Lissa Marie Niederer

Thoughts about faith, family, books, and how I'm trying to make them all fit together!


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Side Trip To Poetry Land; Wanna Come?

I found some old poems in an old notebook in an old corner of an old closet. Thought I’d take a little side trip and share one with you, because sometimes poetry is fun, and because the creative parts of my brain don’t feel functional enough today to write you anything new!

 

Encounter

We waded in lazily, my friend and I,
and floated on pink, palm-tree boogie-boards
on the still, murky waters of a brackish inlet
in New Smyrna Beach, Florida,
dangling our legs beneath us,
showing our bronze backs and
speckled shoulders to the sun,
paddling slowly in circles to nowhere
as if we could make the days of summer —
hot and free and fading —
stay to float with us a little longer, when

suddenly, we felt a bump beneath us,
saw the manatees surfacing from
the secretive black below
like the hidden image of a Magic Eye
rising slowly into clarity,
and they were nuzzling their noses —
plump and hairy and curious —
into the air and against our boards and
our legs and our hands and our expectations,
opening their wide nostrils
to take in a quiet woosh of air,
rolling their fat, beautiful bodies
over and over like cement mixers
preparing the foundation of a home,
a city, a whole vast planet full
of skyscrapers and boats and oil drills,
and they exposed their soft gray bellies
as dogs do, as puppies do when
begging to be scratched, and I,

with one’s face in my alien hands,
pressed my lips to its nose,
and cried and laughed and cried,
weeping salty water into salty water,
aching and admiring these tender, naked giants
with half-healed propeller bites criss-crossing
on their rounded backs,
these creatures surrounding us,
welcoming us fearlessly,
trusting us with their
beady, bottomless eyes.

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2007


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Not For Me

If you asked my mother, she would probably tell you that, as a child, I expressed a desire to be a variety of different things when I grewImage up. Most kids do, I think. Teacher? Police officer? Olympic gymnast? (My son, Sam, has asked me on multiple occasions how many years he has to go to college to be able to ride on the garbage truck…) But I don’t remember dreaming about any of those professions. I remember wanting to write, and nothing else.

At five, I wrote a “book” in which the main character loses her beloved pet rabbit, Tommy. Oh, Tommy turns up eventually (out from under the girl’s bed), and when the she looks to see if he made any “massis” (messes?), she discovers that Tommy has had babbies. ImageYup, babbies. I was apparently too young to understand the inner workings of the reproductive system, but they all lived happily ever after regardless. During my middle school years, there existed 100 pages or so in a journal about two kids that escape from an evil orphanage mistress and make for the mountains. And in high school, I attempted to pen the fictional memoir of a teenage girl with schizophrenia. They are definitely rather hysterical to read now, looking back–the amateurish works of a kid with a pen who wanted to be an author. But I keep them because they mean something to me. They remind me of what I wanted to be when I grew up.

That is why this shift in thinking has been difficult. I am having growing pains.

When I was working on early drafts of The Sky We Walk Upon, I tried to make it as clever and literary as possible. I thought an occasional reference to booze or casual sex would make me sound more sophisticated, sell more books to a wider audience, make me more money. ‘So what if it’s supposed to be a story about someone finding her faith? If I write it completely clean, people will think it’s boring. I’ll never get famous that way!’ My plan was to write a story about God AND one that would realize my dream in the most “popular” manner. I wanted it both ways, but I quickly found out the impossibility of that goal.

A dear friend was visiting from out of state around the time I was finishing up an early round of revisions, and late one evening, we were sitting around talking. I was expressing to her my frustrations in trying to find an agent for The Sky We Walk Upon. Having received positive feedback about the actual writing, and the premise for the storyline, I couldn’t understand why I was coming up against so many roadblocks. I had known in my head that it would be hard to find an agent. (Even the great Ted “Dr. Seuss” Geisel was rejected 27 times before his first book, To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street made its debut.) But in my heart, I couldn’t fathom how I could want something so badly and not have it happen. My friend helped clear that up for me, in that loving but painfully honest way that only a dear friend can do.

She said, “Lissa, you can’t glorify God with your novel AND glorify yourself. You have to choose.”

Ouch.

Making the choice to write for God was not easy. It meant letting go of some of the worldly wishes that have lingered and clung to my heart since childhood. It mean reconciling myself to the fact that not everyone was going to like what I have to say. I struggle now, even post-publication, with watching my sales numbers too much, checking my Amazon ranking too often (I’m not even convinced there’s any rhyme or reason to that ranking…), or letting reviews fill my head with an inflated sense of self-satisfaction. Yes, I am proud that I wrote a book. Yes, it feels incredible to hold it in my hand and see my name scrolled across the cover. But I made the decision when I was revising The Sky We Walk Upon that this book is not for me. It’s not so that I can say I became what I always wanted to be when I grew up. It’s not so that I can sell x number of copies or get on this list or that list or make a little extra dough to help support my family.

