On Fear and Falling Shoes

Hi friends,

With the current state of our world, and the unknown effects of the Coronavirus, many people are gripped with fear and anxiety. I get it. I can fall into the same trap, and it’s a dreadful way to live! But, there are truths we can remind ourselves of to help us guard against fear and turn to peace instead. Peace. Doesn’t that sound nice?

This is an excerpt from the “Worry and Anxiety” chapter of my book, If Only It Were a Piece of Cake. Yes, I struggle with worry and anxiety enough to write an entire chapter about it! I told you I can relate! This is only part of the chapter, an excerpt! But, maybe it will encourage your heart today.

You’re not alone! We can do this together!

Christy

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On Fear

 

I stood frozen and unblinking. I held my breath, trying to listen. Trying to prepare for the moment of impact. I was waiting for the other shoe to drop.

And it did.

It was a size-five boys black dress shoe, to be exact, hitting the ceramic tile on the lower floor of our home.

I had already heard what I surmised to be the first shoe dropping.

Thhuuuuumpp!!

In that super-speed mom-brain mode that can think faster than the Road Runner can get away from Wile E. Coyote, I knew what had happened. It was a Sunday morning, and our then seven-year-old son was getting dressed for church. I knew I had laid out his black dress shoes. I also knew that since recently moving into a home with a second-story landing, that our son discovered a newfound interest in gravity. I thought I had made it clear that no “hard objects” were to be dropped below, but with seven-year-old boys I should have been a bit more specific.

So I waited. I waited for the other shoe to drop. It thumped as loudly as the first, and the sound reverberated off the walls and tile floor. I twisted shut the lid to my mascara and placed it back in the drawer. Then I found Karson in the hallway. We reviewed the “landing rule.” Dropping hard objects is not good for the walls, floor, objects being dropped, or little sisters who happen to be standing below. Lesson learned, it appeared, and so we moved on with our Sunday morning.

But, as I was blowing my hair dry, I thought about it some more. I had literally just waited for the other shoe to drop. I figuratively do it so often that it was interesting to actually experience it for real!

I sometimes use the phrase “waiting for the other shoe to drop” when trying to explain how I feel about fear. I struggle with fearing what big, hard trial will happen next in my life.

I’ve had some whoppers of a “shoe drop” in my past. My mother’s sudden death when I was in fifth grade. A cancer diagnosis for our two-year-old son. Miscarriages. These things all contribute to my struggle with fear.

Because I know that shoes do fall, when things are going well, I sometimes find myself waiting for the next one to smack the floor. Before I know it, I’m frozen, unblinking, and holding my breath. Instead of enjoying life and living in the moment, I’m listening. I’m waiting for that figurative other shoe. It can be torturous.

The accessibility I have to the Internet worsens this for me. Maybe this is true for other shoe-waiters as well. I find myself scrolling through Facebook, or reading the news headlines, and suddenly fear seizes me. It’s like hypochondria, only broader to encompass things beyond the health-related. Fearing that all of the awful headlines I read or hear about are going to happen to me. A school shooting at my child’s school, a giant sinkhole suddenly opening in my front yard and swallowing up someone I love, a deadly nuclear attack in my neighborhood, an outbreak the CDC is warning about sweeping through my city, a deranged and deadly alligator on my back patio (I live in Indiana). I imagine it all in detail.

Twitter also poses a problem for me in the sense that it’s so blunt and time specific. I follow my local news stations on Twitter, and they report traffic accidents in 280 characters or less. They frankly state that there has been a crash on a specific road and sometimes they throw in the two words, “with injuries.” I am affected and afflicted by these tweets. I cannot simply scroll past them without caring. I worry that someone I know was involved in the crash. I worry for those who were injured. My worrisome thoughts exceed 280 characters, without a cut off.

Speaking of being cut off, Kraig told me one evening that he was going outside to fix the riding lawn mower and to install a new belt on the mower deck. My immediate response was, “Please don’t cut your arms off.” I was serious. He was going to be working near a sharp blade. Granted, the chances of him actually cutting his arms off, especially both arms, seems pretty drastic, but I needed to issue this warning anyway. As with most every time I make such a ridiculous statement of concern, Kraig responded with, “Oh, thanks. I was planning to cut my arms off, but now I won’t.” Then he rolls his eyes, winks, and walks away. I’m glad I’m getting through to him.

I hate, I repeat, hate, living in this state of mind. Worry and anxiety are lies, and they steal from my peace and joy. But, knowing this doesn’t change the fact that I deal with their ugliness on a regular basis. That’s why it’s a struggle…

Time progresses, but the passage of time doesn’t automatically fix things. It doesn’t end the struggle. Sometimes it just changes the scenery for the battle. The fear and worry fight is a daily one for me. Actually, and unfortunately, more than daily. But I’ve learned it helps if I remind myself of two things when it comes to fighting fear and worry.

One, is this: the other shoe is going to drop.

