Easy Answers…or Deep Questions?

Easy Answers…or Deep Questions?

When a family is made up of a novelist wife and her publisher/filmmaker husband, there are a lot of conversations in the house about story–what makes them powerful, what makes them fail. What makes them lasting, what makes them forgettable.

A few weeks ago as David and I were chatting about some books and films we were reading and watching, we were musing about what the problem was with a certain one, and David said, “I think it’s that it just gives us the answer. The writers didn’t set out to explore a topic–they set out to give a canned answer. But that’s too easy, and ‘too easy’ doesn’t ever ring true. That’s why it’s a fail.”

Over the decades, I have heard Christian fiction called “preachy” soooooo many times–by fellow Christians. At first this puzzled me. I mean, I would get it if non-believers were turned off by any faith message and called it “preachy.” But fellow Christians? Why would they toss a book aside in disgust because it was “preachy”? They like preaching! They go every week for a dose of it, right? LOL.

Then I began to really pay attention to what stories earned that label and why. Sometimes it was that there were literally sermons in the novels that weren’t really necessary…but that was rare. Sometimes it was that a character seriously preached at another character…but that wasn’t always it.

Many times–perhaps even most times–it was exactly the thing my husband pointed out in our conversation. It was that the whole book seemed to be just handing us an answer–a pat, cliche, easy answer.

Life, faith, truth, though…those aren’t easy. They’re complicated. They’re involved. They’re DEEP. So shouldn’t our stories about them be too?

When I enrolled at St. John’s College (The Great Books School), I remember the first day of science lab. Our tutor (professor) said that the goal of the class was not to learn facts. The goal of the class was to learn how to ask good questions. In many ways this is the main goal of the entire St. John’s education. When it was put into words like that, though, I know very well I frowned and looked over at the students next to me. Learn how to ask questions? What was this guy talking about? We ALL know how to ask questions!

Half an hour later, I realized I didn’t. My education had never taught me that. My education had simply taught me how to absorb facts and spit them back out on a test. Not how to discover. Not how to explore a topic. The example from that first lab class was this: go outside. Sit in front of something growing. Now start describing it. We began with, “It’s a tree.” To which our tutor replied, “Is it? How do you know? How do you know it isn’t a bush instead? Or an herb?” And so on it went, not just in that class, but through four years of classes on all subjects. We learned that answers are only part of learning. Just as important, if not more important, are the questions that lead us there, and that lead us onward. To the next discovery. The next Truth. The next good question.

And the stories that really resonate do the same thing–they don’t just lay out a quick, easy answer to some topic that the author wanted to hammer on. No, no. Good stories–whether non- or fiction, book or film or article–ask questions. They make us ask questions. Good questions. DEEP questions. They invite us to ponder, to view a subject from a perspective we’ve never considered before. They make us sit back and go “Huh. Wow.” They open our minds and our hearts to new possibilities.

That’s the magic of story. More, it’s the importance of questions.

Try it in your own conversations or studies sometime, I dare you–it’s so much fun, and so enlightening! Instead of a Bible study being all about the presentation of facts, start with an “opening question,” like we did in each class at St. John’s. And then explore it. See where it takes you. See what amazing thing the Lord reveals through delving past the accepted and expected, past the pat and easy answers. See what depths you discover. And see how much closer you draw to Him and how much richer the world looks when you do.

A Storytelling People

A Storytelling People

We are a storytelling people. It only takes a look at modern society to see the truth of it. Our advertisements, our movies, our books, our games…we love them and are persuaded by them not because they tell us facts or make promises. We are persuaded and enchanted when they tell us a story we can believe in.

I love this about humanity. I love that story often matters more than a mere recitation of fact. That is, after all, what I make my living on–telling YOU stories that will show a bit of God’s truth through my fictional words. I love it because I recognize how powerful such things are in my own life, my own heart. A history book that just presents a list of facts? Forget about it. But one that tells me about the lives–the stories–of the people who lived…those stay with me. They teach me. They help me to understand situations and cultures and people unlike me. It’s why I began Seeing the Story, it’s why I’m a novelist.

But there’s another side to being a storytelling people too–there’s a dangerous side. Have you ever paused to think about that?

The term today is “anecdotal evidence,” which probably makes most scientist cringe, LOL. But it’s something we put a LOT of stock in. Because they’re stories. Stories about people we know, or who are known by people we know, or on down the line. Anecdotal evidence comes in compelling packages and can never be disproven, because it exists only in the realm of story, really. Track down the actual person, and you may find facts quite different from the anecdote you heard (we all know that “telephone” game, right?)

I came across this years ago when I was doing research for The Reluctant Duchess. I needed a character to think she had miscarried a child. She fell a few days before. Could this cause a miscarriage? When I looked it up, I was shocked to see that doctors say, “No. Highly unlikely.” At least for the kind of fall I was talking about. But that’s not what I’d heard over the years. How could that be? Well, because there are anecdotes of women falling and then miscarrying. Surely it was linked! But was it? The sad truth is that a certain percentage of pregnancies end in miscarriage. And it’s also true that a certain percentage of people trip and fall every day. There’s going to be overlap there, but that doesn’t necessitate cause.

