Christmas in July

I’ve been very wrapped up with revisions on the book I’m writing, so the final draft will be ready for interior design work by the end of the month. It has been hard to find extra brain space for any new thoughts, so I’ll share something I’ve written that is an outtake from the book. May I? Thank you.

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Is there Such a Thing as Too Much Christmas?

(from the Introduction to Living the Season Well-Helping Your Family Reclaim Christmas)

After a holiday visit to our son’s home celebrating with his wonderful family of seven, my soul stirred with some second thoughts about the Christmas we had just partaken in.

Let me be clear: there was laughter and joy (involving marshmallow pop guns, mostly), feasting, viewing favorite movies, and memorable moments with my grandkids. But the four-day visit left me somewhat shell-shocked.  My body and brain were on overload and my grandkids, ages 5-14, seemed overwhelmed as well.

“What are we doing today, Nana?” sounded once or twice and I wondered at their questions.  Inside I responded, “I’m worn out from doing, can’t we spend some time just being?”

After receiving an avalanche of gifts from relatives near and far, including a new television set from their doting Grandpa, the childrens’ letdown was rather keen. Each one had stashed their bounty, pulling out a new gift from time to time.  But I noticed their engagement was with their older possessions mostly, the tried and true ones.

While it was never voiced out loud, the five-year-old’s eyes seemed to ask, “Is that all there is?” when it had been only 24 hours since Christmas morning. I think his busy/happy meter was in overdrive.

Maybe you can relate.

People often say, “Christmas isn’t supposed to be like this” (whatever your “this” is), or “Christmas is too commercialized,” and we nod our heads in agreement. But how does one counter that? Is there a way to reorient our culture’s thinking? Our own? I pondered these questions during the three hour drive home, formulating a response. My husband and I unloaded the car and rolled the suitcases inside. Before I was unpacked I went straight to my desk and scribbled out fifteen pages of notes. That’s when “Living the Season Well” was born.

What do I mean by “living well”? How about less holiday stress and more joy? Simplifying and savoring the season instead of rush, rush, rush to the next thing? While it’s true that “Jesus is the reason for the season,” as my 7-year-old grandson has often told me, the season is more than just one day.  Maybe there’s a way to widen our worship into all the holy days, from the fourth Sunday before Christmas celebrating Advent (‘to come’ or ‘arrival’), all the way through Epiphany (‘to manifest’ or ‘show forth’) on January 6th.

Instead of concentrating our energy on all the presents, a look at the liturgical practices of the church year can help make room for God’s presence. Let’s dust off those traditions and get started.

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I would so appreciate your prayers as I get towards the finish line of sending this off to become a real book. Thank you!

You can read more about Living the Season Well here.

Why Writing in Community is Like Life Support

Five years ago this last January I jumped into the Christian blogosphere, sending my little pieces of bread out on to the invisible waters of the internet.  I didn’t know what I didn’t know, thank goodness! If I had, perhaps I would have never started. Of course then I would have missed the rich gift of community that I found in the process. Many of those pieces of bread have returned to me in remarkable ways in these five short years, not the least of which are you my dear readers.

Oh, You Too?!

One day shortly after I launched Three Way Light I was reading around the web and found a kindred soul, Kimberlee Conway Ireton, whose blog I liked very much. The header photo at the top of her page made me swoon–ooooh, a book lover. What I found resonated deeply with me on many levels—her writing about the need for quiet and solitude, contemplative practices and her penchant for classic literature.  When I clicked on the ‘About’ tab on her blog (I was doing a lot of ‘About’ clicking then), I nearly jumped out of my chair when I discovered she lived in Seattle.  So do I! (well, close-ish) She lived in Fresno, CA, for many years (so did I!).

After reading Kimberlee’s blogposts throughout that first year, leaving my weekly comments, I made up my mind to reach out and introduce myself. Because that’s what I do–connect with complete strangers to make my world a little smaller.

Kimberlee responded, inviting me to come to her house for tea and writing talk; I was overjoyed to do so, as you never know how people will respond when you’re extroverting all over the place. (And Kimberlee is (ahem) an introvert.) Her four children, including 2 year old twins, kept her home schooling days full—the older children were 7 and 9 at the time–but she didn’t mind letting me interrupt their flow for the day. We hit it off immediately and vowed to keep in touch. Our tea time visits turned into picnics in various Seattle parks, then visits to their Home School co op, she and the kids came to my house, and so on.  Our age difference didn’t matter. We had found community.

Writing is lonely work. Writing in community, though, can make it easier.

Hatching a Dream

On one of those Seattle Saturday picnics, K and I hatched a dream of having a small Christian Writer’s Retreat here in the Pacific Northwest. Every conference or workshop or writing retreat we found for bloggers was somewhere else (usually across the country) and cost a bucket full of money.

