One of my greatest joys is cheering for my kids when they do something amazing.
Amazing being a relative word, of course.
It could be writing a lower case ‘g’ in the lines properly. Or swinging from the monkey bars. Or hopping around the room on one leg.
Amazing can quite literally mean anything.
Just last week, my almost-five-year-old daughter was in gymnastics class, and for some reason, they started juggling scarves. After a series of “tricks,” the coach asked them to toss a scarf into the air and try to catch it with their foot.
Well, let me tell you, my daughter is determined to a fault. Even with something as arbitrary and trivial as catching scarves on her feet. (She gets it from her momma.)
So for a moment, she stood there, her brow furrowed in complete concentration as brightly-colored patches of fabric floated around her through the air.
Finally, she tossed hers up and stuck out her foot. The scarf floated lazily back down.
She tossed it again. Another miss.
Toss, toss. Miss. Miss.
Until finally, the sheer square landed directly on the bridge of her tiny foot.
The smile that exploded across her face could have lit the entire gym. With twinkling, blue eyes alive with accomplishment, she turned toward the coach.
But the coach wasn’t looking.
And all her gymnast buddies were too focused to notice anything other than their own scarves.
I see you, sweet girl.
I raised my hands above my head victoriously in the viewing area, and my lips stretched into a wide smile as I tried to will her eyes to meet mine.
I see you.
But she never looked my way.
And a little kid can only balance on one leg for so long. Soon, she tipped over and the scarf sailed to the floor as though the trick never happened.
Everything about her—who she is, what she did—went seemingly unnoticed. Unappreciated.
Mommas, I don’t know about you, but I feel like that all too often.
There are days—heck, even weeks and months—when it feels like I’m sprinting to take care of the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of my family. Trying to clean the house, fold the laundry, do the dishes. Trying to write this book. Trying to get this post-baby body ready for CG Games.
Trying. Trying. Trying.
I’m constantly tossing scarves into the air and trying to catch them on my foot.
And lots of times I miss.
But sometimes—sometimes—I do something amazing.
Amazing being a relative word, of course.
It could be folding the laundry and miraculously getting the all clothes in the appropriate drawers. Or cooking three meals a day that everyone in my family actually eats. Or writing a chapter—or simply one sentence—that I’m proud of. Or giving 120% of myself at a Camp Gladiator workout. Or, most amazing of all, playing with my kids instead of worrying about what task I need to take care of next.
With twinkling, brown eyes alive with accomplishment, I turn toward my husband, my kids, my peers. Editors, literary agents, publishers. My CG trainer.
But sometimes they’re not looking. Sometimes they’re too focused on their own scarves to notice the one dangling from my foot.
And that’s okay. It’s not their job to keep their eyes on me.
But I can only balance my life for so long. Soon, I tip over and my scarf sails to the floor as though the amazing thing I did never happened.
Everything about me—who I am, what I did—feels unnoticed. Unappreciated.
Until I remember the viewing area. The one far outside my periphery.
Finally, I turn toward my attention that direction. There my Father stands, His hands raised above His head victoriously. Turns out He’s been there the whole time, watching, trying to will my eyes to meet His. His lips stretch into a wide smile as he says the words I’ve so longed to hear.
I see you, sweet girl. I see you.
My kids always seem to know what they want.
Milk. Snacks. A blanket. Socks. More snacks.
And that’s just at bedtime.
They’re pros at wanting stuff.
It’s like they’re hard-wired to desire what they think will make them happy.
Take it from my son. He’s only eight-months-old and can’t even speak yet, but he has the gift of knowing what he wants and communicating it clearly. (If you don’t believe me, watch what happens when Mom walks out of the room.)
He has also recently entered the get-into-everything phase. He army crawls like professional militia and can turn on the turbo jets when he’s hunting something down.
The other day, for instance, I was unloading the dishwasher. For the past eight months, this has been a relatively easy task. But with Sergeant Baby on the scene, it has gotten a bit trickier. He crawls into the dishwasher (literally, into the dishwasher, y’all) and one time I even had to wrestle a butter knife out of his tiny, dimple-knuckled hand. It was like a horror scene from Chuckie.
Finally, I managed to wrangle the weapon from my infant and he went on his merry, little way—directly into the open cabinet filled with tupperware. (I had tossed a few plastic bowls in there and darted away when I saw my son wielding a knife.)
