Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Christmas letter 2008

Here are a few highlights and funny moments from our family in the past year…

Blaze (7 yrs old) made two Valentine’s Day cards for B. and I – when I asked her why B.’s card was so much bigger than mine, she said it’s because he is taller than me!

My stepdaughter (13 yrs) came up with a new game for the twins: she pinned Serious’ binky on Starlet’s pants so when Starlet was crawling or toddling around, Serious would chase her to get her binky.
Dreamer (4 yrs) calls Grandma and Grandpa’s dog “Butt” instead of “Buck” – she couldn’t say “k’s” until just recently. We took care of Buck for a couple months while my parents were in Hilton Head, and I admit we kind of worried what the neighbors thought when Dreamer was outside calling “Butt! Here Butt!”

B. took an EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) course last fall. The girls loved playing with his stethoscope, listening to each other’s heartbeats with it. Blaze says Serious’ heart sounds like a giant in her tummy.

Stars comes up with a new name for my job – Geographic Information Designer. I like that a lot better than GIS Analyst. One of my daughters might be taking after my love of all things map-related: Dreamer made a “map” of the neighborhood and when went for a walk she would tell me where we were on the map.

One of our friends call Serious and Starlet“Twin and Twinner.” Other nicknames “Thing 1 and Thing 2” and “Pete and Repeat”

Stars rides one of our calves, Larry – afterwards B. says Larry will need to go to a “cow counselor” to recover from the traumatic experience.

Spring Break in Hilton Head, SC – thanks Mom & Dad for hosting all seven of us! Highlights of our trip: riding bikes in the surf… Blaze and Stars becoming expert lizard catchers… Blaze digging up a crab when she thought she was digging up a pretty shell and getting pinched!

We had a bit of an adventure in May when a tornado hit parts of Laramie. My stepdaughter and the rest of the kids at the junior high sat in the halls for a couple hours – the tornado passed right by her school! It also passed near our house – a couple of our neighbors lost their garage and barn roofs. All we lost was our wheelbarrow and our electricity for a couple days.

B. has gotten so good at roping that cows aren’t good enough for him anymore – he is roping elephants, now. Well, sort of. He has taken to practicing his roping in the house, using Blaze and Dreamer’s rocking elephant.

Serious crawls out of her crib, gets a cup from the bathroom, fills it from water from the toilet, and tries to dump it on Starlet in her crib!

Our summer vacation is the B.'s father's family reunion in Long Prairie, Minnesota. Blaze and Dreamer can’t wait to be old enough to ride the tube behind Grandma and Grandpa B’s boat. I stay busy trying to keep the twins from falling in. Dreamer tells Grandpa B “Look, there’s a rainbow!” Grandpa says – “have you been up there painting in the sky?”

Stars wins Grand Champion in the halter class at Fair and gets to go to State Fair in Puyallup, Washington (near Tacoma).

B. was pounding nails to hang a picture, when Dreamer told him “Daddy don’t spank the wall, the spiders will come out!”

Stars and I share “Twilight” frenzy in anticipation of the fourth book arriving in August, and then waiting for the movie in November! (It was worth the wait)

Dreamer asks me who our King is. I say we don’t have a king, we have a President. “No”, she insists. “We do have a king! God is our king!” (Yes, anyone who knows us fairly well knows that we are Jesus freaks. Amen!)

We are thankful for another year of many little blessings running around our home, many messes to clean up, and few frustrations and trials to keep us appreciating the important things. Not money, not the economy. But family, and friends. We love you all and look forward to hearing from you all! 

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Followers of Jesus

If you ask 10 different people to give a definition of Christianity, they'll give you 10 different answers. Rather than calling myself a Christian, to be more specific I prefer to call myself a follower of Jesus.

Like Jesus, I reject many things about “organized religion” (man-made attempts to reach God through rules and rituals)*. Like the folks at at, I believe religion has kept more people from the Truth than anything in history.

I started out "religious" - and became disillusioned with it. I felt church-goers were mostly hypocrites; and besides, there is no proof of God, or proof of really anything else in the Bible - other than some of these people did exist historically. It all happened so long ago, how can you trust that the Bible is an accurate historical record, and not biased by the different perceptions and interpretations of many men? And for that matter, if there is a God and if he's supposed to be good and wise and all-powerful, how come there is so much suffering in the world? These are all questions that turned me into a skeptic during my high school and college years.

But at some point, people generally face one or more the following:
  • you realize just how difficult and complicated life is
  • you start to quesiton the meaning and purpose of your life
  • you're faced with your mortality and wonder where do I go when I die?
In my case, it was the first two that caused me to begin the transition from "skeptic" to "seeker".

There isn't any proof out there, for the skeptic/seeker. Many of the arguments that believers use are flawed. It comes down to a matter of faith. There's lots of different faiths to choose from. Why should Jesus be the answer?

He's the answer because he's the only one who loved us so much, even the most wretched of us, even those of us who hate him, that he gave up his life for us. And then he conquered death by rising again, so that we might have hope of eternal life, too. Every other belief system in the world says you must achieve a certain level of goodness or holiness, or meditate long enough, or give enough of your time and money or go on some pilgrimage to earn enlightment or eternal life. Jesus is the only one that said, "no, it's a gift. I freely give it to you." No works at all, just faith, and a repentant heart.

What does it mean, to be a follower of Jesus? Matthew 16:24-25: Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it."

Following Jesus means surrendering your will to Him, and thereby gaining assurance of eternal life. Why is Jesus worthy of being the lord of our lives? Wasn't he just a good man, or a wise prophet and kind healer? Actually, he didn't claim to be a "good man", he claimed to be the Son of God. Here's how one my friends put it, loosely quoting from C.S. Lewis: "I think that one of the most quintessential questions that one must ask is this: Is Jesus who he said he was? There’s no gray area---either he was telling the truth--he died for our sins, was resurrected, appeared to many witnesses, and is the only way to heaven….or, he was the most egomaniacal, self-deluded liar that ever existed."

Matthew 9:11-13: While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew's house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees [the self-righteous] saw this, they asked his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" On hearing this, Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."

If you don't think there is anything wrong with you, that you are basically a good person, then you're healthy. You don't need a doctor.

But remember this: when the Jews were about ready to stone a woman for adultery, Jesus said, "he who has no sin, throw the first stone." And one by one, they all dropped their stones, and walked away.

Some of my blogs related to following Jesus:

Worldviews, or, what is truth? (April, 2009)

Thinking about how hard the Truth is (February, 2009)

Whip lashes (October, 2008)

Speeding tickets (October, 2008)

My testimony (March, 2008)

Teenage trauma (February, 2008)

*You might ask that if I "reject many things about organized religion (man-made attempts to reach God through rules and rituals)" - then why do you go to church? Well, the short answer is that's what followers of Jesus are asked to do, in the New Testament. The long answer is.... forthcoming in another blog, someday!

Monday, December 15, 2008

musings on Narnia

Like many other Narnia fans, last Tuesday as soon as the Prince Caspian DVD was available I trotted right off to buy it, and watched it again that same night (I saw it twice last May, but that wasn't enough!)

I loved the movie, and I could write pages and pages comparing and contrasting it to the original book which I love even more. Basically, the movie is an adventure: the book was that, but oh so much more. Where it falls short is very subtle. Here is just one example: in the film, Aslan tells Lucy, "Every year you grow, so shall I." In the book, Aslan says, "Every year you grow, you will find me bigger." There is a totally different meaning in these two phrases. A Believer understands that one of the major realizations we make as we grow spiritually is that God becomes ever bigger, greater, holier, awesome... the way the film says it, it's just not the same.

Still, I am eager for the next movie, the Voyage of the Dawn Treader - even though it's not due out until May, 2010. So eager in fact that I re-read the book this weekend. The very best part was Eustace turning into a dragon, and then Aslan turning him back again - a beautiful picture of what Christ does for us not just when we are saved, but each time we realize we are hopelessly lost when we try to do things on our own, instead of through God.

At first I was kind of Hoping that "The Horse and His Boy" would be the next Narnia movie out, since it's my favorite, and also since it's the only other movie where Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy are all present (if briefly). But after re-reading Dawn Treader, I am just as excited to see this one brought to screen. "your complete source for Narnia movie news" confirmed that Dawn Treader is indeed the next movie in the making and I also found this interesting article In what order should the Narnia books be read? which also relates to the order in which the movies are being produced.

