Friday, February 24, 2017

Saying Yes

I did it. I signed the book contract that was offered to me recently for the publication of my debut novel. Let's just make a list of all the words that come to mind when I try to describe my current state:
  • Excited
  • Relieved
  • Nervous
  • Peaceful
  • Floating
  • Thrilled
  • Scared
  • Thankful
  • Eager
All the feels, as the kids say these days! After reviewing the contract and researching its terms and language, as well as communicating with the publisher on questions I needed answered (and being satisfied with their clarifying responses), I said yes to my dream.

I've been saying yes for years. At the start, when it was yet another story idea taking shape in my imagination but this time something caused me to follow through on it. Then the year and a half spent writing the first rough (so, so rough) first draft. Oh, the hours spent and chai teas consumed at Copper Rock coffee house in Appleton! I swear, I need to arrange an author reading there. After the initial rejections from publishers when I naively submitted my barely edited draft to them, I kept saying yes. Through the years of gradual editing and fitting in writing time in tiny, occasional increments, still I said yes. And throughout 2016, when I made it a year of heavily editing the manuscript and learning skills I needed as a writer, I continued saying yes.

Over and over, I said yes because that is the only way to fulfill the dream of your heart. If there's another way, I don't know it. Today, I said yes to a publisher. It's the yes that's waited for me here, biding its time until I showed up to meet it. Each yes led to this one.

Because the Saints Said So: Short On Time (St. Therese)


Time. We can't hold it. We can't create it. We are directed by it at every turn. Morning/Evening. Day/Night. Early/Late. Hours, minutes, seconds are the context of our lives. I operate in a constant state of 'not enough time.' At any given moment, I could list a handful of things for which I don't have enough time. I suspect a few of you can relate, and for you, I have an announcement: It's a lie.

It's a lie.

You have enough time.

How do I know this? Because God knows better than I do the time I need. How much time I have is not a changeable reality. God is the wise and perfect designer of time and of my personal share of time. So, if we can't change how much time we have and God designed our time perfectly anyway, where are we going wrong? Why at the close of the day are we saturated with the perception of inadequate time?

Because we waste it.

We have only short moments of this life to work for God's glory.
The devil knows this and that is why he tries to make us waste time in useless things.
O, let us not waste our time!
(St. Therese of Lisieux)
 

Typically (typical of most of us), my mind goes to entertainment when I think of time wasters. Streaming video services, smart TVs, smart phones, online games, social media, and apps galore have all brought time spent on entertainment to a new level. It is easier and more enjoyable than ever to waste time on entertainment. However, condemning entertainment across the board as the cause of our supposed lack of time is a dangerously narrow view.

There is a place for entertainment in our lives. It is not, in itself, evil. God made us in His image: capable of both creating and appreciating sources of joy, laughter, deeply provoked thought, and beauty. Like so many aspects of our world, there are options of entertainment that can do good and nurture the mind and spirit, and there are others that will do harm and undermine our call to be the best versions of ourselves. These matters become time wasters when they, even the truly good ones, are given more of our time than they deserve. Measure each entertainment activity honestly: is it at the service of my best self? If not, give it none of your valuable time. If so, give it only a share of time that doesn't infringe on the time deserved by greater things.

Entertainment is so far from being our only time waster. For some people, it is hardly even an issue. The other matter I'd like to highlight is expectations. Oh, the time I waste on expectations! Now, before you think I'm advocating lowering all our standards for how well we do what we do, let me explain.

It is the plague of constant comparison and competition. We see the ideal Pinterest how-to guides; the Facebook posts of family vacations and activities; the hosted parties in spic and span homes; the celebrity glow of perfection reported and printed and photo shopped. We don't witness the trial and error before that blogger posted their picture perfect meal display. We don't hear the fights or know the stresses in the marriages and families on those vacations or participating in planned activities. We don't see the piles of mail and toys and laundry stuffed behind closed doors so the hostess can present a perfect home. We forget the bank accounts, the personal trainers and assistants, and the marketing strategy all contributing to the projected image of professional athletes and gorgeous celebrities.

