ignoring it, but then I remembered this is what I was waiting for.

So I recorded it.

Chicken scratches on a scrap piece of paper next to my bed may very well hold the key to my next story. It’s relieving to know there’s more to come. I’m not finished typing words just yet.

But life is hectic. There are so many small people running around my house, it makes my head spin. Half the time little people who don’t even belong to me are here! So I’m fitting the storytelling into the cracks of my day, and in the larger chunks of time I’m choosing to live.

Because life – with all its hectic hilarity, all its pain and confusion, all its joy and laughter, all this smashed up living inside four walls – breeds story.

[Tweet “So first I’ll live the story, and then I’ll tell it, because a story cannot be forced.”]

You have a story to tell, too.

Maybe you don’t desire to write a book. That’s okay. I don’t blame you. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have a story worth telling.

All of mankind, every bit of the history that tells us who we are, and from where we came, is built on story. Consider this my podium moment as I lean in close and look you in the eye.

You have a story to tell, and that story is only yours. You live your story every day, and it holds weight in this world.

So live your story, and then tell it.

Write it in a journal, on a blog, or on the walls of your home. Tell it with the lens of your camera, or with a video camera strapped to your wrist.

Life is happening right now, all around you. Everywhere you turn, life is waiting to be observed and recorded, and you have a perspective that no one else shares.

Tell your story. I promise, the world needs to hear it.

Making it Home: A Guest Post by Emily Wierenga

I’m honored to share a post with you today written by my friend, Emily Wierenga. This is a story about her journey home, and it’s packed with beauty as her writing often is. 

Emily is a poet, and a writer whom I deeply admire. I’m always awed by those who can string together sentences laced with a poetic glimpse into the world around them. It’s a depth of writing that I don’t possess. Sure, I manage to pen a few singing words here and there on occasion, but then my brain is all “Slow down there, Emily Dickenson! Why don’t you back that train up.”

At which point I am compelled to share such priceless gems as “For realz,” and “I can’t even!” Or my favorite, “Hot dang!”

And so it is that I’m thrilled to share Emily’s poetic prose with you today, and I’d love it if you hopped over to purchase her new book, Making it Home. The time spent reading Emily’s writing is always well spent.

Thank you, Emily, for the gift of your words!


I’m sitting and drinking my tea from the Korean mug, the house breathing around me. I’m reading Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies, but for a moment I fold the page, close the cover, lean back and remember Korean days: that tiny square apartment beside the fire station, stamps in our passports and as many countries as possible stitched onto my backpack.

I had studied the Lonely Planet guidebook and learned the language on tape in the months before Trent and I moved to Wonju, a city nestled in the mountains east of Seoul, and we taught English there, for a year, traveling to Japan and China and Thailand on the weekends, and now, I study cookbooks. I plan homeschool, and some days, like today, I stare out the window with mugs of tea and wonder how I got here.

And even as our house slumbers, it’s alive—with peanut-butter kisses on the windows and red wine stains on the carpet.

Home is Uncle John’s bathroom reader beside the toilet, the smell of a strawberry rhubarb candle a lady from church brought me when I miscarried. I light it every time I have a shower. It smells like mercy.

Home is the pile of books, Thomas the Train and Dora the Explorer and Winnie the Pooh, thrown from Kasher’s bed, because he always reads them before he goes to sleep and then he habitually tosses them. It’s the bear’s ear stuck in his mouth which he sucks. It’s the infant newness that still clings to his two-year-old cheek during sleep.

It’s the long lashes of Aiden, the green bunny in his arms and the flashlight by his hand. It’s his footy pajamas with the feet cut off because he’s three and a half and broken through the toes.


Beside me, a rough-hewn bookshelf made by Trenton out of barn boards. There’s the coffee table made from the same boards, the children’s chairs—Mickey, Minnie and Dora which are bent out of shape from Aiden and Kasher using them to wrestle.

