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.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Thank Yous and News! (A Video Blog)

There's a first time for everything! My first video post is here:
If you have five minutes to spare, take a look. I have a message for my readers and a bit of news too!

Monday, January 9, 2017

A Stranger's Hands

She could not look away from his hands. Wide palms; long, sturdy fingers. Strong. They looked capable of holding her, all of her; something she hadn't thought of a man in years.

Three years and twenty-six days. Cora didn't keep track each day. That stopped during the second year. Every few months though, she added it back up. Numbers were a comfort to her; a steadying force reminding her some things made sense. This didn't begin with her husband's death. It was true since she first learned basic mathematics.

Three years and twenty-six days and suddenly (anything new since his death felt sudden), she was staring at a stranger's hands, thinking of how they would feel holding hers across a restaurant table, or on the small of her back, guiding her through a busy airport. Ordinary tasks of her husband's hands. A stranger. At the gym, no less. What was wrong with her?

"Less than yesterday." That's what her sister Tessa would say. Tessa thought Cora should move on. Cora thought Tessa didn't know what she was talking about.

She made up her mind to switch to a different treadmill in a different row, away from the stranger and his capable hands. Tessa's next question would be, "was he attractive?" Cora realized she couldn't have answered. She'd noticed nothing except his hands.

"It's a start," she heard her sister say in her head.

"It's an ending," she whispered as she began to run.

Friday, January 6, 2017

What Is the Book About?

"What is the book about?"
 
I couldn't possibly count the number of times I have heard this question. Sometimes people want a summary of the plot. Other times they are looking for the genre or a succinct synopsis. Easy question to answer, right? Right.
 
As the author, maybe because I am specifically a new author, I find the question difficult. How do I condense this story down to a few simple sentences? This story I've been writing and tweaking and rewriting for almost a decade. These characters I created from scratch and know like my best friends. Their relationships, their dilemmas, their pains and victories. How do I answer that question?
 
Then I stumbled upon this photo from the online magazine, "Verily." I saw it and exclaimed, "That's it!"
"Do not be afraid when love requires sacrifice." (St. John Paul II)
 
That right there is my book pared down to one sentence. The theme at the heart of Full of Days is the worthiness of love even when sacrifices are necessary for its existence. That truth is the reason I wrote it. Extending from this theme are the additional claims: that love's worth is essentially increased by those sacrifices and that no authentic love is capable of existing without some sacrifice.
 
In Full of Days, the protagonists experience this truth in varied ways. Sacrifice of pride and of approval. Sacrifice of comfort and security. Sacrifice of self. The latter is the only means for love to thrive. Do not mistake it for a pretty, romantic notion. It is the depth beneath the romance. It is the struggle beneath the prettiness. Self-sacrifice is the sustenance of love.
 
And, oh, the rewards! Freedom gained when pride and fear are rejected. Joys and adventures experienced when security is set aside and faith is boldly chosen. Strength built by arising from sorrow. Yes, my beloved characters experience these too.
 
If there is anything, anything at all, I hope my readers gain from this novel, it is a little less fear of and a little more courage for authentic love.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

I'll Wait

Writing Prompt: Red Shirt
Writing Time: 30 minutes

There was a spot of something on her shirt. A speck of food, maybe. It was too small to tell unless he drew closer. Her shirt was red and the spot was gray. Justin looked away. He wasn't about to be accused of staring at Leah's chest because of a tiny spot of who knew what. She would tease him for weeks. He tried to pay attention. She was speaking with as much grim seriousness as her lovely voice allowed.

Leah's voice really was lovely. Justin could not think of a better word. Like she was on the verge of singing every time she spoke. It was distracting, just like that spot on her red blouse.

He moved his eyes to the tumbler of whiskey in front of him. She still filled his peripheral view and the whiskey was only background color to her movements. Lifting her wine glass to her dry lips. Pushing her hair off her cheek. She set her drink down too hard. The wine sloshed up the curve of the glass, a single drop escaping over the top to slide down toward the stem.

"Don't you have any thoughts at all, Justin?"

So many.

He didn't admit that. "When have you ever taken my advice?" He said it with a smile that reached neither his eyes nor his tone.