I know, it’s difficult. But, we all know it’s true. This life is full of disappointment, hardships, and trial. No one is exempt. There are going to be some falling shoes, Chicken Little. You’re just going to have to accept that fact and be thankful it’s not the entire sky.

But, as depressing as the first point is, the second point helps.

Two, I believe in and serve an Almighty God who never allows a “shoe to drop” without it passing through his sovereign, merciful hands.

We’re getting into some deep theology here. We’re opening the discussion about God allowing evil and pain. That’s a tough one. Why would He do such a thing?

I’m not a theologian. I have a simple mind and a simple faith. And so if you’re looking for mind-blowing intellect, you’re reading the wrong book. I’ve already referenced Chicken Little, the Road Runner, and Wile E. Coyote in this section. Hardly John Wesley-level thinking. But, what I do have is a relationship with the God of this universe. I know Him. I don’t claim to understand Him completely, but, I do know what He says to be true about Himself.

God is the inventor of love and life. He’s the one who thought them up. He then put them into practice by creating us. He loves us. Truly. Deeply. Enough to give us life.

But we, us stinking humans, brought sin into this world by our own free will and choosing, and through a couple who just couldn’t keep their little hands off a piece of forbidden fruit. Before we speak too harshly about Adam and Eve, let’s remember we probably would have been the ones to do it if it had been us in that garden. I won’t speak for you, but I know I’m a rotten sinner, I don’t even need a forbidden fruit tree to prove it.

When sin entered the world, the world broke. It wasn’t created for sin and death. Sin leads to death and death just doesn’t sit well with us. I think that’s why death hurts so much. It wasn’t supposed to be that way. We weren’t created for death.

But with sin and death come tragedies and pain. A lot of shoes have fallen throughout history and they have caused significant damage.

Now God, who is perfect, is still in control. That’s what He tells us in His Word. Romans 8 is a good place to start reading if you want to see what He said about this through the apostle Paul.

God could stop every shoe from falling this very second if He wanted to. But instead, He allows them to pass through His sovereign hands. Why? Well, I can’t answer that completely. But, I do know those shoes, and their ensuing pain, have led me closer to God and have helped me to recognize my need for Him. The pain and hurt remind us that we live in a broken world that is not our home. A quote credited to C.S. Lewis (see, I can discuss theology without using cartoon references) says, “The fact that our heart yearns for something Earth can’t supply is proof that Heaven must be our home.”

As foreigners in this broken world, we long for home. At least we should. Maybe sometimes God uses those awful shoes that fall to help us yearn for Him. Like I said, I can’t explain it all, but I believe it. And I find comfort in it.

When I find myself in fear and worry mode (more often than I’d like to admit) and realize I’m missing life because I’m holding my breath and listening for the impact of a falling shoe, I remember point number two. God is still in control. He is only going to allow what He knows is good and perfect in His sovereign way. I don’t know how He does it, but I trust Him.

Furthermore, I think about the fact that God allowed a gigantic shoe to fall on His own Son, Jesus. Perhaps now I’m taking this analogy a bit too far. Can’t you just hear the preschoolers telling their mommies and daddies that Jesus was squashed by a giant sandal? Crushed by a sole to save my soul? On a hill far away stood an old rugged Croc? I digress.

Let me start over with this point.

God allowed His own Son, Jesus, to be murdered by the very people He created. God allowed horrible things to happen to His Son on our behalf. God allowed Jesus, who had no sin, to suffer because of our sin. He did this so that those of us who believe, repent, and accept His sacrifice can someday live eternally in a world without pain. That’s the gospel, folks. It really is that simple.

What’s more, in the meantime, before we experience the wonder of God’s presence in Heaven, we have His presence with us here on Earth. God’s faithfulness, provision, unconditional love, mercy, grace, and hope are always available to me. Now. Today! By choosing to acknowledge and accept them, I can start to conquer that stupid worry and fear. I can thaw out from the frozen stances of waiting for a shoe to drop, and instead move and blink again. I can live! I can even take a deep breath knowing that no matter what shoe drops, God is in control, and He will be with me through it.

I don’t know when the next shoe will hit the ground near me. I hope it’s a flip-flop or something light, but I don’t get to make that choice. I do, however, get to choose how I’ll live in the meantime.

Am I going to waste my time worrying about the future and being frozen with fear, or am I going to live joyfully and fully while trusting in my Sovereign Lord?

I know, I know. It’s easy to say, and much more difficult to live. I understand. I’m right there with you in the trenches trying to make this trust a habit in my every moment. I’m desperately working to replace worry and fear with peace and joy. I certainly haven’t perfected it, but I’m nothing if not persistent. I’m going to keep at it. We can do this together.

A boy’s dress shoe began this mental dialogue and had such a profound impact on my thinking. In the future, I hope that’s the only place Karson’s shoes make impact!

Is It Worth It?

