I’ve moved

I’m blogging over on my author website now, and I hope you’ll join me.

I haven’t been consistent for quite some time (understatement). But I have a plan to start posting at least once a week, on Saturday mornings. I’ll continue to write about life in general, marriage, family, and so on — but my main focus will be the craft of writing and the struggles and joys of the journey.

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Dear Daddies

This Father’s Day will be the twelfth I have spent without my daddy, since he passed away in December, 1999. It will be the fourth without my father-in-law–in the fall of 2007, Pete lost his daddy, too.

And yet I still find myself searching through the Father’s Day cards at the store, hunting down the perfect one for each of them. For the first few seconds, it really is absent-mindedness. A blissful state of half-thinking that momentarily blocks my consciousness from the truth–that I will not see them again this side of Heaven.

It is an odd, paralyzing feeling to hold so much love for a person and yet find it impossible to express that love. To feel the tangible pressure of inexpressible gratitude for all those years of guidance, provision, affection.

For motorcycle rides, settled into Daddy’s generous stomach, his thick, strong arms hemming me in at each side.

For soft-spoken encouragement from Pete’s father, especially in regard to my writing.

For the joy of making Daddy laugh, sometimes so hard that his face turned pink and bright tears squeezed out of the corners of his eyes.

There were rough years between my daddy and me. Years that I thought would leave irreversible scars. Phone conversations that ended abruptly with hang-ups. Misunderstandings. Harsh words. Tears of sorrow and of anger. Years that Father’s Day cards were particularly hard to read, to choose, to buy.

But then there was grace, and mercy, and forgiveness, and miraculous restoration. And one year, I had to buy two cards because it was too hard to choose only one.

When reality hits and I pause in the card aisle, my hand in midair as I reach toward a card that looks promising, it takes me a minute to absorb the blow. Then, when I’ve taken a few breaths and settled my heart, I look through the cards anyway. And I don’t stop until I’ve found the perfect one for my daddy, and the perfect one for Pete’s. And I smile, and I hurt, and I say a silent prayer of gratitude to my Heavenly Father for the gift of earthly years with those strong, gentle, loving, wonderful daddies.

Then I slip the cards back into their places and let them go.

Giving Ourselves Away

A few weeks ago, I was talking with a friend from church whose family recently took in three foster children (a sibling group, ages 2, 6, and 10). She and her husband are one year away from sending their youngest child off to college. Their oldest three are all either finishing college or already out in the working world. Her husband is just a year or two away from retirement.

She shared with me the day-to-day struggles of caring for a toddler at her age, and dealing with the six-year-old calling her “Mommy” from the first day they met, and the palpable anger of the ten-year-old boy when he doesn’t get his way. She said she ends each day completely exhausted. Looking into her weary eyes, I believed it.

Then she said, “You know, we were really looking forward to our retirement years, and they’re so close now. We talked about how we would travel, and relax, and spend time together. And sometimes I feel like we’ve sacrificed our lives for these kids.”

She paused, leaned back in her chair with a smile, and said, “But that’s what it’s all about: giving ourselves away. What’s our life for, if not that?”

The Packer Game Incident

My wife says I never listen to her. At least I think that’s what she said.

There it was, gleaming at me from the glossy pages of a catalog: the perfect slogan t-shirt, with its cheeky grasp of the truth. I reached for my purse, intending to pull out my Visa. My husband, Pete, and I don’t have a ton of arguments—mostly because he’s so nice—but his lack of listening skills has been the source of many of them.

I got as far as my wallet, then stopped and tossed the catalog in the trash. I knew that even the humorous tone of the t-shirt wouldn’t soften the truth of the statement and any chuckle he got out of it would just be masking a wound. I realized that if I did buy the shirt, I wouldn’t be going for a laugh. I’d be going for a “Gotcha!”

Less than one year into our marriage, we had the mother of all our later non-listening incidents. Pete is a huge Cheesehead and Packer Backer (that’s “Green Bay Packer fan,” for the uninitiated). One Monday evening in November, we sat at the dinner table with the tv on and clearly visible in the living room. The Packers were playing the Bears. At Lambeau Field. If that means nothing to you, well, back then it meant nothing to me either.

As we ate our dinner and Pete looked past me to the flickering image of Brett Favre’s green-clad torso, I began to share the details of yet another horrible day at the office. At first Pete tore his eyes from the television at regular intervals, nodding and mmm-hmmming at the appropriate moments.

