I don't know about you but I've had to fight for creativity -- almost sometimes, it felt like too late. I see women like Maile Smucker doing it (read this wonderful piece by Shawn Smucker on making time for writing mothers) and I know that's my story, too.
I never thought of myself as a writer -- which is odd, I know, since I have a book coming out in October. But I've had to remember that all of me is okay to bring to the table. The analytical scholar, the feeling-focused inner child, the mother, the woman who likes leopard print, and the little girl who scrawled stories in a binder.
But motherhood -- perhaps especially in this day and age (we are judged at every turn for what makes a good mother) -- complicates our individual desires. Suddenly we are not just an "I," we are "we" -- a "we" more intimate than even with our spouses.
For Fathom Magazine, I wanted to explore how creativity is both something that helped bring me back to life (it birthed me anew) and also is something that always needs to be tied to our lived experience, concrete reality, and the everyday.
Here's a sampling:
But what of me? I was learning what it meant to be a body, but I’d lost my mind a bit in the process. After ten years, my PhD diploma that sat rolled up in a brown paper tube with Scottish postage on it. There was a beauty in pouring oneself out again and again in milk and blood. But something was missing and I wondered if it would ever return. Could I capture light and graceful sentences when I was covered in spit up for yet another year?
My creativity had turned into sleep schedules and feeding schedules, watching what my children ate and how it affected their behavior. Trying desperately to help them to read, imagine, play, believe, all the while the daily stuff of earth began choking me.
I had no story for a liturgy born from the body, for words that started and stopped, for grace that could drip, drip, drip even amongst dirty diapers and endless laundry. I felt guilty. So many women longed for babies and my cup runneth over.
But I was drowning.
So, a few years into motherhood, with four children aged six and under, I sat on our old greenish couch and began writing into the ether. I started a blog. There was no pressure: no grade, no one telling me what I’d forgotten, no one reading or looking over my shoulder. My husband bought me a Wordpress theme and a domain name and booked me a seat on a plane to a writers conference—all to find that girl who longed to fly.
This year, Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine's Day. The day of candy hearts, overpriced roses, and a whole host of feelings emerge on the same day that the church calendar calls us to gather in community, to reckon with our mortality, and to repent.
It's just the sort of confluence that gets me thinking and writing.
Memory is a strange thing — the way it picks and chooses what to remember, how it distorts and puts the puzzle of real life back together in its own way. On one particular Valentine’s Day in high school, I remember feeling more woman than girl, with a fancy red top. I met my boyfriend (now husband) at the bottom of the stairs, his flowers and photo collage in hand. His jaw dropped. We’d been a couple for six months, which of course is a lifetime in high school romances.
That was what romantic love was then — demonstrative acts of adoration, feeling sexy, clinging to another person to save you. It was fancy dinners and longing.
Love was not yet what it could and would be. It was but a shadow of what Love is.
Love looks different now. This year, twenty Valentine’s Days past that one, I’m going to be spending it in the parking lot of our local elementary school because this year, Valentine’s Day falls on Ash Wednesday. Since our church plant meets at the local elementary school and we can’t get space to meet mid-week, we’re meeting in the parking lot.
As the wife of the pastor, I first asked (not very nicely), “What? For real? We’re meeting in the parking lot?”
Yet, I suppose it makes sense — and in a way that is about more than just scheduling. What other space is as mundane, as common, as the asphalt at a local elementary school?
So, I will line up behind a bedraggled group of suburbanites in the local elementary school parking lot, trying to wrangle our kids so we can bring all of who we are to be marked by the reminder we too often forget: we are but dust and to dust we shall return.
If you're longing for your Lenten season to have purpose, or if you're curious about practicing Lent in positive life-giving ways, I've created "40 Ways to Love Your Suburb" and it's FREE just this week. To get it, enter your email and it'll come to you on Ash Wednesday -- whether or not you're gathering in a parking lot.
There are times in your life where all the good that you've taught your children may come home to roost. Where you realize you've been caught by the one or two good things you've imparted to your kids. These are the times when you see the tendency in your own self -- in this case, to be right -- as a joint failing. It's hard seeing sin passed down.
And yet on the other side of needing to be right -- or whatever your particular issue is -- there is, we pray, a pathway made. A path for us to walk as we both mature and grow. You're making the routes for the future you and the future child to walk alongside together.
And for that to happen you have to say I'm sorry.
You have to learn to let go.
Here's a bit of that story that's up today at The Mudroom:
We were walking in to church: my brood of children and I. I’d actually managed the impossible trifecta: hair done, makeup done, dressed appropriately (usually only one or two gets checked off the list daily). My three younger children were already hanging by their fingernails off of the plastic slide, but my eldest walked away in front of me, a bit sullen.