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Sometimes I can’t remember if I just put a new coffee pod into my coffee maker, or if the one I’m staring at in puzzlement is the used one from yesterday. Even though I would have had to put the coffee pod there mere moments before, I seem to forget if I actually did it, or just thought about it. My memory seems to short out like that sometimes. But, I can remember what I wearing on a certain Friday evening in January of 2002. Black slacks and a lightweight pale pink sweater.

I remember because it was an evening that held a pivotal conversation in my relationship with my then boyfriend, Kraig. I had just gotten home from work, and had not yet changed into more comfortable clothes. I was planning to do so, because my plans for the evening were to sit around my house and wonder. Wonder why Kraig had not invited me to go with him to his nephew’s first birthday party. We’d been dating for about two months, and I’d met his family before, so I wasn’t sure why I was being excluded from this event.

And then the phone rang. This was in the days when one had to pick up the receiver without knowing who was on the other end. There was no caller ID or special ring tones for VIPS. I know, youth today shudder at the thought, but we somehow made it through.

I answered the phone and it was Kraig. He said he was on his way to his nephew’s party (he had a cutting-edge flip cell phone) and would I like him to pick me up as he drove by my house? I said yes and kept my slacks and pink sweater on after all.

The hour drive to his brother’s was where the aforementioned pivotal conversation took place. I started it.

“Why didn’t you invite me this evening until last minute?” I asked him from the passenger seat of his Chevy sedan.

Kraig paused for a bit and then told me that he was a little nervous about the evening. This was a party with his family members, and though some had met me, there could be others there this evening that I hadn’t yet met. He further explained that we’d only been dating a couple of months and if he introduced me and included me in such events as this party, then it would take the relationship to another level and it would be more difficult if it didn’t work out and we ended up breaking up.

I thought about this for a bit. Then I decided to speak my mind.

“Kraig, you need to decide if I’m worth that risk. Yes, this could make things more difficult if we break up someday, but we can’t just plan and act in a manner that protects us from pain because then we’ll miss out on the fun stuff. You just have to decide if I’m worth that risk or not.”

I’m not sure if this was a mic drop moment or an expedited way to get myself dumped.

Spoiler alert: Kraig decided I was worth the risk. We’ve been married now for over 17 years.

I’m not here to make a statement about dating relationships. No. I was young and naive then, and in many ways, and I’m still naive now. But, I am here to say that some things in life require a risk.

No one likes failure, but successes worth anything are almost always preceded by risk.

When I wrote my first book, a memoir of many personal stories from my life, I had to decide if I was willing to risk people actually reading it. Because I knew some would not like it. I might get poor reviews (I have!). I would not be everyone’s cup of tea. And that stings. And it’s scary. And I don’t like the pain it causes. But, I took the risk anyway. And let me tell you, the joys and the opportunities to bring hope to others through my words has been worth the pain.

When we decided to have kids, we didn’t know how it would go! We were twenty-somethings who had never parented before. We sat through the classes at the hospital as wide-eyed rookies. But, we decided the joys of raising children would far outweigh any risk that we’d fail them. And guess what? Sometimes we have failed them! But the joys they bring us far outweigh the struggles. We wouldn’t trade parenthood for anything!

Speaking of our kids, we’re trying to teach our three that anything truly worth striving for may involve pain and risk. We told our son that yes, he might get cut from the sports team, but he should still try out nonetheless. How will he know if he doesn’t try? We tell our daughter that yes, she may not be given the part in the school play that she’s been practicing for and dreaming about. But that’s okay. What would she miss out on if she didn’t try at all? How would she learn and grow for next time? We tell our youngest that yes, she should try running club though she’s never run a mile before. Who knows, maybe she’ll find a new skill and make some friends along the way. How can you cross the finish line if you never crossed the starting line?

If it’s worthy, it’s probably risky. I wish it didn’t have to be so, but I haven’t yet found a way around it.

I still lose track of my coffee pods, but I do know what I was wearing one evening in December of 2002. A white dress. And Kraig was wearing a tux, and we were standing in front of family and friends. He had told me something weeks before. He said that because my own mother had died at the age of 34 from a sudden heart issue, he considered that I could die young also (another spoiler alert: I now know I don’t have the same heart condition). Kraig said he decided that even if he only got to be my husband for a short time because of such a tragedy, that I was still worth it. He’d marry me for whatever amount of time we were given. Basically, he was telling me I was worth the risk.

And that’s something I hope to never forget.

 

3 Things I Expected and 3 Things That Surprised Me About Releasing A Book.

IMG_0757My latte not only tasted delightful, but it looked good too. How accomplished it must have felt to bring joy to my senses of sight, smell, taste, and touch all wrapped in one warm ceramic mug. That is, if a caffeinated beverage can feel accomplished.

My remaining sense, my sense of hearing, was also being satisfied by the voice of a dear friend who sat across the table. Terri and I don’t get together often anymore, but when we do, we make it count. When I sat down in my chair, the steam from my latte had barely risen to my nose before she asked the question.