He reached for the biggest, glassiest baking dish, but I pulled him away and closed the cabinet door.
And he did not like that.
The kid doesn’t know what a baking dish is—heck, he doesn’t even know what glass is—but by golly, he knew he wanted it. He had no idea what danger and destruction could have come from playing with butter knives or glass bakeware.
All he knew was that he wanted them.
Yet, as his Mom, I closed those doors for him out of love.
Aren’t we adults exactly the same way?
We’re pros at wanting stuff.
And we always seem to think we know exactly what we want.
A spouse. A new car. A promotion. A bigger house.
I, for one, dream of finding someone to represent and publish my dystopian novels and children’s books.
But, so far, God has closed those doors.
At first, I whined and shouted.
But what if God did open those doors? What if He decided to give me everything I wanted?
How would the reality of being a published author affect my life? My marriage? My kids? And my ability to tend to all of those things? How would it affect my heart? My spirit? My faith?
The answer: I have no idea.
I have no clue what it’s like to be under the demands of a publisher. I have no idea if it is good for me right now or if it will shatter my already-chaotic life into a thousand pieces of sharp glass.
It’s like I’m hard-wired to desire what I think will make me happy.
I’m programmed to pursue sharp knives and fragile Pyrex. And I truly have no foresight of what will happen when I get what I want.
But the only thing that will bring true joy to my life—and to all of our lives—is not our will, but God’s.
So I’ve learned to stop asking for things—or at least, I’ve stopped trying to pummel through closed doors on my own strength. After all, when God closes a door, He does it out of love. So now, I’ll simply back away, grateful for the blocked road with a new prayer pouring from my heart.
God, keep closing all the doors I’m not supposed to walk through.
When I was a student, I had the enormous pleasure of meeting Eva Kor, an Auschwitz survivor whose life became the hit Netflix documentary, Forgiving Dr. Mengele. (If you haven’t seen it, you should—it’s amazing.)
When Eva was a young girl, her family was sent to Auschwitz. And, as a twin, Eva endured the infamously atrocious experiments of Dr. Josef Mengele—or, more appropriately named, The Angel of Death.
After years of suffering, the people in Auschwitz were liberated, and Eva was one of the first to break through the gates. Since then, she traveled across the world and restarted her life in Terre Haute—a town nicknamed ‘The Armpit of Indiana’ due to its pungent creosote factories.
There, Eva owns a small Holocaust museum off one of the main roads, filled with mementos from her experiences in Auschwitz. Each year, people from all over the world flock Eva’s museum to listen to and experience her story.
It’s like they’re drawn to her suffering.
I have experienced something similar in my own life—not with Nazis or Auschwitz, thanks be to the good Lord—but with suffering in general.
On a typical day, my loyal readers check out what I have to say (thank you!) But, on the days I honestly share some of my heartache, you beautiful people come out of the woodwork to encourage and support me. When I blogged about losing my baby and my tubal pregnancy, you all buried me in love. When I posted raw photos of my post-partum difficulties, friends and strangers alike reached out with healing encouragement.
It is truly amazing. YOU. YOU are truly amazing.
And, every time, I find myself eternally grateful for the kindness and hope you inject into my life. (Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you!)
This kind of response is so infused into our human identity, we even embody it at the biological level. When a physical trauma occurs, our blood—our lifeline—rushes to the wound in an attempt to heal it.
But why does this happen? Why do we go out of our way to rush into someone else’s pain?
Because deep down we know suffering is an injustice—a crime against the soul—and pain, in any degree, was never an intended part of life.
And yet, suffering affects every last one of us, no matter our color, race, gender, or socioeconomic status. No one can escape it. Even God Himself had to suffer as He hung on a cross naked, abandoned, and bloodied.
One look at the news headlines will prove that this world is filled with suffering.
But we were not made to suffer. We were made for joy, for love.We were not made for this world, we were made for heaven.
So what did God do?
He sent His most beloved Son into our pain-infused world. And Jesus willingly left his pain-free home in heaven to come suffer with us.
Similarly, when we dive into the suffering of others, we touch their wounds with a piece of heaven.
Because of Jesus, those who suffer can now be united with Christ the Paschal Lamb, and those who rush to help can relate to Christ the Healer.
We, as a people who were made for heaven, long for God whether we acknowledge it or not. And that is why we cannot stop ourselves from rushing to others and standing against the injustice of sin.
