Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Shortest Post Ever

I am incapable of writing short blog posts.

However, here goes nothing.

I'm beginning.

I kept rereading the post I did yesterday, certain there was something I had missed, because it wouldn't leave me alone. It haunted me all night, in fact, I dreamed about it, abruptly sitting up in bed at 2am-ish, staring into the inky blackness in front of my face, waiting for the revelation to come. What was the message I had missed?

Nothing happened.

So I swung my legs out over the side of the bed, answered "nothing Rosey" to Derek's mumbled "MMffmmhum", and went to check on the kids. Often I wake up in the night, knowing to pray for someone or feeling strange and needing to check that my kids are okay, or even just with the intense desire to read the next chapter in a particularly engrossing book.

I made my way down the hall, checked to see that everyone was in bed with covers on, reassured myself that they were still breathing (yes, I'm one of those moms) and then found myself standing in front of the thermostat, squinting at the temperature and trying to decide whether or not I should add or subtract a degree of heat on such a cold  night. Hmmmmm...

And that's when the idea popped into my brain.

All this time I'm spending writing blog posts about writing books. I think I'll just write a book.

So I'm beginning.

I'll start with an idea I have for a story and let's see where it goes. Now that was a profound sentence to type. Witness me summoning my bravery...

Why am I telling you all of this? I think I just want it documented that I will do the hardest thing there is for me, and begin.

Okay, I know I said the shortest post ever. Sorry.

But you know me. I was born to write chapters, not short posts.

So, on that note, I'll keep you posted. Hee hee, get it? Posted?


Here goes nothing.

Chapter 1...

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Nature of my Beast

I'm a pretty competitive person. Not with things I stink at, like dancing, singing, making people laugh or doing my hair (see photo at left). But with things I love and feel gifted to do, like making things with my hands, cooking and writing. Even with a definite awareness of what I am and am not gifted to do, I kind of get lost sometimes in the competition of something and lose sight of the actual purpose for the actions. I forget the reason for the gift.

Take writing, for example. I started a blog in order to practice writing. I lacked discipline and needed a good excuse to write regularly. This is where you, the reader, come in. I needed an audience. I know. It's weak. Any real writer worth their salt wouldn't need the affirmation and presence of actual human beings as witness to the mundane process of honing one's hoped for ability to truly write and not just regurgitate the ideas of books one is reading, but I guess I'm willing to stand in that lighting, of weakness and the constant human need for reassurance. 

Still, there are those times, and I'm ashamed to admit how regular they are, that my competitive nature raises its ugly head and roars, leaping eagerly to the fray, in the attempt of putting someone in their place and hopefully, showing them up.

With blogging, I have naturally been more interested in the blogs that are out there that I never really noticed, in much the same way that you don't see lots of pregnant women until you are pregnant and then voila! Everyone is pregnant. Well, everyone has a blog. Which makes my natural inclinations for wanting to be the best start to flex their muscles. I start to measure myself against everyone else, reading and analyzing what other people are offering to the world by way of cyber thought, and try to figure out how to beat them. I forget the whole point of everything. I begin to put all of my energy into the competition, racking my brain for new ideas and new ways to draw folks in, instead of focusing on the message. And simplicity. 

Furthermore, I begin to compromise on my particular style of writing, trying to cram myself into a shape that doesn't work for me and, let's face it, I've never been too good at cramming myself into anything. Buttons pop. Seams rip. The fat rolls are even more grotesquely illuminated. Because I'm not letting me be me.

I didn't create me. God did. And I wish I was cool, I really do. Gosh, I wish I was cool, this ultra trendy, fashionable maven with a ready artillery of amazing topics to wax expert on, and lots of cheering fans. But I'm not. Most of the time I have trouble having a real conversation with "cool" people. Not to say that cool people aren't cool and all, but we just aren't super compatible. They think I'm kind of strange. And I am kind of strange. I'd rather take a class about how to raise bees and goats, talk about 18th century poetry, read Jane Austen, or ponder the metaphorical impact of the movie Inception than discuss The Bachelor, fall in literary love with Edward or Jake in the Twilight series, know what kind of red wine to serve at a party or watch Dancing with the Stars. Nothing wrong with any of those things, and I read the entire Twilight series to see what all the fuss was (and was a bit disappointed - book three is the best), but they're just not my bag. 

Coolness was not part of God's plan for me.