“So, it’s been about a year since we’ve really been able to chat. I want to know this. In the last year, as you’ve released your book, what has it been like? Do this. Tell me three things that have gone as you expected they would, and three things that have been a surprise to you.”

Terri doesn’t mince words.

There was no, “How was your Thanksgiving?” or “It’s unseasonably warm today.” No, we got right down to it. And I like that. I find it the mark of a true friend who is able to take you to the heart of things before your coffee is cool enough to sip. I believe it’s an accomplishment. A decaffeinated one at that.

“Hmm.” I said. “Let me think.” And I did. I thought it over for a few moments as I reflected on the previous seven months since the release of my book, Brownie Crumbs and Other Life Morsels. And here is what I said.

Three things that have gone as I expected with the release of my book.

  1. It has been a lot of work. I am not complaining when I say this. Like I said, I expected a book release to be a lot of work, and I was mostly prepared for it. Writing a book takes a lot of time and effort. Releasing it to the world does too, only you have to add courage, money, time, hopes, dreams, logistics, public scrutiny, a speaking tour, and the cost of shipping. It’s not for the faint of heart, or the faint of public speaking. Thankfully, I’ve enjoyed the work my book release has brought, and as I told Terri, I mostly expected it to be as it has been.
  2. It has been brought me a lot of joy! I had a feeling that writing and speaking would be would right up my alley. Not that I had never done either before the release of this book, but since the birth of this book baby, I’ve definitely done more writing and speaking than ever before. And I’ve loved it. It has been so much fun, and I’ve found that there is such a joy and peace in serving God and others in what you feel is your God-given purpose (at least for the season of life you’re in). And, my joy has been almost immeasurable at times, like when my own children have read my book and talked to me about it. My conversations with my son about his cancer (‘That was a sad chapter, Mom.’ ‘Yes, Karson. It sure was.’) and with my nine-year-old daughter about how her Daddy and I met and dated (‘Daddy said he liked your legs!’ My face turns red.) have been beyond special. What great joy there is in seeing the fruits of your labors, even when the labor is plentiful.
  3. It has complicated the family life vs. work balance. I figured this would be an issue, and it has been. The delicate balance of knowing when it’s okay to say yes to an oppuntuntiy that takes me away from home, and husband, and kids is a tough one. Overall, I feel like we’ve been blessed with our family schedule and my speaking and travel schedule working together pretty well. But, there have been occasions when I’ve missed events and/or when I’m home, but busy and distracted with preparations and such. This is tough. In the near future, I’m traveling and will miss a band concert, at least three basketball games, and more. I hate that. But, it’s been a growing experience. It has taught me, and it has taught my family. My kids don’t need me to be involved in everything they do. My life doesn’t actually revolve around them and which set of bleachers I’m sitting on (though sometimes it feels like it does)! My kids know I am present at their events most of the time, and it’s proven healthy for them to see me work hard and share the message of hope and faith with others when I’m not in the stands. They are excited for me and the opportunities I’ve had, and so far, they haven’t seemed to resent it (it would break my heart and cause a lot of revaluation if they did.) We’ve been open about this family life vs. work balance as a family. We’ve prayed together over opportunities, and talked honestly about how it makes us feel. Has it been all bad? No. Has it complicated the issue. Yes. Did I expect it to become complicated. You bet. But just because you expect something doesn’t necessarily make it any less difficult when it arises. 

Three things that have surprised me with the release of my book.

  1. The amount of speaking I’ve done in past 7 months. I know that I just said above that I expected it to be a lot of work. Yes. And I did expect to do some speaking in relation to the book. However, the opportunities that I’ve been given to speak and share have been far more than I ever dreamed! It has taken a lot preparation (think Power Point, handouts, outlines, discussion questions, travel, logistics, book tables, business cards, credit card readers, etc.) but it has been SO much fun! I’ve had the opportunity to speak to groups of women, senior groups, MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) groups, my alma mater’s student body chapel (Huntington University), a corporate chapel, podcasts, radio interviews, a parenting seminar, private home book parties, my denomination’s national conference, and even as a keynote speaker at a church’s women’s retreat. It has grown me and pushed me and sometimes worn me out (at the women’s retreat where I spoke three times in three days, I feel asleep in the middle of the day on the bed during free time with all the lights on and with my shoes on – and woke up two hours later!) Yesterday someone asked if I now call myself a communicator, or a speaker. I said I don’t call myself anything! But, I sure have enjoyed these opportunities.
  2. The fact that people actually read and care about my story. This sounds like a really stupid thing for an author to say. If you’re going to put a book out there, you shouldn’t be surprised when people read it. But I have been. I’ve been surprised that people care about my life story. I mean, I figured my parents would read it. And maybe my husband. But the rest of you? Bonus! And, the comments you’ve made to me, sent to me in cards, messages, etc. have absolutely humbled me. It has been special (and surprising) to hear how the stories or Life Morsels have touched many readers in very meaningful ways. As I was sharing this with Terri, I speficially mentioned how many comments I’ve gotten about Kraig and my love story. Terri said, “I still count it as one of the diamonds in my necklace of life that I was able to actually live that out with you all those years ago.” How can you not like a friend how feels that way? Or who says “necklace of life”? Anyway, the various ways the book has impacted its readers has been humbling. I still can’t get over it.
  3. The amount of work… and joy… and complicated schedules it has brought me. I know. I know. I’m cheating here. I’m basically taking all three points from above that I said I expected, and now I’m putting them down here in the surprise section. Deal with it. I’m serious. They go both ways. I expected to be busy and for it to be complicated and for it to bring my joy, but it has all surprised me at the same time. You know how that is. Things can feel both ways. I’m sorry I told you to deal with it. What I mean is, thank you for understanding.