Back to Prince Caspian again for a moment: here is an excerpt from a Christianity Today article comparing the movie to the original themes in the book. The whole article is worth reading but this was the point that I thought was so important because it relates to another classic fantasy that I think the film makers meddled too much with:

Because Aslan is so remote from them, the Pevensies are forced to figure things out for themselves, with varying results. Peter's hunger for power and glory leads him to act just as rashly in Narnia as he had been acting in England—but since he is leading armies into battle now, his rashness has lethal, devastating consequences. What's more, he is strongly, strongly tempted to make a deal with the devil, as it were, to achieve his goals. (This may be the biggest, most potentially controversial change to a once-noble character since Faramir felt the lure of the Ring in Peter Jackson's version of The Two Towers.) However, some important and powerful themes do emerge, as Lucy reminds Peter that they need to actually look for Aslan and be faithful to what they already know of him, if they are ever to actually see him.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Dealing with distraction

This was just soooo appropriate for how I am feeling these days: grumpy, burnt-out, too much to do, angry at myself because I am so far from having the "spirit of Christmas" with thankfulness and joy and peace...


Are you distracted this holiday season?

Martha--sister of Mary, friend of Jesus--is famous for being frantic about all she had to do. It says in Luke 10:38 that “Martha was distracted with much serving” (emphasis mine).
You remember what our Lord said to Martha, don’t you? His gentle rebuke is directed at you and me today.

“Martha, Martha,” (Sometimes you have to say a distracted woman’s name twice to get her attention.) “You are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42).

What is the “good portion” Mary chose, and that we must choose this Christmas season? She “sat at Jesus’ feet and listened to his teaching” (Luke 10:39).

I know, I know, you have a lot to do and no one to help you. But so did Martha. You may have a crowd for Christmas, but she had the incarnate God in her home. And Jesus told her not to worry about all that. Only one thing is necessary, He said: sit and listen to me.

This doesn’t mean we are to leave the Christmas shopping unfinished and forget about cooking the big meal. We are still called to serve. But, as Charles Spurgeon suggests, “We ought to be Martha and Mary in one: we should do much service, and have much communion at the same time. For this we need great grace. It is easier to serve than to commune.”
Let’s ask God for great grace this holiday season. Let’s take time to sit and listen to Him.

After reading this yesterday, my spirits lifted a little. And I finally, FINALLY, worked up the courage to hand out my church's cards (like a business card, but for a church, with verses) to three of my fellow writers at Writer's Group last night.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

fist deep in cake

I was looking at how many entries appear for each of my categories. Apparently books are most important in my life because they have the most entries; then writing; somewhere way down the list appear family events, twins, and marriage. Well, to be honest, my family does rank more important than books and writing but perhaps I feel my family, in particular, is of less interest to the larger world than topics about books and writing.

However, it is highly suspect that the larger world is aware of my little blog, (which I'm perfectly happy with... no expectations! I can write drivel and no one will cruelly comment!) So I am pledging to myself to start writing a little more about my family.

So the twins are two years old now, and still pretty much clueless about birthdays: when presented with gifts, they grabbed the bows off the presents and stalked off to play (perhaps they had intuition that it was just clothes in the boxes anyway, not toys!) However, they weren't clueless about the cake. After dinner we decided to relax for a bit in front of the TV, with the intention of presenting the birthday cake with candles a little later in the evening.

Well after a while I notice that the twins aren't down in the living room with us. There is a suspicious lack of noise. I head to the kitchen and discover Serious and Starlet (their nicknames) up on the kitchen counter, fist deep in their chocolate cake, chocolate smeared everywhere, neither one of them looking one bit guilty. I took a deep breath and managed to restrain my initial horror! I ended up just giggling and letting them go at it for a few more minutes before cleaning up. It was their birthday, after all. (I managed to salvage two pieces of cake to put the candles in)

Apparently it is impossible for me write a blog focused entirely on my family. I can't resist sticking in a link about writing... some advice about using/not using emotional exposition in writing.

Writing progress: 541 words last week, so far this week 0

Monday, December 1, 2008


Last night at 9:30 pm I pushed past the 50,000 word goal for the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge.

That's the good news.

The bad news is that I'm severely sleep deprived, my poor family had to suffer through several extremely grumpy episodes in the past two weeks, and I think I'm probably only just barely half-way through my novel: it's gonna be another long one.

My next challenge: to see if, now that November is over, I will continue to keep writing on a regular basis. I would like to write a minimum of 300 words each day (should be a piece of cake after averaging 1667 words a day for November!). Another really good reason for continuing to write every day (other than the fact that it means I'll actually get Novel #2 finished within a year) is that I am holding true to my promise to always read the Bible and pray before writing - something I need in order to keep my life together (in other words, only through God's strength can I possibly keep my life together!)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

the final countdown

Three days left to November. Last minute preparations. NaNoWriMo is approaching, and for geek writers like me (over 100,000 of us signed up at the website), this is the MONTH. The challenge: write 50,000 words, or a short novel, in 30 days (about 5 pages a day). Last year I stormed through the first 3 weeks with amazing success, considering that I had 11 month old twin girls to complicate my life; the last week I got sick and fell about 10,000 words short of my goal. So this year I am determined to finish the challenge.

The twins are now 23 months old, does that make the challenge any easier? Not really. They are still pretty demanding. Another disadvantage: this year I'm starting a new book. I will be starting on Chapter 1, with a blank page, and only a few pages of notes to help guide my way. I had hoped to have a scene-by-scene outline by now, and completed character charts for at least 4 of my major characters. I've only finished one chart so far, and I only have the first 4 or 5 scenes roughly outlined. Last year I was starting about half-way through a second version of a novel that I'd already written once, had the new version completely outlined scene-by-scene to the last page, and had spent the last 20 years dreaming about - I knew my characters really well and I knew exactly where I was going.

So, I'm not nearly as prepared this year. In addition I have commitments at work that will surely be obstacles, and a family that I don't want to lose touch with (though I have already warned all my friends). But I am preparing spiritually, which is, for me, a very important step. I attribute my success for three weeks last November (and to ultimately finishing the novel on October 6 of this year) to taking the time each day before writing to spend time with God first. (Give Him your first-fruits, and He will give you the rest). Sometimes I couldn't get started until 9 pm at night, and I was already tired; it was tempting to skip that fiften or thirty minutes with God and just jump right into writing. But I knew if I did that, the words wouldn't come, or the RIGHT words wouldn't come. Or I'd find out later that nothing I wrote that night would work in the story and I'd eventually have to throw it out anyway. I truly believe that sometimes God just gave me the words, simply because I asked Him for them. After my husband and my kids, I believe God has given writing to me as my ministry. He must want me to write, because no matter how busy my life gets that urge to write is still there. That desire to write a story that maybe, someday, someone will read and learn about the personal relationship with God, through Jesus, that is open to everyone.

Have found a link on the NanoWriMo website to David Niall Nelson's "tips for NanoWriMo" that I had fun reading today, and will hopefully motivate me to work more on my outline, tonight!

Monday, October 13, 2008

whip lashes

Skip to the last paragraph if you want to see what why I titled this 'whip lashes'.

So, it's official, I finished the last chapter of my children's novel Last Monday night at 11:30 pm. For the first couple days I fell kind giddy. I kept re-reading the last page of my book and sighing with delight, wow – I really got there! But I also felt kind of lost, like how in the world will I ever be able to switch over to another novel?

With National Novel Writing Month (see this writing challenge is largely the reason why I was finally able to finish my first novel!) coming up in November, I knew I had to decide which book to start next. I have ideas for two sequels but these are still mostly in the “dream” stage and anyway I’d like to get away from writing for children/youth and try something adult.

 I have one book completely plotted out and ready to go, but that one is another fantasy. Also, since I have spent the last two dozen years working on fantasy genre, I really want to try something in the real world, and I really want to write something purposefully Christian, where I don't have to disguise my faith in symbols or allegory. So that leaves one option, an idea I’ve been kicking around for 4 of 5 years that's loosely based on my experience of my first year of marriage and being a step mom. But I have an awful lot of development to do on this book. I have a very basic plot and a couple character sketches, but nothing like the scene-by-scene outline that I had for my first story. It’s awfully nice when you turn on your computer to not be confronted with a blank page, but to have a little paragraph summarizing just what you are supposed to work on for the next two hours. Prevents writer’s block.