We are immersed in expectations. Often without even realizing it, we strap on the yoke of earthly perfection and waste our precious time. In our aspirations to be good, successful, and happy, we mistake worldly expectations for worthwhile standards. They are not and never will be synonymous.

Stop sapping your time for other people's approval, or even for your own short lived self-satisfaction. You do not have enough time for that. You do have enough time to be the best version of yourself for you and everyone within your range of influence. You have enough time to live in a manner that glorifies God. You have enough time.

Can you repeat that to yourself? I have enough time. I have enough time because God created my time. I will not give it away to that which isn't worthy of the gift, be it undeserving activities or self-defeating expectations. Lord, I am not short on time. Help me to not be short on wisdom in my time.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Rhythm of His Heart

Writing Prompt: I fell asleep to the rhythm of his heart.
Writing Time: 15 minutes

She laid her head on his chest, letting her nerves be soothed by his heartbeat. She felt her own heart steady itself. They'd been fighting all week. They'd been fighting for months, in truth. With each burst of regrettable words and cold glares, her heart raced. It pounded against her rib cage in a combination of threat and reassurance: a threat that it could become more than she could handle - more than they could come back from; a reassurance that she had not reached, and could not imagine reaching, a point of no longer caring if they could recover.

Every couple went through times like this. That's what she believed. Turmoil was found in every coupling. Sometimes she was tempted to think their particular brand of turmoil could be worse than others but mostly she was confident it was not. It was what their bond, forged in passion and affection and joy, prepared them for.

Here with her ear over his heart, she hoped he still believed likewise. Despite her share in the mistakes and the pain they caused him, she hoped he still believed.

As his breathing slowed into sleep, she wracked her brain for how she could convince him that she was still glad she chose him. He needed to know she was still choosing him. That was the way she'd fallen short so often in these months. Her grandmother's words at her bridal shower all those years ago came back to her.

"Choose each other every day. Above everybody else, choose each other. Even when you're busy or you can't physically be near each other, make sure your hearts are still choosing each other. There are so many things and so many people to choose from. You'll be tempted to let it slide because you already have each other, but you'll only have each other for as long as you keep choosing each other."

In her naive, bridal bliss, the advice seemed quaint. Here, multiple kids, jobs, houses, and sufferings later, she understood.

"I choose you," she whispered into his chest and fell asleep to the rhythm of his heart.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Wine and Ice Cream

Writing Prompt: Chocolate Peanut Butter Ice Cream
Writing Time: 30 minutes

I’m wearing my favorite dress. A sleeveless, kelly green sundress with a V neckline. It’s been one of those weeks: long hours, overbooked obligations, a headache that never fully goes away. I know I’ll survive and be no worse for wear (assuming a good night's sleep or two). Still, it’s Thursday now and I feel I haven’t taken a proper breath since Sunday. It is undoubtedly a green dress, comfortable flats, braided hair, glass of wine with no one around kind of night. I need to slow down. I need to think a few rambling thoughts. 

I walk five blocks to the best wine bar in town. It's the best not because of its wine selection - which is only a bit above average - but its atmosphere. I order a bruschetta appetizer and a glass of chardonnay then seat myself in a wicker chair on the patio. It’s dusk and the automatic lamps around the seating area come on one at a time, a pause between each as if they are politely taking turns. Through the yellow glow, I watch a classical guitarist play. His eyes are closed as his upper body sways with the rhythm of his fingers on the strings. The background vocal is the low tide waves of the lake licking the beach across the boardwalk. There are only three other patrons dispersed around the patio.

The ice cream shop next door is crowded though, as it should be on an idyllic summer night like this. I keep one ear tuned to the guitarist and one ear to the giddy hum of the families indulging in homemade, hand dipped ice cream. The combination is unexpectedly rejuvenating.

I hear the scrape of a chair on the sidewalk somewhere behind me. I don’t think much of it until I sense someone close to me. The loss of the solitude of my spot causes me to stiffen a little in my chair. I sip my wine, ignoring whomever is outside the short fence surrounding the patio.

“I’ll pass you an ice cream cone if you’ll sneak me a glass of pinot noir.”