For those of you who follow me on social media, you’ve probably seen these photos as you’ve followed along with my speaking over the last seven months. For those of you who are not on social media (What’s a Instagram and why does someone want to request my friendship?)  I will post some photos below.

Thanks for reading and for your support in this journey. I wish I could share a chat and a latte with each and every one of you. But then again, that would be an awfully lot of caffeine.

Cruise Control

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“What on earth are you doing?” my dad asked from the passenger seat. “Did you have your cruise control set just now?”

I sheepishly shrugged and admitted that I had. The clicking sound the brake pedal made when you pushed it to disengage the cruise control had given me away. Sneaky little tattletale!

“I like to set it so that I don’t have to think about my speed.” I explained. I was a college student and able to present a reasonable persuasive argument while home on break with my family.

My dad shook his head. “Cruise control is for long trips or stretches of highway where you will be keeping the same speed for awhile, not for use between two traffic lights a few hundred yards apart!”

Now it was my turn to shake my head. I wasn’t necessarily disagreeing with him, I was just expressing myself through nonverbal communication because I had nothing to actually say in my defense.

I admit, using the cruise control for less than 10 seconds was pretty ridiculous.

Now as a college graduate, wife, and mother of three, I seem to have the opposite problem. I don’t like giving up control of my speed. And I’m not referring to my minivan driving habits.

I’m talking about the speed of my life.

I get going pretty quickly now-a-days. Our schedule is full and we fly down monthly stretches of highways. Sometimes I lose track of how fast we’re moving until we pay for it later in exhaustion, tension, and grumpy children.

Perhaps a little cruise control would be healthy for us all?

If only I’d give up control of the accelerator more often. If only I’d learn to set the cruise control between birthday parties, school events, service projects, basketball practices, and church gatherings. If only I’d do better at keeping our family at a healthy speed between the stops instead of flying through life without much intentionality or careful assessments.

Checking our speed is important. It keeps us safe and gets us there in one piece. Let alone in peace itself.

But I’m learning.

I’m learning that cruise control helps you set limits on your speed.

It may be overkill to set it between two close-together traffic lights, but being careful to control the pace of your life, especially with young ones in tow, isn’t a bad idea after all.

If only I’d thought of that comeback while in the drivers seat years ago!


This post is part of the Five Minute Friday community where bloggers are encouraged to write for about 5 minutes about a topic based on a one-word prompt. This week’s word: CONTROL

5 Outsider Observations about the 2016 ACFW Conference

Here’s the deal. I write non-fiction. For those of you who slept through Language Arts, or are accountants, that means I write about things based on facts, real events, and real people. Fiction writers, on the other hand, write about things that are imagined, though they may be portrayed in such a way they feel like reality. Like one who comes across a group of children painting a fence and expects to find Tom Sawyer among them.

I don’t know a lot about writing fiction. That’s why it comes as such a surprise (to myself included) that I attended a fiction writer’s conference this weekend. No seriously, I’m not making this up. I’m a non-fiction writer, remember. I stick with the facts.

I just returned from Nashville, Tennessee where I attended the American Christian Fiction Writers annual conference.

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With over 550 in attendance who specialize in literary categories such as fantasy, sci-fi, romance, young adult suspense, historical drama, or crime thriller, I was really a fish out of genre.

During the countless introductions between myself and other writers, the same question would be posed. “What do you write?”

“Non-fiction.” I’d respond with a smile. And then they’d all look at me as if I had two heads. The sci-fi people were mentally writing my character into their next book.

Then they’d slowly and sweetly say, “You know you’re at a fiction writers conference, right?”

Yes. Yes. I knew. And I’d explain how I got there. That I am friends with an amazing Christian fiction writer, Colleen Coble, who lives near my hometown and who has been ever so gracious to help mentor me as I dream of a writing career. I’d relay that Colleen taught me that whether writing the truth or the imagined, the craft of storytelling is much the same. That she believed I would learn a lot from the conference teachers, and that she knew that the many agents and editors in attendance work with both fiction and non-fiction writers.

