“Writing a Book is Easy” (said no one. ever.)

When I set out from home last week, Sunday to be exact, I’d been crowing to all who would listen, “I’m going away for a week to write the first draft of my book.” As if…..as if that can be done. But God is so good–we just don’t know what we don’t know. Whether it’s, “Hey, let’s paint the living room this weekend,” “Honey, let’s take that hike. It’s totally easy.” “Wow, I think I’ll go back to school/get a job now that my children are older,” and other idealistic statements.

Or maybe that’s just me.

stained glass, GrunewaldThis week away at the lovely Grunewald Guild in the Cascade Mountains of Washington, has been eye-opening, to say the least. (The bridge photo in the header was taken here at Grunewald last Fall).

Here are seven things I’ve learned I’m learning:

  1. Life and Jesus will get in the way (in a good way).
  2. You planned to write a rough draft of your book but you’re the rough draft
  3. Never write in the same room you’re sleeping in. A table along one wall does not a study make
  4. You will have to recalibrate your expectations several times using not GPS, but Jesus PS.
  5. Sometimes being productive means lots of prayers going up rather than print on the page.
  6. Trust the process. Give it time. God’s not in a hurry. The book idea was His anyway—all you have to do is give Him your pen.
  7. Just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it’s not God.

 

Why Creation is a Messy Process

It all began with my suitcase.

I recently returned from a five day trip to Texas to see family and friends and attend a writer’s conference in the Austin area. I packed way too many clothes and shoes. And books. (One always miscalculates the amount of ‘free time’ to read while on a trip.) In fact, when I checked into our airport in Seattle, my suitcase was three pounds overweight. I had to do some quick reshuffling to manage everything. Sigh. Out with the laptop, out with the pillow (yes, I travel with my pillow). Out with the shoes. Buy new shopping bag to sling over my shoulder. Sigh again.

Besides gleaning some nuggets of truth from the folks I heard at the three- day conference, I also began mentally gleaning my wardrobe. Weird, I know, but God often uses my physical life as an object lesson to illustrate what he’s doing inside me.

One of the gifts of getting older is finding out what you like and don’t like, what you love and what you can live without. Not only with words but in this case, with my wardrobe. I was processing new discoveries about ways of looking at my writing, adding them to the mix of my current mindset, but my mind was over-full. My overflowing suitcase matched my over-stuffed mind.

Some things needed to go to make room for these new ideas.

One of the conference speakers relayed the ideas of looking at our writing through orientation, disorientation and reorientation. I love learning about words and their root meaning. When I got home I looked up the word ‘orient’–from the Latin, ‘oriens’ meaning ‘rising sun’. When we are facing ourselves in the right direction—towards the Son—Jesus—things feel right. But when God is doing something new we feel disoriented.

We often dislike the feeling of being disoriented, so we try to pass over it too quickly to eliminate the uneasy feelings. But God is often there in the mess. In fact, He is always there in the mess. Maybe we need to take time to process and work through what’s there so we can learn from it.

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I returned from my trip on a Saturday evening. The next day I thought about rushing off to church to be with family and friends in worship. But something pulled me towards dealing with my overstuffed suitcase. I needed to get rid of some of my clothes; most of my clothes. My husband kissed me goodbye and left me to my project.20170219_154157

I was determined to go through two closets (two!) and two dressers (seriously?), keep what I knew I loved and would wear again and get rid of all the rest.The process took me most of that day and little of the next. By the time I finished I had two big plastic blue Ikea bags full to the brim.

It’s hard to explain how much lighter I felt. Not only did I have more room in my closets, I could actually see what I had.  Clearly I don’t need anything new to wear, what I have now is the ability to put things together in a new way that feels right to me. I felt reoriented, creative.

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Creation is like that, whether we’re writing a poem, planting a garden or building a piece of furniture. It often begins with the mess of feeling disoriented while things are undone and all over the place. Stuff needs to be moved around, thrown out, cut down, laid all over the floor.

I think we need the disorientation process more than we know. The song ‘Simple Gifts’ has the lines about ‘turning, turning, til we come out right.’ Our lives are a continual turning towards the Son to see what needs changing, throwing away, cutting back. When we embrace the disorientation process we’re better able to see what new and beautiful creations God has to give through us.

