Thursday, May 26, 2016

Because the Saints Said So: Manifesting the Truth

Speaking the truth is not the same as living truthfully. They ought to go hand in hand, without a doubt, but they are not one single matter. Why is this matter on my mind today? Because of this weighty declaration by St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest minds in the history of Christianity:
“As a matter of honor, one man owes it to another to manifest the truth.”
When I hear "manifest," I think of something being revealed and made known in a way that the recipient has not experienced before. It is a tangible illustration. And when I hear "the truth," my mind goes straight to Jesus. Surely though, the truth refers to every facet of God's revelation though - from Natural Law to the words of Sacred Scripture to the daily applications of Christian morality.

We have a duty of honor to manifest the truth to others! By words, actions, proclamations, stories, lifestyles, choices, reactions, attitudes - the list can go on and on. Because there are so many ways to manifest the truth, perhaps we could consider that doing it well is an essential part of that duty.

It is natural, when you are certain of a truth and that truth has done something remarkable for you, to desire to share it with others. It is natural and it is good. Sometimes, in our eagerness or confidence though, we can be unfortunately misguided in our methods. Great intentions but terrible form. I'd wager we have all experienced this, both as the truth teller and as the recipient.

Do not hesitate to manifest the truth, my friends, but be sure to tailor your approach to the circumstances. Consider the audience. Consider your relationship with them. Consider their situation. What in their life could make them receptive to what you are sharing, or make them resistant? What do they know of you that would cause them to trust what you are illustrating? St. Francis Xavier wisely noted, "The better friends you are, the straighter you can talk, but when you are only on nodding terms, be slow to scold." If what you are sharing contradicts what they have previously believed or how they have behaved, are you standing on fertile ground that is ready to welcome the seed of truth you are offering? Or are you coming at them with your proverbial finger pointed and a glint of pride in your eye?

One of the most important precursors to sharing the truth, whatever bit of truth it might be, is a humble recognition of your own need for that truth. "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8)." If I say I am better than another person because I possess the truth, I am wrong. If I say I am better than the person I was before knowing that truth, I am on the right track.

In knowing our own need, we know why others need us to manifest the truth. If we truly "owe" our brothers and sisters the truth, as St. Thomas states, there must be a reason! Why do each of us need the truth? Because we are created by God, in the image of God, for eternal life with God. What I am trying to say is, intentions matter. If I am speaking the truth to another, it is not out of pride or judgment. I speak it because I hope they can know the love that I have experienced, and the joy, the strength, and the adventure that comes of knowing Him who is Truth. I speak it because I not only long to live my eternity in Heaven, but I long to have you there with me. If my intentions in manifesting the truth fall short of this (which they so often do), I do not stop trying to manifest the truth but I do keep purifying those intentions.

From our humility in accepting the truth for ourselves, comes change. Our lives must back up what we might say to another about the truth. When this is true, "saying" can become unnecessary in certain cases. The living speaks for itself and attracts others to the truth. No one expresses it better than St. John, I guess, for I go to him again: "Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth (1 John 3:18)."

I write this as one who needs to hear it. As one who must pray from the soul, "Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling (Psalm 43:3)!" And my prayer goes on, "Make me a beam of that light of your truth."

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Because the Saints Said So: On Sadness and the Spirit

In the past few years, the saint whose words and stories have resonated with me the most is St. Pio of Pietrelcina. An Italian farmboy born in 1887; a world renowned miracle worker known for his humility, integrity, and simple wisdom by the time he died in 1968. There are plenty of biographical details worth examining from his life but that is not the purpose of this post.

Numerous statements by St. Pio have I read, considered, prayed over, and taken to heart. Most recently, the one that is staying with me is this: "Don't allow sadness to dwell in your soul, for sadness prevents the Holy Spirit from acting freely."

My first response was, "Well, that's just too much to ask!" But I stared a little longer at the words. I wondered if it was a matter of refusing to be sad about anything. That seemed unnatural and impossible. Was it about not letting the sadness reach your soul then? That could be debated, I suppose, but I still believed I hadn't hit the nail on the head. True sadness does reach the soul. That's the nature of the beast. So what then was St. Pio challenging me to do?