So I spent last week really thinking (and a little praying) about which novel to tackle. During break times at a training class down in Boulder, I mulled over the plot and two primary characters (for now, they are Rowen and Sam) then finally, on Friday, took a stab at the first three scenes. And I felt pretty good about them. Okay, so it seems like the word is “go” for this new idea. However I need to outline quite a bit more than just the first three scenes in order to be able to keep up my writing momentum during November. My writing friend, NL, recommended that instead of going off an outline I should just write “out of the mist” and see what happens. I suppose that’s what I’ll have to do if I don’t get much more of an outline done in the next 3 weeks.

At least the beautiful Indian Summer weather will no longer be competing for my attention. It has turned cold and this weekend we got such a vicious wind that it blew almost every leaf off the trees in my neighborhood, turning our beautiful golden autumn into drab brown overnight. But the weekend before I was able to go for another wonderful trail ride with my mom through the autumn hills, so at least fall didn’t get away from me this year, I’ve been blessed with lots of time to soak it all up. Too bad one can’t soak it all up and save it to savor again later, mid-winter!

Last night at church our assistant pastor gave another illustration that I just have to share (see my last blog about speeding tickets for another example). This one was about a mighty King who was known thoughout the land as a King of justice. He was determined to bring justice to every situation in his kingdom and would not tolerate any sort of crime. In fact he would usually administer the punishment – 40 lashes with a whip – himself, and since he was a very strong, powerful man these lashes were a terrible punishment indeed. One day it came to his attention that someone was stealing from his palace. He set his police to find out who the perpetrator was, but for a long time they could not catch the thief. And when they finally did, it came as a terrible shock because the thief was the King’s own mother. All the kingdom began to speculate what the King would do. He was known for His unrelenting justice; but how could he have his own mother whipped? But when the time came, the King did tell his men to tie the old woman to the whipping post. Everyone was horrified. Instead of picking up his whip, the King handed it to someone else and told them to go ahead and administer the 40 lashes. But first, he took of his shirt and wrapped his body around his mother’s so that he would take the brunt of the lashes for her.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Indian summer and speeding tickets

No, I didn't get a speeding ticket. The reference is from our assistant pastor at Laramie Valley Chapel. He gave a great spiritual illustration that I know I'm going to butcher in my attempt to restate it, but here goes anyway:

Suppose you have several speeding tickets in your glove compartment. You’re driving down the street and you pass another cop, but this time you’re actually driving slower than the posted speed limit, so you don’t get pulled over. However, no matter how many times you drive by a police car under the speed limit, it doesn’t take away those speeding tickets from earlier. You don’t accumulate enough “points” by driving responsibly to make those tickets go away; you still have to pay them. Sin is like that. Every time you sin, you have to pay the ticket; being good other times doesn’t make the bad magically go away. The wages of sin is death – the only way to pay those sin tickets is paying them with death. Unless there is someone else who pays for you. Which is exactly what Jesus did for us, by dying for our sins.

Why do they call it Indian summer, anyway? Oh, who cares - it's sunny and in the 70's, and for once we haven't gotten any snow in September. The last two weekends we B. and I have gone on long trail rides up in the hills, when aspens turn golden is absolutely my favorite time of year. I can't get enough of it. It makes me giddy and dreamy at the same time.

The giddy/dreamy part is also because I'm so close to the end of my book (I can't say close to finishing it, because I know I have to go back and fill in some gaps, make lots of revisions, add more voice). Working on the last chapter is almost as hard as working on the first chapter, though. There's all these sub plots that need to get wrapped up, and it's much harder than I thought it would be. One night I finally gave up because what I was writing just wasn't coming out right. Then as soon as I laid down in bed (and it was midnight already, I really needed to get to sleep), my mind kicked in, and I started figuring out how to get everything into the ending in the right order. So then I started to worry that if I fell asleep I'd forget it all, so at 1 am I got up, wrote down some quick notes, and managed to settle my mind down so I could sleep.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

fifteen tips for writers

I am celebrating the past extremely successful week of writing (over 5,000 words... and I am officially on the last chapter of my book - WOW!) by sharing these 15 writing tips that I can, for once, almost be smug about.

First, I need to mention that I may get in trouble at some point for copyright infringements, since these 15 writing trips that tickled my fancy come from the 'extras' at the end of Thrity Umrigar's book, The Space Between Us (published by Harper Perennial). The reason I'm going ahead with it is because a) I would be honored if someone spread the word about anything I wrote or advice I gave; b) it may inspire you to purchase and read her book; c) nobody really reads this blog anyway so I'm probably safe.

I've also taken the liberty of adding my own comments.

1) Ask yourself why you want to write... are you just doing it because it's a trendy, intellectual pursuit?...remember it is possible to have a perfectly happy and balanced life without ever writing a book, short story, or even a poem

2) If you are a true writer, you will find what I just said laughable. [and yes, I did guffaw loudly after reading #1 and before reading #2, so does that qualify me as a true writer? Yeah!] Because for you, writing is a way of surviving in the world, the medium through which you make sense of your life. [partially true for me, but I also have the Bible and direct access to the God of the Universe to help me make sense out of my life primarily. But writing plays a big part in figuring out my life. I often work out my frustrations in my journal. I often write my prayers to Him in my journal, too.]

3) Ask yourself what you want to write... the problem writers often have is that they have too many stories that they want to tell. But usually there is one story that haunts you... [yes, it's been haunting me since I was 12 years old. Seriously. Thank goodness I'm almost finished writing it... I think]

4) Write in the shower. Get away from the tyranny of the blank screen... many people think that when they turn on the computer, they're also jump starting their brains. But that's not the way the subconscious works. You have to tap into it more frequently than that. That means thinking about your story all the time, living with it, never letting it wander too far away from you. A story is like a newborn - you have to tend to it, feed it, be aware of it all the time.... [this is where I dismally fail. I go for a few weeks at a time gloriously working/thinking on my story all the time, to months and months without thinking about it all, except perhaps occasionally with a twinge of guilt. Which explains why it's been haunting me since I was 12 years old... sigh...]

5) Make time for yourself. It's a good idea to work at the same time every day, if at all possible... Find out the time of the day when your writing flows the best and then keep that time for yourself. But writing is also preparing the subconscious to be ready. So you need to find more alone time for yourself even when you're not actually writing. Solitude is really important for a writer. [Ouch! double ouch! okay here is where it gets tricky for mothers with small children, not to mention four children, not to mention two of those children are 21 month old twins. Then it gets even trickier when you try to live a truly Christian, New Testament-modeled life, where solitude just about equates to selfishness. Unless it's solitude set aside for praying/meditating on the Word. There is some hope, however. I learned last November that I could accomplish absolutely amazing things during one hour in the evening after everyone else has gone to bed: if I spend time with God First. He enables me to accomplish so much more than I could on my own]

6) Most of us don't have the luxury of finding large blocks of time to write. That's why God invented flash drives. Carry that flash drive with you at all times. Whenever you have any time during the day, say, a lunch break at work, write your story... [my problem is if I start during lunch, I will guiltily exceed my allotted lunch time]

7) Saying that you don't have time to write is an excuse. The fact is that nobody has time to write, other than the miniscule number of writers who make their living from writing full-time. Most writers make the time to write. Their lives are no less busy than anyone else's. They too have dentist appointments and kids who need trips to the emergency room and pets who puke in the kitchen and gardens that have to be watered and weeded....[they are just better disciplined than I am]

8) Read extensively. Reading everything, from the New York Times to billboards to cereal boxes. Read the classics and read new books by unknown authors. This will help you two ways - not only will it make you a better writer but a great book can serve as an inspiration. Everytime I read a great book, it makes me want to drop everything I'm doing and work on my own stuff. [so true! so true! so many books, so little time!]