What mess is God calling you to make today? What have you gone through that’s led to something new? Please share in the comments.

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Simple Gifts” is a Shaker song written and composed in 1848 by Elder Joseph Brackett. You can hear Judy Collins singing it here.

When Your Words Match Your Life

The origin of the word ‘journal’ is from Old French–“jornel” meaning ‘daily.’ In Latin the word is ‘diurnalis’, prompting our English word ‘diary.’ A journal is “a record of daily events, a day book, a ship’s log.” People, myself included, used to ‘keep’ a journal, a place to collect important events, timely thoughts, the occasional prayer, challenges and triumphs. The word, like so many once-nouns, has turned into a verb; now people talk about ‘journaling.’ This action word, a practice of daily writing, is a tool that helps us find out what we think when we put pen or pencil to paper.

When I began journaling about 20 years ago I noticed each year there was a theme to my work. In the last 5-8 years God has dropped a word into my spirit in the last days of the year as a frame for the year ahead. Not an audible voice of course, but sort of a whisper, “this will be the word that centers you.”

I didn’t know people chose a word for the year until I began blogging. Then I thought, “So that’s what God’s been up to.”  I noticed the sticky notes adorning the inside leaf of each one. I’d written words like, “fit” and “anchor”, “abide” or “dwell”. Those were the easy words. Then there was “surrender” (for two years), then “stretch” (which seems a lot like ‘surrender’ by the way).

The last week of 2016 I heard “adjust” one Sunday morning in church. Just like that. Again, not an audible voice, but inside in my knower. “Adjust.” After two years of ‘surrender’, this felt a little more gentle.

When I thought the word over, I sensed God saying, “I’m leading you in a particular direction with your work and your words and your reach, but stay close to me, because I’m going to help you adjust as you go.”

In that same message our pastor reminded us, “God only steers cars that are moving.” In other words, if you’re not sure about a direction or an idea or a plan, just start going. If you need a course-correction, God will gently help you adjust.

I looked up the word when I got home. “Adjust”–from the Latin, ‘ad’ to and ‘juxta’ near. Keeping moving more near where you’re supposed to be going. In other words, “As you’re heading in the right direction, I’ll help you get closer to what you’re called to be, to who I’ve made you.” God is a gentle speaker and for that I am grateful.

This is undoubtedly a year of adjustment. Fresh on the heals of the recent inauguration, I have some huge adjustments to make. On a large, national scale I have to move closer to a new way of looking at the office of the President, at the person of the President, at the performance of the President. I’m praying that things work out for all of us, but only time will tell.

Much closer to home I have to adjust to a no less earth-shattering adjustment–my oldest grandson will be 14 years old on January 24th. That seems impossible because, of course, he was just born the other day. You know what I mean.

I have a poem in my journal from the day Hanan was born, about the unfolding of his life from a neat little package. His life as a child was just beginning, my new identity as a Nana had also just begun.

Five years ago this week my blog was ‘born’; Hanan turned nine the same week. In the summer months preceding that we’d gone on a hike up to Multnomah Falls outside Portland, OR. It was grueling, long climb up one switchback after another in the hot July sun. I wanted to give up our walk many times and muttered my misgivings.

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Small footbridge on hike up to Multnomah Falls

The 8 1/2 year old Hanan said, “But Nana, if you want to see something awesome, you have to never give up.” I’m reminded of that often when I think about my daily ‘hikes’ through this thing we call life.

So we end where we began. The word “journey” is closely related to “journal”. Middle English, “journeia day’s travel, Latin “diurnus”, of a day, i.e. to travel from one place to another in the span of a day. Where I go each day always ends up on the pages of my journals as I’ve journeyed through this life, adjusting as I go. Always welcoming my Heavenly Father’s course-correction. (Well maybe not always.) 

Nevertheless, I want to keep moving like the water in that rushing stream, directed by God-dug channels, held in by banks of God’s choosing along the way.

Psalm 45:1 says in The Message Bible,

My heart bursts its banks,
    spilling beauty and goodness.
I pour it out in a poem to the king,
    shaping the river into words:

As I journey through this life, adjusted by my Father, my journals will continue to be a place to pour out my poems to the king, “shaping the river into words.”

What about you?

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.

How the Things we Keep, Keep Us

May 12, 1974

“Dearest Jody,

I’m writing you today to say, “I’m glad I’m your mom.”

