Prickly People

It’s easy to be a prickly person–but giving love freely is much more rewarding.

I just got back from Colorado, where I saw a lot of cacti that look like this:

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My friend Jill, who I stayed with, tells me if you brush up against them, you get little cactus spines sticking all over your leg or your hand or your whatever in a most uncomfortable manner. Through great skill or dumb luck I managed to avoid this experience and escaped spine-free from my desert jaunts.

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Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs

Maybe it’s not a coincidence that I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my naturally prickly personality. There’ve been times in my life when I honestly wasn’t very easy to get to know. Maybe it was my introverted personality. Maybe it was the way I was raised. Or maybe it was a subtly sinful attitude I was hardly aware of: I was waiting to see who I really thought was worthy of my time and attention.

In reality, it was probably some mix of these things. I really was shy, and it took me a while to warm up to new people and experiences.

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Gradually, I’ve come to see what a gift it is when others accept and welcome me without reservation, treating me like a friend from the beginning, without waiting for me to prove myself. It’s sparked a desire in me to extend the same gift to others: the gift of friendship without requirements, without expectation of worthiness first.

My friend Kristen comes to mind in particular. She treats everyone she meets with great kindness. I remember asking her one time, “Doesn’t it exhaust you? Don’t you feel like your store of love is going to run out?” I don’t remember exactly what she said, but it seemed like a new concept to her, that one could run out of love, like one runs out of money, or time.

I, on the other hand, was always storing my emotional exertion. I got drained easily, so I kept it close for just a few special people.

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When I asked my friend Jill if I could come visit her family in Colorado, she didn’t hesitate.

In the more recent past, God has convicted my heart about this. The idea started to grow in me: instead of holding people at arm’s length, I was going to like everyone.

Not just act like I liked everyone.

Like everyone.

I know people always say you don’t have to like everyone; you just have to love them. But isn’t part of loving intentionally trying to find and encourage the good in others? Doesn’t it mean trying my darndest to see the beautiful and the image of God in every person I meet? To dig it out with whatever wits I happen to have about me that day? (Which some days is not very much, I admit!)

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It’s been an interesting path, and a challenging one. It’s also really rewarding. Sometimes you find the best friends in the most unexpected places. I’ve realized I don’t want to miss out on relationships of great value because I wait too long to show love. I don’t want to miss opportunities to see people blossom into their best selves because they don’t feel safe in my company. It’s simple to be a prickly person–but giving love freely is much more rewarding.

With some people it’s easy.

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With some people it’s not.

Maybe it’s their naturally introverted personality. Maybe it’s the way they were raised. Or maybe it’s that subtly sinful attitude: they’re waiting to see if I’m worthy of their time and attention.

Maybe they think I’m too young or too old or too single or too female.

Whatever it is, I’m trying to remember the people who showed me great love when I was a prickly, hard-to-know person. (People like my friends Jill, and Kristen, and many others!) I’m pretty sure they were following the Master in this area.

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We love because he first loved us.

I John 4:19

 

 

Signs of Spring

Can you smell it in the air—spring coming? Can you feel it coming?

20170322_181222Can you smell it in the air—spring coming? Can you feel it on its way? It’s in the extra bit of light, bit upon bit, we get now each evening; it’s in the small green buds swelling on the branches. It’s in the forsythia blossoms I discovered this afternoon while tramping along the woodsy path near my apartment.

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I love spring’s promise, its hope of life renewed, of joy rekindled. I’ve been yearning for it, all this long, dark, cold Illinois winter. Some days it seemed so far away I thought it would never come.

Six months ago I took a leap to leave a place I loved dearly to step through a door God opened in an unexpected way. To walk a path that felt uncertain and unclear. Lots of days, lots of moments, it still feels that way.

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I don’t know what’s at the end of this path. I don’t understand all the reasons God chose to bring me here. Sometimes it’s tough and I don’t like it.  Sometimes I feel dried up inside with the loneliness of being unknown, chattering in the wind like a dead leaf or an empty seed pod.

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Lots of days, I kind of want run away. To stop, to turn around and go back the way I came, or to plop down in the middle of the trail and just go on strike.

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But also, there are little hints of joy along the way—like gifts, or surprises, God leaves to remind me he planned this.

An unexpected smile. Someone who takes time to care. A hug when I need it.

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And there are signs of new growth. In my heart. In friendships. In opportunities.

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Sometimes, I need a reminder that life is an adventure with God, and adventures take courage. Sometimes, I need to open my eyes and look for signs that spring is coming.

“This is no thaw,” said the dwarf, suddenly stopping. “This is Spring. What are we to do? Your winter has been destroyed, I tell you! This is Aslan’s doing.”