For where there is suffering, there, too, is Christ.
Are you experiencing any suffering at this time? If so, please leave your story in the comments section below. I would love to be there for you with support and encouragement!
“Ready for church?”
It’s a silly question, really, and to be honest, I’m not sure why I asked. I gaze upon my two small daughters as they shove pancakes into their mouths, the stringy syrup striping their pajamas. Cheeks puffed with pastries, they shake their heads.
I run through the mental checklist: Clean the table. Clean the kids. Dress the kids. Do their hair. Get myself ready. Get out the door.
I take a quick glance at the clock and do the math. Ten minutes. We have to accomplish all of that in ten minutes.
Anxiety stabs me in the gut. “Time to get dressed! It’s urgent! Go, go, go!”
They scurry from the table, fiddling with everything they can on the way to their rooms. Even from a distance, I see how their hands stick to whatever they touch, and hear the pop as they pry their syrupy fingers from their plate. And their toys. And the walls.
Wipe down the whole house, I mentally add to the to-do list.
My husband takes the baby, and I hurry to the bedroom to throw on my Sunday best. After slapping some makeup on my face, I scramble back to my daughters’ room to find them swinging from their bunk beds. Naked.
“Why aren’t you dressed?!”
They point to the closet where their dresses hang. “We couldn’t reach.”
I glance down at my watch. Two minutes. With a little luck and a lot of Jesus, we could do this.
The girls choose their dresses and I stuff them in, zip them up, then shoo them out the door and into the van. In those two minutes, my husband has also managed—by some miracle of his own—to dress himself, dress the baby, fill a bag with Cheerios, and meet us in the garage.
Quickly, we throw the girls into their carseats and fasten the buckles. Then we’re off. As we pull out of the driveway, my husband and I sigh deeply. Just like we do every Sunday.
At church, we pile into our normal seats in the front row. We enjoy the clear view. The few distractions. The public humiliation.
“Mom, I’m hungry,” says my four-year-old.
“What? You just ate breakfast.”
“But I’m still hungry. Can I have a snack?”
I grab the bulging bag of Cheerios—the one my husband filled before we left home—and hand it to her.
Then we’re instructed to greet our neighbors. Which we do.
Then comes the music. Which we sing.
Then an hour of stillness. Which we can’t do to save our souls.
Almost immediately, my daughter drops the snack bag, sending 8,000 tiny Os sprawled all over the floor. My two-year-old, who’s already down there crawling under the pews, picks them up and shovels them into her mouth. I bend over to help and my infant son cries out for milk. I sit back up, swing my nursing cover over my head, and expose myself beneath it so he can eat.
We’ve already caused a scene. People are looking. I can feel their gazes smothering the back of my neck. I have no idea what the priest is saying. All I know is that I’m sweating. And if my baby yanks the blanket (like he’s been known to do), the entire congregation will get to see more than just Jesus’s body today.
My insides squirm more than my active toddlers. “Do you SEE what I go through to bring my kids to Mass?” I silently whine to God. “Do you see everything I’m doing to be here??”
“Really?” The word—definitely not my own—flashes through my mind, saturated with sarcasm and jest. “I went through some stuff to be here, too…”
In one swift, sobering moment, Jesus Himself reminded me that my biggest inconveniences are merely that—inconveniences. Nothing painful (save for the few right hooks to the nose or cheek when my husband and I pass around small children.) But what I go through—these hardships I can hardly bear—are nothing compared to the absolute agony and misery that Jesus willingly endured. All so He could be here and live up to who He truly is.
Immanuel. God with us.
What about you?
What cross of yours makes it difficult to get to church? And will you choose to bear it to meet Him there?
My son’s cry rattles me from sleep. I rub one eye and take a dreaded peek at the clock.
Who needs alarms when they’ve got kids?
Tossing back the covers, I shiver in the chilly, pre-dawn air. But this is it. No more covers. No more sleep. The baby’s awake. The day’s begun.
I slip into his room silently, though it’s not like it matters. His wails have grown stronger and more desperate. Behind the bars, tears stain his sheets and crib mattress. I lift him over the railing and cradle him, absorbing the warmth of his small body. He nuzzles into me, rubbing his face against my pajama shirt. When he pulls back, a trail of mucus shines from my shoulder.
I grimace. “Did you wipe your nose on me?”
