Lissa Marie Niederer

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


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10 Reasons I Can’t Write Right Now

  1. writers-blockThe closet at the end of my upstairs hallway is overflowing with shoes that don’t fit anybody in the house.  If I don’t purge and organize this closet right now, the world might implode.
  2. It has been four days since I baked chocolate chip cookies.
  3. It’s nice outside. I should go outside. I should probably take up gardening while I’m out there.
  4. The guinea pig cage is stinky. This chore belongs to my sons, but I can’t concentrate when the den smells like wet hay.
  5. I’m out of corn starch. There is not an immediate need for corn starch, but doesn’t that seem like one of those things you want readily available for emergencies?
  6. Gastronomic necessity requires I drive to Manchester for an apple cider doughnut.
  7. The baseboards haven’t been scrubbed in… Have I ever scrubbed my baseboards?
  8. If there were menus written out for the next couple weeks, I’d feel much more organized. Maybe I could come up with some kind of alphabetized system. A few crockpot meals wouldn’t be a bad idea either.
  9. I haven’t checked Facebook in, like, twenty minutes. Something monumental might have happened while I was procrastinating – I mean being a conscientious homemaker/writer of words.
  10. Preparation is the mother of success. I should
    • research
    • brainstorm
    • outline
    • read something
    • write some character sketches
    • make sure there’s plenty of paper in the printer
    • tidy the desk area
    • dust
    • take that weird can of compressed air to the keyboard
    • blog a list of things that might distract me from writing


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A Sneak Peek For You, Friends

The way I figure it, if I share the first chapter of Close To Me with you, then I am committed and responsible to finish this book in a timely manner. So, here you go. I hope you enjoy meeting Charlie, because I am just in love with her. And I hereby promise to vigorously attempt finishing a draft of her story by the new year. Cheers, friends! 🙂

Chapter 1                                              cropped-heart-page.jpg

 2010

A very pregnant Charlie Malone flopped back onto her left side in bed, yanking and contorting her body pillow until it twined supportively under her swollen abdomen and between her legs. The sheets, slightly dampened from the summer heat and from the rain, were bunched around her husband’s feet, and he stirred as she kicked them down further. It was a struggle to settle her weight into a comfortable position in their full-sized bed, and since it had been raining for days on top of days, Charlie felt like every part of her over-sized body stuck together upon contact. She was hot and distracted and she wanted her baby.

“Sleeping with you is like sleeping with a trout these days,” Gavin muttered from a state of semi-consciousness. He reached out and squeezed her shoulder.

Even in the dark, Charlie could see that her husband was smiling. What a good sport. “Beached whale is more like it,” she joked back.

She thought about the life inside of her – a daughter they had been told at their twenty week ultrasound – and what she would look like and be like. She and Gavin prayed for the baby almost every day, that their daughter would be healthy, and that she would come soon. Charlie was a week late now. Every little twinge, every tiny ache, she questioned. Is it time? Will I get to hold my daughter today? She was fully expectant that sleep would be hard to come by once little Emily was born, but it had to be better than this insomnia. At least she would have her baby.

Charlie listened to Gavin already snoring lightly beside her, watched the green numbers on the bedside table tick by the minutes. The baby, like a wave, rolled beneath the tight skin of her belly. Eventually, just before two a.m., the sounds of the rain pattering against the windows of their third-story apartment ceased. “Gavin?” she whispered. “Psssst, are you sleeping?”

“Hmm? Why would I do that?” he mumbled.

“Gavin!”

He jolted upright in bed and tousled his face as if to dislodge the exhaustion from his body. “Sorry, what? Is it the baby?”

“No, no, I’m sorry. I just can’t sleep. Will you take me for a drive?”

Gavin leaned onto one elbow and peered at the clock over the ever-expanding mass that was his wife. “It’s two o’clock, Charlie. We could go in the morning…”  He slumped over and laid his head in what was left of her lap.

“Ya know,” Charlie began, running her fingers persuasively through her husband’s sandy hair, “Once the baby comes, we’re not going to have a lot of opportunity for spontaneous midnight joyrides.”

An acquiescent groan from somewhere deep inside her husband let her know that she had won, and ten minutes later her darling sleep-deprived husband was carefully maneuvering her down the rain-slicked back staircase of their building.  She wore a soft pink maternity night gown and a pair of Crocs, the last shoe on the planet that would fit her puffy feet.