9) Believe in your work. Remember that every person on this sweet blue earth has a story to tell. The sad truth is that most of us will never write like Shakespeare. We will never be Toni Morrison or Leo Tolstoy or Charles Dickens. All I can try to do is be the best Thrity Umrigar that I can be... [hurrah! well-written, Thrity!]

10) Turn off the soft sinister voice that's forever telling you, 'This is crap. No one will ever want to read this.' ... it is the devil trying to paralyze you so that you won't write. Turn that voice off. There will be plenty of time to heed that critical voice later and even make it work for you. [But not during the first draft! For an excellent motivation on this subject, check out the NANOWRIMO web pages]

11) After you're done with the first draft, you can reread your work in a loving but critical way. [I'm surprised she didn't mention anything about writer's groups or some other form of critiquing. If you find a truly honest and supportive group, they can help you weed out the useless stuff with a minimum of pain]

12) Live a large and active life. Meet different kinds of people. Put yourself in unfamiliar situations. Expose yourself to diverse experiences that challenge you. All of this will make your writing more interesting [This is what I want to do more of. I want to pay more ATTENTION to life. To details. I go through so much of life in a fog of distraction. Even while waiting in line at the grocery store you can pick up some fascinating details about people. Carry a notebook with you everywhere and make yourself write down things as you go]

13) Love someone deeply and intensely. You will learn more about yourself - your flaws and your strengths, your limits and expansiveness - through this experience than any other.... [I have been given the opportunity 6-fold to do this very thing. Husband, step-daughter, my own four daughters. Interestingly, it is in the relationships that do not come naturally - my stepdaughter and also to a degree my husband - that you learn the most from the challenge of loving deeply and intensely (and I might also add, unconditionally)].

14) Be gentle with yourself. Great writing is always compassionate. The same compassion that you bring to your observations about the foibles of humanity, you must grant to yourself...

15) And finally, write for the right reasons. This is a bit of personal superstition, I suppose. But the ability to write is a gift, a special grace. It should not be abused... [I absolutely believe this. Ultimately I write because I have to; because it is part of me and it would still happen even if I tried to prevent it. But we should all strive to become more than what we simply are. I strive to turn my writing into something beautiful for God's glory. I am determined that my stories will always, somehow, someway, point to God.]

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Why I am a writer

last updated March, 2013

Writing basic part of my make-up; I can't go a more than a few days without writing something - whether it's a few random notes on some idea I want to expound on later, to an emotional cleansing (e.g. venting) in my journal, to another chapter in one of the several fiction books I'm trying to finish (and in the past couple years, blogging has become an important to me, too).

I've been journaling ever since I was 9 or 10 years old, and writing stories since about that age, too. I have loved going through my journals and seeing my character growth, how I've changed, things leading up to my decision to follow Christ - and since then, the spiritual struggles God has taken me through to grow me.

I also love to write fiction, and little bits of myself and my journey and my beliefs are sprinkled through out my stories (without being preachy, I hope).

I finished my first book in 2000, at which point I started to go to writer's conferences to see how I would go about trying to get it published. Shortly thereafter I realized that my book had to be completely re-written - it wasn't anywhere near to being fit for publication.

I signed up at several on-line writing workshops (one of them was and started to get feedback on my writing, which has helped tremendously.  For a while Laramie has had it's own modest little writer's group, which provided a lot of motivation and fun, getting to know other writers on a personal level.

Because my family kept growing (and I had to learn how to juggle personal goals with family goals and a whole new level of stress and distractions), it took me eight years to finish the second draft of my story in 2008.

Because I was learning so much from professional agent and author blogs at this point, it wasn't long before I realized it still needed more work (it was way too long for a children's story). I decided to split it up into two novels instead, but midway into revisions I burned out - plus I had so many other ideas in my head begging for a chance. So I started my second novel.

2013 update: I have four novels written now, and the biggest step I ever took with my writing was to push myself to write new stories; interestingly, this was even more helpful than getting feedback. Some things you can learn from feedback and revising; some things you can only learn by continually writing new things.

My first novel (a children's fantasy) has been through two full drafts and several partials. I still plan to revisit it again someday - it's my first love, after all, and I have spent the better part of my life with these characters!

My second novel is women's fiction, based loosely on my experience with marriage and being a stepmom, and with a strong Christian theme. It needs a second draft, and I'll be revisiting that one again, for sure too.

My third novel is a history fantasy set in the time when the Huns invaded the crumbling Roman Empire. It started out as an idea I had when I was 15 years old - so this one is near and dear to my heart, too, and it also deserves a second draft (I just need to clone myself, right?) But then, hold the bus, that cloning-myself quip gave me an idea for a forth novel!

My fourth novel is a science fiction for young adults (think ordinary American high school girl meets Star Wars), and I'm almost done with the second draft, and getting lots of feedback from the four critique partners I exchange chapters with. I'm hoping to query it to agents by the end of the year.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Love never fails

Just finished Beth Moore's study on "Believing God" and the last section really hit me hard.
It started with a verse that I think will become one of my life verses, like Isaiah 26:3, a verse I find it hard to believe has never come to my attention before:

Gal 5:6 The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

The close relationship between faith and love never occurred to me before.

Beth writes: "God has called us to love even when we don't want to, we don't feel like it, we get nothing obvious in return, when the person we're trying to love don't deserve it, if we feel they're not worth it, if they don't even know it, and even if it doesn't make any difference that we can see."

1 Cor 13:8 Love never fails.

"Every effort to love sacrificially (agape love) never fails to get God's priority attention (Mark 12:28-30); to ultimately and undoubtedly be rewarded; to have a profound effect, whether in the other person, in the circumstance, or in us.

"Love our enemies by faith. Love our neighbors by faith. Love our family members by faith. Love our spouses by faith. Love our in-laws by faith. Love a rebellious teen by faith. Love our betrayer by faith. Love an ill and bitter parent by faith. Love by faith, not by feeling."
Who has capacity to love like this? Impossible for us; only possible through God.
And yet, Romans 5:5: ...and hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love for us into our hearts"

2 Cor 5:7 But we have this treasure [God's love] in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

I have been struggling to continue to love and pray for a friend who has become very difficult to talk to, very difficult to identify with, she seems so lost in pain and confusion and I have been hating myself for feeling like giving up on her right when she probably needs love & prayer the most - this lesson came at a crucial time for me.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Developing a writing "voice"

My writing progress this summer has been better than other summers, which isn't hard, since I usually don't write ANYTHING during the summer. Too busy. It has been a busy summer (swim lessons, family reunion in Minnesota, Blaze's birthday party - 12 little girls all wanting to ride a hrose at the same time!) but somehow I manage to keep ekeing out an average of a few hundred words a week. My obsession this year has been on developing voice for my characters - earlier this spring I think I finally made a breakthrough with Arrasin and Selty. But I have some other major characters I needed to develop a stronger voice with, Tara, for certain.

Whenever I seem to draw a blank I retreat to re-reading a book that I recall having examples of good voice. Lately it has been Dick Francis mysteries. He's the only mystery writer I've ever really got hooked on (probably because most of his stories revolve around horses, in some fashion or another), but also his books are easy to analyze, as far as writing style. His main character is ALWAYS the same, with a very distinct voice, but he always has a least one colorful side character, sometimes more, that add the needed variation in voice, and add the fun to reading his novels in addition to the suspense. For instance in the latest novel I re-read, Decider, I was amused by a side character that was obsessed with his thinning hair. Much sport could be had from this obsession. Was it voice, really, or just a fun quirk that characterized many of his conversations? It's always fun to analyze. But whatever it was, it worked. Without it, the novel would have only half succeeded (esp. since this novel had hardly any romantic elements, either).

After finishing that novel, I sat down one evening at my book and wrote 1600 words - reminiscent of crazy November days! - ha! I still have it in me!) -- but even more fun, I finally hit on the idea for Tara that I've been searching for. Not just a characterization, such as Tara's sassy teenage attitude at odds with her love of reading and drawing and fantasy, but a characterization that can really be worked out in dialogue with other characters. I can't wait to finish the novel (I'm at section 73 out of 80!) so I can go back to start working my new ideas in.