What if we facilitated a Writer’s Retreat ourselves? Well, what if? It turns out she had been having the same dream.

In 2015 we held our first writer’s retreat, an intimate gathering centered around the theme of ‘Dwell’–in the Cascade Mountains of Washington. The following year, the theme was ‘Abide.’ The work we did writing poetry, playing with words and singing was life-changing for all of us—not the least of which were the Attendees.  (You can read about our 2015 retreat here and 2016 here.)

After Abide happened those who came had a deep desire to stay in touch—some of the Retreatants were from as far away as Ohio, Colorado and Virginia. This is why God made the internet.  I took that little spark, turned it into a plan and Glory Writers was born.

Glory Writers is a little community on Facebook (less than 40 of us) who share inspiration, encouragement, questions or information each week. There are opportunities to talk about our work, whether a blog post or a poem or a paragraph and let the rest of the group read along. Some of us share our works in progress, art journaling, art shows or writing books. We have also been known to talk about socks. (But you’d have to visit Glory Writers to find out more about that, so consider yourself invited. Look for Glory Writers on Facebook. The group says ‘closed’ but all you have to do is knock on the door.)

The Miracle Grows

As a result of my little jump into the internet five years ago, then reaching out to a stranger, pursuing the shared passion of leading writer’s retreats, starting a writer’s group online, well, here’s what God has done through connecting, encouraging and communicating:

One of the folks who came across the country to our Writer’s Retreat last year is my beautiful  (now) in real life friend Denise. She is originally from Jamaica and currently lives in Virginia, by way of Kansas. You can’t get farther away from Jamaica than Kansas.

During a ‘happenstance’ conversation one day in our Glory Writer’s group, a new member from South Africa of all places, Aliyah, connected with Denise and found a kindred connection, too. A mini-community was born half way around the world.

Since that time Denise has done two podcast interviews with Aliyah and I have to tell you, hearing each of their lilting accents is reason alone to take time to listen. (Their first interview across the airwaves was ‘Culture and the Christian Writer–so good!) Denise posted this on our Glory Writers page the other day: I don’t think I could have done that interview a year ago. Interacting with GW has done much to help me grow in some of my perspectives and in confidence; not always comfy but necessary, (and that’s not tiny, btw.)

That’s enough ‘bread’ for me right there to feed my soul. It began because I was looking for community and connection in my writing journey. Then I risked reaching out to a complete stranger, connecting the dots of the worldwide web, and God reached into my life in miraculous ways.

Where Have You Found Community?

Donald Miller says that we are all wired for connection and relationships with one another and with God.  You know that, don’t you?

There are a number of wonderful communities on the web, groups gathered around a shared interest, who encourage and inspire each other, with this constant reminder–you are not alone. These are some of my favorites:

  • For moms, there is the website Kindred Mom ‘Flourishing in Motherhood’
  • For poetry lovers, there’s Tweetspeak Poetry ‘the best in poetry and poetic things’
  • There’s the Consilium Blog hosted by Diane Bailey ‘A community of purpose and grace for wise women’
  • And a cheerleader community for faith writers if there ever was one–Hope*Writers.

So tell me, where have you found community–in real life or on the web?

I would love to hear. 

Why Rear View Mirrors are Better Than Windshields

“The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn,

Shining ever brighter till the full light of day.”

Proverbs 4:18

When I began this year, God gave me a word–“adjust.” Last year I spent time ‘abiding’, year before that it was ‘dwell’ (very similar) and the year before that, my word was ‘fit’–how does what I’m doing in my walk with Jesus fit with what He says?

When I heard the Holy Spirit say “adjust,” I had the sense that I’d be moving in a particular direction–writing a book this year–but as I was moving God would have to make some course corrections.

About the same time, our pastor’s New Year’s message was from the book of Nehemiah about the rebuilding of the walls around Jerusalem. The rebuilding task was overwhelming, but Nehemiah was undeterred. As a result of that word, “start small, start now” became my mantra. I couldn’t make overnight changes in any of the areas I wanted to see growth or movement–my health, my writing, my spiritual walk–none of it. But I could see change over time.

At the end of each day, I document what little steps have been taken in those areas on my “foursquare.” Some days I write one or two things down, some days it’s blank. The areas of growth have changed over time as well, now one of the square says “heart & soul”, one says “body”, one says, “writing” and one says, “spirit.” It’s not a journal so much as it’s a recorder.

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Little by little, there’s progress.

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I’ve also been documenting the progress of the perennial flowerbed out in our yard—one photo a month since January, on the 20th day of the month.

I had the idea because, come June, no one would ever believe that the explosion of greenery and color that is my flowerbed was once an empty spot of soggy, blank dirt. I would like to encourage myself along the way that one, something beautiful WILL grow out of that unsightly rectangle and two, it will take some time.