“You’re not owning up to it! You yelled at me,” he said, stomping off a few paces ahead of me.
He was, of course, referencing the time not five minutes previous where I’d deepened my voice to let him know his behavior was not on point. Reader, I hadn’t yelled, instead I’d deepened my voice — and he wasn’t praising me for the way I had my anger in check and my emotions under control.
Read the rest here.
Don't forget a few things:
*My once-a-month newsletter (and the chance to win free books!) is a great way to stay connected. Make sure you're subscribed. Enter your email to join:
*The Society for Finding Holy in the Suburbs is forming and we want you in it. It's a great way to find out info about my book and get some practical resources for living well where you're placed. Sign up below.
* I'm giving away free books! Make sure you enter to win! I'll have new books to win most every Tuesday or Wednesday in February and March. All you need to do is be a part of my email list. (Beth Bruno's A Voice Becoming was up first. Buy it if you don't win!)
Perhaps you're out of routine and haven't grabbed 2018 by the horns yet, like me? Maybe you got some version of the dreaded flu? Or maybe you just found yourself a bit dizzy at the end of 2017 and into 2018.
If that's the case, I'd love for you to read my latest for the Mudroom -- all about how to not lose your footing on a tilt-a-whirl. But really it's about marriage and excess and stability.
I admit to being a bit spoiled: my husband hardly travels much for work anymore. Now, as a church planter, we practice staying put, putting down roots, being placed. (How else, can we plant an outpost for God's kingdom if we're always moving on?)
But over the holidays, I sent him off on a plane for a three-day ski trip. Back to the mountains of Utah: to ski the "greatest snow on earth."
Out of practice of solo parenting or sleeping alone, I kept his pocketknife on my bedside table and my phone plugged in to the wall (to, of course, call the police when an inevitable imaginary intruder came through my front door. I'd call and then use the pocket knife if need be.)
It was a silly garrison, little things piled up to keep away all the unstable fears that came falling out when my husband, that most stable of people, left for a few days.
And when that most stable of men -- the one I've vowed to love, honor, and cherish till death do us part -- left for a few days, I unravelled a bit. Not so much by making my bedroom a garrison, but I had I lost the ordinary boundaries on my consumption.
I didn't cook.
I ate junk.
I stayed up until 1:30 in the morning obsessed with whatever was happening on Twitter. I began fruitless job searches on LinkedIn. I even re-did my LinkedIn profile.
I took everything from the wrong angle -- glutting myself on sugar, information, possibilities -- rather than learning how to step back, practice self-control and patience, and make goals and plans to help me make decisions, from everything from what to eat and where to work. I became a black hole for whatever promised to satisfy at the moment -- the glass of wine, the rest of the English toffee, the scrolling through Facebook and Instagram, the job openings that I didn't even want.
I'm back to some storytelling and The Mudroom. I'd love for you to read the rest.
When I finished writing my book and turned in Finding Holy in the Suburbs for edits, I felt a bit out-of-place. I'd expected to have all the stories to belong to the place I lived. After buying our rental home, I'd expected more permanence. It turns out that place and belonging are wrapped up together in a relationship as confusing as an on-again off-again relationship.
We ask our places to provide a setting, a context — but we do not love them like a full-bodied character with desires of their own. What if our places were not mere settings that we could shape like silly putty, bending them to our desires? What if they were not expendable, plastic containers where we stored our stuff and housed our memories, where we are apt to change places like a quick change of seasonal decor?
What if our land, our cities, our suburbs, were somehow as real, as vivid, as powerful agents of change as the people in them? What if our places were actually holy?
I suppose it’s nice to think deeply about such things as place, space, land, and humanity. Yet it’s an easy out to actually living well, to being emplaced, bodily creatures. (At least it is for me.) My feet are rooted (most often) in gray tile squares in my suburban kitchen. Here I watch the neighborhood children race by on their neon bikes, I shout to my own children to come inside, I sweep the endless crumbs. I cut and chop. I pile dishes. I scoop out coffee grinds into the trash, get the stray lime out from the disposal, and dry the clean knife blade and put it away because it’s the good one. I turn out meal after meal after meal, sometimes digging in the freezer to fill it out, often adding more garlic, more pepper, and fresh cilantro.
Make sure to stay up-to-date on all things book related -- from all the books this Mama PhD reads, to giveaways (!), to the book I'm writing -- when you subscribe. No spam. Just good, free content to find your place right where you are.
I'm also booking speaking engagements for the Fall, find out more here.