“I’m going to get you out of this apartment one of these days,” Gavin said, clutching her elbow.

Her fifth grade teacher’s salary and his non-existent grad student income didn’t make for much of a financial cushion, but Charlie didn’t mind as much as Gavin did. “I don’t care about that,” she said, as he lowered her into the passenger’s seat. “You know you’re my home.” Charlie knew this waiting couldn’t be much easier on him than it was on her, but there was no one she would rather have on this adventure with her. “I love you.”

“I love you, too, Wife.” He gave her a kiss and closed the passenger’s side door.

The August pavement was still a shiny black from the evening’s storm as Gavin guided their little sedan away from town, towards the more rural towns outside Bangor. Fog gathered in pockets where the road dipped and cracked, evidence of the hard winter behind them, and great oaks and pines cut the moonlight where it fell in strange patches between the frost heaves. Every few yards, a frog attempted the transversal from one ditch to the other, and Gavin dutifully slowed to let them pass.

“Look out!” Charlie screeched suddenly as one such tiny amphibian narrowly escaped death-by-tire on the street in front of them.

Gavin stomped on the breaks in the middle of the deserted road and took a minute to release the over-intake of air that he’d inhaled at Charlie’s outburst. Once he’d caught his breath, he reached over and put a hand on her pregnant belly. “Wife?”

“Yes, Husband?” They’d been married almost a year and a half now, but she still found the silly nicknames that they’d started using on their honeymoon endearing. She could also tell by the look on his face that she’d startled him quite sufficiently. Oops.

“I understand that your maternal instincts have kicked in and that the little froggie-woggies are very cute and all, but I’m slightly more concerned with keeping us on the road at this point. ‘K?”

Charlie stuck out her bottom lip as far as she could muster and shifted her weight in the seat. “Sorry. We can turn around and go back whenever you want to.”

“Do you think you might be able to fall asleep now?”

“Maybe.”

“Okay.” He did a three-point turn and headed toward a town that was just beginning to glow with the first faint signs of morning. When they were safely back at their apartment, Gavin kissed her again. “Do you want to pray before we go back to sleep?”

Charlie nodded. He took her hand.

“Heavenly Father, You said it was not good for man to be alone, and I am so grateful that You saw fit to bless me with this amazing little family. Please wrap your loving arms around my Charlotte tonight. Give her rest. Draw up in her wells of energy and strength, with which she can bring our baby safely into this world. And please Lord, if it’s not too much to ask, make it soon!”

Charlie chuckled and squeezed Gavin’s hand.

“In Jesus’ name, we pray…”

“Amen,” Charlie finished.

“Amen.” He brushed a red tendril of hair from his wife’s eyes, a familiar gesture that still made Charlie’s heart flutter. “Now you get some rest, hear? That beautiful little boy or girl could decide he or she is ready any minute.”

He?!” Charlie exclaimed.

“Sure, the ultrasound technician said those things aren’t 100%, remember?”

“Oh, it’s a girl.”

“You’re so sure, huh?”

“Yup. If it’s a boy, I’ll let you name him anything you want. Wolverine, Sherman, Michael Jordan, whatever you want.”

“I like Andrew.”

“That’s fine. It’s a girl,” Charlie murmured, feeling herself sinking towards sleep.

“Well, if you are right, I hope she looks just like you.”

“Now you’re just sucking up.” She closed her eyes.

“Am not.” He kissed her. “Rest now, beautiful.”

Charlie slept soundly for the next couple hours, dreaming of summer rains and the smell of the damp earth, of her husband’s loving arms and the child that would soon come to nestle between them in their little bed.  Sometime after dawn, she felt Gavin leave, sensed the cool absence beside her on the other side of the mattress. The shower ran for a minute before the sound of the water and the growing warmth of the sun filtering through the gauze curtains lulled her back to sleep.

***

When Charlie opened her eyes again, the room was bright and hot, the sun having matured from its earlier feeble rays to a full-fledged summer scorcher.  For a minute she laid there attempting to orient herself to the day. She’d started her maternity leave at the camp where she worked summer vacations from  teaching almost two weeks ago, on account of Dr. Pare’s concerns about her blood pressure, and since decreasing her responsibilities to minor household chores and sorting baby clothes, she’d had the hardest time keeping track of what day of the week it was. The house was quiet; had Gavin gone to work already? No, last night was Friday, and today they were going to Gavin’s parents’ anniversary dinner.