But a hurting heart doesn’t care about statistics. A hurting heart wants a reason. And so we seek them. We latch hold of whatever makes most sense to us. And we tout it as truth.

This can be so dangerous though. This can lead so quickly to “Mary and I got in an argument, and she scowled at my garden, and the next day it withered! She’s a witch!”

We may shake our head at witch trials in the literal sense today, but there’s a reason they’re part of our history–it’s because they’re so indicative of our natures. We tell ourselves stories…and we believe them. We act on them. We teach them as truth. And if scientific evidence ever dares to disagree, which do we believe?

The one with the most compelling story.

Now, I’m a storyteller–I am not a scientist. So my natural inclination is always to go with the stories. But I’ve had to teach myself over the years to check that impulse when it comes to certain things. Health, medicine, technology, just to name a few. Because though I can tell a great story about how all the computers in the house rebelled at the same time and come up with a really great conspiracy theory as to why…let’s be realistic. It’s just a coincidence. Me telling stories about how software corporations are out to get me is not helpful, LOL.

Which then makes me ask the same about other stories I tell, other stories I hear. Are they true…or just compelling? Do they have actual fact behind them? Do they agree with documented studies, if it’s a field that has such things? If not, then I need to favor fact above anecdote.

Because trust me, I know the power of words, of story. And that’s why I know how important it is to use them wisely.

Have you ever been convinced by a story just because it’s compelling, only later to learn it’s totally untrue? Are there any cases of anecdotal evidence floating around your world today that you need to investigate more closely? I hope we can remind each other to do that. Because loving stories is one thing–but we need to be careful we’re loving the right ones. The ones that speak of Truth.

Fruit

Fruit

Not going too far back for today’s throwback post…Revisiting FRUIT. Original Post Published February 27, 2020.

We love fruit in our family. Fresh fruit, canned fruit, dried fruit, jammed fruit, fruit from our own garden, or fruit from the other side of the world. We love citrus fruit, stone fruit, berries… Fruit can be a taste of the familiar or the tang of the exotic. We love to eat it raw, to bake it into recipes, to puree it into smoothies. Last week, I even learned to make homemade fruit roll-ups. With a kiddo who despises vegetables, fruit is often the way I get much-needed nutrients into all of us. And a much-appreciated taste of yumminess too.

Fruit is a pretty amazing thing. As a homeschool mom, I’ve had the opportunity to study it with my kids in our science classes. And as a Christian, I of course read about it a lot in the scriptures. For instance, take this passage from Colossians 1:3-6

3 We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, 4 since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of your love for all the saints; 5 because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel, 6 which has come to you, as it has also in all the world, and is bringing forth fruit, as it is also among you since the day you heard and knew the grace of God in truth… (NKJV, emphasis mine)

Photo by Heather Barnes on Unsplash

To take out some of the phrases there for focusing purposes, that says “because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, which you heard in the gospel, which is bringing forth fruit.”

Now, anyone who knows me even a little knows that hope and I are good friends. I’m not only an optimist, I’m a see-the-good-in-everyone sort of person, a cling-to-hope-at-all-costs sort of girl. So any time the word is mentioned in the Bible, my spiritual ears perk right up. As we were discussing this passage in our Bible study last week, my mind kept circling around those particular words. Hope comes from the Gospel…the Gospel brings forth fruit.
As we talked about what this fruit is, it’s easy to come up with the usual answer: spreading that same Good News to others so that they can believe too. Yes, absolutely.
But, with memories of strawberries and blueberries and mango and peaches still fresh in my mind from my fruit roll-up making adventure a couple days before, I had to look at this a little more closely.
In other passages, we hear of the Gospel message as a seed. It’s planted, watered, fed. As it sprouts, the seed itself passes away and becomes a plant. It’s no longer a seed at all–it’s changed. Transformed. Why? So that it can become something more.
I love that it’s likened to a fruit-bearing plant though. Because part of the very nature of a plant is to spread its seeds. WHY do we bear fruit? Love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control? For OTHERS.
One of the things I learned in our science class is that the plant itself doesn’t benefit at all from the fruit it bears. The sole purpose of it is to be delicious. Alluring. To appeal to animals so that they come, eat it, and thereby transport the seeds elsewhere, so that they’re deposited far and wide and the plant can find new life somewhere else.
Photo by Brian Jimenez on Unsplash

So what is the purpose of us learning to produce those fruits of the Spirit? Not for our own sake–for His. So that others come, smell the fragrance of His peace, see the beauty of His love, taste the perfection of His Joy. Our job as Christ followers is to share those things with anyone who walks by hungry. So that they eat of it, and the seed nestles deep inside. So that He can water it and it can grow. And so that then that person too can experience the transformative power of God and turn from fallow ground with a dried up seed inside to a life-giving, thriving tree spreading out their limbs and offering His love to others.