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This first photo makes it glaringly clear just what a ‘winter view’ is in my Seattle suburb—with no foliage on shrubs and trees, you can see miles away. Of course, the shades of gray, brown and silver bark in front of me leave me with an impatient ache. They’re hard on the eyes; I long for them to bloom.

But I need to wait a good six months.

The next month, February, I chose a different angle, illustrating the size of the bed, and giving one the impression with my rake propped against the bird feeder, that I was actually working out in the mud. Smile. There are a few suggestions of greenery against the dirt, but they are only suggestions, an ounce of earth being displaced by life.

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You’ll notice the Yellowtwig Dogwood shows up nicely against the monochrome background of the greenbelt. There is hope in the color of those bare branches, a bit of golden against the sky when we’re desperate for something to keep us going.

A few days ago I took Month Number Three’s photo—March.

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Can you see the gradual growth, the mini fireworks sprouting from the dirt? When I stand back and look from this perspective I can see a difference from last month’s photo-something is happening! Look at all the yellow–forsythia! And, if you were able to get up close, you’d see new leaves curling out in the asters and clematis at the base of that dried up piece of driftwood by the gazebo bird feeder.

You have to look closely, though.

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I am always learning lessons from my garden—long, slow lessons about life.

Right now I’m preoccupied with writing a book. I told you about that last week and God’s gentle (not) way of getting my attention in the process so I could readjust my expectations.

I am reminded again that anything difficult, beautiful or creative requires three things—work, attention and time.

I cannot expect to be finished with the process unless I put in the time and attend to God’s words to me along the way. And I need to remember that although I am bounded by the constraints of the rising and setting of the sun each day, God is not. He sees the end from the beginning all at once. He knows where we’ll be….maybe we need to pay attention to the getting there rather than the being there.

Maybe you’re working through something like that now—a challenge or promise or project that is taking a frustratingly much longer amount of time to bring any progress.

May I encourage you? Rather than looking at the emptiness outside your window every day (figuratively speaking) check once a week or once a month or once a quarter and ask God, “How are things going now? How about now?” Or, “God, please give me patience for this process.”

You may find when you look back at the end that whatever was preoccupying your thoughts or worrying you went more quickly than expected. And some day you’ll look out your kitchen window at the vines and shoots and branches spilling all over the back patch of dirt and wonder, “Wow, how did those flowers come up?”

A lot of work, paying attention, and giving things time. God’s time.

~*~*~*~

For what are you waiting on God? Share in the comments.

 

How Not to Be Intimidated by this Great Big Year

For someone who considers herself a writer (I do. I am.) it amuses me and surprises others when I announce, if asked, that I’m not interested in writing a book. Well except maybe my memoir–isn’t everyone writing a memoir? 

But writing an actual book? No. I know how much time and effort goes into such an endeavor–why would I opt for that?

Except that well, maybe I am. The book idea literally dropped into my brain the other night after the long ride home from a Christmas visit to my son’s. I had a few Deep Thoughts while traveling in the car, a reflective time of our four days together, but I had no idea my thoughts would turn into anything. When I sat down to download my thoughts on paper I ended up with an outline, chapter sections, an introduction and marketing plan.

I’m sure every author starts in such an inspired fashion. Of course the hard part, the seemingly impossible part, is to finish the job with the perspiration part, to misquote Einstein.

But this post is not about the book idea but the idea of a book. Those are two different things.

For everything we do begins with an idea. And it’s the DOING that sometimes keeps us from even beginning.

Our pastor’s message last Sunday was about Nehemiah’s rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem. Prodded by a broken heart for the condition of God’s city, Nehemiah asked for permission from the King to return to Judah and assess the situation. He began the task alone under cover of dark, surveying the project and noting what needed to be done.

After Nehemiah gathered the information, he returned to the King and asked to begin the work. Permission was granted; Nehemiah solicited help and commenced building, stone by stone, day by day. And 52 days later they were done.

The point of the message: Start Small. Start Now.

Perhaps the progress you seek will take more than 52 days; it may be more like 52 weeks. Life changing work usually takes little lifetimes. But that shouldn’t frighten you from taking the first step.

What is your small step?

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On Keeping Words-Notebooks, Quotebooks & Journals

               “His view of truth was such that he would have accepted no distinction between ‘spiritual’ and secular’. He saw no conflict between his Christian convictions and his interests in science and philosophy. All true knowledge leads to divinity.”   Iain Murray, “Jonathan Edwards, A New Biography”

Whenever I visit the Thrift Store I head to the book section first with an eye out for old children’s books and classic literature.  I have found many treasures that way, the most recent being a very slim volume written by Natalie Babbitt (her very first book, 1969) called “The Search for Delicious.” Although it’s hardly a classic, Delicious does have a fairy tale feel with some timeless themes.