It is so that someone out there somewhere might pick it up and connect with Hannah Mackenzie in her journey to find her faith. Maybe that person feels afraid to love or be loved, too, just like Hannah–afraid to count on the one Awesome God who will love them forever! And if I don’t make another dime from book sales, fine. A positive difference in the life of one reader is worth more than fame and fortune any day.

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And ya know what? The Lord has showed me a lot in my own walk of faith since The Sky We Walk Upon underwent its spiritual face lift. I would like to share those things, too, but I think that is another story for another time…

 

 

 


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The Long Confession of a Chronically Unbalanced Woman

ImageEver since I was a young girl, my modus operandi has been to grow my hair impossibly long and then chop it all off. Every single time my mother would make me an appointment, she would ask “Just a trim, right?” and I would assure her that, yes, I was just going to have it shortened and restyled a bit. Nothing drastic. A nice, subtle change. And every single time, I would sit down in that super cool pumpy black chair and make my decree: CHOP IT ALL OFF! It is a compulsion. I can not help it. And in recent years, I have noticed that I am this way with a lot of things.

I will hoard toys for my children, and, in collector’s mode, scour yard sales and store aisles for items that will add to the assortment of Play-Doh tools, Matchbox cars, Lego accessories, or games for the Nintendo. The next day (or month, or season, or whatever…), I will gawk at the absurd amount of things we have cluttering up our home and promptly box them up to be rid of them. When I start feeling a bit bloated around the middle, I’ll workout every day for an hour and focus on eating only clean, nutrient-dense foods, prioritizing health and fitness above many other important aspects of my life. Then will come the kickback. I get tired. I sit around. I eat what I want (which mostly includes simple carbohydrates of the muffin and/or doughnut variety). This usually continues until I start feeling bloated around the middle again, then I start all over. Why do I find a new practice or passion, focus on it and only it for a time, and then turn around and drop it like it’s hot?

Back in January, I decided that I needed to practice finding that elusive sense of balance, that mysterious beast that would keep me from swinging radically from one extreme to the other. And since I am really trying to get better about spending time in God’s Word, I turned to scripture to see what it had to say about balance.

Well, just let me tell you something…

I was not led to the answers I expected. I did not unbury any long-lost verses of practicality that promised if I set my alarm for 5:30 every morning I would find the hours needed to conquer my to-do list. No words convinced me that balance was right around the corner if I followed prescription a, b, and c. No, instead, I was led to passage after passage suggesting that, perhaps, I am hunting the wrong beast. Perhaps it is not balance at all that I am meant to be studying, but the stories and messages that will bring me (kicking and screaming) to the ultimate truth that I can not achieve said balance on my own. Nor am I meant to.

This morning, when I set out to learn how to create balance in my life, I was instead instilled with the quiet assurance from the Lord that if I can do the following things, creating balance will no longer be necessary. Here they are:

  1. Find my focus.
  2. Seek and surrender.
  3. Cultivate contentment.

 

Okay, let’s break it down.

Step 1. Find my focus. In 2007, German research scientist Jan Souman set out to determine if there was any fact to the notion that lost people walk in circles when left to their own devices. Sam and Frodo did. Piglet and Winnie the Pooh did. And Souman’s fifteen volunteers did also when blindfolded and dropped in the middle of a wide open field.

ImageOnly when they were allowed to take a peek over their blindfolds at the moon, which hung fairly steadily in the sky for the short duration of the experiment, were the volunteers able to regain enough of a sense of direction to cover any distance. Without that point of focus on which to train their gaze, their movements were random and chaotic, not moving just in circles but in sharp, reversing diagonals and with no apparent tendency towards one side or the other. Similarly, consider a game of chess. If you’re like me, you play one move at a time, and always lose. If you’re not like me, and you have an ounce of skill when it comes to maneuvering those little black and white monarchs across the board, you play with an end game – with a clearly defined result up to which all your smaller moves are building. If that willy, nilly, silly old bear had had the moon, or an end game for his queen’s pawn or whatever, he and Piglet wouldn’t have been wandering quite as aimlessly for quite as long. Follow?

So then, I guess, I have to ask: Where is my focus? On my own plans for this life? My own problems? “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” says Matthew 6:33 (emphasis added). Or how about Philippians 4:8 (sometimes known as the “whatsoever” verse)? “Finally, brothers, whatsoever is true, whatsoever is honorable, whatsoever is just, whatsoever is pure, whatsoever is lovely, whatsoever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

In a world that sometimes feels so dark and broken, focusing on God first, keeping my eyes trained on things that are just and pure and lovely, feels impossible. But that is Step 1 in our little plan – mine and God’s – and I’m going to give it my best shot. 