I’d always considered the Fruits of the Spirit to be things we should want for our own sakes; or for their own sakes. Because they’re, well, good. Because they’ll make us better people. Holier. More worthy of Him. And that’s certainly true…
But that’s only half the story, isn’t it? The other half isn’t about us at all. It’s about THEM. The other people in our world. Our spouses and children, our parents and grandparents, and our aunts, uncles, and cousins. Our friends, our neighbors, the strangers in the grocery store. The drivers who cut us off and the customer service rep who won’t listen. The homeless man begging for money on the street corner. The mother desperate for clean water in Africa.
Each and every one of them needs the fruit–because that fruit carried the seeds of the Gospel, and that’s where our hope is found.
I don’t know about you, but that changes my perspective a bit on why I should be working hard to be the person He wants me to be.
And it makes me look at my beloved fruit differently too. My daughter and I joke that the orange marmalade we made is “sunshine in a jar” (because seriously!)–but it’s not only that. In a way, it’s hope in a jar too. A reminder that the goodness of others is our nourishment…and that our own ought to be theirs in return.

The Mismatched

The Mismatched

A little throwback post today…Talking about the mismatched Original Post Published June 2, 2016.

When I got married, I filled out a registry. A wish list. It had on it all the things one would expect–dishes and cookware, sheets and towels.

All of them, sets. Matching.

Off-white plates with flowers around the edges. Matching cups. A set of cutlery. Glasses that complemented. Things designed carefully to look good beside each other. That wore a uniform. That were all the same in their perfection.

Over the years, plates and bowls and glasses have gotten broken. Cutlery has, somehow or another, vanished. This piece and that piece have been lent out and forgotten. Over the years, our collection of dishes has been subtracted from and added to.

Now it’s a hodgepodge. It’s a mixture. A motley array of mismatched this-and-that.

And I love it.

I’ve heard before (though I don’t honestly remember from whom) the statement, “I just want dishes that match!” At the time, I commiserated. This seems like a good thing, you know?

But when I pause to think about it . . . which coffee cup is my favorite? The Disney mug I bought for myself when I was 14. The one that has no match. Is part of no set. The one that’s unique. It fits my hand, and I like how much it holds. I’ve even caught myself, when in a rental house for vacation or in my church kitchen, always seeking out a mug that’s different. That won’t be confused with anyone else’s. That’s unique and inviting.

Still, I was somewhat surprised when my kids, a couple years ago, began the following conversation:

Rowyn: “Can I have that spoon instead of this one? That one’s my favorite.”
Xoe: “Really? I don’t have a favorite spoon. But I have a favorite fork. It’s the one with the stars on it.”
Rowyn: “You can have that one. I like the little one with the flowers.”

I smiled as I heard them talking oh-so-seriously about which of the mismatched cutlery they preferred. Why?

Because they both favored the unique pieces. The one-of-a-kind ones. Yes, that’s part of it.

But also because only then did I realize that their favorites were my least favorites. That the ones that don’t please me aesthetically for one reason or another, they find beautiful.

And that this is something I never would have learned in this particular way if all my silverware still matched.

When we’re surrounded by the same, we’re not given the chance to find our preferences. When we have only that perfect set, there isn’t room for individuality. When everything matches, nothing stands out. Not that there’s anything wrong with a matching set of dishes, LOL. It’s certainly a handy way to buy something you need.

But there’s something so beautiful in the mismatched. There’s something freeing. Something encouraging.

Because I don’t know about you, but I don’t quite fit in a set. Right? We’re all a little different. A little off. A little bigger or smaller or cracked. We’re different colors. Different shapes.

And that’s how we’re supposed to be. Because different people find different things beautiful. We have different needs. My favorite will not be yours, necessarily. And that’s good. That’s right. We all appreciate different facets of this beautiful world. For different reasons that invite us in different ways.

God didn’t create much of anything in neat, orderly sets. He created a wild profusion of beauty. He created the this-and-that. The hodgepodge. Mismatched. Mountains and valleys, rivers and seas, deserts and rain forests. And He declared it good.

I’ll probably never have a matching set of dishes again, much less cutlery or glasses. And you know what?

It’s good.

Where Risk and Faith Meet

Where Risk and Faith Meet

I want to talk today about where risks and faith meet. And how we walk the line between “foolish for Christ” and just foolish. I’m not saying I have all the answers on where that line is…but I am saying we all need to ask the questions, and I think I’ve seen a good indicator of what those questions should be.

Faith, by nature, both starts from logic and then defies it. We can reason our way to many aspects of faith, and we can certainly talk intelligently about it. But there does come a point where logic says “play it safe,” and faith says, “take a risk and trust God.” This is a crucial part of true faith—that letting go of our own understanding and flinging ourselves into the arms of Christ. He will ask each of us to do that at some point, or at many points. Honestly, I believe the more we do it, the more He invites us to do it. The more He’ll stretch out His hand and say, “Okay, good…now follow me here too.”