C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

 

Starting My Year Write

I guess I should apologize for the horribly cheesy pun in the title. It’s atrocious, I know.

I guess I should apologize for the horribly cheesy pun in the title. It’s atrocious, I know. But I’m writing this at 12:30 am and I don’t plan to spend any extra time thinking of a better one.

I’ll cut to the chase–I just got back from a ten day Writer’s Residency on Whidbey Island in Washington. It was awesome! That’s the short story.

The Ice House, where the Children’s and Young Adult writers met every day.

Chatting it up with cool writer people.

The beautiful view.

The Captain Whidbey Inn where the residency took place.

And I really do feel like I’ve started 2015 off right, having spent that time hanging around cool writer people, learning about writing, and (gasp!) writing. I’m excited to keep chasing the dream of writerhood in 2015 and excited to say I’ve been provisionally accepted into the MFA program in Creative Writing at the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts (NILA).

So what does that mean? It means a) I’m going to be doing a lot more writing. Because it will be my homework to write. A lot. And it means b) I will be sleeping a lot less. Sad face. It also means c) that I will be going back to Washington for another residency in August.

If you’re curious, NILA is a low-residency program, which means that you start classes during the residency and keep working on them through the online platform later. If I work hard, it will take me about two and half years to finish the program.

I also was brave and read one of my poems at a student reading one evening, which was fun and a new experience for me. I’m looking forward to heading back in August, but I have a whole lot of writing to do between now and then.

Breathe Christian Writer’s Conference

I had a great time last weekend at Breathe Christian Writer’s Conference, held at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary.

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Me and my friend Alexis, who told me about the conference.

I had a great time last weekend at Breathe Christian Writer’s Conference, held at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. If you’re looking for a writer’s conference to attend and live in or near Grand Rapids, I’d highly recommend marking your calendar for next year’s conference on Oct. 9-10, 2015! (Bonus–you can enjoy the conference and celebrate my birthday with me!)

I’ve been meaning to go to a writer’s conference for a while, and, believe me, I gleefully put a check mark by this item on my bucket list after attending. So here are a few highlights from the conference for me:

1. Getting to meet and interact with a bunch of really cool people who are published authors, bloggers, agents, or in other ways invested in writing. I never guessed how inspiring it would be to hear others’ stories of their writing journeys, whether already published or still working toward that goal. I came away with a greater desire than ever to pursue my dream of writing and to persevere in whatever ways necessary to see my work published.

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Me and my friend Shannon, who recently got a book contract.

2. Workshops on publishing. I went to a lot of really great workshops at the conference, but the ones that were the most helpful and interesting to me were those that talked about the nitty-gritty details of getting published. I feel like someone just shoved a million tools in my hands that I didn’t even know to look for before. Stuff about finding and working with an agent, writing a book proposal, publicizing your work, and moderating your expectations when actually published. There’s more for me to learn on these topics, but I feel headed in a good direction.

3. Resources. At the conference, I gathered a ton of resources that I’m super excited to use. Websites to help me keep in the loop about the book market (e.g., Publisher’s Weekly). Blogs that discuss publishing topics. Magazines to send submissions to. Other conferences to possibly attend. Web tools and apps to promote my writing. Books on writing or just plain good reads (I’ve ordered a few! Can’t wait until they arrive.).

Best of all was getting to chat with my friends Alexis, Jill, and Shannon about everything we were learning! I can’t wait to attend my next writer’s conference, and I’m on the hunt for a great one to try out.

A Car-Cleaning Angel

I’ve gotta admit I tensed up a bit when I saw him walking toward me. I don’t live in the best neighborhood, and I feel kind of vulnerable with my car running, my door unlocked and nothing but a snow brush in my hand.

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I’ve gotta admit I tensed up a bit when I saw him walking toward me. I don’t live in the best neighborhood, and I feel kind of vulnerable with my car running, my door unlocked and nothing but a snow brush in my hand.

“How you like this snow?” he asks, watching me swipe my brush over the trunk of the car.
“It’s pretty,” I say, smiling a little, telling myself no need to worry.
“Now this is how you do it,” he informs me, spreading his arms across the roof of my car, using his body to sideswipe my windows and doors.
“Wow, thanks!” I’m laughing now at this guy I don’t even know getting himself completely covered in snow for me.
“Hey, look,” he ribs me, “I’m all done and you’re still working on your side.” He’s got snow all down his coat, down the front of his shirt where his coat hangs open.
“Thanks,” I say again, speechless but smiling. He waves good-naturedly and wanders off toward the local liquor store.

Sometimes God tells me He loves me in funny ways. Like sending a car-cleaning angel my way.