Lynne and Gregory had been married for twenty-five years, Charlie mused, using one arm to support her massive belly while she shifted and heaved to a sitting position. She hoped she and Gavin would be like that one day – madly in love, a little feisty, eagerly anticipating the arrival of their first grandbaby. Where was Gavin anyway?

“Gavin?” she hollered into the empty apartment. She swung her puffy feet around to the floor and made her way to the kitchen, rubbing her back which had begun to ache.

On the island was a cup of coffee and a note.

 

Hey Wife,

Gone for bagels. Start with this, and I’ll toast you and Babykins an everything with extra cream cheese when I get back. Thanks for the spontaneous midnight joyride. Love you.

Hubs

 

Charlie looked at the clock. How long had she been asleep? When did Gavin leave this note? A tiny pit of worry rose up in Charlie’s throat as she pressed a palm against the side of the coffee mug. It was cold.

The phone rang, and Charlie snatched it from the receiver before it could ring twice. “Gavin?”

“No sweetie, it’s Lynne. I was just calling to see if you were still coming to dinner tonight. Is everything okay?”

“I’m not sure. I just woke up and Gavin’s not here but there’s this note and my coffee is cold.” She pinned the phone between her ear and shoulder and used both hands to rub the remnants of grogginess from her face. She knew she wasn’t making any sense.

“Oh. You don’t know where he went?”

“The note says he went for bagels, but I think he’s been gone for a while, and something doesn’t feel right.” That subtle ache that had started in her lower back was dull, but persistent. She massaged it while she rehashed the last few hours to her mother-in-law, ending with the most recent development of her physical discomforts.

“Do you think labor is starting?” Lynne Malone was calm, but Charlie could hear the concern creeping into her voice as they tried to figure out how long ago Gavin had left the house.

“I don’t know. I don’t know. I felt kind of crampy last night—”

Lynne had started to ask her something else, but Charlie’s attention was divided now, honing in on the sound of footsteps thumping up the back stairwell.

“Hang on a minute, Mom. I think he might be back!” Charlie set the phone on the kitchen counter and hobbled as quickly as she could through the screen door and out onto the back porch. Peering over the third floor balcony, she spotted a uniformed officer ascending the steps, and her heart caught in her throat. She held her breath as she watched him pass the first floor landing, and then the second. There were only two apartments per floor and there was a separate staircase for 3B. He was coming to their apartment.

Like a bad dream, Charlie’s fear made her want to both laugh and cry in the same instant. Another wave of achiness throbbed in her lower back, stronger this time, hot and nauseating. If she was in labor, this was not what Charlie had expected it to feel like. Wasn’t her stomach supposed to hurt? Where was Gavin? What was happening? As if in response to her plea for answers, a warm rush of clear fluid suddenly began flowing down Charlie’s legs and pooling around her feet. “What do I do?!” she cried out to the officer, who had seen what was happening and was taking the last flight of steps by twos.

“Mrs. Malone? I’m Officer Stuart with the Bangor P.D. I’m going to help you. How far apart are your contractions?”

“I don’t know! Where is Gavin? Please, where’s my husband?”

“Let’s get you back inside, Ma’am.” His voice was too kind, remorseful almost.

Charlie let him take her inside and lower her into a chair at the kitchen table. She kept her eyes trained on the officer’s face as he fussed about the kitchen looking for a towel to put under her legs. “Please,” she said again, with more force.

The man took a deep breath and shook his head. “Your husband was in an accident about two hours ago. I’m sorry. He’s not—he didn’t survive the crash.”

The man was still talking, but Charlie was hearing none of the explanation that followed. The words were garbled, soft, as if she were hearing them from underwater, and the pain of another contraction was making her head feel fuzzy and unable to focus.

“Is there someone I can call for you?”

Charlie pointed to the phone on the counter where presumably her mother-in-law was still waiting for news. Then she bent over and threw up on the floor.

The officer had stepped back outside and was pacing the length of the porch while he talked to someone else on his cell phone. Charlie heard, Victim’s wife… dispatch an ambulance… baby’s coming… Charlie wasn’t sure if he had spoken to Lynne or not; she was still having trouble focusing, though the nausea and backache had subsided. She couldn’t go to the hospital without Gavin. They had a plan. Gavin was supposed to bring the suitcase down to the car while she called ahead to let Dr. Pare know they were coming. Then Gavin would come back and help her down the stairs. None of this was in the plan. She needed to wait. Yes, water’s broke… maybe five? Six minutes?… Back pain… Right… No, he didn’t make it. I don’t know. I don’t know.