But I’ve never read where Christ asked the disciples, or the apostles asked the early church, to trust in Him for their own convenience. I’ve never seen where He instructs us to assume God will make everything okay so that we can go out and seek our own will. No. He says we’ll be okay when we’re seeking His will. And “okay” may not mean what we think it does. It may not mean security or health or wealth as the world defines it. It merely means that whatever we have—be it plenty or nothing, be it pain or joy, be it health or illness—He will make us able to face it. That’s what that “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me” verse is about. Facing, living with, living through any circumstance.

And God’s will for the Church is clear: serve others. Sacrifice for them. Take risks to show them His love.

When the servants of the medieval church went out into plague-ridden Europe, it was not for their own pleasure. They weren’t doing what they wanted to do–they were going out to risk their own lives to serve those who needed it. Their top and perhaps only priority was to visit the sick and do what they could to relieve their suffering. They took great risks to accomplish this. Sometimes God protected them. Sometimes He didn’t. But they went out knowing that if they lived, it was to serve another day, and if they died, it meant being with Him.

We hear amazing stories of missionaries who have seemingly super-human immunities as they serve God in the bush…and just as many stories of missionaries who die or nearly die in that same service. We have stories of people overcoming all odds in service to Him, and stories of people who give up the fight on earth to go on to reign in heaven. This is our reality, friends—faith comes with risks, and sometimes the rewards are earthly, but other times they’re heavenly. The question, though, is this: WHY are we taking the risks? Is it to serve Him? To love others? To relieve their suffering?

Or is it for our own convenience and pleasure?

I’m going to get pointed, and this is where I’m going to offend some of you. I’m sorry if I cause offense—but if you have an emotional reaction to what I’m about to say, please, please do this. Ask yourself why. Why are your emotions tangled up in this? I’ll talk about why mine were, and why I decided to reevaluate them. If you’re reading this later, here’s some context—I’m writing this in the summer of 2021, during a new height of the Covid pandemic. Infection rates are at an all-time high, mask mandates are coming back, vaccines are available but widely eschewed by the faith community. I’m not going to talk about vaccines or their safety, masks or their effectiveness. What I’m going to talk about is how the prevailing stance by the American church is affecting our ability to proclaim Christ.

Let me tell you my personal story. When mask mandates started appearing in 2020, I thought they were stupid. I went out looking up articles that debunked their effectiveness (even though I only found 1 for every 100 saying they were effective). I avoided Maryland, where they were required, and did my shopping in West Virginia, where they weren’t (I live on the border, so this isn’t actually going out of my way, LOL). I laughed about it. I didn’t care. I was convinced I was right simply because I wanted it to be true. I did what I wanted … then I saw a plea from a good friend of mine with immunodeficiency. A plea to think of people like her—people who always have to live with such care, but who cannot even step foot outside her house now as long as other people are being careless. And I was struck.

My stance was all about me. My convenience, my inclinations, what I wanted. My stance had nothing at all to do with my friend or the millions of people in similar situations. Ouch. I wasn’t loving my neighbor. I was only loving myself. I was thinking about whether I got sick…not about whether I was responsible for getting someone else sick.

And that isn’t okay.

Then came the hard question: why? Why was I so determined that my want be right and their statistics be wrong? I had no good answer. So I just asked God to give me eyes to see them and a heart to love them above my own comfort. I tried to think about how I would feel if I was the one who passed Covid to someone who died from it, when I could have prevented it with a few simple steps. And I realized that this is a very simple way of loving my neighbor. Protecting them from me, even when they aren’t protecting themselves.

Then my son was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. This doesn’t put him at a higher risk to catch any illness, but what it does mean is that ANY illness—even the ones that healthy people just get over in 3 days—could land him in the hospital. That was when Mama Bear Mode really kicked in and I started noticing people’s actions. And what I noticed really saddened me. That the “world,” those with no faith to speak of, were doing all in their power to keep my child safe…but the Church, who should be thinking first and foremost of others, were the last to do so and only did it under duress. So many were where I’d been at the start but hadn’t yet had that moment of conscience. Not ALL, of course. But when I opened social media or listened to quite a lot of friends, that’s all I was hearing. What they wanted. What risks they deemed acceptable to themselves.

Why did my fellow Christians not love my son? Not love my friend? Not love the millions of people at higher risk than them? Why were my fellow Christians chanting “my rights” above “our love through Christ”? Why were we more concerned with our convenience than in how it destroyed Christ in the eyes of that scared and hurting world? Because it does, my friends. They are afraid. They see a monster wanting to devour them, and they don’t see us fighting it. When mask mandates changed to “don’t wear them if you’re vaccinated, keep wearing them if you aren’t,” I heard countless Christians say, “How will they know? It’s my risk, I’ll take it.”

The world saw that. The world was horrified. Because the world said, “It’s not about the risk to YOU. It’s about the risk you pose to everyone else.” And they’re not wrong. We are the ones supposed to be more concerned for them than ourselves. We’re supposed to be the ones taking risks to help—not to hurt.

The world should not look at us and see people willing to risk THEIR lives for OUR comfort. They should look at us and see people willing to risk OUR lives for THEIR souls.