"I'm sure it happened once."

She smiled now. That smile would be the end of him someday. Once it lit her face, he felt desperate to do anything, say anything, to stop it from disappearing.

"You can't leave."

Her mouth abandoned the smile to form a small O of surprise. Justin regretted it instantly. She'd want an explanation.

"It's his dream job. I can't ask him to stay." Leah took another sip of wine.

"I didn't say you should ask him to stay." What was he doing? If the tumbler was empty he might have something to blame. His hand shook when he lifted his still full drink so he set it back down and pressed his fist into the polished wood of the bar.

"Justin."

Her almost-singing voice was sad. Or scared. Justin wasn't sure which but he could not meet her eyes after she said his name that way. It sounded like a rejection wrapped up in a mere six letters, two syllables.

"Are you hungry? Let's order some food."

"Justin."

He shook his head. "I'm hungry."

"Me too," she whispered as she placed her finger tips under his chin to move his face in her direction. They both jumped when her phone rang. She dropped her hand.

"Damn it." He reached his arm around her waist and pulled her to him, more roughly than he intended. She slipped off her barstool and stood, leaning her hip against his knee. Every coherent thought left his head as their lips met. Then one single reality reached him: she was kissing him back. Her hand was on the back of his head. Her smooth skin was warm against his end of day stubble. Justin started to stand as well when she broke the kiss.

Leah stayed in the curve of his arm, her eyes still closed. He held his breath. She laid her palms on his chest and he knew she could feel his heart pounding through his shirt.

"How long have you wanted to do that?"

He laughed quietly, placing a light kiss on her forehead. When she finally opened her eyes, he replied, "May 17, 2002."

Confusion wrinkled her forehead for a moment then she smiled too. "The end of year party in your dorm?"

"The day we met."

"15 years, practically."

Her phone rang again and she stepped toward it. He groaned a little for the loss of her nearness.

"I have to take this." Leah didn't meet his eyes when she said it. She was chewing her lip the way he knew so well; the way she did when there was a decision to be made.

"I'll wait."

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

To Annabelle, Now and Every Tomorrow


Dear Annabelle,

Look at you. Football jersey, princess slippers, can't-sleep-without-them animals, and a smile brighter than a sunbeam. Lunging at me in jubilation. Certain I will embrace you. Certain I will laugh with you. 

You didn't see it but last night as I laid you in your crib, relaxed and content after our mutual favorite lullaby, there were tears in my eyes. You didn't notice the catch in my voice as I said goodnight. Something in the sight of you at that moment clarified reality. You are finishing up being my baby. You are ready to be my little girl instead. My little girl who will grow into my big girl and my young lady. The realization filled my chest with a wave of panic. The wave passed, swept out into the ocean of mixed emotions in a mother's heart as she watches her child change right before her eyes. There's no stopping you and so there are some things I must say before my voice isn't the one you're most eager to hear every morning, noon, and night.

Your face in this photo, along with a million instances of the privilege I have to see your smile, gives me a flash into the future. I am convinced you will be a woman who is "clothed in strength and dignity, and laughs at the days to come" (Proverbs 31:25). Please don't lose that light that fills your features. Keep your hair out of your gorgeous eyes, so you can see clearly but also so you may better be seen. You ought to be seen. When you feel the kick of an urge to smile at someone across the room, the way you do for me, don't resist it. You have no idea the kindness it is to offer that smile to another. And the way you never doubt that I and your Daddy will hear your calls? Have that confidence in your heavenly Father and the days to come won't be able to silence your laughter.

The time will come when you doubt this so I'll try to remind you of it often: you are "fearfully and wonderfully made" (Psalm 139:14). Your soul, your mind, your body. Every aspect of the whole Annabelle is a wondrous gift from God. Do not belittle any part of that gift, nor listen to those who would try to tell you otherwise. Know that you deserve what is true and beautiful and good, then seek it out fervently.

Among my greatest hopes for you is that you become a woman who, like the very breath and wisdom of God, "is more precious than rubies, and nothing [anyone might] desire can compare to her" (Proverbs 3:15). Your character is a wellspring of untold worth. The potential for generosity and kindness, humor and boldness, passion and earnestness, understanding and creativity - unearth that treasure, my girl. Every person you touch will be better for it and you will pass your years living instead of waiting to live.