Step 2. Seek and surrender.  It’s human nature to want to be in control, to want to be the driver in our own little life minivans (or Ferraris, if you prefer.) But scripture asks us to do otherwise. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight” Proverbs 3:5-6. My paths straight?! As in, like, German research volunteers wandering in a field straight? Winnie the Pooh straight? Oh, Lord, You do have a sense of humor. Image

It says in Isaiah 40 that God “has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand, And marked off the heavens by the span, And calculated the dust of the earth by the measure, And weighed the mountains in a balance And the hills in a pair of scales.” If He can do such things, how much more effective would He be than me in fine-tuning a few of my bad habits? He made me, for Pete’s sake, so why wouldn’t I think to ask my Creator for a little help in re-calibrating my foundation? After all, a scale is not accurate if you set it on a soft or uneven surface. If I can seek Him first, surrender the reins a bit, then I will have a firmer, more stable establishment upon which God can work on that re-calibration.

Step 3. Cultivate contentment.Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18. That’s pretty clear to me. I guess I don’t feel the need to add much in the way of exposition. Always, without ceasing, in all circumstances. Okay, got it. Choose happiness. Choose gratitude.

So, you see, what started out as a quest to balance a chronically unbalanced woman (that woman being myself), ended up an unbargained-for lesson that I didn’t know I needed. I’m anxious to spend some more time studying this outline and striving to put it into practice. I don’t know yet if these steps will help me be less of a spaz next time I visit the salon or anything like that, but maybe, just maybe, I’m just at the beginning of a much greater lesson.


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The Acknowledgements I Didn’t Write

I was reading an article recently about how to plan and execute a successful book launch. In her article, the author explains that there are two reasons for a newly published writer to throw a book launching event, the first being primarily for marketing purposes and the second being a time for celebration with friends and family. I was with her up to this point. Being very new to the publishing industry, I was soaking up her advice like the amateur sponge that I am. But at the end of the article, she says something that caught me off guard. She insists that, regardless of what her intentions were for throwing her first release party, she knew it would be celebratory for sure, because she had written a book all by herself.

A book! Yes! I wrote a book, too! All by myself.

NOT.

It occurred to me that nobody writes a book by themselves. We do not live in a vacuum. We draw inspiration from the world around us… moved and sparked by the way a child runs everywhere he goes, the way the atmosphere fills with a strange, pinkish light before a summer storm, the way it hurts sometimes deep in our chests when we witness something truly beautiful. Then, when the story has unfolded and the words are there on the page in their rawest form, we entrust them to readers to help us press and rearrange them until they beat in a steady, purposeful rhythm. Someone must envision a face for the story’s heart, designing a cover that speaks to a stranger passing by in a way that makes that stranger want to stop and peek inside. Someone must make the pages look nice. Someone must tell the author that, yes, she can do this. Someone must love her project enough to want to share it with others, connect with it enough to believe it can be sold.

My journey in writing and publishing The Sky We Walk Upon is no exception. In fact, I feel so indebted to the people that helped bring my childhood dream to fruition that I was completely paralyzed by the idea of writing an Acknowledgements section for my first book. I was sure I would forget someone vitally important, and the idea of an omission like that sealed in a thing so permanent as a published novel… well, that was a task so daunting that I skipped it completely. This morning, however, I am holding my first, beautiful, glossy, paper baby in my hands, after having mauled the poor Fed-Ex man half-way up my driveway (in my pajamas, in the rain), and I am feeling equal parts overwhelming gratitude and regret. I did not write this book by myself. I should have “manned up” and said thank you.

I should have said thank you to God, because He taught me, as He taught Hannah, our heroine, that there is such a thing as boundless, unending love, and that it is mine, should I desire it to be so. He planted seeds of creativity in my mind and urged me, quietly, to write Him a story.

I should have said thank you to my amazing husband, Hans, for dreaming big, tethering my doubts, and making sacrifices in many forms to get this book into print. I should have said thank you to my kids for eating cereal three meals a day because mommy was too busy writing to cook. Just kidding. Sort of.

I should have thanked all the people in my life who taught me things about life, about the fragile balance between dreaming big and working hard, about the mechanics of writing and the benefits of pursuing a creative outlet, especially my parents Sharon Arsenault, and Bill and Pattie White. Thanks especially to Eileen Chamberland, my middle school English teacher who was the first person to tell me I could do this if I wanted to, and to Pat O’Donnell who helped me fall in love with fiction writing all over again and who assigned the short story from which The Sky We Walk Upon was born.

I should have said thanks to all the people who read terrible, early versions of this book, and then read it again and again, offering both encouragement and honest, critical suggestions as it grew into the best work it could be. There are a lot of you, even my gang from The Sunshine State, so I won’t list you all. But please know how grateful I am. Also, Victoria St. Louis, Juliette Osborne, Jac Arbour, Molly Rosen, Jack and Leslie White, your help has been invaluable for various reasons. Thank you. Everyone at WestBow Press, you are amazing. Thank you for helping make God’s promises available through books that educate, inspire, and entertain. The book I am holding is more than I imagined, more than I had hoped. I should have said these things. I should have said thank you.

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Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.