Tuesday, May 29, 2012

At Nineteen

My oldest child turned nineteen a few days ago.  I know it sounds cliché, but I wonder where the time has gone. 
Evan is finishing up his sophomore year of college and celebrated his second birthday away from home last week.  Prior to his moving on campus, his birthday was a day we would always do something special for.  Over the years, we would usually go out for a family dinner on his birthday and have a party for him most years too. 
I vividly remember each one because I made a small scrapbook for him of each of his birthdays from the day he was born to his 17th birthday.  The scrapbook was my gift to him for his 18th birthday—the first one away from home.  As our firstborn, we provided some pretty elaborate birthday parties for him.  I can’t imagine Evan not remembering his parties or the attention we lavished on him.
In comparison, I don’t think I ever had a birthday party growing up.  I remember going to a friend’s house for her party when I was about five years old.  I was in awe of the event and how she was showered with so much attention.  The only celebration I can remember was when I was about eight years old.  There weren’t any kids invited to the house, but I remember having a German chocolate cake—my favorite.  It was a memorable occasion because my parents remembered that small detail about me.  
I was nineteen too when I finished my sophomore year of college.  I was attending a small liberal arts college 200 miles away from home.  I spent the summer between my sophomore and junior year housesitting for a professor and working on campus.   I loved my independence.  Looking back now, I’m sure that decision must’ve caused my mother much pain as I also chose to never live at home again.  But I know God opened that opportunity to protect me from the dysfunctional environment back home.
Thankfully, my son will return home again this summer.  We will adapt to having another mouth to feed and watching him come and go on his own schedule.  It is the new rhythm of letting go.  I am choosing to enjoy it for as long as it lasts.
And so how do you make a birthday memorable after so many well documented parties and dinner outings?  You turn to the simple. 
To celebrate Evan’s 19th birthday, we didn’t shower him with attention, parties and presents like we did in the past.  He came home for the weekend and enjoyed some family time.  It was nothing fancy—dinner on the grill, video games with his brother and a bit of TV with the family.  And for the first time ever, I made it just a bit more memorable (for me anyway), by baking him a birthday cake.  Proving that even at 19, parents do still have a few tricks left up their sleeve.

            So for this mom, who tries hard to make her kids’ birthdays special, simple was a good change.  And less really was more. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Riding High After the Writer's Renewal Conference

After spending two days at the Northwest Christian Writer’s Renewal Conference, I am riding high and a bit on overload.  The conference was jam-packed with workshops and opportunities to meet pre-published writers, authors, agents and editors.  And yes, I deliberately chose the word “pre-published”’ after hearing “Gym” Rubart use it instead of “unpublished”. 
As a first time attender, I was paying attention to everything I heard.  And it wasn’t just the variety of people that I was listening to at this conference.  I was also listening for God’s voice and nudging for confirmation and discernment, and hopefully a neon flashing arrow that pointed in the direction of my next right step.  I think it would’ve been hard to be at the conference and not hear Him calling you to continue on your writing journey.  It was such an amazing place of encouragement to writers at all experience levels.
Like any other new endeavor we try in life, there is bound to be some trepidation and maybe outright fear.  While I know attending this conference was my next right step of obedience, I also know that the harder work is still ahead.  That was the biggest message that I left the conference with—it takes time to write a book, it takes time to hone your craft, it takes time to cultivate relationships, and it takes time to engage in social media.  Even so, spending vast amounts of time on these tasks doesn’t guarantee a publishing contract.
What I think it does do is mold you more into the person God created you to be.  For me, I think it will provide a bigger training ground for trusting God and waiting on His timing.  In other words, to work on two key fruit of the spirit that I still seem to lack—patience and self-control. 
Now it is time for the bigger challenge—to physically write the book that God has laid on my heart to write.  I learned lots of valuable information to move forward on this project, the biggest one from attending Cindy Scinto’s class on outlining.  Even with that new tool in hand, I still have to choose to step into this bigger arena. 
As Andrea Mullins asked in my final workshop, “What things in your life are stopping you from embracing the world of publishing?”  She followed that question with this piece of encouragement for the journey, “God gives us a message because He wants us to proclaim it.”
I firmly believe that about this new direction in my life.  And even if my book never makes it to a bookstore shelf or an e-reader, I know God will use this season in my life to provide more spiritual growth.   And along the way I will proclaim His message in whatever way He leads.
What about you?  What has God taught you through the process of writing for Him?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Permission Granted . . . To Not Have It Altogether