Be the princess you are, Annabelle, and be that only in the truest sense of the title. Be a daughter of the King. There is "an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you" (1 Peter 1:4), Annabelle. Rather than sacrifice it for anyone, be a reason they look for theirs too. Seek the good of every soul that crosses your path. Know your worth and convince others of theirs. 

I love you.

Mamma

Saturday, December 31, 2016

One Word for the New Year

Earlier this week, I chose my "one word" for 2017. You may have seen this suggestion making its rounds on social media. Choose one word that becomes your guiding theme in the twelve months ahead. People's answers have a beautiful variety: thankful, peace, trust, action, hope, brave. I have seen many as the clock keeps ticking its way closer to the new year, and I have chosen mine:


WORTHY

I rolled it around in my brain for a day, considering others but returning to this one. I mulled over why it was the strongest contender. What did it mean for me? How might it affect my year? It nestled into my consciousness and I decided to let it stay. The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to share it with you on this blog. As I sorted out my musings into readable paragraphs, I also tried to find a good quotation to use to introduce the idea. It was a rare occasion of Google failing me.

What I found was quote after quote affirming a person's self-worth. I am worthy. You are worthy. On and on and on. We have a crisis of self-worth. This isn't news. It's been going on for decades and only getting worse. The misguided responses of rooting out all humility and lasting, God-given identity haven't exactly helped.

All these people attempting to answer this crisis. At first it seemed like there was nothing applicable to my theme for the new year. I wasn't looking for an affirmation of self-worth. It is exactly because of my belief in my own worth that I chose this word. Then I realized that maybe, just maybe, this new year's theme is a piece of the puzzle of living in a manner that says you know your worth.

I chose WORTHY because I am tired of giving of myself to things that are not worthy of me. I'm tired of being tired - physically and mentally. I, like many people, have trouble saying no to or stepping away from that which isn't worthy of a portion of my reserves of time, energy, attention, and care. In the coming year, I hope to retrain myself to an extent. Give myself only to what is worthy - be it activities, hobbies, relationships, responsibilities, worries, thoughts - and within the collection of what is worthy, spend myself to an extent that is proportionate to each one's importance. Not everything and everyone is worthy of what I have to give, and not everything and everyone that is worthy is equally worthy.

At the close of 2017, I aim to have this a bit more sorted out than I do now. The end result, I hope, will be less of that tiredness I mentioned, yes, but also a better ability to pour myself out for what is WORTHY because I am not wasting myself on what isn't.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Listen to Your (Inner) Three Year Old

My three year old gets it. All that is necessary to fill him with excited anticipation is to tell him we are going to do something together. The activity matters little. Togetherness is the key.

During the brief forty-five minutes we had this morning between him waking up and me departing for work, he must have asked ten times for me to spend time with him. The asking comes in a variety of forms - will you sit with me; can we watch a movie together; are you going to eat with me - but the heart of the question is constant: Can we be together?

Connection; companionship; unity; family. It is my belief that we do not lose our early years' desire for togetherness. We grow adept at minimizing its significance, quieting its voice. We learn to ignore it. We all have our own reasons for doing so.

With each instance in which I must reject my son's request for time with me because I am required to be elsewhere, my heart hurts. Yet there are plenty of times where I also turn him down carelessly, preferring that he leave me alone to do the things I'm more interested in that day or the things I think have to get done. I am imperfect in it, without a doubt, but having children has reawakened my own desire for and value of togetherness.

This isn't written with undue guilt. We cannot be there with them non-stop. Jobs, obligations, responsibilities, and even solitary endeavors are both necessary and valuable. Yes, my children have to learn the hard lesson that they are not at the center of the world they occupy nor can they count on always receiving what they want from others. My thoughts run less along the line of eliminating those lessons and more along the line of wondering what society, and specifically my own family, could look like if alongside those harder lessons everyone also learned that we do not need to guard our hearts against the natural desire for togetherness.