But then it was first and goal—both at Lambeau Field and at our dinner table. I’d just gotten to the climax of my story, in which a troublesome coworker had scolded and humiliated me in front of several others. As I dabbed my tears with a napkin, I glanced at Pete. He was mid-nod with his head turned toward me. But his eyes were cast to the side, riveted on the image of an airborne football headed straight for the end zone.

Clenching my jaw, I decided to conduct a little test. Beginning a new sentence, I stopped halfway through to see if he’d notice. Instead, he pumped a fist in the air and roared, “Yyyessss!” To Brett Favre and Sterling Sharpe—not to me.

I rose from my place at the table—oozing grace and dignity—and stomped between Pete and the television to the bedroom. There I flopped, sobbing, onto the bed. And waited. I was sure he’d tear himself from the game and follow me, devastated at the hurt he’d caused his precious young bride.

I kept waiting. I waited at least twenty minutes.

By then, it was halftime at Lambeau Field. In our living room, Pete snapped out of his football-induced fog and noticed something: His wife was gone.

Despite his profuse and sincere apologies, it’s taken 12 years for me to find this story funny. Before I saw the humor, I carried it in my back pocket, whipping it out whenever I needed help winning an argument. Pete would swear I hadn’t told him something—perhaps that I’d invited 12 people for supper. Into my back pocket I’d reach: Oh, really? Who was the likely culprit, considering our history? Clearly, it was more plausible that I had told him, but he hadn’t been listening. Didn’t he recall The Packer Game Incident?

Over the years, I’ve come to understand that intentionally wounding Pete because of his failings does nothing to inspire him to listen to me more, or to fix things between us. Actually, my actions and attitudes regarding the problem have been far more poisonous to our relationship than his, infecting it with a spirit of unforgiveness.

I wish I could say that Pete has learned to listen to me all the time. He hasn’t. But I know he tries, and I know it grieves him when he fails. I wish I could say that I’ve learned to quit being angry and manipulative. I haven’t. Apparently we’re both flawed.

But there are some things we’ve learned: to laugh at the little things; to forgive the big things; and, believe it or not, I’ve learned to love football. Which means I don’t want him talking to me outside commercials and half-time either!

Though I didn’t buy the t-shirt, I did tell Pete about it. He got a good laugh and then thanked me, profusely, for resisting the urge to buy it.

Originally published in Marriage Partnership Magazine/Kyria.com. Copyright © 2007 by the author or Christianity Today International/Marriage Partnership magazine.

Living the Life

Yesterday I was in my all-too-usual state of barely suppressed frustration.  I was thinking of all the tasks on my to-do list, and how most of those tasks will only need to be redone in a matter of hours, days, or a week at most.  Dishes, laundry, bill-paying, cleaning the floor that looks streaky and attracts footprints the instant it’s dry.  Not to mention the tongue-marks that our puppy leaves, since apparently the floor is quite tasty.

Minor annoyance at life’s tediousness isn’t an enormous problem.  But too often, I find myself letting it balloon into frustration at life in general.  That’s when I start grumbling to myself — audibly if I’m alone.  And I wind up cranky, snappish, and not much fun to be around.

But yesterday, my normal progression of thoughts was interrupted somehow.  I don’t know why, but just before I got to the point of frowning and huffing, I remembered something.

When I was four years old, a bright, shiny dream took shape in my imagination and became a persistent, life-long goal.  That goal stayed with me all through school, college, early marriage, early motherhood, and even to this day.  That goal was to be a published writer.

So the thought that stood me upright yesterday, letting the steam mop do the huffing for me for a minute, was that I have reached that goal.  Five times over.  My name isn’t on the binding of any library books.  And that would be some kind of wonderful, to be sure.  But on five separate occasions in the past two years, editors have found my words to be worth paying for–worth printing and sharing with their readers.

Not only that, but I am living in a quiet, beautiful rural area–another dream I have nurtured for years, along with my husband.  Everybody in my little family likes one another at least 90% of the time.  I get to hang out with teenagers a couple of times a week, which is its own special sort of crazy, surprising joy.  And I’ve recently been dubbed the Editor of the Pikes Peak Writer NewsMag, which is as fun for me as playing video games is for my sweet husband and our girls.  (Yes, I really am that odd.)