Home is the pile of dirty clothes by Trenton’s side of the bed, the stack of books on either of our bedside tables—mine all literary and dark or devotional, and his historical or fantastical and us meeting in the middle under a feather down. It is the smell of baby powder fabric softener.

Home is me climbing the stairs to the kitchen, the crab apples we picked still piled in a bucket and the others, turning into apple leather in the oven. Bowls of apple juice waiting to be frozen on the counter and it’s Trenton emerging from the office and seeing me. Saying, “It feels like I haven’t seen you in forever,” when really it’s been 20 minutes.

It’s the smell of his skin when he pulls me in.

The house hums like it’s in love: the dryer’s tenor, the dishwasher’s soprano, and the refrigerator with a low bass.

My tea is gone. The sun setting fast as it does in the fall, like it can’t wait to tuck behind fleecy clouds and I hear my boys rising. Whimpering in their bunk-beds and Trent’s calling them. “Aiden, Kasher, come to Daddy,” and their feet on the rungs of the ladder and the carpet, running, pushing open our bedroom door and jumping into bed.

I place my mug in the sink and find my way down, past the creaky stairs, into that room, and the boys squeal when they see me and we all hold each other in the light of the afternoon.

And home is making me.

This excerpt is taken from Emily Wierenga’s new memoir (the sequel to ATLAS GIRL), Making It Home: Finding My Way to Peace, Identity and Purpose. Order HERE.


What does it mean to be a woman and to make a home? Does it mean homeschooling children or going to the office every day? Cooking gourmet meals and making Pinterest-worthy home décor? In Making It Home: Finding My Way to Peace, Identity, and Purpose, author and blogger Emily Wierenga takes readers on an unconventional journey through marriage, miscarriage, foster parenting and the daily struggle of longing to be known, inviting them into a quest for identity in the midst of life’s daily interruptions. Get your copy HERE. Proceeds benefit Emily’s non-profit, The Lulu Tree.

Get FREE downloadable chapters from Making It Home HERE.



Sign up for the FREE Making It Home webcast featuring Liz Curtis Higgs, Holley Gerth, Jennifer Dukes Lee and Jo Ann Fore (with Emily Wierenga as host), 8 pm CT on September 10, 2015, HERE. Once you sign up you’ll be automatically entered for a giveaway of each of the author’s books!


Emily T. Wierenga is an award-winning journalist, columnist, artist, author, founder of The Lulu Tree and blogger at Her work has appeared in many publications, including Relevant, Charisma, Desiring God, The Gospel Coalition, Christianity Today, Dayspring’s (in)courage and Focus on the Family. She is the author of six books including the travel memoir Atlas Girl and speaks regularly about her journey with anorexia. She lives in Alberta, Canada, with her husband, Trenton, and their children. For more info, please visit Find her on Twitter or Facebook.

When No is the Only Word You Hear

I work in a profession that requires thick skin. I put my heart out there, tapping each beat to the rhythm of my keyboard, and I hand it to a friend, an editor, the world via a blog post, and then I wait for the feedback.

I learned to accept criticism in college. My senior year, the class Writing for the Popular Market would be the training ground for giving and accepting constructive criticism.

That was also the year that I began to associate editing with coffee. But that’s a different topic for a different day.

Once a week, my classmates and I, along with our professor, sat in a circle in the local coffee shop, or on the couches in the room above The Sub, and we’d dutifully hand the ten pages we’d written in our novels that week to the person sitting just to the right.

Then we’d sit back, sip our coffee, and read one another’s words.

There were only six of us in the class, and by the end of the year, we each had a completed manuscript. This would be the first draft of my novel. It was the beginning of learning to communicate through story.

I’m grateful for the lessons learned in that small class. I’m glad I learned to hear someone criticize what I wrote, and not take it personally. It’s a necessary skill, and it’s one that’s served me well over the last fifteen years since I graduated.