Eventually my eyes lingered on one word: dwell. Don't allow sadness to dwell.
Dwell: verb: 1. to live or stay as a permanent resident; reside; 2. to live or continue in a given condition or state
Don't let sadness be a resident. Allow sadness to be a visitor. Treat it as such. Visitors require attention. Meet the needs of the visitor of sadness. Ignoring it is not appropriate. Visitors (hopefully) come for a reason. They are present but they are expected to depart. Visitors are not permanent residents.

St. Pio is not demanding the impossible. Nor is he saying anything that wasn't already indicated long ago in Scripture by Jesus and his apostles.
So you also are now in anguish. But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you (John 16:22).
Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted (Matthew 5:4). 
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us (Romans 8:18). 
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you who by the power of God are safeguarded through faith, to a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the final time. In this you rejoice, although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:3-7, emphasis added).
They and St. Pio challenge us to give sadness its proper due but nothing more.

What should you allow to "dwell in your soul?" Well, St. Pio touches on that, too. The rightful resident of your soul is the Holy Spirit, and therefore the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit.
Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you (1 Corinthians 3:16)?
Gifts;
The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength [fortitude], a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the Lord, and his delight shall be the fear of the Lord [piety] (Isaiah 11:2-3a, emphasis & notes added).
Fruits:
In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law (Galatians 5:22-23, emphasis added).

When visitors like sadness are allowed to act as residents, the life and work of the Holy Spirit is fettered and obstructed. Luggage blocking the hallways where the Spirit should move freely. In the case of sadness, it is the fruit of joy that is most inhibited. However if joy is a resident of your soul while sadness, caused by any number of things, is only given a visitor's pass, you will not lose your joy.

Joy is not merely a higher degree of happiness. It is different than happiness. Joy is rooted in hope, particularly the hope of salvation. As its roots then link it to eternity, Joy is not eroded by the changing tides of circumstances the way that happiness can be. Certainly circumstances can affect our joy, strengthening or weakening our awareness of joy or our ability to choose joy in our reactions to things. Circumstances cannot steal authentic joy though. That is among its key differences from happiness.

It is wrong to say that a Christian should never be sad. It is right to say that a Christian does not allow sadness to be a resident of the soul.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Approaching From Another Side

Yesterday, in a half hour's time, I thoroughly rearranged the flow of chapter one of Full of Days. Mostly the same details and action, different order. I think I have improved it. I am never certain because no matter how many times I revise my book, I can always find more to change. It causes me to wonder how I will ever know when it is ready to be sent out alone into the big, scary world of manuscript submissions. This never ending journey known as Revision makes me laugh at the fact that I tried to find a publisher so soon after my first draft was completed all those years ago. Oh, innocent, naive Carrie Sue.

Every reader knows that the first pages of a book are critically important for creating a desire to read further. This is as true for publishers as it is for readers. So, no pressure on perfecting that first chapter, Ms. First Time Novelist. Nope, no pressure at all.

Chapter one's needs have hounded me. The feedback I've received from readers and my own experience as a reader made it clear that it has never quite been what it needs to be. I sit and stare at the lines of the pages and I am stuck. My brain locks into "I wrote it this way for a reason" mode and I can't seem to see how to make more than minor tweaks.

What inspired me to finally tackle the rearranging of the first chapter was some time spent listening to The Piano Guys. These immeasurably talented men gave me the perspective I needed. In addition to other beautiful pieces, they specialize in covering popular hit songs on pianos and cellos and more. Often the covers are composed as mash ups with gorgeous classical pieces. The result is incredible and I could listen for hours. Here's a favorite. Give it a listen and then come back to me.


See what I mean? A feast for the ears. Listening to them yesterday, song after song, I could not stop marveling at what they accomplished via a new approach. They take material already created, already well known in its first form, and approach it from a new direction. A new angle, a new order, a new combination, and, voila! A new creation.

Of course as I type up these thoughts, it becomes clear that this perspective applies to a whole lot in life. Yesterday though, I was simply grabbing hold of the inspiration to rewrite chapter one yet again.

