invaluable

In his most earnest voice he asked, “Can I buy some-sing with my money I saved up from itunes?” My breath was caught on the beauty of his innocence. He had no idea what he was saying. With his handful of coins, some of which were mearly tokens leftover from a bowling alley birthday party a few months back, I immediately saw myself in the believing eyes of my three-year-old.

Yesterday, after I got home from the conference Phil announced we would be going to the Lego store. With three boys, that store is always a hit. Zachary ran off to his room and came back with those coins, his eyes dancing with excitement.

That is probably about what I looked like to the agents I met with at this writing conference. My writing was not nearly good enough to get me what I wanted from their store.

My son being three, I did not explain to him how little was in his hands. It is not the appropriate time for him to learn this lesson. What was important was that he brought what he had and believed he was contributing.

But I am no longer three and it was time from me to learn some of the harsh realities of the world of writing and where I might stand in it. And then I am left with a choice: do I take my tokens home and cry or to do I go back and work to get more in hope that next time I will have what it takes? Maybe a little of both.

Truthfully I am left with many more questions than that, but I will save those for another day. To sum up the conference, it was painfully invaluable in more ways than I could count. I am so very glad I went.

And thanks to my son, the sting has lifted a bit. I can see the beauty in coming with my handful of coins, even if it was not nearly enough.

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hyperventilatng

If yesterday was “trying to breathe” then today is definitely “hyperventilating”.

Yeah. That’s is my husband’s new car in the picture. The one that I was driving to the conference. I hit a pole as I pulled out to come home. Mostly drive-able but somewhat banged up.

I am the car.

My one-on-one appointments didn’t go as well as I had dreamed them in my mind. I knew that was likely to happen, but it didn’t make the dream less desirable, thus less painful to part with.

I fought back tears now and then in the following few hours. There was more learning to do so the emotions would have to wait. I am not sure my emotions are used to waiting.

But by the end of the night I thought I had moved passed it. The agent I pitched to during the social time who asked me to send all of what I had (when the revisions I told her about are done) helped a bit for sure.

Then I hit the pole. A four-letter word may or may not have passed my lips. As I drove home I battled myself just like I did in the era my book is about. Because of the plot seminar I took today I can now articulate the “faulty belief” I held in those days. Love is earned.

And ever since my one-on-one’s that didn’t go how I dreamed, I struggled with a feeling that I had not earned the right to be loved by my husband (who sacrificed time, money, and a weekend as a single parent for me to be there).

I know this isn’t true. In my head, anyway. It was just hard to convince the rest of me. Especially after that pole.

Love is a gift…….a gift of grace.

My husband does not love me because I make his life easier or better or more comfortable. He doesn’t love me because I am such a wonderful wife and avoid poles when I drive the car.

I was just so frustrated that I was dealing with this old issue. No matter how my husband might respond (because let’s give him some grace and remember he is a human husband and doesn’t love to spend a long hard day with the kids just to have his wife come home with a banged up car) I want my reaction to be one of a person who knows that love is not earned.

But like the car, even though there were some hits today, all is not lost. I certainly have made some wonderful friends and connections at this conference. My understanding of the book I am writing and the audience I am writing it for is clarified. I have WAY more tools to practice to become a better writer. And after moving through some emotions and lots of Kleenex, I remember that love is a gift of grace, impossible to earn.

trying to breathe

My girlfriend and her mom came over this morning. We engaged in the beautiful ritual of figuring out what to wear. They were there to help me with my wardrobe for the writers conference.

We got it all figured out and then I got Zachary down for his nap and then I had a moment to breathe. And think. And freak out. Just a little.

So in the quiet I started talking to God.

Okay Lord, please calm me down. Remind me that I am valuable because you love me, not because of what I may or may not achieve as a writer.

And Lord? Phil was so so so graciously supportive of this conference and we paid a lot of money for me to go. And we don’t have a lot of money right now. I feel like if I don’t come back with an agent interested in me that we wasted that money. That I was a bad investment. And we can’t afford bad investments right now.

Then I got a text from a friend.

She said she was praying for me and then she said words I needed to hear. Be yourself. Breathe. Somehow those words brought me back to the ground; out of the tornado of pressure and nerves I created. I realized I did what I often do. I made the conference an either/or experience.

Either I would be a success or I would be a total failure.

But life is so much more of a both/and experience. There will probably be some successes and some failures along the way of me working my way into the writing world. This conference included.

Take tonight for example. I succeeded in being one of the friendliest, easiest people to meet at the social gathering tonight. (I know, so shocking for those of you who know me – insert sarcasm.) There were quite a few other writers I succeeded in helping feel more at ease. Meeting people is petrifying for some people. I am not one of them.

At the end, I gave my card to one of the agents I will have a one-on-one appointment with tomorrow. To be honest, he is my top pick. But when I gave him my card, he looked at me a little funny. Uh-oh. Did I just faux paux?