When I shared the news that my novel would be published last week, I received so many wonderful, encouraging messages and comments from all of you. And I cried a lot as I read through them, because fifteen years of waiting and dreaming of seeing this book published suddenly took a realistic turn.


I received a lot of rejection letters for the various drafts of my novel. For a long time, I kept every rejection letter I received. After reading Stephen King’s book, On Writing, the notion of a stack of rejection slips seemed almost romantic.

[Tweet “There is a refining power in rejection. It either makes you, or it breaks you. “]

See, when I started the process of trying to get my book published (an earlier version of it that is nothing like the one coming out next spring), I did it the old school way. I mailed letters – actual letters written on paper.

I sent query after query in the mail, along with book proposals and sample chapters. And I included in each stamped envelope, a Self Addressed Stamped Envelope (SASE) for the publishers to send me his response…which was usually a big, fat no.

Every once in awhile, though, there would be a glimmer of hope. A note, scratched at the bottom of a form letter from the editor encouraging me to keep writing.

Those rejection slips went to the top of the pile.

I tossed the folder of rejection slips when we moved, because I was over the romanticism of it all by then. And the world had moved on to email, so now I had the privilege of receiving electronic form letters, and that felt a little less nostalgic. I wish now, though, that I had that stack of “No’s”

Because I’d love to see it dwarfed next to the contract that says “Yes.”


I haven’t really minded all the rejection, if I’m honest. I’ve been impatient at times, of course. And there were days when I’d feel terribly discouraged over it all. But in all the years of waiting and hoping, it never occurred to me that I should give up on the book.

There are some stories that just get under your skin, and this story that I’ve written is one of them. The characters crawled into my very being, and I knew that someday I’d see them really come to life in print.

So I waited, and I pushed, and I simply refused to take no for an answer.

[Tweet “Rejection doesn’t mean the end of a dream. Rejection says you’re on the right track.”]


If you’re in a place where “No” is the only word you’re hearing, can I just urge you not to give up? Sometimes you have to wade through a whole lot of “No” to get to “Yes.”

And when that happens, you’ll find that the “Yes” is so much sweeter after the waiting.


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.


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.

Photo Courtesy of Tammy Labuda.

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.

Photo Courtesy of Tammy Labuda.

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.

[Tweet “Sometimes moms pull away from the art to focus on family. And sometimes it’s the other way around.”]

Photo courtesy of Tammy Labuda.

Photo courtesy of Tammy Labuda.

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.


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.


[Tweet “Pulling away from life for a time leads to soul refreshing that cannot be duplicated.”]

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

Next week we play again.


The Strength of a Woman

The baby’s cries pierced through the walls for the third night in a row. Just when we hit a stride in her sleeping patterns, she enters a new growth spurt and the nighttime feedings start again.

I’m weary. So weary.

I stumbled to her room and lifted her from her bed. Her warm, doughy cheek pressed into my neck, and the moment was everything I could hope it would be, except for the fact that it was two in the morning.

Yawning, I stuck the bottle in her waiting mouth and leaned my head back, mind running through the laundry list of things that needed to be done once the sun made her way high up into the sky.

So much. There’s so much to do. On any given day, I’m not sure how it is I manage to accomplish all the tasks in front of me. And for all that I manage to get done, it seems I forget half as much. I’m forever a step behind in life.

I stumbled back to bed and fell onto my pillow, and before I knew it the alarm jarred me, yet again, from my slumber. I had work to do, but first.


I’m trying to dig into my Bible before I open my computer. I’m not always good at it. Some days, the pull of work is just too strong. But on this morning, I pulled out my Bible and started reading. I landed in Proverbs and flipped to Proverbs 31.

This passage of scripture both inspires and baffles me. How does she do it, this Proverbs 31 woman? I know that this wasn’t the picture of a single woman, but rather the composite of a woman. But still. I’m forever dropping the ball, and I don’t even have to sew my children’s clothes from woolen materials!