I have an expandable file folder that I use in my Creative Writing Class, helping me organize assignments and notes for my lesson plans.  I customized it a bit with favorite quotes, and the one that I wrote on the front, with thick black permanent Sharpie, is by Henry David Thoreau.  It reads, “Live the life you’ve imagined.”

Even when I’m mopping, fluffing and folding, or filling a sink with hot soapy water for the second or third time in one day, I can remind myself that those tasks do not define my life.  They’re a small, necessary part of it, but they’re more like the salt and pepper, not the meat.  The core of my life, thanks be to God, is what I always imagined it ought to be.

I resolve to be grateful for the dreams I’m already living.  And then, to keep on dreaming.

National Novel Insanity Month

Let me first state the obvious:  a man–with apparently no interest even in football–must have been the one to decide that November would be the perfect month for hundreds of thousands of aspiring writers to write an entire novel (50,000 words, at least).

Because how on earth am I to write a novel AND cook a turkey with all the trimmings AND host out-of-town family members in a clean, nicely-decorated home, AND do my Christmas shopping, wrapping, and letter writing?  And by the way: I love football!  What could be a better end to Thanksgiving Day than to curl up on the couch next to my honey with an entirely unnecessary extra piece of pie, watching college boys toss around the pigskin.  Ah, I feel bloated and happy just thinking about it.

So I did most of the holiday preparation stuff early.  I have my Thanksgiving menu planned out, but not my shopping list.  I have decorative pumpkins on the table, at least.  Flowers can come later.  And I have all my Christmas presents squirreled away–but not wrapped.  The football?  Can’t do any of that in advance, unfortunately.

And I have decided to give myself the first twenty days of November, rather than all thirty, to complete the 50,000 word goal.  So far, I am on target, having written more than 2,500 words per day for the past three days.

And you know what?  It’s been fun.  As anyone who loves to write will tell you, writing feels like catching your breath after a long run.  Like the first few days after falling in love.  Like seeing someone you adore, when you haven’t seen them in ages and didn’t expect to any time soon.  Like laughing so hard and long and freely that after awhile, you are only laughing at the laughing itself.

My fear: that what I write this month will be horrible, and will betray the integrity of these characters who have lived inside my head for more than a year now, and with whom I have fallen deeply, helplessly, and inexplicably in love.  (Yes, I know they are imaginary.  That’s the inexplicably part.)  That what I write will be meandering and goopy and far beyond repair, which would mean the death of the idea and the story and those wonderful, aforementioned characters.

But the fact is that I had been thinking and talking about this novel for, like I said, over a year now.  And I needed something to force it out of me.

And so, I write.  For at least the first twenty days of November, I write.

Sleep?  There’ll be time for that in December.

Or not.

UPDATE: 50,419 words, completed on November 21st, logged on November 25th!  I’ll blog more about it later, but that time I thought I’d have in December has been unceremoniously swallowed up by my new position as Editor of the Pikes Peak Writers’ NewsMag.  First issue?  January!  November might have been Novel Insanity Month, but December is NewsMag Insanity Month.  Have to finish in time to write the Christmas letter…

Life with Mr. Puppy

Lord help me.  We got ourselves a puppy about a month ago, and I am exhausted.

Yes, we should have gotten a rescue dog.  I realize that, so please don’t leave a comment admonishing me for falling into the cute-little-puppy trap.  I already agree with you.

He is definitely cute.

Particularly in photos, or while sleeping.  And he’s little.  But only in size, not in personality.

The dog trainer we talked to a couple of weeks ago called him “a bold little guy.”  In other words, he is pushy, demanding, hyper, and exceedingly difficult to control.  He is, in short, a toddler who is not potty trained and who runs around the house without a diaper.

He is stretching my patience and forcing me–a committed homebody–out the door into the neighborhood for long, fast walks that wipe me out and pump him up.

I have met neighbors, which can be difficult to do when there are a few acres between each front door and mailbox.  It’s that cuteness thing again.  People in cars pull over and roll down their windows to see him.  People on bikes stop and coo.  People in their front yards drop their rakes to come and say hello.

All of which Mr. Puppy loves.  He squirms, wags, and makes hilarious semi-whining sounds as the neighbors approach, and then he attempts murder-by-licking.

If I can survive the puppy days, which is somewhat in doubt (I’ve already almost posted an item on Craig’s List to sell him), I think Mr. Puppy might change me for the better.

Let’s put it this way:  “If I do not kill him, he’ll make me stronger.”