This is not what I see when I look around at a lot of the church today. More importantly, it’s not what the world is seeing either. I was not showing them I was a risk-taker-for-Christ last year when I laughed and went looking for facts to back up what I wanted to be true; I was only showing them that I was selfish and didn’t care whether I got them sick. That’s something I regret. Something of which I’ve repented. Something I work hard to avoid now.

I am not a fan of “safetyism”—when we try so hard to protect people, especially our children, that we hinder their emotional and mental growth and make them risk-averse (this word is used in an amazing book I talked about in this post). But there is a line. There are risks to take and risks it’s better to avoid, and the real trick is figuring out where that line is. This is why we shouldn’t put our kids in a bubble, but we DO teach them to wash their hands. (Did you know that the first doctor to ask people to wash their hands when they came into his ward was FIRED for his audacity? The hospital board thought he was infringing on the rights of the employees. How dare he!) This is why we don’t say “never get in a car, people die in car accidents!” but we DO wear seat belts. Doing those small actions doesn’t mean we’re faithless—it means we’re smart and focused on true risk-taking. That’s just safety, not “safetyism.”

So where is the line in this situation? That’s what each of us have to decide, and certainly there are good, valid reasons to have avoided what’s a risk to you and yours. I’d never say there isn’t. The question I hope we all ask ourselves, though, is whether where we draw the line affects our ability to work for Christ.

We know that the world will always call us foolish, yes—foolish because our faith values eternal good above earthly good. But we do NOT want to be seen the kind of foolish that results in harm for ourselves or others. Let people call us fools for rushing to the rescue of dying souls even when it means risking our lives. Not for risking those souls for our own benefit. And here’s the tricky part—it isn’t just about our own opinion, not when it comes to serving others. How are THEY seeing your decisions? And how does that impact their view of Christianity?

I want to be able to serve others. Therefore I will do whatever I can to put THEM above ME. This is a lesson I learned from seeing my friend trapped at home and suffering for more than a year. This is a lesson I learned sitting in the PICU of a children’s hospital with my son and being told they would see us again, because he’d get sick, and that’s what happens. This is a lesson I learned when I looked out at the world and saw a Church ruled by fear—fear of government, fear of losing their rights, fear of losing power. And I saw a world ruled by bitterness toward us for putting them at risk. I am not afraid of sickness, I am not afraid of death—for me. But I should not be the cause of it in others just because I’m stubborn and focused on what I want instead of what they need.

This is the lesson I have learned through all of this. This is the journey I’ve taken from “what I want to be true” to “how my opinions on what’s true affect my ability to serve others for Christ.” Maybe your journey has been different, maybe you arrived at different conclusions, even. But in my house, our rule has become, “We will not take risks with this disease just for our own entertainment—shopping, visiting, birthday parties and so on. But we WILL take risks where necessary to serve God and do what he’s called us to do.” We take what safety measures we can, we do what is possible to protect not only our son but everyone else. And then we trust.

We don’t have to agree on our every stance on this stuff. But we DO all have to ask ourselves the same questions. Are we concerned with US…or with THEM? Because if the risks we take are only for our own convenience and comfort, then there is no glory in that in the eyes of God. Faith and risk are only aligned when they involve reaching others for Him.

Where do risk and faith meet? In service to Him. And ONLY in service to Him.

39 Things

39 Things

Last year I had great fun with my “38 Things” post, and on my anniversary in June I had a blast with “20 things” about marriage. So of course, I have to keep up the tradition and give you “39 Things” from this past year. =) My birthday is on Saturday, but I figure I’ll post it a couple days early so it’s on my usual day. These are in pretty much random order, but here we go. Let’s dive in!

1. I’m now a D-Mom
For those of you with no reason to know, that means a mom of a Type 1 Diabetic. This is without question the biggest change of the last year, and one I certainly didn’t plan on or want…but which has had some surprising blessings. My son Rowyn, 12 at the time, was life-flighted to Pittsburgh Children’s Hospital on September 26, 2020, in what’s called DKA–Diabetic Keto-Acidosis. Basically, his body had decided to attack the insulin-producing cells in his pancreas, which means he can no longer produce his own insulin, which in turn means his cells can’t get the sugars they need to survive. To compensate he began to break down fats, which released an acid called ketones into his body; normal people can then burn those ketones, but that requires insulin, which he was no longer producing, so instead they built up in his system and became toxic. After 5 days in the hospital, we emerged equipped to handle this new insulin-dependent life. It was quite a learning curve. I was exhausted for months. But as we approach 1 year of living with diabetes, I’m getting to the point where I’m not just seeing the struggles and the work and the exhaustion…I’m also seeing how strong and responsible Rowyn has become, I’ve seen the encouragement and support within the diabetic community, and I’ve learned so much. The biggest of which has nothing to do with counting carbs or calculating insulin doses. No, it’s more…

2. We All Have a Thing
Living with something as life-altering as insulin-dependent diabetes has shown me that we all have a “thing.” Something we struggle with. Something we battle. Something that’s shaped us. Something that brings us to our knees before the Lord. Something we’re passionate about. Something we’re willing to stand up and fight for. And we don’t generally understand each other’s “thing” until or unless we live it for ourselves. But we CAN. We can understand, at the very least, that we each have something like this, even if we don’t know the details of living with it. We can be more compassionate. We can give people the benefit of the doubt. We can ask questions, not only about the struggles of those around us, but about how we can help and support each other. And we can know, no matter what the mountain we’re climbing, that God will use it to shape us into the people He needs us to be to do the work He’s called us to do.