I will be attending my first writers’ conference in a few days.  Wow, let me say that again.  I will be attending my first writers’ conference in two days.  One year ago, I was just getting comfortable with writing in my journal.  Most of my friends knew I was starting to take my writing more seriously.  And now I am finally taking the next step of faith and investing in my craft.  It is hard to believe.
Over the last few weeks the anxiety has been building with all the decisions I thought I needed to make.  I set a pretty high standard on how to be prepared for this conference including having several chapters written on a book and being prepared to pitch it to a publisher.  Also with the timing of my first manuscript being published in a book this summer, I wanted to make the most of the writers’ conference by having my platform defined, getting my website up, a new email address, new business cards designed and so on.  I wanted to be able to make a favorable impression with whomever God put in my path at the conference.
After talking with a writing mentor of mine, she really helped to talk me “down off the ledge”.  I was reminded about how I do already have a blog, a business card, and publicity photos and am a published author.  Earlier this week I also received an endorsement for my story from a national author and ministry leader whom I have long admired.  That is pretty amazing stuff for a beginning writer.  I am doing my part and God is definitely doing His.
I think I started to lose sight of what this conference is really all about for me.  As a new writer, I’m not expected to have it altogether.  I’m not expected to know it all or to have it all under control.  I don’t need to be perfect.  I just need to relax and remember that God got me this far in the process in a miraculous way and in His perfect timing.  He’s not going to abandon me now.
I also think what I needed was permission to not have to do this perfectly and to not have to perform.  As I let that sink in, I start to feel a tremendous sense of relief and freedom to attend the conference with much more grace for myself and this process. 
As a recovery group leader at my church, I know what it is like to have newcomers attend their first recovery meetings.  They are often anxious, have lots of questions and are generally in a place of deep need.  I openly welcome them into the group, answer their questions and offer encouragement to embark on their recovery journey.  Why would I expect anything less from a Christian writers’ conference? 
So I have to learn to be a newcomer all over again.  I have to patiently learn the writing and publishing process.  I also have to learn to make mistakes and move forward with God’s help.  And that’s the journey of life.  At my age, you’d think I’d have it mastered, but I am a work in process . . . one day at a time.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Preparing for Mother's Day

                Except for sending flowers and a card to my mother for Mother’s Day in years past, my Mother’s Day focus has mostly been on spending time with my immediate family—my spouse and two sons.  That was until two years ago.  That was the last time I saw my mother alive—Mother’s Day 2010.  Since that time Mother’s Day has much more significance to me. 

                My mother had a nervous breakdown when I was six years old radically changing the trajectory of my life.  From that point on the messages I received were to avoid being like my mother.  For the most part I learned to stuff my emotions for fear that I would be labeled “crazy” like her.  Her mental illness led to her absence in my life in many ways.  Growing up she was mostly absent emotionally and then when I entered adulthood, I chose to disconnect from her physically as well.
                But two years ago, God laid it on my heart to visit my mother one last time.  I had visited her twice in the previous six months to care for her after a debilitating stroke left her paralyzed on the right side of her body and unable to speak.  This visit was even more painful than the other visits and I feared this was going to be the last time I would see her alive.
                It is hard for me to believe that visit was two years ago.  My life is radically different now, including the way I prepare for and celebrate Mother’s Day.  That is because in the process of losing my mother, I was blessed with the gift of emotional and spiritual healing.  As a result, I have gotten in touch with parts of my identity that I had denied and suppressed for years.  I tend to think that the way I am now is similar in many ways to how my mother would’ve been had she not suffered that nervous breakdown all those years ago.  I am grateful for recognizing that I AM wired like her.  It is part of the legacy that she left me and makes me very grateful for her on Mother’s Day.
                Another major way that my Mother’s Day celebrations have changed is that I share this special day with Rosa in Spain.  Rosa is the mother of Pedro, the exchange student we had in our home the last two summers.  Rosa and I lost our mothers within three weeks’ time in a way that has connected us like sisters.  Mother’s Day in Spain is one week earlier than in the United States which means I have to plan way in advance.  This year I even enlisted Pedro’s help to buy flowers for Rosa from me.  It is very touching to now have this mother to mother connection—especially since we have never physically met.
                One last thought about preparing for Mother’s Day.  Last night during the women’s open share time in our recovery meeting, I asked the attendees to each share something that they are grateful for with their mother’s or with their own mothering.  In the past, I think it would’ve been hard for me to answer that question.  It’s not that I resented my mother or blamed her for the lack of nurturing and guidance.  Those things were out of her control and were not intentional.  But sometimes it’s hard to be grateful in the midst of pain and sorrow. 
Answering this simple question last night gave each of us an opportunity to practice gratitude—a necessary recovery tool that helps to take us out of our victim mentality and look for the positive in life situations.  It was a blessing to hear each woman share a nugget that made them grateful in this way.
                I personally have a tremendous amount to be grateful for in my own recovery journey.  It has positively changed my own mothering skills, it helped to push me out of my comfort zone to care for my mother at the end of her life and now it has helped me to reach across the world to celebrate Mother’s Day with my sister Rosa. 
               What are you grateful for this Mother’s Day?