This would all make perfect sense to the fiction writers. Colleen is basically a rock-star in their books (figuratively, not literally). She has published over fifty books and is the CEO of the American Christian Fiction Writers Association (ACFW). If Colleen says it, even fiction writers know it’s as good as truth. I had a golden ticket in my mentor and friend.

But, I already knew that.

So once we writers got past the initial shock of my presence, we would have the most wonderful conversations. We’d talk about each other’s books, dreams, and families. We’d laugh and shake our heads at the amazing room full of talent. I was so impressed with their creativity and kindness.

I admit there were a few moments when genre explanations would cause my eyes to grow wide. Like the woman who told me she wrote “paranormal romance without the erotica.” I guess I just wasn’t expecting that phrase to come out of her mouth and it took a while for the little Plinko chip in my brain to bounce off the pegs and settle into the slot of acceptance. But it turns out she was very sweet and became a friend that promised to keep in touch. I hope she gets a good wifi signal on her spaceship.

And so as I now sit at home in my favorite recliner and mentally debrief the past few days I thought I’d make a few observations as an “outsider.” Sometimes those are the most enlightening because of the fresh perspective. So without further ado, I give you:

5 Outsider Observations about the 2016 ACFW Conference

1. The agent and editor appointments are serious business. (Like, sweaty palms and shaky leg serious.) But they are amazing opportunities.

Attendees are given a very special piece of paper when you check in on day one and this sheet tells you who you are meeting with and when. At your appointment you have 15 minutes to pitch a book proposal to an agent or editor. 15 minutes. No more. Time keepers come to the door and cut you off. They may or may not be trained in judo.

Before your appointment you prepare and you practice and you put on more deodorant. And then it’s your time. Your time slot has been called. You have been chosen like one of the little green aliens grabbed by the big claw in Toy Story and you rise from your chair and walk down the hall. You sit across from your potential dream-come-true-maker and you say stuff. Hopefully it sounds better than that last sentence.

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I pitched twice on Saturday to two different literary agents. It turns out they are not nearly as scary as I feared. They smiled at me and even made some small talk. I took some deep breaths and we got through it together. I appreciated their gracious feedback and will look forward to following up with their advice. All in all, these appointments are a GREAT opportunity the ACFW conference presents. Attendees should not miss this chance!

9 out of 10 editors agree.

2. Literary agents, editors, and successful published authors are real people too.

Contrary to popular belief, these skilled professionals put their pants on one leg at a time. (I didn’t actually witness this, but it’s what they tell me.) The first night of the conference I sat for two hours and listened to two different panels of literary agents answer questions about pitching, proposals, and publishing. There were 13 total agents and I could have told you 11 of their names and partial bios before they were introduced. Listen. I’m not a stalker. I just use the internet. I’ve been reading these people’s blogs and tweets for months and I respect them greatly. I was a little star struck seeing them in real life. (Oh my gosh! Chip MacGregor just looked my way!)

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These agents and their fellow laborers, the editors and successful published authors, are just like me. Only they actually make money in the writing business. But seriously, they are so humble, funny, kind and gracious and they are at the conference to discover new talent and to help writers! These professionals WANT to help and know HOW. It’s a great two-for-one.

3. Writers are nice.

I don’t know what I expected, but I thought maybe there would be at least an undertone of competiveness among the conference attendees. I was wrong. Instead, everyone I met was my new friend and cheerleader. We prayed for each other, swapped ideas and advice for pitches, gave hugs, and dealt each other drugs (ibuprofen) for stress headaches. We swapped business cards and handed out compliments. One woman gave me a piece of chocolate. It felt like a cozy home away from home in that huge air conditioned banquet room. And that’s saying something.

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4. Lighted magnifying mirrors in the hotel bathrooms are not a great tool to utilize for face scrutiny before a meeting with an agent or editor. You just saw freckles and pores you didn’t know existed. You didn’t need to see that. Enough said.

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5. The “C” in ACFW stands for Christian, and they ain’t joking.

Each day we were led in a time of worship. The vocalists and musicians that led were wonderful, not just in talent, but in leadership. They didn’t make it about them, they made it about God. The songs and worship times glorified the One who is more creative than any room full of story creators. The focus was on Him. My voice caught in my throat one day as I glanced around the room and saw men and women, old and young, with all colors of hair, skin, and clothing raising hands and worshiping the Almighty God. No book contract could ever bring a sweeter collaboration.

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The shock is wearing off. I went to a fiction writing conference.

Did I get home after midnight and have to drive almost seven hours each way by myself? Yes. Did I drink enough caffeine the past three days to damage my kidneys? Maybe. Did my brain cry out for sweet relief after feeling as if one more bullet point would cause it to burst. You know it. Did the valet parking fee use up my eat-out budget for a few weeks. Dang it.