3. Checking In
For the last year-ish, my best friend/critique partner Stephanie and I have been doing weekly check-ins. Now, let me explain, LOL. We chat via Google Chat pretty much every day. But each Friday, we’ve been having a set time to talk specifically about the work we’ve done in the past week and share our goals for the week to come. Often we’ll do this over Zoom, so we actually get to see each other, which is nice. And the practice has proven SO HELPFUL! Not only does having a list of goals for each week help keep us on track, but listing out what we’ve actually done helps us to see that those weeks that feel frustrating and unproductive usually aren’t…but that sometimes we didn’t accomplish as much as we thought we did, too. Having it all in writing, and then sharing it with a friend who holds us accountable, is just a fabulous practice, and one I look forward to continuing indefinitely.

4. 25 Books and Counting
Last year I’d mentioned turning in my 25th book to my publisher. Well, this year I get to say I officially have 25 titles in print…and more in the works.

5. Ongoing Harry Potter-dom
Last year I’d mentioned that I’d begun reading the Harry Potter series, largely because I was tired of not knowing what people were talking about. 😉 I’d listened to the first couple on audio and was enjoying them but not in love or anything. Well, at this point I’ve read six of the seven, and I’m a much more avid fan! I’m making myself space them out and read other things in between, but wow–the series really does get better and better as they go. I’ve switched from audio to paperbacks, and I have to say, though, that those enormous later books put a real strain on my wrist, LOL. 😉

6. My Happy Place
Sometimes, the moment you come up with an idea, you know it’s a winner. That was the case with the “My Happy Place” design I created last autumn. I promptly put it on tees, totes, and even a coffee mug, and I said, “I think these will be popular.” I was right! Within weeks of announcing it, this design outsold everything else I’ve done. And I gotta say, I wear my long-sleeved tee constantly in cool weather, and we fight over who gets the mugs each day. 😉

7. Another story nearly 20 years in the making
I have so many unpublished books just lounging around my computer, but none so dear to me as the one I’ve called Yesterday’s Tides. I wrote it originally as a contemporary right after graduating college in 2004, and for years I’ve been contemplating how to best turn it into a historical, going so far as to plant my hero in my codebreaking world of Room 40. 😉 And I am SO THRILLED that this year I sold the book to Bethany House! I’ll start writing it next month, and I cannot wait!!

8. These Pretzels
I tried these Prince & Spring peanut butter filled pretzels from Boxed.com on a total whim a few months ago–I needed a few more dollars in my order to qualify for free shipping. And oh my gracious. The whole family is addicted. These are by far the best PB-filled pretzels I’ve ever had and we keep joking that we could just eat nothing else all day and be totally happy. (Haven’t tried that yet, but seriously…)

9. Seeing the Story
The events of the last year combined in my head with the release of Dreams of Savannah and the writing of To Treasure an Heiress, both of which touch on how we’re shaped by stories. Not just fictional ones, but also the ones that brought our families and communities to where we are today. These thoughts led me to create Seeing the Story, a site where YOU can share your stories either in writing or as an audio or video recording. It’s still growing, but I really believe in the idea!

10. 20 Years
This year David and I celebrated 20 years of marriage! Woot! You can read my musings on that here. =)

11. We Have a Driver!
Xoe turned 15 this year, which in West Virginia means she can get her learner’s permit. Which she has done. =) So this summer especially, we’re working on teaching our girl how to drive, which I’ll admit is terrifying–not because she isn’t doing a fabulous job, but…yeah, you get it. How is she old enough for this??

12. Dreaming Big
Last summer David and I both read Dream Big by Bob Goff and loved it SO MUCH that we ended up doing the workshop with our church and then hosting an online version too. What a blessing! We love to explore what God-given dreams are in our hearts and help others to do the same.

13. Dexcom
Another diabetes-related one, yes. 😉 Blood sugars in a Type 1 are constantly fluctuating, which can be dangerous. We have to check them frequently…or get a continuous monitor to do it for us. We now have the Dexcom, one of those monitors, and it’s such a blessing! We can now look on our phone any minute and see what his blood sugar is, which means not only peace of mind, but the ability to be proactive. So grateful for this technology!