Babbitt begins the story of a king and queen fighting over a definition of the word ‘delicious’. The King is writing a dictionary and is stuck on the letter ‘D’ because no one in the castle, his wife in particular, can agree on what is delicious.

Twelve-year-old squire Gaylen is shortly dispatched to travel across the Kingdom, polling its citizens to record their thoughts and opinions in his notebook. The King hopes to reach a consensus of meaning and thereby restore peace to the Kingdom. Gaylen sets off on his horse Marrow with little more than a pen, a notebook and food for the journey.

Gaylen’s task takes him far and wide, leading him to some very strange encounters, a bit of adventure and not a few brushes with disaster. In the end, everyone in the kingdom agrees on the meaning of the word ‘delicious’, Gaylen learns how to be brave and harmony is restored.

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I enjoy saving and savoring words—new words, old words, your words.  Although I am not endeavoring to write a dictionary, I have quotebooks and notebooks of varying shapes and sizes containing all manner of language within their covers.

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Words with more than one meaning—like ‘make’ and ‘take’ or ‘pitch’ and ‘frequency’–all go in my ‘Defining Moments’ journal. (I got the idea from Kel Rohlf, who wrote a little volume on words and their meaning, devotional style.)

I have a small Moleskine of other words that are new to me, the meaning of which I have yet to learn, set aside for my own dictionary work. Words like ‘mimesis’ and ‘amanuensis’ via the book I’m reading for the season—“Waiting on the Word—a Poem a Day for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany” by Malcolm Guite. Continue reading

What to Do When You’re Distracted

“I had more freedom now and I had to feel my way into it, see which barriers had fallen and which still were up… I couldn’t be satisfied until I knew the boundaries and where the openings were, if any.”   Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow, c. 2000

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When Jesus said, “Enter through the narrow gate, for wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction…But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it,” I think He meant the words more as a protection than anything else. A protection and a promise. (Matthew 7:13,14)

I am very easily distracted, especially by other folks’ words. If there are conversations going on around me while I’m trying to listen to a friend, I have a hard time focusing. And when I have too many words—virtual or on paper, it’s almost as difficult to concentrate or hear. (I recently donated two enormous shopping bags of books to Goodwill because it was too “noisy” in my living room.)

In the wake of the recent Presidential election, I almost let the weight of All the Words crush me. Everyone had an opinion or argument, even fellow believers. Especially fellow believers.

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Besides being easily distracted, I have a knack for people-pleasing and being easily influenced. I began engaging in online conversations just to have my say or prove my point. In the process, I almost forgot who I was and what God has called me to.

Of course, our enemy would like nothing better than for us to engage in conversations that add no fruit to our lives or further God’s kingdom. Distractions can be helpful in accomplishing this. Those verbal pathways don’t have to be evil or dangerous, but if they’re not part of my journey, I don’t need to be going there.  Continue reading

Why We Need to Keep Some Secrets (and the Two-Edged Sword of Social Media)

I thought because I’d finally retired from teaching Elementary School this year I’d be virus-free without all those Kindergartners around.  But no, I am at home on a Sunday morning with a sinus infection while my husband is off to church. Ah, life.  I was looking forward to some quiet time ALONE (Plan A) to catch up on some writing (all the ideas!) and blog posts (yes, ideas!) but alas, there is a friend of ours on my front roof with a nail gun going and a compressor humming; it’s only 9:30 in the morning.

R doesn’t go to church.

He promised my husband he’d finish the window project they started last Saturday. He did not say he’d be coming on a Sunday. But there’s a Seahawks game on television this afternoon and he wants to finish in time to enjoy watching it.

So I made ‘adjustments’, (Plan B) and sought some peace and quiet on our back deck.  Since it rained last night it’s a little chilly and wet out there. Not to be deterred, I grab a blanket from the closet, wrap myself and settle in the deck chair to listen, write, journal.  But then the crows. There is no bird noisier than a crow. (Well, perhaps a blue jay).

Plan C-Currently I am typing on my makeshift ‘desk’, a smoothly sanded, unused piece of shelving propped across my lap inside on the couch where it’s warm. And semi-quiet.

I wanted to post a status on Facebook to share my woes with the world. Sort of an, “I can’t get no respect-Don’t you feel  sorry for me-Isn’t life hard?” kind of thought, so the world would know what I was going through. My world of Facebook, anyway.

But I decided against telling everyone and thought I’d just tell you. (Aren’t I sly?)

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I’ve heard many Holy Spirit nudges when I’m writing lately about “keeping secrets.” Not a hide-things-in-the-dark kind of way, but in a way that honors the whole of my life.

It is easy to curate for others what I want them to know and see, to give the impression that I think deep thoughts and live in quiet beauty (which is what Instagram is for). If I ponder a Scripture that speaks to me or find a photo on my morning walks I like to share that with the world to edify others and add a little encouragement to their day.

But it’s not the entire picture of my life.

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