Maybe that chapter is ready now. Maybe The Piano Guys led me to where I needed to be. Maybe there's still more to change. Time will tell. The lesson that a radially new approach to the same material can produce beautiful results is one I'll hang onto as I continue on my way.

Ok, here's another, just for fun.


Thursday, May 5, 2016

Polly

Writing Prompt: He had my name written all over him.
Writing Time: 15 minutes

He had my name written all over him. Literally. Polly. Polly. Polly. Polly. At least 50 times, it was written on his skin in blue marker. I stopped in my tracks. Stared. I couldn't help it. The man looked to be 60 years old but only at first glance. My stare continued and it became clear that under the grime and the sunburn and the shaggy, unkempt blonde hair, he might have been 40. Besides the letters, the man wore dirty plaid cargo shorts and leather sandals, one heel strap loose from its seam at the inside of his ankle. Finally, he looked my way. His eyes darted from mine to the ground, to the tree, back to me, back to the ground.

Polly.

I tried to look away.

Polly.

What a strange, unsettling coincidence. That's how I would remark to my friends later tonight. I was meeting them for drinks at our favorite bar. I imagined describing the details of the scene. I'd include the absence of anyone else in this corner of the park. Maybe I would mention the boat approaching the landing behind the man, and how the sun was low enough to catch the metal of the bench and momentarily blind you.

He wasn't sitting on the bench, my favorite bench. He was standing beside it, one hand resting gingerly on its back. Waiting. Waiting for me? Don't be ridiculous, Polly.

Polly.

I didn't know where to turn. He'd seen me. He was the sort of person most people steered their path around in a wide berth, not wishing to smell him, much less chance touching him. I could see in the low hang of his neck the silent rejection he encountered in every hour of  every day. My father had taught us that every single person had dignity and worth. Even when they didn't know it themselves or they had buried it by their choices, still they possessed it. My father taught us to always leave a person feeling more certain of their dignity than before they encountered us. Damn it, Dad. If I walked away now, this man would know rejection once more. I could feel the threat of my father's disapproval from heaven above.

Don't get me wrong. If I sensed any danger, I would have walked away. Briskly, my eyes and ears on alert, I would have left the scene. There was no danger here. I knew it as well as I knew my own name.

Polly.

Monday, May 2, 2016

10 Things I Love In This Life




1. My son's laugh. Timothy's laugh is the most delicious combination of giggle and belly laughter. It is physically impossible not to smile when I hear it coming from another room. The sound, especially when it is near my ear, is a mood altering drug.

2. My husband's touch. The first time he met my closest friends, we were out to dinner at a favorite restaurant. I wore a sleeveless black blouse and fidgeted nervously throughout the meal. At one point, he leaned over and lightly kissed my bare shoulder. That simple, gentle touch was felt straight through to my fingertips . I love when he takes my hand; when he absently caresses my back as he's passing by; when our feet rest against each other as we fall asleep. Matt's touch is full of reassurance and tenderness in the ordinary moments of our lives.

3. My daughter's smile. From four weeks old, Annabelle has specialized in open-mouthed, pure-joy smiles. I have considered printing every single photo I have of her top notch smile (there  are many) for a photo album that could cure any sad day.  The fact that I am often on the receiving end of her smile is one of the deepest resources of happiness I could possess. 