Final request of the day: "Will you rest with me?"
What if I said yes more often, both to my son and to my own timid longing for greater togetherness? What if I factored it more strongly into our Christmas season plans and my New Year's resolutions? What if I replaced "not right now" with "yes, we can be together" as much as possible? It would be a difference maker for the good, I am sure of it.

Monday, December 12, 2016

The Paradox of Suffering and Hope at Christmas

Photo provided by Trisha Hummel
Today is my cousin Trudi's 44th birthday. It is her 23rd birthday in eternal life. I was still stumbling my way toward my teen years when Trudi was murdered. Trudi and her older sisters were thick as thieves with my older sisters while I was just one of the little cousins in our extensive family circle. I remember her as cool; fun and beautiful; bold and humorous.

This weekend I spent hours addressing Christmas cards. As I scribbled the names, streets, and cities of my cousins, I couldn't help wondering about Trudi. Would she live in the same area, like her sisters, or would she have established her life elsewhere? Would we have attended a wedding? Would our children have played together by now? Would we have that comfortable, enjoyable dynamic that develops between family members after the years have placed us on level ground?

Hypotheticals. They do an excellent job of muddling the mind and stinging the heart. There's nothing like loss to leave you wading through a pool of hypotheticals. And there's nothing like Christmas time to amplify the wound of loss.

This isn't a direct quote, as I can't remember where I heard it, but I once read that St. John Paul II said suffering is created by feeling cut off from good. We live and love and link ourselves to sources of good. When one of those links is severed, we are left trying to patch the tear.

What has severed a link to good in your life?
Death
Divorce
Job loss
Infertility
Disease
Rejection
Betrayal

Every cut in our connections to what is good is felt keenly in this season of celebration. For some, the suffering renders Christmas undesirable. Potential joy is swallowed up in misery. Sounds of peace are drowned out by the roar of hypotheticals that can never be.

Oh, the paradox of Christmas. For Christmas, my friends, is the arrival of the Divine Response to every wound and cut and tear you carry with you. It is Almighty God dwelling amongst us. He made Himself vulnerable to encounter our vulnerability. God entrusted Himself to the arms of a mother, to the home of an earthly father, and to a community of imperfect, suffering individuals.

Adoration of the Shepherds by Gerard van Honthorst
Christmas is the issuance of God's answer to our suffering, to our feeling of being cut off from good. It is a resounding song of hope: "You are not cut off. You are not abandoned. You are not lost. For I am with you. Here in the deepest cuts, I abide with you. I may have allowed pain and loss, but I fill the voids. I AM the source of all good and I AM here."

Christmas, when "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14) is the root of our conviction "that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39).

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

She Would Have Loved That

Two years ago my last grandparent, my maternal grandmother, passed away. Her death came in the week before Thanksgiving and so inevitably she enters my thoughts a lot in this holiday season. Similarly, it is summertime when my paternal grandmother comes to mind most often as my final memory of her was a family picnic at my parents' house on a warm summer day. Sunshine warmed grass between my toes, family sitting in chairs in the yard, Grandma Theresa makes herself present with us. Now, in the bustle of family focused holidays and age old traditions, Grandma Evelyn is here with me.

Grandma Evelyn with my firstborn, a few months before she passed.

During Sunday Mass last weekend, I leaned over to my husband and whispered, "Grandma would have loved this men's choir." The rich, reverent harmonies could have been from any number of old albums of hymns she used to play on her cassette deck next to her favorite chair. I savored every song during that Mass, enjoying it on her behalf.

Then at the end of Mass, I approached the giving tree set up near the sanctuary. Typically I choose a request for a child's gift from these trees. It gives me a special kind of joy to know a young child will be happier on Christmas day thanks to a small sacrifice on my family's part. It was with this same intention that I went to find this year's star on the giving tree. But what did I find on the first star I read? A little Christmas wish list for an elderly woman that could have been my grandmother's list pretty much every single year. My eyes filled with tears and I swallowed a lump of emotion in my throat as I plucked the star from the tree. I get to shop for my Grandma.

When I read that Christmas list and kept thinking, "she would have loved that," with each item, I realized something I hope I won't forget. Remembering our loved ones gone from this world is a special thing but loving on others with the very love your heart has marked for the ones you lost is immeasurably greater.