Friday, July 4, 2008

our 4th of July

I am way overdue to share some about my family in my blog. We spent the 4th of July (and our 9th annivesary) at a ranch on the border of Colorado and Wyoming - the ranch owners also celebrate their anniversary on the 4th of July. They have a big picnic and then a team roping competition for all their friends. I watched B. rope a few times, but I have to confess that I more keen to see my daughter compete - since it was her first time! After the roping they had barrel racing for the kids.

Blaze (almost 7) has been practicing barrels for the last week on my horse Rebel, and it was great to see her get around all the barrels in the right pattern in front of everyone - and how excited she was!

The highlight for me was getting to go on a long trail ride with a good friend. The ranch is in the foothills, with wildflowers everywhere and magnificent views of the distant mountains in Rocky Mountain National Park. I almost lost my old horse, Rebel, back in May when he had a severe episode of colic, and this was the first time I've ridden him since then. There was a while there where I was afraid I would never get to ride him again. But he was his same old self - ready to run at a moment's notice, still able to out-pace a horse half his age and a whole foot taller!

By the time we got home we were too tired to set off any of the fireworks we bought. Saved those for the next night, in our backyard, scaring our poor horses with all the noise and sparks and smoke. The fireworks made me miss my stepdaughter though - this our first 4th of July without her. She was the one who set off all the fireworks for us last year.

The next day Blaze had a chance to show her riding skills again at the Laramie Jubilee Days Kids Horse Show. She placed 4th in her age-class in the Riders class and was so excited to get a ribbon, a tiny decorative cowboy boot, and a $2 bill (Mommy doesn't even have any $2 bills!) She did the barrel race even faster than the day before, and in front of a much larger crowd! But there were little kids out there on well-trained horses that did that barrel race just a second or two slower than the adult competitors, it is pretty amazing how handy some 5 and 6 year olds are on a horse. Blaze is already asking me when she can go to another show. We're going to have to keep on practicing!

B. also competed in the ranch rodeo event, which is another team event where they are timed on branding calves, separating and penning cattle, and trailer loading. His team placed 2nd out of 15, so he was thrilled - but he promptly went and spent the prize money on entry fees for a bunch more roping and penning events this week at the Jubilee Days rodeo. Well, maybe he'll win some more!

As for the rest of the family, Dreamer (4 years old) is always trying to do everything Blaze does, and the twins (19 months old) are busy stealing each other's toys, and making messes for me to clean up. They aren't saying many words yet, so I've been trying to read to them more, pointing to pictures and trying to get them to say "cow" and "moo" and "kitty". They are learning to the point to the pictures themselves when I say "where's the kitty?" However, Serious has also started to point her finger at me and chew me out in her own little language.

Thursday, July 3, 2008


Today Mom and I participated in StoryCorps ( which is a program that gives you 40 minutes to talk to each other in a mobile recording studio. The results is a CD we get to keep, of me asking my mother about her childhood, her school years and college years, all the places she's lived, and traveled; the most important events of her life, and advice to pass on to me and her granddaughters as a legacy. We get to keep the CD, which will no doubt become a precious family legacy just like the recording that mom made of her interviewing her own mother about her past, a year or so before she died. We also signed the release form so that our "stories" will be archived in the Library Congress as a part of America's living history. Pictures and videos and journals and letters are all an important part of our family's legacy, but this is a wonderful addition - I wish I'd found out about it earlier so I could have had time to tell others about it (all the interview times are already filled for the time that StoryCorps is in Laramie) but also I would have loved to drag B. down to interview him. He is a born storyteller and the stories of his childhood are so fascinating to me because they are so different than my own, plus he makes them so funny! When I try to write them down, I lose so much of the heart of the story. It's the same with my Dad. I've been asking him on and off to share memories of his childhood and young adulthood, and then later I try to write down as much as I remember, but it would be so nice if I could get him to agree to be recorded.

Later I had writer's group, my chapters 27-30 were critiqued. I feel as usual both motivated and frustrated. It's been over six months now since the end of November, when I wrote over 100 pages and made such encouraging progress on my book. So I went back and re-read everything I wrote last November and I'm afraid (but not surprised) that it's lost its shiny newness. The writing isn't terrible, but it isn't top quality, either. Well, it just needs some work. The work part isn't the frustrating part; the frustrating part is I'm so close to the end - probably just another 40-50 pages - but I feel like I can't finish it. First of all, there's some issues with the plot I can't quite figure out, but the biggest problem is that the plot just keeps going and going - I need to streamline it somehow. The book is at 400 pages right now and there's still the conclusion, plus quite a few gaps that I need to go back and fill in. It could easily go over 500 pages. I need to go back to outlining and see where I can trim things down again. With six months behind me, I no longer feel like I every word I wrote is sacred.

Monday, June 9, 2008

God sent me... the Mormons?

Wow, I totally missed the month of May in myspace world.

Okay: in May I got to attend a Beth Moore Bible conference (wow!), had a visit from my in-laws one week and then the next week a visit from an old college friend (and her five kids!), read the 216 page book Prince Caspian the night before going to see the movie, taught 5 days of intensive GIS classes, experienced my first tornado, adopted a kitten, cried more than I have in the past year (it was a very emotional month), said good-bye to my stepdaughter as school ended and she headed off back home, and still managed to re-write the first third of my book.
However, I spent no signfiicant amount of time in devotions or prayer and as a result I feel all strung out and stressed.

It all came to a head, I realized, when two Mormon missionaries showed up on my doorstep a couple days ago. Of course I invited them in, I love to debate with the Mormons. I don't often have a chance to thrash people with my stunning knowledge of the Bible (ha ha). However, my Bible skills have become so rusty that I was really struggling to find the Scripture I needed to refute some of their beliefs.

For instance, this pair was all about assuring me that the Latter Saints agree with the Biblical view of "it is by faith that you are saved through faith, not by works, lest any man should boast". However, we differed drastically on the extent of salvation. To me, once "you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God rasied him from the dead, you will be saved" - you are saved forever. You cannot lose that salvation because Jesus is always interceding for you, and His sacrifice not only covers all our past sins but all our present and future ones... even unconfessed ones.

The Mormons believe that if you subsequently turn away from God that you can lose your salvation. They are all about how it is man's choice. We must continually choose God, choose to obey Him, choose to turn back to Him... if we stray away from Him, he does not apparently come out like the shepherd to search for us and bring us back to the fold; we have to make our way back ourselves.

I was horrified that anyone could believe in any sort of religion that didn't promise an absolutely sure and irrevocable path to heaven! I argued, no it is God who draws us. It is His grace that saves us, and also His grace that continues to draw us when we stray away, and when we return, empowers us to live the obedient life.

Problem was, I was having a terrible time remembering the scriptures to back this up. For a few horrifying minutes I couldn't even find my Bible. I hadn't cracked it open in so long that I couldn't remember where I'd left it! I kept mumbling apologies to the two young men as I dashed up and down the stairs and peered into dusty corners in my desperate search. Once I unearthed it, I was able to find a few Scriptures to back up my belief in the security of salvation and the absolute Sovereignity of God, even over the capricious will of man.

I challenged them to study all of Romans 8 - the ultimate chapter of security that begins with "Therefore there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" and continues to "those He predestined, He also called, and those He called, He also justified, and those He justified, He also glorified" and finally ends with the crescendo "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?... no, we are more than conquerers through Him who loved us... neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is Christ Jesus our Lord."

I also remembered Hebrews 7:25 "Therefore He is able to save forever those who come to God through Him, because He always lives to intercede for them" and John 10:28 "I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand".
I even got a promise out of those guys that they'd study these verses some and come back and discuss them more with me (yet somehow managed to wiggle out of commiting to study verses from their book of Mormon).

But I also had to admit to myself that the real reason why they showed up on my doorstep wasn't so we could debate theology, but because God was showing me how much I'd neglected Him and His Word lately. Since then I have been digging back into the Word and rediscovering some more wonderful verses on security such as Ephesians 1:13-14. Also, some insight into why the Mormons might be confused about the security of salvation - might they be confusing salvation with sanctification? We are saved once and forever, but after that comes the never-ending process of santification, of being brought into obedience, of being conformed into the likeness of Christ (1 Peter 1:2, 1 Thess 4:3).