***

Lynne Malone flew into Charlie’s hospital room not half an hour after the nurse had wheeled her in there. Bleary-eyed, she sat down immediately on the side of the bed and, wrapping her arms protectively around her daughter-in-law, began to pray.

“Lord Jesus, we know there is a season for all things, and there will be a time to weep and to mourn, but right now, Lord, we need for You to grant us Your peace and Your strength. You’ve taken our Gavin to sit at Your feet—” Lynne sniffled and drew away from Charlie long enough to blow her nose. “Now, please, deliver his child to us swiftly and safely, to bring joy and comfort to Charlie and the rest of our family. Amen.”

Charlie didn’t say “Amen.” As the hours passed and strangers wafted in and out of Charlie’s room, checking various machines and body parts, Lynne—Gavin’s own mother for goodness’ sake—somehow managed to continue in prayer. Charlie didn’t say “Amen” to any of the prayers. She didn’t want to talk to God. She didn’t want to talk to anybody. Within herself, Charlie tried to focus on whatever she could to get her through the progressing stages of her labor, but her thoughts kept returning to one thing, one question. How could she reconcile the God she thought she knew with this God, a being who was either less powerful than she had been led to believe, or far, far less benevolent? She didn’t see a way. Without parents of her own, without Gavin, without a God, Charlie felt suddenly and desperately alone. Homesick, but without a way home.

Medical personnel whispered to each other in the hall just outside her room, looking at Charlie from the corners of their eyes. When the nursing staff changed over, Charlie saw one of the women put a hand over her mouth and shake her head. They were being informed of Charlie’s “special circumstances,” and all she wanted to do was go back to her home, to her bed. Maybe Gavin would be there. At least the back pains had stopped. Dr. Pare said her baby girl had been facing backward, causing the pressure in her lower back, but now she had turned and Charlie could feel the pain acutely in her swollen belly.

“Would you like to go ahead with an epidural?” someone asked her.

Charlie shook her head. The pain reminded her of her reality, that she wasn’t just dreaming a strange, terrible dream.

Deftly, another contraction—almost on top of the last—gripped her, slithered down her abdomen until she felt she couldn’t endure it any longer, and then ended as swiftly as it had arrived. She took a deep breath. She didn’t want to do this anymore. She didn’t even know if she was capable.

***

“It’s a boy!”

Someone laid a naked little bundle of child on Charlie’s chest, and with him came the sudden understanding that her life was completely and irrevocably altered. The tears she had been holding back were threatening to erupt, but the tightening in her chest that always came before she cried did not feel completely because of the loss she had just suffered. There was joy in it, too, and it was powerful.

He was beautiful. He.

Charlie felt as though she had just birthed an entire planet. The squirming, red little person that she had just brought into the world was looking at her with bottomless blue eyes, Gavin’s eyes. This baby that had been part of her for so long was, all at once, a world of his own, separate from her and complete. It seemed to Charlie that he had his own moons, his own mountains and valleys and oceans, his own atmosphere. A nurse put the baby to Charlie’s breast, covering them both with a warm blanket so that, for a minute, it seemed as if they were back folded one inside the other. Something swelled in Charlie’s heart, stopping for a moment in her throat and then tumbling out over her cheeks as the tears she had been swallowing all through her labor. She let them flow now, unable to believe how fiercely she could love such a sudden and beautiful mystery. A son. Her son.

“His name is Andrew,” Charlie told the nurses, who were weeping themselves. “Andrew Gavin Malone.”

Thanks for stopping by! Feel free to leave me feedback on this beginning. I’d love to hear your thoughts.


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You Can’t Pour From An Empty Cup

empty cup

Thanks, first of all, to those of you who helped the official launch for The Sky We Walk Upon to be such a memorable occasion. The whole day was a real affirmation to me that I am in the right place, doing the right thing. If you weren’t there and would like to see pictures, you can see them on my Facebook page. Feel free to stop in and say hello!

I had planned on sitting down the first day after launch weekend and hammering out page after page of Book #2. It has a title, an outline, and about the first 50 pages, so I felt confident about being able to sit down and really make some progress towards the next step of my long-term goal of becoming a traditionally published Christian author. I was so excited about my new cast of characters, about the things I am planning to show them. (And I still am. Just wait. You’re gonna love it!)