You Are Too

He was standing by the inner library door when I came in, a funny mixture of boyish eagerness and innocence on his adult face. “Go ahead, young lady,” he said, pulling the inner door open for me.

He was standing by the inner library door when I came in, a funny mixture of boyish eagerness and innocence on his adult face. “Go ahead, young lady,” he said, pulling the inner door open for me.

“Oh, just a minute,” I answered, dumping my returns in the dropbox, happy from the autumn wind outside and my walk downtown.

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“Thanks,” I said, taking his gift of an open door with airy confidence.

“You’re beautiful,” he mumbled pleasantly as I passed, and for a minute, my knee-jerk reaction kicked in, and I brushed on by, not willing to meet his eye, seeking the inner sanctuary of the library and the anonymity of hidden rows. My creep sensors were on red-alert and flight was the key option.

I made my decision in about a millisecond, and a millisecond later I regretted it. He’s not a creep, my heart said. He’s a man whose simplicity lacks a filter. I had been beautiful, I thought, for a little while—the day had made me so and bright thoughts running up toward God and back from Him had made me so—but in that one millisecond I felt suddenly ugly.

What if I had looked that man in the eye, smiled, and received his gift? What if I had let him beautify me by his blessing, as God’s wind and colors had also gifted me with beauty this day? What if I finally understood that my beauty (such as it is!) is not a gift for me to enjoy, but for those around me? What if I had said, “You are too,” and returned the blessing on his head?

Of Space Heaters and Rock n’ Roll

I live in an apartment in a big old Victorian house in the historic district of Grand Rapids, known as Heritage Hill.

I live in an apartment in a big old Victorian house in the historic district of Grand Rapids, known as Heritage Hill. My apartment is on the third floor, and has dormer windows, and sloping roofs, and wood floors (never mind that they’re flaking varnish, they’re wood, okay?), and a sink with two faucets, and built-in storage units under the eaves, and cute radiator-type heaters. It only lacks a claw-foot bathtub to be perfect in its quaintness. It’s an efficiency apartment, and I sleep in the walk-in closet, which means I wake up to the sight of all my clothes hanging in a neat, color-coordinated row at the foot of my bed.

I like my apartment for a lot of reasons, including the above-mentioned quaintness, and the fact that I get to take walks down streets filled with houses that look like they marched straight off the streets of “Meet Me in St. Louis,” and for the fact that it fit my budget, which pretty much every other apartment in Grand Rapids did not do. Apparently, however, it also fits the budget of assorted college students, down-and-outers, and wannabe teen rock stars.

Like I said, I like my apartment for a lot of reasons, but the teen rock stars are not one of them. Said wannabe teen rock stars like to start practicing a set of pulsing and rather unimaginative songs around 11 or 11:30 at night, just as I’m crawling into bed with the intention of getting some shuteye.  Instead, I lie awake, staring at my row of sweaters, my brain thrumming, and my imagination vivid with scenarios of timidly knocking on their door in my pajamas and begging a crowd of unruly teenagers to “Please keep it down?” (I’m not the confrontational type.)

Last night, however, I accidentally discovered what I think may be the solution. Remember those nostalgic radiator-type heaters I mentioned? Turns out they and I don’t have the same ideas about how often they should put in some heating time. (I don’t control the thermostat in my apartment.) I, preferring to be warmer than not, have resorted to a small space heater that does a reasonable job at taking the chill out of the air, considering my apartment is all of 300-some feet square.  Unfortunately, the wiring in my apartment is also a bit temperamental. By trial and error, I’ve discovered that two of the outlets can’t handle the space heater for long without tripping the circuit breaker. One of them makes the overhead light in my closet go out, which is strange, because it’s one of the furthest outlets from the closet.

Whenever this circuit-breaker tripping happens, I always feel a little guilty, thinking my neighbors might suddenly be reading their remedial English textbooks or watering their marijuana plants in the dark because of me. So I avoid those outlets now. Up until last night, though, the outlet in my closet (strangely unconnected to the overhead light) never seemed to have a problem, merrily letting the space heater run all night without circuit-breaking even of any kind (to plagiarize Oscar Wilde: “I have no brother, I never had a brother, and I don’t intend to have a brother, not even of any kind.” I digress.). I assumed that I had sole dominion over the wiring for this outlet.

I found out different last night. The space heater was running like normal, valiantly puffing hot air out into the main room. I was concentrating on my laptop, licking a spoonful of cream cheese frosting, and playing with my hair. I didn’t really notice when the boom-boom-boom started up downstairs. Didn’t notice, that is, until two things suddenly shut off simultaneously. The rock ‘n roll beat. And my space heater.

Yep. I think I’ve found the solution to my teen rock star problem.  Never mind that my apartment’s a bit chilly. At least I’ve got some peace and quiet.