I really hope those Mormons come back.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Spring '08 family slideshow

Spring 2008 pictures

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

Harry Potter and Beth Moore

Anyone who knows anything about Harry Potter and Beth Moore knows the very high unlikelihood of those two names ever occuring together in the same sentence. Harry Potter is... well, who needs to explain Harry Potter? Boy magician-in-training, JK Rowling's phenomena in the publishing world. Beth Moore is just about as famous, in Christian womens' circles, that is. She writes incrediable Bible studies, gives hilarious presentations, and mooches sunchips from innocent bystanders.

So this past week has been noteworthy in that I both started, and finished, the nearly 800 pages of the last Harry Potter book, and Heather invited me to a Bible study that is showing the latest Beth Moore Bible study, on the topic of asher (biblical happiness), and both of these events provided inspiration to my life in different ways.

I've only read the first Harry Potter book, and now the last, and actually I am not really a huge HP fan. It's great fun to read and author is enviably imaginative. The books are certainly worth all the hype. Part of my lack of zeal is because the Harry Potter world is all about witchcraft, which the Bible very clearly states as a sin (Gal 5:20). But then, the children's book I'm writing is full of magic, both good and evil. The good magic I am carefully (and prayerfully) linking to the power of God. I'm trying to make my unicorns, in their highest and best form to be servants of God, like a type of angel, whose powers only work when they are using them to help others. The Harry Potter books also distinguish between good use of magic and the "dark arts", but the author makes no attempt to explain where the power for magic comes from, either good or evil.

Anyway, my point for bringing up Harry Potter isn't to debate whether it's okay stuff for Bible-living Christians to be reading (I'll just plead Romans 14 and leave it at that), but how the last HP book inspired me with some new ideas for my own fantasy world, much in the same way the Twilight series did. The book "stirred the juices", so to speak, so that my journal and my calendar and my purse notebook are all bristling with notes about ideas I need to find time to write into the story, itself.

Ah, finding time to write! I've written nothing in this blog for over two weeks, and in those same two weeks less than 700 words on my novel. My "valley" Word document is open on this computer as I am typing this blog, in the theory that bloggin will start up some writing momentum so that when I'm done here I'll seamlessly switch over to writing fantasy...)

In the same way that Harry Potter has provided inspiration for my writing life, Beth Moore has provided a much more important sort of inpsiration, for my spiritual life. I highly recommend the three hour sessions on this DVD we are watching, A Day With Beth Moore (you can order it on the Women of Faith web site, it's listed under Beth Moore: preconference). Her talk is based on the Hebrew word "asher" which is translated as blessed, or happy. Two Hebrew words are translated to blessed in the Old Testament, "barak" and "asher." Barak means "you are blessed" - it is positional. Asher means when "you feel blessed" - it is emotional. Biblical happiness, like generic happiness, is based on our circumstances... but it is not bound by circumstances. There is no circumstance in our lives that God cannot work in. If you make happiness your life's pursuit, it will become an idol to you (2 Kings 21:7), but if you make God your pursuit, happiness will follow. Happiness cannot be obtained by pursuing it, it is only something you can receive. Biblical happiness comes when we are awakened to a work of God.

Well I haven't been pursuing God very much these days... I guess I've been trying to manufacture my own happiness... and my own writing, too (no wonder why I haven't been very productive!) My goal this week is to spend time with God everyday in his Word and in prayer (I am rediscovering how wonderful it is to pray through a Psalm). I have not set any writing goals. Instead, I want to see where God takes me with my writing this week if I take the time first to pray about my writing. But prayer for my relationship with Him, with my family, my friends and church family will come first.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

beware of starting Bible studies

Beware of starting Bible studies on better marriages - it’s sure to backfire. I feel like I am on the brink of a cold war with my husband, and the only reason why it’s on the brink and not in deep is because he’s never home, always working, working, working. He just started a new business in January, and we’ve had no regular income since then. So of course he has to work, work, work if we ever want to stop living on credit cards and maybe one day start to get them paid off (me picking up more hours isn’t really practical when it means paying for babysitting for three kids... but I have been trying to work a couple nights a week after the kids are in bed). I feel like I’m not married anymore but this fellow comes and sleeps at our house everynight and eats some food and occasionally leaves us some money in return. Okay, it’s not that bad, but my emotions tell me it is practically that bad.

So here is the premise of this Bible study we’re doing, based on the book "Love and Respect"

Ephesians 5:33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

The Greek word used for "love" in this verse is agape, the unconditional, self-sacrificing type of love. So the author contends that since the man is required to give unconditional love to his wife, it follows that the wife should give unconditional respect to her husband. Men crave respect like women crave love.

But as soon as I learned this, my evil twin soul rebelled. But I don’t want to give him unconditional respect. He has to earn it! I just erased several sentences of ranting and raving about why he doesn’t deserve unconditional respect. The point is, easy to understand but absolutely the hardest thing to live, is that it is possible to give unconditional love AND respect because that is what Jesus did for us.

My battle is more with myself than with B. I understand, but I have such a hard time doing. Duh, that might because I haven’t been spending any time in the Word or with God lately... Like for several months now. Where else do you get the strength to accomplish the impossible?

I still haven’t picked up my Bible but I have started reading Oswald Chamber’s "Still Higher for His Highest" (another great devotional in the fashion of "My Utmost for His Hightest"). Here are some fantastic quotes from it that have provided me with inspiration.

Faith cannot be intellectually defined; faith is the inborn capacity to see God behind everything, the wonder that keeps you an eternal child.... Beware of losing the wonder, and the first thing that stops wonder is religious conviction... the only evidence of salvation and sanctification is that the sense of wonder is developing, not at things as they are, but at the One who made them as they are.

When the facts of life have humbled us, when introspection has stripped us of our own miserable self-interest and we receive a startling diagnosis of ourselves by the Holy Spirit, we are by that painful experience brought to the place where we can hear the marvelous message - propfounder than the profoundest philosophies earth ever wove, "Come to Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Until this experience comes, men may patronize Jesus Christ, but they do not come to Him for salvation.

Our heavenly Father has an amazing sense of humor; He will bring across your path the kind of people who manifest to you what you have been to Him. If you have been obstinate, that is why you have got that fellow around you just now, and Jesus says, "Show him the attitude I showed you." It means showing the disposition of Jesus Christ to the man who deliberately wrongs you, and it takes some doing.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

testimony (warning, this is very long and personal)

Back to wintry Wyoming after a week in South Carolina on the beach and watching for alligators in the lagoons of Hilton Head Island. The babies could fly for free on the airlines because they are still under 2 years... I wonder if we will ever be able to afford to go to Hilton Head again with 6 or 7 of us (depending on whether my stepdaughter is with us) flying? The drive is over 2000 miles. My husband and I did it once, back in 2000 BC (Before Children). It was a killer drive back then, can’t imagine doing it now with a vanful of children.

I actually did write some while in Hilton Head, almost 2000 words on yet another new first chapter for the Valley (this has to be at least my 12th or 13th version of that first chapter!). Added another 1000 this past week (thanks to a word war with N.L. Btw, I have yet to WIN a word war. She always beats me by at least a 100 words).

But, my spiritual life has taken a real slump. My prayer journal was completely devoid of anything until last night. The only time I’ve opened a Bible is to read the children’s church lesson to the kids on Sunday. At this point, I’m just praying that I would WANT to pray and study more.

But even during a dry spell like this, God still provides such blessings. Yesterday I drove my stepdaughter over to Cheyenne so she could spend some time with her aunt’s family, and during the 50 minute drive we had another great conversation about spiritual matters. One of my goals was to share my testimony with her this winter/spring before she goes back home. She was telling me stories her granny had shared with her about her family (Mormon family), and then I shared a little bit about my parents and their religious beliefs (or lack of, in my Dad’s case), and I said I wondered how people could make it through life without the comfort of knowing God’s love.

Then I shared my testimony with her, of how I got saved when I was 23 years old.

I always attended Lutheran Church as a child, but there came a point in high school when I didn’t believe in God anymore, for several reasons. First of all, there is no scientific proof of God, and that bugged me (I was planning a career in marine biology, at this point, and a scientist needs proof). Also, I think I had been a little disillusioned by the Catholic elementary school my parents sent me to (religion force-fed). Finally, though my parents always encouraged me to go to church with a close family friend, they never went to church themselves.