And then, as I read over the writing I sent in for review at tomorrow’s appointments (that I hope to have these people love and want more of) I already see some ways that I could have made it more appealing. Suck.

But because of my friend’s text, I am remembering that life is more of the both/and. And Phil loves me and thinks I am worth the investment of this conference even if I come back without an agent who loves me. And I can be myself. And I can breathe. And I am loved by God.

fight or flight

I read a post recently about birds and how they fall out of the nest to learn to fly. I learned that geese are different. They have to fight to fly, even when they have all the right feathers.

The writer was making the point that much of getting where we want and need to be in life is more of a fight than something we fall into. I’ve been thinking about that ever since.

You see I have a writer’s conference coming up this weekend. It is my first one and I am dying. Signing up for it felt like a leap of faith. Falling off a cliff to say, “Here I come writing world! Catch me!”

However, since then it has felt like a lot of work. Work that I have been completely energized by. For a person who never saw herself in a “career”, the fact that I am so jazzed and ambitious about this is a bit……foreign. But in a good way.

So I have been hammering out a book proposal, writing posts on the blog, ordering business cards (which I think are so beautiful I could about die), printing the pages I sent in for advanced reading appointments so I can make notes on them, figuring out what to wear, and my latest project is to practice in front of the mirror those few sentences I have to introduce myself and my writing and my book. Preparation. I don’t want to miss any opportunity because I didn’t do my best to prepare myself.

And all of this I have been doing while being a wife and a mom of three and making sure our home doesn’t completely fall apart in the meantime. It feels a bit like a fight.

Then last week I started to feel a tickle in my throat. After the first few days I figured it was something minor and would clear. But by today I am wondering if I have a sinus infection. I am prone to sinus infections. I went to the doctor today. No antibiotics yet, but if I get worse, they are only a phone call away.

This morning my oldest son woke up nauseous. So far no vomit. I am trying very hard not to envision what this weekend would look like if the stomach flu went screaming through my family.

So while signing up for the writer’s conference felt like a leap of faith, like jumping out of a tree, preparing and making it there is feeling much more like a fight, like a goose learning to fly. I think that’s a lot like life. There are leaps of faith and there are fights when learning to fly.

What are you fighting for and what leaps of faith are you taking? Certainly I am not the only one….

grace-rain

Today I get to listen to rain. In truth, this isn’t really rain. It’s more of a mist. But in San Diego, rain is a rarity so when the ground is wet, I pretend the mist is actually rain. Today my husband even turned on some of that music with nature sounds in the background…..so rain it is.

And all of this is a nice switch from all of the children-rubbing-each-other-the-wrong-way sounds I have been listening to as of late. We have been ushering in a new era in our family’s life. I recently realized that my kids in all of their kid-ness don’t really know what to do with all of it. So they cope in the best way they can…by bugging each other.

And so I have been quiet around my family lately because I have not wanted to add my two cents of irritation on top of the generous amount that is already in play. And in my quiet, I have been thinking about listening.

I think listening is a form of grace. There are lots of “rules” to good listening, and I am certainly not against them. Those rules have helped me a lot over the years. And good communication requires more than listening alone. But if I leave the rules behind for a while and think solely about the element of listening, I find it awfully beautiful.

Listening says I see that you are pouring a piece of yourself out and I am going to try and catch it. I am not going to try and change direction of what you are spewing, and I may choose to stand out of the way enough so all that gushing doesn’t drench me, but I will stay here and try to take in the fountain that is you. I am going to let you be exactly and humanly who you are in this moment. I am going to notice you. I am going to consider you.

And 9 times out of 10, that is a really big deal to whomever you give that listening gift of grace to. But I have noticed that sometimes the person talking doesn’t really want to be listened to at all. They just want to talk. Or they just want their way. Or they don’t really know what they want at all. And I think that is very very human. And it might be because they have lived their whole life with no idea what listening truly is. But I don’t really know what to do with it because in those cases whatever I have to offer will not be enough.

Kind of like when I was a new mom with a screaming baby and I wanted God to make my baby stop screaming and make me peaceful inside. But instead he loved me. I did not think his love was nearly enough at the time.

And those 1 out of 10 are the times when I especially see listening as an expression of grace. And it is not easy. Or for the faint of heart. I suppose grace never is.

P.S. Don’t think it hasn’t occurred to me that all this rain is going to make my weeds grow back again.

space, care & coming

I am not a big goal setter. Growth is very important to me and I vigilantly watch for it, but not so much with the goals. My friend Leeana has done a workshop called “A Year In Review”. Totally my speed. I recently looked longingly at my art from last year’s workshop and missed my friend. Now she lives in Baharain. No workshop this year. And then she put a post on her blog that went step by step through the workshop. Score.

So on a day I took my kids to the park, I printed out the post and made sure to have my 2011 calendar with me. In between pushing kids on swings and working out sibling skirmishes, I opened my calendar and explored my soul for last year’s growth.