I am now, and always have been, so proud of you, Jo. Can’t remember a single moments’ “trouble” that you’ve ever been in or any periods of anxiety that you have caused. Sure there were minutes of panic…like the time Colleen hit you with the baseball bat. But so far as the really important things like your character and independence and industriousness are concerned, you’ve never caused me any doubts.

With much love, Mom”

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As a newly retired teacher—first Fall without students—woohoo!—I can FINALLY get to some gargantuan projects that I’ve wanted to tackle for like ever. Seriously; we’ve lived in our house almost 24 years—that’s over half of the time I’ve been married.

One such task was culling through almost a lifetimes’ worth (well, since I was 18) of old letters I’ve saved.

What a treasure trove it has yielded–sparks of memory fanned into flame, words from the the past that have fluttered across my vision, sadness and melancholy and sweet joy all rolled into one.   It has been a sobering experience, actually.

The process took about three weeks. Boxes everywhere, piles of old letters threatening to topple and spill, pounds and pounds of ‘who in the world is this card from?’ and “who is Katie and why do I need this Valentine from 2nd grade?” ending up in the Recycle Bin. A very satisfying activity, especially when I downsized my paper estate to two medium sized boxes.

I love to write and send cards and letters. Still. And better still is the joy and pleasure of receiving a handwritten letter in the mail; it’s like finding a sweet surprise.  Saving and keeping old (and new) cards and letters is preserving the bedrock of the past. A bedrock of shared history, a running record of highs and lows and in betweens—the events that make up the everything that is our life.

I have letters my husband wrote when we were first courting, then engaged.  He is effusive in his love for me and his love for Jesus (I think He loved Jesus more—still does).  There are intimations of some of the challenges we faced back then in our Jesus People days, but nothing fazed him. He was a little starry eyed (I’m sure I was, too.)

The most precious letters are those from my mother who died over 30 years ago. Reading her thoughts was a bittersweet experience. Sweet because I didn’t remember all the kind things she’d said to me (like those above), but bitter because of course, she’s gone.  I think my grandchildren will enjoy getting to know their Great Grandma Helen a little bit when they read her letters, too, someday.

How to Hear God’s Voice (& maybe your own)

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Site of ‘Dwell’ Retreat–Grunewald Guild, Leavenworth WA–Textiles Room

The weekend of October 16-18, 2016, was a Heaven-come-to-earth occasion at ‘Dwell’, an intimate (5 of us) Writer’s Retreat co-led with my friend Kimberlee Ireton. We ‘Glory Writers’ camped in Psalm 37 for the weekend, particularly verses 3-7, and meditated on all those verbs–‘Trust’ ‘Delight’ ‘Commit’ ‘Rest’ and the tough-to-do ‘Fret not.’

“Dwell” means to stay where you are so you can hear what you need. Here’s what I heard when I returned home.

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Pushing the patio chair into place undercover, I scan the deck for my little table. I want to sit a while and take advantage of the peace and quiet to listen. Not read my Bible, read a book, look at my phone, just sit with my journal and pay attention to what I hear, what I see, what my heart wants to tell me.

 But I need my footstool first.  My legs are too short to touch the decking and I can’t relax ‘til my feet are in place. Ah, there it is hidden under the plastic tablecloth out of the rain.

Now I’m settled. My eyes train on the birds at our feeders. I grin at their acrobatic antics, bouncing marionette-like from feeder to tree, swooping like jets coming in for a landing. I’m quite certain the only reason God created birds was to delight us and him.

Instead of writing anything, I begin to read the lines I penned over the past year; little conversations with Jesus and I show up on the page. ‘Aha’s’ are circled or highlighted, questions I pondered and the answer that came after it are underlined. There are pencil scratchings in the margin, messages from the Spirit of God right to my soul.
Someone asked the question recently, “What is saving your life right now?”
And here’s what I have to say–the spiritual practice of listening, stopping to hear God’s voice to me, and hear my own voice.  This is what I know:

    • When you give God room to speak (see ‘Dwell’ above) He will
    • When God gives you ‘food’ to eat, He might use it to feed others
    • But it will be in your voice and your view from where you stand

Part of my conversations with Jesus lately have been about story—mine, in particular.  My random thoughts run all over and it’s hard to rein them in.