But in college, I met some great friends who were Christians, and active in sharing their faith. I went to a couple Bible studies with them, and over time I discovered that they were truer friends than my partying buddies. But I was still very skeptical. I didn’t like the fact that their God had complete control over our destinies.

Later, during graduate school, I found myself in a terrible depression for about three months after breaking up with my first real romantic interest (I’d dated some before him, but not seriously). From February through April, I remember feeling like time had stopped for me. Like everyone else was on a moving train, going forward through life, but I had stepped off, and stood by the tracks watching the train go by without any strength or desire to climb back on. I felt as if it would be winter forever, that spring would never come.

Spring did come, though, and my spirits started to lift, partly because of the encouragement of two Christian friends (D.W. and S.D.). I remember memorizing all the stanzas of Amazing Grace that spring, and singing it while I was out riding my horse Rebel in the fields and forests that were finally turning green. But I was afraid - what if that depression came back? What could I do to keep it from coming back? I had always thought I was a good and basically happy person before the depression, but now I knew I was weak, I could easily be broken. I needed something. I spent that whole summer and fall searching... reading books about different religions, talking with my friends.

It was D.W. who finally challenged me that if I was going to truly and fairly compare religions, I needed to study the Bible itself, not just what other had written about what they the Bible was about. At the same time another friend, T.G., shared an article with me called "Can you be good without God?" No, you can’t, the article said, and it had some really good points that for the first time made sense to me.

One night I opened my old Good News Bible that I received as a present from my pastor when I was 12 years old, after finishing my confirmation classes at Parkside Lutheran Church. I read through Matthew, and felt confused that the Jesus I was reading about was the not the gentle, fluffy sort of Jesus I remembered from my Sunday School lessons as a child. This was a stern Jesus who told Jews they were vipers and gave harsh commandments that said if one of you hates his brother it is considered the same thing as murder. I was confused by this Jesus... disturbed by Him. I was frustrated that here I was with a degree from an Ivy League College but I couldn’t understand what this darn book was talking about. I believe I actually said out loud, "God, if you are the real God, the God of this Bible, you have to prove yourself to me."

Then I started reading the book of Job. I don’t know how late I stayed up that night, but I read the entire book of Job, becoming even more confused as I read chapter after chapter of Job crying out for God to hear him, to clear his name, while his friends hammered at him, trying to get him to admit he was guilty of some secret sin and that was why God was punishing him so cruelly. And then finally, in chapter 38, God answers Job. Except it was not the answer I expected. It was not the kind pat on the shoulder, the "it’ll all be okay, Job, I’m sorry for what you’ve had to go through" that I expected. No, it was these words that I will never forget, these words that marked the changing point in my life:

Then the LORD spoke to Job out of the storm. He said:
2 "Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge?
3 Prepare to defend yourself; I will question you, and you shall answer me.
4 "Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand.
5 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it?
6 On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone—
7 while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?

I don’t know exactly why these words sprang out at me (singing stars was a beautiful poetic image, but God speaking so sternly was also very humbling). I knew God had meant these specific words for me. He had answered me.

The next day I told S.D. about what I’d read, how I believed in God now. And she asked me, "yes, but do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?" And suddenly I remembered John 3:16 that D.W. had shared with me a couple years ago, and I knew God didn’t just want me to believe in Him, He wanted me to believe that His Son had died for me, for my sins, so that I could be free. I said my first prayer to Him that night, asking Him for that personal relationship.

I haven’t always been free of depression, of course. But it’s never had the stranglehold on me like it did before I was saved, over 14 years ago. I have always trusted that God would bring me out of it, and He always does. And He’s given me a church family to teach me and encourage me, a wonderful husband, my husband’s big, loving family, a sweet stepdaughter and my own 4 beloved girls. And, He’s also given me a few stressful trials (financial disasters, painful church splits, dear friends moving away, news of twins, then fears associated with very premature twins, more financial stresses, worry about my parents...) But He’s been with me through all of it, and even though trials are hard, I’m not afraid of them. They grow you into a better person. A more Christlike person. If you don’t have the dark in your life, you can’t truly appreciate the light.

Now the version of my testimony I shared with my stepdaughter was a bit shorter and simpler than this. But there is nothing greater than sharing how God has saved you and worked in your life. I can’t wait to share it again, and again.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Sunday, February 24, 2008

teenage trauma

It's been over a week since I've written anything. The winter blues have set in - they always seem to get me in February. Life becomes dull and uninteresting and I spend too much time watching TV because it's hard to get motivated to do anything else. Fortunately this year we get an early spring break - March 1-8 in Hilton Head, South Carolina, at my parent's timeshare. February can't end soon enough.

The past week has been kind of blue for my stepdaughter, too. She is starting to miss home. Her best friend back home informed her that she thinks they should find "other best friends" in the meantime - that really hurt her. She comes to me and pours out all her frustrations. "How come you're so happy all the time?" she asks me. Come again? Me, happy all the time? Hello, I'm blue all over (my husband can certainly tell!)

I explain to her that I struggle with depression and frustration over lots of things but I try to take them all to God and when I do He gives me peace. This started an incredible conversation with her on how you know you're a Christian... I asked her what she thought about sin. She said she thinks everyone is a sinner, she said she herself sins everyday, but that's what Jesus is for, that we can go to Him and ask forgiveness for our sins. I just about wanted to leap up for joy! She gets it! Yes, she really does understand.

Then she asked, but is it bad that I don't read the Bible much, and when I do, I don't really understand it? Sometimes you can't just read it, I told her, you actually have to study it, and ask God to help you understand it. Studying the Bible helps us grow as a Christian, but not reading it doesn't mean you're not a Christian. It's what you believe that makes you a Christian.
Then she asked, what about those people who say they are Christians but they say nasty things about other people or do bad things? Well, we are all hypocrites sometimes, I said, but it's also possible that they think they are Christians, but they really aren't. After all, Jesus said that at the last day many will come to Him and say, "Lord! Lord! I did all these things in Your name!" But Jesus will tell them, "I never knew you."

I could tell she didn't get it. So I asked her, who is a famous person you know? She named a famous model. So, you know her... but does she know you? Oh! I could see the lights coming on for her. It's a two-way relationship. And she started smiling. I know God knows me, she said. I pray to Him, and He answers me... and she gave several examples of answered prayers.

Since that talk, I haven't felt blue at all. I hate how Satan can trick you into thinking life is pointless... and I love the different ways God reminds us how awesome life is. Getting to see my stepdaughter's face light up with understanding lit up my heart at the same time.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

the Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger

Writer's group tonight - S.D. is back! I've known her for at least two years now, and we only discovered tonight that we are both from Buffalo, NY - and both agree that Laramie winters are much better than Buffalo winters.

Switching tracks... I have a friend (H.L.) who has the best book recommendations... we clicked when we discovered that we both loved "Blue Like Jazz" (Donald Miller).
Since then she's lent me some amazing books like:
the Island (Victoria Hislop)
Girl Meets God (Lauren Winner)
Walking in Circles Before Lying Down (Merrill Markoe)
Peace Like A River (Leif Enger )
the Arena (Karen Hancock)

...and the latest, the Time Traveler's Wife (Audrey Niffenegger).

It's basically a love story, and of course the hero is a time traveler, but not in the sense you usually think of, with a time machine; it's not a science fiction story at all. Instead, Henry is afflicted with a "chrono-displacement disorder" - for some reason (which I haven't read far enough yet to know why, yet) that sends him randomly either back into his past or ahead into his future - without any warning when he travels or where/when he arrives. And the other aspect of the story is how his wife deals with these sudden absences, and appearances, in his life and her own (for instance, he pops into her life when she's still a child, but he's an adult, already technically married to her).

This is one of those great books I'm raving about already without having even finished it!
It's also a great book because it's getting my own creative juices running for some of my own novels-in-progress... must put down the book long enough to jot my ideas down...

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A Mother's Heart, by Jean Fleming

Mostly my blog is about writing (and my writing progress, by the way, is still going strong; have another couple thousand words this past week to add to my tally).
However the title of my blog also refers to "while attempting to raise four children, stay happily married, and stay focused on God." So this blog entry is devoted to the "while attempting" part.