14. I have a kid who’s taller than me!
I’ve been waiting and waiting to be able to say this, and you wouldn’t think it would be too difficult, given that I am a towering (ahem) 5’3″. 😉 But Xoe actually stopped growing at 5’1″ so she could never claim this. Rowyn finally can though! Which means no more excuses not to put things away on the high shelves. 😉

15. Big Screen at Home
We’ve been trying to be intentional with our family time, so we decided it would be nice to have a way to watch shows and movies together. The TV we had in the living room is ancient and was in desperate need of replacing, which meant we seldom wanted to watch anything out there. So we decided to spend Christmas money on replacing it…and that for the price of a TV of the same size as the one we had, we could get a projector and screen. So we now have a true big screen in the living room, and we love it! It’s retractable, so other than when we’re actively watching, you wouldn’t know it was there. So cool.

16. The Expanse!!!
One of the things we’ve watched on said screen is The Expanse, a sci-fi show on Amazon Prime. And OH MY GOODNESS. The whole family was addicted, and we can’t wait for the next season. My best friend Stephanie tipped me off to this one, and she was so right. Not only is the plot riveting, the writing spectacular, and the cinematography spot-on, the characters are so well developed that they just stick with you forever. Love this show!

17. David working toward his dream
I’ve mentioned in various places how grateful I am that, after decades of supporting our family while I chased my dream, David finally gets to chase his. In addition to running our publishing company, he has a passion for film, and this last year he’s made some amazing strides toward realizing those dreams, including working with a ministry to produce their talk show, which goes out on 26 satellite networks, if I recall correctly. He’s also working on some projects of his own. So cool!

18. Xoe the makeup artist
While working on the above-mentioned show, the crew had need of a makeup artist, and our daughter Xoe got to go along with David several times now to train in and then actually do some for-the-camera makeup! She’s always loved makeup and what you can do with it, so this is really cool. Plus she’s learning all about TV production, which we decided counted as a high school class. 😉

19. And Xoe the artist
In addition to makeup, Xoe’s just a flat-out artist! She’s done illustrating for us before, but this year she had the chance to do a watercolor drawing for one of Chrism Press’s first releases. Here’s the sketch, and the cover too.

20. My new desk area
So after dreaming for a while about how nice it must be to have dedicated work space (I’ve been working from the kitchen table for 8 years), I eventually realized that the desk we had in the kitchen for Rowyn’s homeschooling was NEVER used for such, so why didn’t I just take that over?? I set it up in January, and it’s been amazing! I now have a beautiful view out the window, I can keep my stuff organized, and I don’t have to move everything off the table every night for dinner. YAY!!! (Downside: this desk belonged to the cats for the last 7 years, and they did not give it up graciously.)

21. My last year reading to Rowyn for school
So for the last 11 years, at least an hour of my day has been spent reading to my kids for school. We’ve used the Sonlight curriculum, which involves parent read-alouds up until 8th grade. I have loved doing this! But Rowyn just finished 7th grade, which means next year he’ll be entirely independent. No more Mama reading! Bittersweet. I’m going to miss it, but at the same time I’m glad to have more time for work and am proud that both kids have moved on to that level. =) Though I’m now going to be much more purposeful about checking their progress on other assignments! I was terrible about that this last year…

22. Keynoting
Ever since I attended my first writers conferences and listened to the amazing keynote speakers, I dreamed of someday being in a position to keynote. Ten years ago, I had no idea if or how that would ever happen. But it has! I received my first invitation to keynote for the Oregon Christian Writers fall 2020 conference…which obviously ended up online. And I ended up not doing any keynote addresses, just taught some classes and had a (wonderful) live Q&A session instead, which was a real blessing. And I’ve just received an invitation to keynote for the spring 2022 Lancaster conference, which (God willing) will be in person! I’m excited to speak to other writers…and it’s also just so humbling and amazing to realize that those goals I set so long ago are beginning to be realized.

23. Classes and Workshops
Last autumn I decided to record my classes on writing and offer them for sale on my website. It took me months to get them all recorded, but it was fun to do–and I’ve gotten some encouraging feedback from writers who have taken them! I’ve also discovered it’s handy to be able to direct conference directors to that page on my site to choose which classes of mine they’d like me to present in person. And also, for those who take the classes, I’ve been doing…

24. Live Q&As
I have live Q&As for my classes and all things writing-related via Zoom once a month, and those have been so much fun! I have a couple regulars who join me for these Wednesday night events, a few who have come once or twice, and regardless of how many of us there are, it’s always a fun conversation.

25. Xoe’s writing skill
And while I’m thinking about budding writers, it’s been a joy this last year to see Xoe fostering her love for writing too. She’s been working on sci-fi and fantasy novels, and when she lets me read them, I’m always impressed at her voice and talent.

26. Rowyn’s world-building
Rowyn, on the other hand, still hates reading and writing…but that doesn’t stop him from telling stories in his own way. He’s been building a multi-verse in his head for years and frequently builds bits and pieces of it in his video games. I love going back and seeing the remarkable buildings he’s created in Minecraft–almost always part of his storyworld. His media may be different from mine, but he’s living out his creativity regardless!