4. My stepson's hugs. Nethanial has the warmest of hearts but he's also nearly a teenager, which means sometimes the hug is a from the side, one arm around the shoulder, quick release version. That's ok, because those only increase the value of the other version he's capable of offering. From the time I first bonded with him six years ago, he has demonstrated great skill in the field of hugging. Arms wrapped tightly, his smooth cheek pressed against me and his thick, messy hair tickling my chin. It's a treat every single time.
5. A novel that makes me doubt I am any good at writing. That sounds negative, and the experience has the potential of negativity, but in actuality it is a great thing. Reading a sentence so well crafted that I can't imagine writing one of its equal, or finishing a paragraph with the sensation of seeing that moment of the story with my own two eyes - it fills me with satisfying excitement and the driving ache to write more.
6. Finding a new favorite. I'm of the mind that we need not limit ourselves to a very few select "favorites." A favorite gives pleasure. It's uplifting and encouraging. So discovering a new favorite is such a blessing! Favorite hiking trail, favorite lighthouse, favorite coffee shop (requirement: best chai tea in town), favorite song, favorite ice cream flavor, favorite episode of your favorite show, favorite prayer, favorite hairstyle, favorite shoes, favorite scripture verse, favorite sound, favorite photo. They are a bouquet of gratitude; a collection of guarantees that there are things to enjoy in my life.
7. My characters. I don't know if I will ever have my books published. I don't know how many people will read them or whether or not they'll be glad they read them. What I do know is I have created people I love. I care about them. I'm interested in them. I look forward to hearing what they have to say and where they will take me next. I discover more about them and myself the more time we spend together.
8. Pasta.
9. Lake Michigan. My roots run through the woods of the Upper Peninsula to Lake Michigan. The lake touches home - both my first home and my current one - and it touches adventures away from home. I close my eyes and listen to it. I feel its waves slapping my feet. In its calm moments I see serenity poured out to the horizon and beyond. I snap picture after picture. Sunrises, sunsets, swims, boats, beaches, hikes, lighthouses, dunes... They are all splendid on Lake Michigan.

10. The Eucharist. I could say so much but Jesus said it all. "I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh" (John 6:51).

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Away From Elsewhere

I sit at my desk wearing a fleece jacket zipped to my neck and a thick afghan blanket over my legs. The culprit is the A/C vent in the ceiling over my neighbor's cubicle. He's comfortable, by the way, as the vent doesn't force the air straight down but rather outward in each direction. My hands, starting to tan from time in the occasional sunshine we have been treated to lately, are icy cold on the keyboard.

No matter how I feel about my job overall, this is reason enough to wish I was elsewhere. 

Elsewhere. 

I keep planning little escapes in my head. Places to visit, adventures to take. They're all elsewhere. I want to put my baby girl in a carrier on my chest and hike the trails I used to enjoy. I want to take a day away with my husband to revisit the waterfalls a few counties north of here. There was a day like that from one of our dating summers and it stands out in my memory as particularly splendid. I'd like to take my little boy on an adventure, maybe explore a farm full of animals or go camping for a night, just the two of us. The idea thrills me to take them all, plus my stepson, on a drive to Holy Hill for a day of beauty and fun and peace.

Or I could write. Elsewhere, I could write. Elsewhere, I could sit for hours with my manuscript and pens, marking up the pages with changes and improvements. I could move closer and closer to being ready to seek a publisher. 

I want, I want, I want. I could, I could, I could. There is no contentment in letting my mind be occupied in this way. These aren't bad things to be desiring. Some of them might come to fruition in the near future with some good planning. Focusing on them at the expense of what is right in front of me though, is unacceptable. Instead, contentment might be exactly what I ought to seek right now. 

In our everyday language, contentment has taken a bad rap. We use the word too often to refer to "settling" or "resigning." Settling for less than what you desire or seek; Resigning yourself to circumstances you wish were different. We talk of someone being content with the hand they were dealt, content in their comfort zone, or content to put up with this or that. Maybe we are using the word incorrectly.

Contentment - definition: the state of being contented; satisfaction; ease of mind
Content - definition: satisfied with what one is or has; not wanting more or anything else

Ease of mind. Satisfied. Sounds deliciously wonderful to my restless heart.

I do believe I have feared contentment at times. If I am content, will I stop dreaming? Will I stop striving for greater things or improving myself? Will I no longer seek new experiences?

The answer to those questions might be yes, but it's completely up to me. Instead, contentment can be exactly what's needed to be ready for the next dream, the next experience, the next change. Contented peace of mind will allow me to be my best self, present and engaged instead of anxiously longing for the elusive elsewhere. Contentment will open my eyes to the goodness of the moments here and now, to the blessings I take for granted. Contentment will soften my heart to understand why my path has taken me to this place with these people instead of that place with those people. Contentment contains patience, cheerfulness, calm, and joy. 