So. Toddler nap time came around late Monday morning (this is my usual time to write), and the house was quiet, the coffee cup steaming dreamily beside me. I sat poised at the computer, eagerly anticipating a flow of creativity to bring my dear new heroine, Charlie, to the next place in her journey–one that began with such promise and gusto!

Nothing. Nada. The words just weren’t coming. I backed off, finished my coffee, and tried again.

Still nothing.

Looking to my coffee cup, at the last creamy dredges curved along the bottom, it occurred to me that I was feeling rather empty myself.

I want to tell stories that both entertain and encourage people to have faith in the hope that Christ offers to each of us. But I can’t share that message with others if I am not actively seeking to nurture my own faith on a daily basis. I have always loved God, but I am still learning about His word and what it means in this life. And I have been so busy trying to fit in all this publishing stuff on top of my regular responsibilities, that I haven’t been taking the time I need to allow God to fill my own spiritual cup. I’ve been pouring and pouring from my reserves without boiling water for a refill.

sleeping-outsideHow many people in different situations and walks of life experience this kind of a personal drought? A lot, I think. Consider a parent, giving and giving all the time without taking care of their own needs. After some undetermined number of pancakes flipped, diapers changed, arguments settled, etc. the well from which joy and patience flow will run dry. But a few hours for that parent to recharge and do something for themselves will return them to their children a much happier person, much more prepared to do the job efficiently and with gladness. To serve others, we must keep our batteries charged. It is the reason we are programmed to sleep at night, to allow strength to return to our minds and bodies. Even God rested on the seventh day, right?

So, whoever you are, whatever you do, I urge you this morning to consider the following: Resting is not selfish. It is not unproductive. It is admirable to want to give, to serve, to share. But I encourage you to find something you can do for yourself, to refill your cup.

For me, I feel like I need to take some time to answer the call to discipleship in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” I can’t fill up my own cup, but God can. So I’m going to take a couple of weeks off from writing, marketing, networking, blogging, doing doing doing, and let Him. I’m sorry if you are a new follower, as you won’t see a new post from me for a time. But I’ll be back soon. Ready to pour! 🙂


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The Hours I Spend

ImageHow do you find time to write? Lately, people have been asking me that a lot. And the answer is really simple: I don’t.

At 6:00 in the morning, it is time to rouse the masses. There are breakfasts to be made, snacks to be packed, assignment notebooks to be checked, teeth to brush, coffee to be brewed (For Heaven’s sake, don’t forget the coffee!), Spiderman blankets to be smoothed over bunk beds, buses to catch. In the short calm that settles when husbandandsons are out the door for the day, there are e-mails to be answered, book launch inquiries to send, and dentist appointments to be scheduled. Throughout the day, there are chores to be done, masterpieces to be pressed out of Play-Doh, boo boos to be kissed, lunch to be made and then cleaned up after, stories to be read, potty training to practice, and a grandmother who sometimes needs to be chauffeured to various local destinations. All of which I am happy to have the chance to do, but it takes time.

By 3:30, the boys are off the bus. I gather my hugs and kisses, my tales of the day’s escapades in first and third grade, my requests for food. And then more food. I play. I answer math questions. I prep supper.

I love when my husband gets home. We’re besties. But this also means that it is time to round everyone up to the table. I have help, but I am the ringmaster, which can be tiring in itself. Next comes cleanup–dishes and tiny bodies both. Bedtime stories! Prayer. If these things are not happening, it means it is my night to get out for my fitness classes, another thing for which it is not easy to find time.

The point is, if you “try to find time” for something you want to do, it won’t be there. The day to day necessities of being a person (mother or not, employed outside the home or not, married or not!) will take up every minute of your day if you allow it to happen.

I do not find time to write. I make it.

I do not find time to pray, or study, or exercise. I make it.

It means putting other things on hold sometimes, considering my priorities. No, Lissa, now is not a good time to catch up on Hart of Dixie (or whatever other current obsession I am indulging in). You haven’t written your 1,000 words today.

Image

Now I’m not pretending to know what things in your life should take priority over another. That’s for you to decide. And I am certainly not trying to imply that making time is easy for me. It is not. It is so difficult that sometimes I wonder why I even try. But then somebody tells me they’ve finished reading my book, and that it made them feel something, and when will there be something else for them to read?

That is why I make time. To create. To share something that is real and intimate. To connect.


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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.

Image

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.