Was it worth it all?

Absolutely.

And you can trust me. I’m a non-fiction writer.

The Dash

April, 2016
This month I will receive my first paycheck in almost 12 years. I started working part-time as a grant writer for a non-profit (FCA.) I’m excited to be able to use writing to help raise money for a ministry that I care about, all while working mostly from home.
 
The decision for me to start working again was not one Kraig and I made lightly. For a dozen years we’ve intentionally chosen for me to stay home full-time with our three kids. Now our youngest will begin Kindergarten this fall and the timing seems good for me to start this job as well as pursue some other opportunities as/if they arise.
 
A few years ago I wrote a blog post called “The Dash” about my thoughts on being a stay-at-home mom and how when a financial planner summarized my contributions to our family with a little black line (meaning I didn’t earn any money) I struggled to see what value I added to our home. After confessing my feelings to my husband, he started to say “There’s your dash,” to encourage me each time he saw a way my life had impacted our home, family, or others.
 
There’s Your Dash.
 
We moms have an impact on our homes that goes well beyond an amount of money brought home on a paycheck, if there even is a paycheck, and whether the amount be zero or six-figures. In fact, my amazing friends who have juggled working and having little children tell me they often feel as if they’re failing in at least one area (home or work). So apparently, even if your “dash” is a dollar amount, it doesn’t automatically make you feel like you’ve succeeded in being a “good mom.” I had to be reminded of all of this, and today I repost “The Dash” and hope more than anything it will encourage and remind someone else – what you do matters.
 
There’s Your Dash.
———————
July, 2013

The three of us sat at our kitchen table for the second time in a matter of months. My husband and I were on one side and a trusted financial advisor was on the other. Our first meeting had included the collection of our personal financial information as well as some survey-type questions about our goals, plans, dreams, and risk tolerance.

Now we sat at this second meeting to discuss what all of this amounted to. Our financial advisor had our life neatly arranged into a nifty blue three-ring binder, complete with fancy dividers and witty quotes.

And if I’m going to be honest here (which I am) I have to tell you that I thought it was all pretty boring. I’m not much for statistics or finances… or even numbers for that matter. I like words and creativity and things that don’t require long division or carrying numbers. But, I was a good girl and I paid close attention at both of the meetings. I do like to be organized, so I didn’t want to miss the point, which was for my husband and I to have a plan for how we want to steward our money for the rest of our lives.

So, as a good student and wife, I was watching intently as the advisor opened to a page in the blue binder that gave an overall summary of the information he’d collected at our first meeting. The page was neatly divided into boxes so that anyone (even non-number people like me) could see where all our money came from and where it was being spent. I actually understood the numbers on the page.

Surprisingly, one thing in particular really caught my attention. I didn’t expect to care. But I did. Maybe a little too much.

On that page listing an overview of our finances, there was a little box labeled “Income.” In the box was my husband’s name and my name. Beside my husband’s name it listed an amount of money indicating how much he brings home each year. Then, under that was my name.  As I moved my eyes to the right, I saw what I contribute financially to the family in one year.

Yeah. A dash.

It signified that I contribute Zip. Zero. Nada. Nothin’.DSC_0263

We moved on with our meeting and with our week. I didn’t mention my thoughts or feelings about the dash to my husband for several days. I guess I needed time to think about my own reaction. I was surprised that I felt such a disdain toward that little black line.

The thing is, I know I don’t get paid for being a full time stay-at-home mom. I have never once received payment for anything. Well, that’s not true. I’ve been given many “gifts in kind” and several have been pieces of paper, but they’ve mostly been adorned with glitter glue, stickers and crayon. I treasure each of these, but my banker does not see any value in them.

I also know that this stay-at-home mom gig wasn’t thrown at me as a surprise. I chose this job. It’s actually my dream job. I’ve wanted this position since I can remember. I LOVE what I do and my husband and I planned for me to stay home even before we had actual children. For the first two years of our marriage I worked full time but we “practiced” by trying to live off of my husband’s income in preparation for me to stay at home once we had our first baby. And, three weeks before our little guy entered the world, I resigned and I’ve been home ever since.

Basically, I’m livin’ the dream.

So why did that crazy little dash bother me so much?

After about a week of mulling it over, I finally brought it up with my husband. I told him how much that dash was bothering me. I explained that I felt like it was just signifying that I contribute nothing to our household. All I feel like I actually do is spend our money because no matter how many times I feed our three kids they still want to eat again. And I can’t let us walk around naked, so I have to buy clothes and do laundry too. LOTS of laundry. And dishes. And cleaning. And none of these jobs are ever done. They just need to be repeated in a few minutes or hours or days. I feel like I am always working to keep our home running and fed and clean and happy.

And yet, all I was given is a dash.

My husband listened to me lament that little black line and he put up with my sobs and pity party for awhile. Then he did that thing he does where he starts to help me put everything back into perspective. Honestly, it kind of irks me at first, but once I give in and realize he’s right, things do seem a bit rosier.