I discovered 2011 was a year of creating space. Precious space for others, for connecting with friends both near and far. Connecting with others always helps me feel more connected with myself and more stable and loved as I move through the craziness of life.

There was also a lot of space made for taking care. Taking care of myself and my family. That may sound obvious and elemental, but it took me quite some time to learn to take care of myself. I had a little girl in me that had been covered up instead of getting the care she needed. And we all know that taking care of ourselves is a necessary step in taking care of others. Even if we try and skip it sometimes.

So there were copious visits to therapists, dentists and doctors. Time was spent taking care of those things we often like to ignore. Bodies and souls. Our culture tells us just to keep going and pay no attention to the things that seem to be breaking down. Such things will work themselves out. But this year we ignored culture instead. And it feels very good to have taken care of those things.

I also realized for our family it was a year of coming: becoming, overcoming, and coming of age. As a wife and mom, I realized that I carry the lives of my husband and children around with me as a part of my own, so their struggles and growth and changes are a part of my own story as well.

Leeana quotes the passage from Ecclesiaties (made famous by John Lennon) that there is a time for all things under Heaven. As I read the list of a time for this and a time for that, my breath caught on a time to break down and a time to build up.

I entered 2011 quite broken down, and so for me it was a year about building up and seeing how beautiful that process can be. Finding a self that had been waiting quietly, timidly, and ever so patiently for me to discover her. Becoming.

Then there is my middle son. This year was about breaking down – or breaking through – fears. Facing big scary things like swimming in the deep end and having surgery and staying overnight in the hospital. Those are things that break down an eight year old. And yet through facing those things he was built up as well. Overcoming.

And my oldest – this year was about the child he was breaking down to make room for the man he is becoming. Goodbye elementary school. Welcome middle school and blackbelt and emerging man. Coming of age.

Then the youngest. His baby-ness is gone, broken down. The preschooler is building up, the language is building up, and the legos are building up. Coming of age too, just a different one.

And lastly my biggest man had a big birthday this year, and it wasn’t an easy one for him. He seems to be coming of age, too.

And all of it was cathartic, to see it all on paper and have a chance to acknowledge what this year held for our funny little family of five. Maybe no goals were achieved, but much growth took place. It felt kind of like taking a lot of loose strings and tying them together in a way that actually made some sense to look at.

What do you find when you look at your year in review? What do you want to find at the end of this year?

beautiful boys

I read a post the other day and loved it. The writing was amazing and captured so much of the beauty I see in boys and men. And while I am not male myself, I live with four of them. So an expert I am not, but I do consider myself well versed in the gender.

When I had my first son, I wanted to call him beautiful, but I held back for some reason. Boys don’t want to be called beautiful, I thought. Boys want to be valiant! And valor often comes through a fight. Having three boys I hear a lot of fighting. I don’t exactly think of it as beautiful.

But when it is not my boys fighting with each other and I have a minute to stand back and look at this fighting spirit – this drive for valor – I do think it is beautiful.

I was reminded the other day in a conversation with a friend who also has boys just how darn competitive they can be. I finished my dinner first! I got in the car first! I blew a bigger bubble! I’m stronger than you! I’m faster than you! The list goes on but I will stop before I bore you. I assure you it does not bore me but it does exhaust me while it drives me crazy.

But if I give myself a moment to think about it, all this competition is practice for this fighting spirit they’ve been given. And they need to sharpen this tool. It is placed in them to aid them through life because, as we all know, life throws some pretty nasty things at us sometimes and we have to fight our way through them.

Things like bad economies, car accidents, depression and cancer just to name a few. I have seen some men recently fighting their way through such things. I think they are beautifully valiant.

I just gave one of them a ride home from the doctor the other day. The news he got there was not what any man would have liked to hear and carried with it some realities that look like defeat. He probably felt anything but valiant as he shed his tears on the drive home.

But I thought his courage was astounding. He was being honest and real and vulnerable, which often takes more guts than the other options. And I think that is part of the fight of life – not loosing your self in the battle.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And the beauty I see in the valor of men is not in the winning or the losing but in the fighting itself. In the not giving up, no matter how wretchedly tempting that may sound.

I see valor in getting up each day to face the battle of what life has brought your way to beat you down – even when you feel beaten down and terribly un-valiant. I see valor in men who refuse to turn bitter from their life circumstances. Because circumstances – be they ever so discouraging – do not define the man. These things will pass and are on the outside. The inside is where the man resides.

And while these men I know may not see themselves as valiant in their fights against the bad economy, car accidents, depression or cancer, I do. And I find them wonderfully, heroically and valiantly beautiful.

 

 

P.S. The boys and I had fun discussing and trying our options for the picture of this post, but as the mom of three boys I made the executive decision that the jock straps and cups that often hang in our entry way was the most classic representation of boy-ness.