Contentment is starting to sound a whole lot better than Elsewhere.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Wearing the Writer Hat When There Are So Many Hats to Wear (Or Replace "Writer" With Whatever Hat You're Having Trouble Keeping On Your Head)

In perusing old posts on this blog, I happened upon this statement: "My first book didn't get written because I had nothing else to do. It was written because I chose to write it." I need this reminder once in a while, as every writer likely does. I am a wife. I am a mother. I am a full time employee. I am a daughter, sister, aunt, friend. You could write your own list, I'm sure.

During the stretch of time in which I wrote that first novel, I did not yet hold some of those privileged titles. I have gained a beloved spouse and family in the years since then. So the argument is valid that it was much easier to choose to write then than it is now. It is harder now. It is more complicated. You know. Your life now is not likely the same as your life when you began as a writer. How then do we continue to wear the hat of Writer when it is so difficult to balance it on the stack of other hats we wear?

Perhaps all it can come down to is giving yourself an honest answer to this question: Is writing still worth it?

If the answer is yes, please proceed to the next paragraph. If the answer is no, I wish you well and hold absolutely no judgment against you for your decision. In fact, I hope you're blessed by this realization as it likely frees you from the tedious burden of clinging to a pursuit you are no longer called to follow. If the answer is maybe, give yourself some time to mull it over.

Okay, since you're reading this, I shall believe that you gave a firm nod of the head in the direction of your computer monitor. Yes, you thought, it is still worth it. How about we say it aloud? "Yes, writing is still worth it! My life has changed. My responsibilities are many. My interests are varied. Among all the other titles I hold though, I am also a writer and I want to remain a writer." Still with me? Let's keep rolling.

I dedicated myself to writing when I was fresh out of college. Single, living with my sister and dear friend, working an easy, stress-free job as I waited for that career-starting position to come my way - my lifestyle was tailor made for taking up writing in the manner I'd long hoped to do. The way circumstances allowed me to be immersed in the endeavor of writing, to adorn myself in the identity of Writer, is something I could not fully appreciate until those circumstances changed. I thank God I had those years when I was lonely and bored with my job. I don't wish to return there but I certainly find I am grateful for them! After that period of abundant harvest though came the time of dryness.

Writing fell by the wayside as I unwrapped the gifts of romance, marriage, babies, and more fulfilling work. It became that dear companion of my past: missed, remembered fondly, and promised a future reunion as soon as the time is right.

Ha! As soon as the time is right! If you're relating to this post in any way, you understand why the idea makes me laugh. To put it succinctly, the time has not been "right" and I do not expect it to be "right" in the foreseeable future. When you live a full life (which is a great enhancement to your writing), the time will always be wrong to return to writing. You are highly unlikely to stumble upon some fresh period in your life that is perfectly shaped for a commitment to writing. The answer to this unfortunate truth? Write anyway.

Your life is unique. Your writing is unique. No advice or plan will completely suit everyone. Still, I hope you can find some encouraging help from the things I have found work for me. Here is how I wear my Writer hat when there are already a pile of hats on my head.