Do you want to go get a job right now? No.

Do you like being a stay-at-home Mom? Love it.

Do we have enough to live comfortably with the money that I make? We are blessed beyond measure.

Then the dash is perfect. You contribute to this family exactly what we need.

In the weeks that followed, when one of our children would make a good decision my husband would look at me and say, “There’s your dash.”

When he’d come home from work to a home-cooked meal and joyful children laughing around the table my husband would say, “There’s your dash.”

When we’d talk about a Bible story or lesson that our children were learning and they’d say, “Mommy told me that…” Yes, you guessed it, he’d say, “There’s your dash.”

There’s no monetary value after my name in that blue three-ringed binder. Maybe someday there will be if I do get a job after our little ones are all in school. Maybe not. We haven’t set that in stone in our financial plan as of yet. But, although it took me an embarrassing pity party and sob fest to be reminded, I do know that there IS much value in that dash.

The financial advisor may never allow me to roll my dash over into our 401K. That’s all right. I think I’ve come to like that little dash now. I think I’ll keep it. Own it even.

The dash is a short and sweet reminder that the return on my investments are far greater than anything my financial planner could ever offer.

Do what?

He stared at me, waiting for an answer. I hesitated. His pencil remained poised in his hand, ready to fill in the blank. I hesitated some more. “I don’t know,” I said, “what do you think I like to do?”

My son shrugged and said, “I don’t know either but I have to write something. How about cook? Do you like to cook?” I nodded slowly. Yes, I admitted I like to cook, but I don’t love it. I mean, I do it all the time but I don’t know if cooking is something that should be written in #2 pencil on a homework assignment meant to discover more about a student’s parent and their hobbies.

Finally I gave my son a few ideas of things that I “like to do.” He chose one, basically because he wanted to get on with his evening, and scribbled it on the blank line. He was done and had moved on to something else. But I remained there in my chair and my thoughts. Is it really that hard to think of something that I like to do?

What do I do?

I feel like I do a lot.

I do actually cook. I clean up messes and mop floors. I do hair. I fold laundry. I have dinner with imaginary parrots (when instructed by my daughter that they are in fact at the table.) I drive my minivan to the library and grocery store. I read. I help with homework. I check Facebook. I support my husband’s work. I drink imaginary tea and change real diapers. I dress people and kiss “ouchies.” I pull weeds and get mail and do dishes. I meet up with friends. I laugh. I cry. I drink coffee. I snap pictures and watch as little hands draw pictures of their own.

I do a lot of things. But my son couldn’t think of anything that I like to do. This bothered me.

Days later I was still mulling over that conversation. Isn’t it apparent what I like to do? Doesn’t my family notice all that I do? If I didn’t do any of it would it even matter? How do I know if I’m doing well at what I’m doing if they don’t even know what I like to do?

This isn’t a new question to me. Years ago, I explained to my husband that since becoming a wife and mom I miss being evaluated. That may sound crazy, but I was just so accustomed to it up until that point in life. In school you get report cards multiple times a year telling you exactly where you stand in each subject. In my jobs, my bosses would make their expectations of my role very clear and then periodically evaluate my performance. Once I became a Mom, I was on my own. No one sits down with me and gives me a report card.

One year my husband tried. He took a passage of Scripture, Proverbs 31:10-31, and wrote out his thoughts on how I compared to the woman in the passage. It was super sweet and he even signed it at the bottom of the page. I loved the gesture and adore my husband. But when I read about the Proverbs 31 woman again, I saw verse 15,

“She gets up while it is still night;
she provides food for her family
and portions for her female servants.

Wait, what?! Female servants? She had servants? Ok, this isn’t an even playing field!

Nonetheless, I appreciated knowing for a time how I was doing. My husband’s poll was drawn from a relatively small sampling; one. But that one is pretty crucial. My man and our three children who, by the way, are the only reasons I do “get up while it is still night” are the only ones who truly matter when it comes to my evaluation. They don’t perform much formal critique of my work, but I’m starting to learn to take what I can get.

I have not yet received a report card or heard much constructive feedback from those I supervise. My underlings instead give feedback in the form of blunt food critique, bear hugs and butterfly kisses. They don’t really seem to care exactly how I’m doing what I’m doing. They are not even sure what I do. They don’t applaud me for a sparkling floor, drawers full of clothes or coupons clipped. They don’t care if I am the best in my field or climbing the ladder of success. They just want me. They want me to do life. And even more, they want me to do life with them.

That’s what I do. Life. I do whatever my hands find for me to do. And in doing those things, I strive to honor my Lord and my husband and children. I do each mundane task to the best of my ability. Sometimes it deserves an A. Sometimes I flunk. But most of all, I just do life. And I’ll have you know I like it. I like it a lot.

It was just hard to fit all of that on the blank line.