I'm kind of a nerd. And a little bit of a dork. And my writing style thus far can sort of be seen by more cynical folk as sort of cheesy. Derek makes me look cool, if I'm being quiet, for about five minutes, because he's cool, but then I open my mouth and the cat's out of the bag. So I've got to keep this in mind when I write.  I know it's not bad to to learn new tricks, and to hone and pare down my paragraphs, to better my vocabulary and grammar, or to learn the art of brevity, something I really stink at. Sometimes its necessary to change it up, to go a different direction, to seek inspiration in an unconventional way. But fundamentally, I'm being a coward when I refuse to stay true to who I am as a writer.

There's nothing worse than being known as a fraud, someone who pretends.

So this is what I've got to do. I need to realize that it's not a cop out to say that for me, blogging is practice. I'm not out to have a gazillion followers and write amazing short renditions of  home decor or epiphanies I have while checking the mail. I have no ability, yet, to write anything short, except recipes, and they usually take half the day to make. With blogging for you, I am simply practicing, working out my writing muscles, seeing if this dirt road could actually become a highway one day. Writing a respectable book is the goal, and hopefully, writing some noble fiction for teens.

I'm not going to compete with cyber space. I'm going to be thankful for the gift God has given me to write, even if its not Pulitzer Prize, Newberry Medal or New York Times Bestseller List worthy, and I'm going to use it. I'm going to give it my best shot and I'm going to pray. Each time I write I'm going to close my eyes and surrender the gift to the One who bestowed it, hoping that He can find some use for it in the lives of others and that maybe someday a publishing company agrees with Him.

And I'm going to be happy for my fellow bloggers, whose amazing feats never cease and who I really should be thankful for, since they push me to greater heights and stretch me in my own abilities, while throwing in some cool home decor tips and mailbox epiphanies.

I refuse to be jealous of someone else's gift. Jealousy is equivalent to ingratitude.  

So this is what I'll change. I'll be grateful. I'll be supportive of others and their gifts.

I won't artificially change myself to be less or more. 

But I'll change my less and more to be true to myself.

What about you?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Celestial Seasonings

I write this, sitting on my bed, which sits at a 45 degree angle from the corner of my room, and allows me a perfect view of the backyard.

It is snowing.

The whole world is lost in a dusty whirl of snowflakes. There are  just a few right now, but the day holds the weatherman's promise of heavier snow later today and tonight.

The snow is causing me to remember the post I keep wanting to write about seasons.

All  my life I have wanted to live in a place with four seasons. I can't remember a time when I haven't wanted to see the changing of the leaves in autumn or the falling of snow in winter. I have loved living in Florida but have always wanted to end up in a place where contrasts were seen throughout the year, in the same trees having and then not having leaves, the grass being green and then brown, the air being warm and then cold, and all of the in betweens. I don't think I have a favorite season. I think my favorite part of each season is the beginning, when it starts to look like itself and unlike the last season. Each season, spring, summer, fall and winter, has its own distinct face and personality, and after living here for a full year now, I feel that we've been properly introduced.

Physical seasons always invite me to ponder spiritual seasons.

Recently, as I was in Florida over the Christmas holidays and spent some time with my friends there, I became very interested in the topic that kept coming up in different circles of friends. As I spent time with different girlfriends, eating dinner at restaurants, shopping and getting coffee together, we kept discussing the seasons of motherhood.

Like how you'll go through a season of the baby biting, or the toddler throwing temper tantrums, or even major sleep deprivation from the newborn's messed up sleep schedule, and you think it will never end and can't wait for it to do so. You pray for the end of those seasons. Much like I think most people pray for the end of winter, and smile holistically at the first signals of spring.

Beyond motherhood, there are many seasons we pray to see the end of, aren't there? When your husband is in school and working full time, or there are more bills than money at the end of the month, or a loved one is very ill or in danger. 

Then there are those seasons that you want never to end.

The seasons that make you feel special, alive, young and needed. For  me, one of those seasons was Saturday morning snuggle time. When the kids were tiny, almost every Saturday morning that we didn't have to be somewhere or Derek didn't have to work, we would sleep in and the kids would get out of their beds in the morning (or be freed from their crib) and they'd come climbing up into our bed to snuggle. Usually we'd lay there for awhile, all toasty warm, having silly conversations and tickling each other, and this would turn into wrestling with Daddy, while I dreamed up what I wanted to make for breakfast. Derek would make coffee and I would engage the kids in helping me with breakfast, which, since I like to cook, would usually be something yummy from scratch. 