My women's Bible study has just finished reading "A Mother's Heart" (by Jean Fleming), a great book for inspiring moms who might feel a little overwhelmed or burned out. Now that we've spent 7 months studying motherhood, we've voted to read "Love & Respect" (by Emerson Eggerichs) next, and focus on marriage. This morning we spent our time praying about the things we've learned in the past months about being a mom before moving on to the subject of marriage.

There is so much good stuff in "A Mother's Heart", and yet I don't feel like I've really applied any of it. It doesn't do much good just to read something about doing something, unless you actually DO something. Fortunately, praying is doing something.

One of the suggestions in the book is to pray over your childrens' strengths (and how to encourage them in their strengths), and their weaknessness (and how to help them overcome them). But I found myself praying mostly over my own weaknesses.... My main weakness as a Mom is selfishness. I like having my own time to read and to write. And for once it would be nice to get to watch a movie from start to end without a million interruptions or having to show subtitles for "the hearing impaired" because all the noise my kids make means I qualify for "hearing impaired."

And with so many things needing to get done, it's hard to focus time on my kids when I have so little time just for myself. But this book certainly inspires me to keep trying. It's worth it.

So this coming week when Blaze bugs me to listen to one of her "stories", I will stop and listen to her... for at least 15 minutes. Lately she's been wanting me to help her "write" her stories, too. I'm tickled - she wants to be a writer, like me! Now if only I could get her to want to be devoted to the Lord, like me. Whoops, am I really all that devoted to the Lord? In theory, yes. In reality... questionable if you see where I spend most of my time - doing "me" things. I'm going to hold my babies more, and tickle Dreamer more. And somehow find some time to spend with my husband too.

I've already skimmed over that "Love & Respect" book and, in honor of Valentine's Day, I have something special planned for my hubby. I'm definitely better at showing him love, than I am showing him respect. So I need to pray more about the respect part. Respect doesn't not come naturally to me. But like love, respect shouldn't have to be earned. It should be freely given... but it takes a humble person to give someone respect when they don't appear to deserve it. I truly want to be not just a more loving person, but also a more humble person.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

if only all birthdays were like this one!

So far this is starting up to be an awesome birthday. Yesterday I got a present in the mail from K.A. - somehow she managed to get me a SIGNED copy of "Diapers, Pacifers and Other Holy Things" (this is the BEST book for any mom with toddlers and preschoolers!) - not only was it a signed book, but the author actually signed it personally for me with my name. (only other signed book I've ever got was from an Elizabeth Berg novel that MAC got for me).

Then first thing this morning when I slouched down to the kitchen in dire need of caffeine, I find a birthday card my stepdaughter left for me (poor thing, she has to leave for her bus before the rest of us are up!) She had made it herself out of her scrapbooking pages and called it "A trip down memory lane," with a special memory from each year she has known me, all the way back to four years old.

Later when daughter 1 and daughter 2 got up they each had cards for me, too (big Sis had helped them make them). And Blaze had made me a "book" - a bunch of pictures she drew for me, pictures of our house, all of us sitting at a table with a birthday cake, etc. I'm going to get it scanned and add it to my screen savers/wallpaper. Daughter 3 and daughter 4 didn't have anything special for me when they woke up, except lots of smiles, and no smelly diapers, FOR ONCE.

Then on the way to work today KLOVE played five great songs right in row. Heard Todd Agnew's "My Jesus" for the frist time this morning - it gives me shivers! Then Made To Love (Toby Mac), God With Us (MercyMe), You Carried Me (Building 429), Nothing Compares (Third Day)... I wanted to hang out in my car a moment longer to see if they'd play Amazing Grace My Chains Are Gone (Chris Tomlin) that would have made it the ultimate set- but as it was, my heart was singing praises to our AWESOME GOD!

Then when I checked my email this morning, MAC had left me a virtual sparkly birthday cake on MySpace. Love you, MAC!

Friday, February 1, 2008

thing 1 and thing 2

Twin update! (very little about writing will be mentioned in this blog)
So their hair isn't quite as long (or blue) as Thing 1 and Thing 2, but in many other respects Anne & Grace are remarkably similar to Dr. Suess's house-wreckers. Their hair is getting long enough now that I have to watch my husband very carefully to make sure he doesn't do what he did to the first child: cut her bangs 3 mm from her scalp (and crooked, too). To try to prevent such a cruelty from occuring, I pull up all their hair away from their faces into a little "fountain", Bam-Bam style. A friend's comment at this punk-preschool style was, "they look like Thing 1 and Thing 2" from Cat in the Hat. So now that is their new nickname. Anne is definately Thing 1, the leader. And Grace is the faithful follower into all sorts of mischief, including playing in the dog's water bowl, dragging toilet paper all around the upstairs hall, pulling books off the shelves, chewing DVDs, tearing pages out of books, trying to press keys on my computer when I'm not looking... well, at least they are not into flying kites in the house yet.

And they really are much, much cuter than the Dr. Suess version. I love having twins! (a year ago I would have never dreamed I'd be saying this).

Okay, back to writing. Several more word wars and one very late night reminiscent of NANOWRIMO have resulted in several thousands words this week, plus lots of editing because I keep getting these cool ideas that I have to go back and fit into the stuff already written.
Writer's group critiqued chapters 15-19 last night and other than pointing out a few confusing sentences, they were all very pleased and keen to read more. I love my fellow writers. We got to talking about our favorite Far Side cartoons, our favorite writing spoofs ("avoid cliches like the plague" "If I were an evil warlord, I would never..."), April fool's pranks (got some good ideas for this year: drop bears, hoop snakes, and locking computers with annoying screen savers), and all sorts of other amusing things such as a sign at a massage parlor: "Acupuncture: $60. Not so accurate puncture: $2".

Thursday, January 24, 2008

back on track, gaining momentum

Started writing again, finally. It took a "word war" to get started again. Learned about this simple motivational technique from NANWRIMO. Get together with another writer friend (N.L.) choose how long you plan to write (we tried 10 minutes for starters), and then - race to see who can type the most words in the given time period. For our first word war, I only managed a painful 220 words (N.L. achieved over 500, and what she shared was good writing, too). I fared a little better in our next word war, which was 25 minutes, 620 words. Provided enough inspiration to start writing on my own again. I typed over 1000 words last night.

I do have another motivation, though. My stepdaughter asked to read my book. I warned her it wasn't finished yet, and parts of it were still really rough. But she blazed through the first 200 pages in one day, and has devoured the subsequent 80 pages I fed her (the rough draft from November). So now I am scrambling to get more written. She's had a couple suggestions for changes (one I liked immediately: it opens up more possibilities for a sequel), but for the most part she seems to really like my book. At least, she says she does. And as fast as she's reading it, it's not boring her. Another good sign: she's the target age I'm writing for.
Enough blog writing. Gotta save the words for the real stuff.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Busy moms finding time to write

Well, I actually opened the Word document that accumulated over 38,000 words in November... scrolled to the end of it, looked at the last thing I wrote, and sighed. I told myself "Just write one sentence. You can DO it! Just one little sentence!"
But I failed, yet again, to even accomplish something as trivial as an average 12 word sentence.
Okay, so this week I'm blaming it on the arrival of my stepdaughter and getting her room set up and getting her started at the Junior High. She has decided to try living with us again, brave soul. Within less than a day of her arrival, she got me sucked into this new series she's reading about vampires. (Yes, I am a believing, born again, Bible-thumping Christian, but I do have a weakness for vampire stories).

Twilight is a love story between a vampire and a high school girl. The thing that makes it really intriguing (and also a best seller, I think) is the vampire both loves the girl and lusts after her blood. So there is a constant tension in their relationship. The book itself was about average as far as writing quality, but the writer part of me was actually more interested in the author's statement of how she came write the book. She is also a mother with small children – three boys, in her case. She said she wrote every night after she put them to bed, and the rest of the day she kept a notebook at her side constantly so as ideas occurred she could jot them down. She finished the book in 6 months, and it's no small book – 500 pages. I wouldn't have thought it possible for a mother of small children, if I hadn't just successfully written 38,000 words in one month. (At that rate, I could write a 500 page book in four months!)

But, the bottom line is, as fun as it is to come up with ideas, it ain't going to amount to much unless I start WRITING. Put the butt in the chair and keep it there until something gets done.