But on this morning it hit me. As I read through this passage for the hundredth (thousandth? millionth?) time, my mind wandered back to the Maasai women in Tanzania. I thought of the hut built by a woman’s hand, and the village of women who birth the babies and raise the children, kill and prepare the food. What strength they possessed.

Then my mind drifted to the stories of the German women who picked up shovels and rebuilt their cities after the war. And the women of America who entered the factories and kept the country running while our men fought.

I thought of the Ukrainian girls and women sent to slave labor camps, forced to build artillery for the enemy.

And then I thought of my own mom, faithfully raising and loving two children. I thought of her bringing in her sister’s kids because that’s what family does, even when it’s hard. I thought of the way she flew half way across the world to stay with my children for eight days so that I could have an adventure.

Photo by Tammy Labuda:

Photo by Tammy Labuda:

And I read Proverbs 31 again with hot tears dripping from my eyes because it finally hit me.

Proverbs 31 isn’t the story of one woman, nor is it a composite of all the things I should be.

Proverbs 31 is the story of women – of womanhood. It is everything that we are, the collective whole of us. It is the strength that God knit into the very fiber of a woman’s heart.

This is the strength that carries a woman through back breaking labor, through childbirth and child rearing, through midnight feedings, never ending schedules, and days that stretch into nights with little or no opportunity to rest.

This is the strength that gets a mother through the year-long deployment of her soldier husband. It’s the strength that allows a woman to get up each morning and dig her heels into all that life has to offer – the good and the bad.

Proverbs 31 isn’t the unattainable goal of womanhood. Oh, no.

Proverbs 31 is a celebration of all that God has made us to be.

Sweet friend, are you weary tonight? Do you feel like you’re failing at every turn? Does life feel like it’s just a little too much?

Take heart, dear friend. He has knit into you a strength that cannot be explained. It can only be lived, one step, one day at a time.

You, dear woman, are stronger than you think.

“She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.

She speaks with wisdom and faithful instruction is on her tongue.”

Proverbs 31: 25-26

#tbt – 3 Years of Slow Hope

Three years ago today, my feet were caked with the red dirt of Tanzania. On May 7, 2012, I wrote this post and it is still, to this day, my most shared post. It’s been read thousands of times over the last three years, and of course it has because the message is universal.

People need Hope. They crave and long to know that Hope is alive, and indeed it really is.

Hope is Slow may be the most important blog post I will ever write. This is the message that carried me through the terminated adoption of 2013. It is the message that carried us through the cancer diagnosis of 2014. And it carries us now in 2015, with the unique and pressing challenges of our present.

Hope is Slow. But it is alive.

I’m thankful for the reminder today.


As we ambled back up the rutted dirt path it finally happened. I knew the emotions would take over at some point, but I honestly didn’t expect to be so overwhelmed my second day here. On both sides, children scrambled about watching us with bold curiosity.

“How do you handle seeing this all the time?” I asked Shaun as we stepped gingerly over a stream of muddy water flowing through the red soil. My throat burned and eyes watered as the images of the family we just visited ran through my mind. It wasn’t the condition of their home that left me so affected, though the small, concrete structure that housed two adults and nine children did leave me a bit shocked.

The situation this family lives in is dire in more ways than just physical. There was a hollow emptiness in the eyes of the mother that struck me. A desperation in the grandmother’s voice that tore through me. Abandoned and alone, these women now work only when they can and pray for daily bread in the most literal sense.

Currently, two of this young mother’s five children are being served by Compassion – twins, Doto and Kuluwa. One is sponsored, the other is still waiting. They were all quiet, eyes downcast, shy. When asked what she hopes for her children, this mother replies, “I hope that they can grow up and do business so that they can take care of me.”

Doto is sponsored. Her twin brother, Kuluwa is not.

I left this home with a quivering chin. “How do you see this all the time and not feel overwhelmed?” I asked. “It just all seems so much, like it’s impossible to ever meet all the needs.”

“Hope is slow,” Shaun replied softly.

Read the original post at Minivans Are Hot.

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