The nearness of the voice is startling. I continue to ignore.

"What could be better than wine and ice cream?"

I move finally, ready to dismiss this stranger, but as I turn my head and lean my shoulder toward the fence, he leans forward. In his hand is a chocolate peanut butter, double scoop waffle cone. It meets my bare shoulder and I feel the top scoop instantaneously melt into liquid on my skin. The contact with my shoulder pushes the cone down into the man’s fist. It cracks, ice cream dripping over his fingers. His expression is so stunned, so regretful, I laugh aloud despite myself.

“Oh! Oh, I’m so sorry.” He pulls a stack of tiny napkins out of the pocket of his jeans and tries to mop up the chocolate mess on my arm. Meanwhile his other hand is covered in ice cream that runs off the curve of his wrist to fall to a small puddle on the sidewalk. “I did not think this through. I can’t tell you how sorry I am.”

I’m still quietly laughing, dumbfounded, trying not to panic over the ice cream that has reached my favorite dress. I hold my arm straight out, unsure of the best move to make. The man dashes into the ice cream shop for more napkins. He has long legs and a lean build. He’s back by my side in no time. When our eyes meet, his face turns red.

“What was that about?" I ask.

“Honestly?” He raises an eyebrow, scratches at his temple. “I had this whole scenario play out in my head. That’s not how it was supposed to go.”

I can’t help wanting to know more but I need to clean up. Excusing myself, I do what I can in the wine bar’s small restroom. My shoulder is still a tad sticky and I have counted five spots on my dress I’ll need to take care of at home. I expect to be alone again when I return to the patio and my glass of wine, but the man is still there. He has sat down in the chair he’d dragged over, only the diminutive fence and a couple feet of summer air between us.

He smiles tentatively when I sit down. “I’m Eli.”

“I’m Harper.”

We shake hands over the fence. The whole encounter is surreal and I am more and more surprised at my ease with each passing second.

I swallow the last of my chardonnay. There are two pieces of bruschetta toast left. I pass one to Eli and keep the other. “Are you going to tell me how it was supposed to go?”

He clears his throat, amusement lightening his expression. The lamps gleam in his brown eyes. “I was supposed to ask you to bring me a glass of wine. I was supposed to find out your favorite ice cream flavor and bring a dish of it for you. We were supposed to laugh over our clandestine exchange. We’d talk. We’d take a walk. I’d get your number and give you mine. Tomorrow we’d go out.”

I respond with a laugh straight from my belly. Eli has lost his embarrassment and grins at me. “Instead you smacked my shoulder with your ice cream and stained my favorite dress.”

“It’s still a great dress.”

“Are you a hopeless romantic or just a flirt?”

“I prefer romantic optimist.”

“Well, you’re something. I’ll give you that.”

He frowns when I stand up, my bill in my hand to pay at the bar inside, then he stands up as well.

“Eli, my favorite ice cream is cookies and cream. Maybe I’ll have to treat myself to some tomorrow evening.”

“You should definitely do that, Harper. Tomorrow night.”

“Tomorrow night.”


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

There's This One Song

There's this one song, this one single song, that does everything for me that I could possibly need when I listen to it. It holds me like a lullaby. It serenades me like a lover. It moves me like a great work of art. It makes me smile and makes me sigh.

Is it not an incredible privilege that we are designed to experience art in such a manner? And not only that we can comprehend the beauty and genius in art while it inspires emotional reactions and provokes new thoughts, but also that we are each unique in our experiences of it. The song I speak of may have little effect on you. The painting or symphony or film you love dearly, I may not like. The favorite novel, the beloved play, the incredible sculpture, or the enthralling music - they are not the same from one to another. We each have our own "songs" that hold ineffable power over us.

Oh, the glory of such variety in both artists and recipients of art.

When I listen to that song I am thankful we are made in the image of the original Artist. We are His finest work, His masterpieces. In turn then every piece of beauty and creativity that comes forth from humanity is an offshoot of His artistry. I hope there is a piece of art, a reflection of His artwork, that has reached you like this song has me. We are each greater for the "songs" that reach our hearts.