  1. Wear Your Writer Hat Proudly: Wherever you are right now, announce to the world, "I AM A WRITER!" Claim it. As cheesy as that may sound, it is an absolute must if you are going to follow through on your writing goals. Do not hide it. Do not be ashamed of it. Be proud of your identity as a writer. As with anyone who talks incessantly of only one thing, this should not translate into you making sure anyone and everyone must listen to you talk about your writing. You can be proud and unashamed without being alienating. The things we love ought to be shared naturally and joyfully. So, why is it that so many writers hesitate to admit to what they are? Even when asked about your interests or passions, do you avoid mentioning writing? Or at the very least couple it with other lesser hobbies as if it is not a priority in any way? I have done that. I've mentioned it dismissively or avoided it completely. In doing so, I was betraying my true self. When someone is showing genuine interest in you, they want to know the real you and you are a writer.
  2. Do Not Procrastinate: In this I am not only talking about writing. If you make it a general rule to avoid procrastination in any of your responsibilities, you will discover that you can find opportunities to write. Procrastination creates an atmosphere of 'too much to do.' It makes it easy to become overwhelmed, to resent the tasks of daily life, and to decide there is always something more important to be done instead of writing. Refusing to procrastinate in other priorities will make it tremendously easier to not procrastinate on your writing goals. If procrastination is currently a well rooted habit of yours, patiently retrain yourself. I guarantee it will bring about positive change in all areas of your life.
  3. Enlist Help: Your significant other, your kids, your roommates, your friends - these folks can be considered as hindrances to your writing. Often it is only a subconscious idea but it has very real and negative consequences on your attitude toward both writing and those individuals. Yes, at times they can cause delays in sitting down to write. They can distract you and fail to understand the writer in you. Help them become your helpers instead of your hindrances. Share how important writing is to you. Compare it to something that matters to them in a similar way so they can gain perspective on your writing life. If you're a scheduler, setting aside specific and regular times for writing (something I haven't worked my way up to yet), be up front with them about that schedule. They will adjust. Share with them what you write when it is appropriate or helpful to do so. Find little ways to involve them and communicate that you need them. The people closest to you can be your greatest voices of encouragement, confirming you in your efforts and challenging you to follow through on your goals. If they don't naturally develop that voice, ask them for it.
  4. Use Writing Prompts: When you're blocked completely, not a single sentence forming on the page, use writing prompts. When you're frustrated by your writing falling terribly short of what's in your head, use writing prompts. When you want to hone your skills, break new creative ground, or test your imagination, use writing prompts. When you want to have some writerly fun, use writing prompts! I've only been employing them for short while but they have become a highly effective tool for kickstarting my brain. There are a million and one available online. Some are more useful than others. You can search for prompts created for your particular genre or simply find one that interests you and go from there. Write for as long as you wish from a prompt or set a timer and challenge yourself to write as much as you can before the bell. However you choose to use them, they can be excellent aids for any writer.
  5. Read Books: This should be obvious, I think, but just as it can be difficult to see any available time to write, it can be the same for reading. However, we need to feed our brains with the fruit produced by those who labor in the same art we are attempting to create. Even if it takes you half a year to finish one book, always be in the midst of reading one. Much like writing prompts, picking up a book to read can churn up the ideas in your own mind. Sometimes a fine example of your own genre is what you'll need. Other times, a book that is outside your typical interests as both a reader and a writer will lead to greater creativity in your work. No matter what, be a reader as you work to create more for the world to read.
  6. Get Some Readers: Nothing makes you feel like a legitimate writer like having readers! It is a thrill, scary and exciting, to hand your work over to another human being and ask them to read it. When I do it I am filled with hope and trepidation. I want them to love it, of course, and be glad they spent their time and energy on it. When they come back with a positive response, I am filled with renewed motivation to keep my Writer hat on my head. When they return with critiques, I am sad but grateful to know where I failed them as my readers. Ask a variety of people to read your work. Join a writers group that is both welcoming and willing to challenge you to improve when you share your words with them. Promote your blog or other writing medium to gain readers. Sometimes a stranger, unswayed by their love and affection for you, can be the most helpful reader. Other times, someone who will handle you with care as you struggle to keep plugging away on that draft is exactly who you need. Every reader is tremendously valuable.
  7. Believe You Have a Contribution to Make to Humanity: I hope that doesn't sound trite. I firmly believe this should be part of our mindset for every title we hold and hat we wear. It is true of my place in the world as a wife, as a mother, as a worker, and no less, as a writer. Our gifts and passions were stitched into our unique design by our creator. There is a reason I love to write fiction while my husband loves to write song lyrics. There is a reason I find beauty in words in a way that reminds me of how my grandmother found beauty in the flowers and birds. We each have a contribution to make. Ultimately, that is why it is worthwhile to diligently fulfill our roles in this world. Every single one of them. When they are simple and straightforward, bringing joy to ourselves and others, or when they are difficult, complicated, and even painful, the titles with which we have been gifted in life are our paths to contributing to the amazing, intertwining existences of humanity. In the end, I hope that one of the great ways I honored who I was created to be was by being a writer.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Envelope

Writing Prompt: “My life changed the day I found that huge envelope stuffed with cash in the coupon exchange bucket at the supermarket.”