I have pictures of those Saturday mornings in my scrapbooks, photos that capture the fun and creativity of those moments in the kitchen, my family and me making scones, crepes, omelets, fresh bread, fruit salad and muffins together, usually in our pajamas. I look like a mad scientist with my morning hair and there is usually flour or food residue on at least one face in these photographs. There was almost always singing and dancing, and since Derek and I have different taste in morning music,  whoever got to the CD player first got first dibs on what was going to be played.

We would cook and dance to Louis Armstrong, Anberlin, Taylor Swift or Michael Buble' (my picks), or Squad Five-0, Matt Redman, Tom Petty or Led Zeppelin (Derek's picks). Some of the heated debates over what everyone wanted to listen to and furthermore, what kind of berries to put in the scones, seem ridiculous now.

But they are among my most cherished memories of the times our family spent together when the kids were babies and toddlers.

That was just one of the seasons that was, for me, very hard to say goodbye to.

Of course, we still have Saturday mornings together, and we all listen to music, dance, and cook together all the time. But no one (besides Derek) is ever really interested in crawling up into bed with me anymore, and rubbing a cold nose up against my cheek, because there are cartoons and Legos, light sabers and a puppy to play with immediately upon waking up on Saturday morning. I usually sleep in and Derek usually makes breakfast now, either his fabulous pancakes or cheesy eggs. It's different.

It's not bad. It's just the natural progression of things.

But it's still hard to say goodbye to the really sweet seasons that I know must healthily be replaced with their betters.

That's right. I said betters.

As mothers, or even just as parents, it's sometimes hard for us to imagine that the next season could be better than the current one, or that the sweet, snugly season we enjoyed so perfectly could ever be outshone. We tend to think that as our children grow up, the sweetness and level of fulfillment in parenthood will deteriorate. But I'm finding that it's not true.

One of my verses for 2010 and 2011, Isaiah 43:18-19 is deeply reassuring:

"Do not remember the former things,
 Nor consider the things of old.
 Behold, I will do a new thing,
 Now it shall spring forth;
 Shall you not know it?
 I will even make a road in the wilderness
 And rivers in the desert."

A new thing. Springing forth. Forgetting the former, losing interest in the old. Pushing forward, to the road He is carving in the wilderness, to the place of saturated life He is filling in the desert.

And the future can sometimes seem very desert-like, can't it? We don't know what to expect and we think it could never be better than this. How could it?

But what hope in this scripture! Not just that God wants to give us new fun and life at every bend in the road, but that He intends to do it.

As I spent time with my friends on one particular night, some very special mom friends I met and grew close to while in the early trenches of motherhood, we decided to walk from Kohl's to a frozen yogurt place, and while we walked we kept talking about saying farewell to the beautiful seasons of motherhood. One of us started up in song, being joined by some of the others after the first few words, "Oh, it's so hard to say goodbye to yesterday...."

I bet Boys II Men never realized their target audience should have been all the nostalgic mothers out there. Forget screaming, hyperventilating teeny boppers...

I'm not saying I'm good at moving on into the new. In my life, in every category, not just motherhood, it's at the bend in the road that I stop and hesitate, unsure of how to proceed, and let's just be honest, unwilling to move on, full of bittersweet reluctance, and with the tears wet on my cheeks. I have trouble trusting that what is to come will always outweigh, outshine, outsmart, outfill what has gone. It is a conflict of the mind and heart.

My mind knows it to be true.

Life was meant to be ever-increasingly fulfilling.

My heart longs to hold on, staying put in the warmth and glow of spring and summer.

But fall and winter have their own lessons to teach me, and spring and summer will be all the more greener and lush with the knowledge of those harder, and hardier, lessons. God builds, with seasons, the knowledge of His faithfulness in our lives, and the latter lessons that we are not ready to embrace until we have experienced the former.

What is the season you are saying goodbye to?

Maybe it's as simple as bidding adieu to the old year and embracing the new. Maybe it's a change in diet, or schedule, an addition of discipline into your already busy life. Maybe its the busy pace you are used to, that must be traded in for something a little more substantial and purposeful.

Or maybe you just need to come to terms with the forever closing of a particularly special chapter, one that has made you feel so very full of life. I exhort you to say goodbye. Stand at the bend in your road, knowing the scenery that you've smiled upon for these last months or years to be passing quickly out of view, hold that season dear and close for one more moment, and then let go. Open your hands, turn your back, and walk forward into the promising days to come.

Letting go of the old.

Knowing He is always up to something new.