27. Star-gazing together on vacation
Last September the kids and I spent hours up on the rooftop deck of our rental house, star-gazing and talking about stories. It was an amazing time that I will cherish forever. Not just pulling up the starmap on my phone and identifying all the things we could see in the sky, though that was fun…but it was also the first time Rowyn told me about this multi-verse he’s been designing. He and Xoe were brainstorming together, playing with names suitable for galactic entities and locations, and I was just lying there grinning like an idiot to hear them.

28. Bittersweet book stuff–Culper Ring
Well, I’ve had another series go out of print. This is inevitable in the writing world, but it’s always bittersweet to get those rights handed back to me. It’s sad to sever my last official ties to Harvest House, a company I so enjoyed working with. But it’s also fun to get to design covers for the series myself and put them all up in my store.

29. New phones for all
We did not get our kids cell phones when they were younger. And in fact, we wouldn’t have gotten Rowyn one now, except that we had to for his Dexcom. Our original plan had been to get them each a flip-phone when they started driving (fewer distractions than a smart phone), but Ro needed a smart phone for that app, and we couldn’t exactly not get Xoe one then…and David and I both needed new phones to run the Dexcom Follow app too. So we all got new ones. And I admit, it’s nice to be able to call or text them when we’re apart and check in. =)

30. Racial Reconciliation
Last summer and fall I decided I wanted to be more proactive about learning about racism and racial reconciliation, so I’ve read quite a lot of books, joined some Facebook groups, and generally try to make conscious choices every day to consider my lens and how I can alter it. I admit that some of my efforts got a bit, er, interrupted by the advent of diabetes in our house around the same time, but it’s something I continue to think and pray about and look for ways to contribute meaningfully to.

31. Intentional
Not sure why I’m putting this so low on the list, ha ha, but my word of the year has been “intentional.” And I’m really making an effort day by day and week by week to live it out. I’m being more intentional about the spaces in my home and how to use them, about my time and how I’m spending it, about my foods, about my books and study, about my faith and prayer life, about my family…some parts were easier than others to do this with, but I do love looking back over the year thus far and seeing how I’ve made choices with purpose.

32. Keto
When my husband and I were talking about being intentional in January, I mentioned that I’d like to be more intentional with my food too. Yeah…I was failing at that pretty spectacularly, I’ll admit. And I was also getting steadily more tired and exhausted, despite sleeping enough hours. My muscles felt like lead when I tried to exercise, and I wasn’t sure what to do. My doctor verified that my thyroid levels were normal, so that just left me scratching my head. I did some research and kept coming across the keto diet–which I was familiar with a bit because my best friend’s son was on this medical diet for years to cure his epilepsy (and it did!). The keto diet resets your metabolism, so we decided it was worth a try to see what it could do for my energy. I’m only a couple weeks in, but thus far it’s going well. I’m spending a lot of time cooking homemade meals, and doing a LOT of math, but my energy levels are improving, I’m losing weight, and I’m honestly enjoying the foods. We only intend to do it for a few months, but I’m praying it accomplishes what I need it to!

33. My desk chair
This goes along with the dedicated desk I finally have. It also involves a real, honest-to-goodness desk chair! I’ve had this chair for years over at our office, but when I set up the desk in the kitchen, we decided to bring it over. Oh my gracious. After a decade of working every day from a kitchen chair, this thing feels divine. (The cats think so too–see the picture above.)

34. Passport renewals
This summer we had to get our passports renewed…which reminds me so clearly of the passing of time. We got our passports so that we could go to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls for our tenth anniversary…and then we got the kids’ passports in 2016 so we could all go to England and Paris for our 15th anniversary…and now another five years has gone by! And all those renewals came due at the same time. The new ones just came back to us, so we’re now free to roam about the world again. 😉

35. Painted edges!
One of the fun things I’ve stumbled into this year is painting the edges of my books. Xoe and I have been wanting to do this for over a year and finally started experimenting with it this spring. It is SO MUCH FUN! Also, I just adore how they’re turning out! They’re available for sale in my shop too. And have also inspired me to get…

36. Purple-foil certificates of authenticity!!
These things are so pretty they just deserve their own number on my list. Aren’t they cool?? I designed them and had them printed at a place specializing in foil printing, and they’re just gorgeous in person. Each hand-painted book gets one—signed, sealed, dated, and numbered! And also…

37. An Embosser
The certs also required (obviously) an embossed seal, so I also designed and purchased this cool stamp and embosser with my logo on it, and a roll of gold foil stickers. I felt so cool when I opened it, LOL.

38. Notes from readers
It’s not as though this is new from this year, but when I look back over the highlights of the last twelve months, many of them are the emails, letters in the mail, and messages on social media from people who have read my books and then gotten in touch to tell me how they touched them. So often we write in a bubble, and these notes are reminders that though the work is solitary while we’re doing it, the purpose is to reach out into the world. I’m always humbled and awed at how God uses my stories for His purposes.

39. One more year until 40…
In my head I think I’m still 28, but nope. One more year until I hit the big 4-0. I decided over a decade ago that I was always going to embrace my age, whatever it may be, so no hiding it around here! Still, the 30-decade has been pretty sweet. Here’s praying it wraps up well with a year full of joys!