Writing Time: 10 minutes

I’d like to say I did the right thing. I’d like to say I didn’t think only of myself. All I can honestly say is my life changed the day I found that huge envelope stuffed with cash in the coupon exchange bucket at the supermarket.

Yellow, worn corners, thick with papers inside. I picked up that envelope with the thought, “well, someone gave up on serious couponing.” I expected cents and dollars off, not actual dollars. I glanced through the rest of the bucket and took the envelope with me, planning to flip through the coupons while I shopped and return what I didn’t use to the bucket. I was standing beside the sweet potatoes when I opened it up.

Five thousand dollars. I wrapped my fingers around the bills, not daring to lift them out of the envelope for others to see. My mouth went dry. I counted it three times. Five thousand dollars. My first thought was to bring it to the customer service desk. My second thought was of how many month’s rent would be covered by this cash. How many car payments or medical bills or grocery store runs. In that moment, surrounded by unaware shoppers and clutching the handle of my cart, I believed I had been miraculously blessed.

Had I not prayed for this? Lord, you know my needs, I’d whispered as I sat at my kitchen table this morning. Please help me, Lord. Please, help me. I know You will not abandon me. I believe you can show me a way through this.

Yes, that envelope was an answer to prayer. A wondrous, exciting answer that made me want to leap for joy right there in the produce section.

That was seven months ago. I still say it was an answer to my prayer, just not the obvious answer I imagined. No, nothing like I imagined.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Sometimes At Dusk

Writing Prompt: Sometimes at dusk we would see him come out from the hidden interior of his…
Writing Time: 15 mins

Sometimes at dusk we would see him come out from the hidden interior of his ramshackle home. Never in the morning. Never at noon. Only at dusk. The place was a rustic cabin, aged and uncared for over the years. In the evening, when the daylight was fully spent, the soft, flickering lights emanating through the windows suggested candles. None of us had ever seen inside so it was only speculation.

When I was especially young – five, six, seven years old – I assumed he was old and the sightings in the gray of twilight did nothing to correct that assumption. My sister, two years older, and I would huddle at the window of our sun room to watch. The crowns of our blonde heads down to our eyes were as much as we dared to show of ourselves. We’d whisper our guesses of who he was, always certain we hadn’t hit on the correct answers.

An escaped convict hidden away from the authorities. A man who ran away from an abusive family years and years ago, still afraid. A rogue spy who had enough of the lies and secrets and just wanted to be left alone.

The truth was nothing like our adventurous imaginings.

When I was fourteen, I realized he was young - maybe thirty or thirty-five. He moved into that cabin behind our backyard when he was twenty-three. 

A Little Prompting

I have a new love. In all my years of writing I have never used writing prompts. Well, that's not entirely true. If I think really hard, I can remember my 9th grade English teacher Miss Roberts (huge difference maker in my life!) conducting writing activities in which we were given a topic and needed to write on it for the remainder of class. I don't remember how well I responded to them at that time and I know she didn't make use of them often. So, let's focus on the present.

In January, I finally joined a writers' group for the first time. Oh, how I wish I had done this years ago! We meet once a month and share our writing projects. For the last half hour of the meeting, we use a writing prompt provided by one of the members. We write for only five minutes then share what we created. Plain and simple, it's my new favorite thing.

The prompts provide an itty bitty nugget of an idea. A start. A seed. When I read or hear the prompt, it's a thrill to know that in that moment there is no telling where I will go with it and yet in merely a few minutes I'll have formed a fuller concept and put words to the page. Each time it feels like I am being introduced to myself anew. Sometimes the result is tepid but other times I stare at the lines I wrote and wonder, "Where inside of me did that come from?"

This being the case, and the other case being that I have desired a return to blogging but have inexplicably struggled with writer's block each time I open a blank post, I shall make use of writing prompts here on the blog. My hope is that it will be fun and interesting, and will continue to break out the writer inside of me. I am excited to meet her each and every time.