Then he coughs uncontrollably in my face and I have my answer.
After wiping the germy spit from my cheeks, I collapse onto the recliner tucked in the corner of the nursery.
Maybe I can snag a few more minutes of sleep while he eats.
But before I can finish that thought, the door to my daughters’ bedroom creaks open, followed by the sound of uncertain, shuffling feet and the unmistakable swish-swish of Pull-Ups on the prowl.
My two-year-old peeks her head into the nursery, allured by the soft, blue light of the glowing lamp. The only light at this time of day.
“Mom?” She rubs a tired eye. “I’m hungry.”
I let go of any hope of closing my eyes. “Okay, let me finish feeding your brother, then—”
“And I’m wet.”
With the baby still attached and slurping, I crouch beside my toddler and strip pee-soaked clothes from her body. She wraps her arms around herself and shivers.
“Now I’m cold, Mom!”
“I know.” I suppress the frustrated huff rising into my throat. “Let’s go get you some clothes.”
“But I’m COLD!”
My heart pounds against my temples. If I weren’t holding a nursing baby, maybe I could massage them for a moment.
But I know that’s out of the question.
I glance at my daughter, the tiny girl with gigantic emotions. If she goes to get her own clothes, her flaring temper will surely wake her older sister who shares the same bedroom.
I sigh. “Stay here. I’ll get your clothes.”
Fumbling through the dark, I make my way to the girls’ room and open the dresser drawer. Slowly. Quietly. I reach inside, grabbing blindly, then go back to the nursery and slip the dry clothes onto my quivering daughter.
“Will you make some breakfast now, please?” she asks.
“Sure.” I prop the baby onto my shoulder and pat his back. Again he coughs in my face.
As I fill bowls with Honey Nut Cheerios, my oldest comes out of her room, her hair a tangled mess, a shy grin glowing on her face. She scurries to me and presses her face into my abdomen.
“Good morning,” she says, her soft words muffled by my shirt. “Can I have some milk in a cup, too, please?”
It’s barely 6 o’clock and I already feel like a ragged, worked-to-death servant.
The word leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. Servant. Blech.
I could do so much more. Be so much more. If only I didn’t have to wait kitchen tables and the small children crammed in the chairs.
But Jesus didn’t call us to be comfortable. He never offered an easy, convenient life. And He definitely never promised prosperity in five, fun DIY steps.
In fact, He did the opposite. He challenged us to do something way more difficult. More counter-intuitive. Something that’s much harder to hear about and cheer for. He commanded us to die to ourselves. To be servants.
He told us to serve those who are without food and drink. To serve people with nowhere to call home. To nurture, comfort, and heal the sick. To give company and mercy to those in prison. And even to give of our excess to those who need it more.
He calls us to live the Corporal Works of Mercy.
And parenthood—especially in the early years—is the embodiment of the Corporal Works of Mercy. Day after day after grueling, grinding day.
Feed the Hungry/Give Drink to the Thirsty
The hungry and thirsty? Those might as well be my daughters’ real names. Not to brag or anything, but as a mom, I feel like I can check those two works off the list every fifteen minutes.
Shelter the Homeless
Until my kids turn 18, I’ll go ahead and put a checkmark by this whole shelter thing, too.
Visit the Sick
When a virus spreads through the family, who’s the one to stay awake, vigilant, stroking the backs and sweaty hair of the ill-stricken? Parents. Moms and Dads. I know I’ve had my fair share of all-nighters where my kids coughed in my mouth, sneezed in my eyeballs, and puked all over my pajamas. We visit the sick and we take care of them. It’s in our job description.
Visit the Prisoners
The aspect of prisoners gets a little trickier here, as our kids (hopefully) aren’t running around breaking state and federal laws. But they do break family rules. All the time. Or at least mine do. And who visits with those scoundrels who’ve earned solitary confinement—their hands shackled, if invisibly, to the nearest wall? Who receives the prodigal sons and daughters once their time is up? You got it. Parents. We’re responsible for showing them mercy and Jesus after their most royal of mess ups.
Give Alms to the Poor
I can’t think of a poorer population than children. And I also can’t think of anyone who gets more of my money than my kids. Case and point.
So, mamas and papas, if you’ve been thinking that parenthood is tough, you’re in good company. We are constantly dying to ourselves. Constantly meeting the needs of others while our desires go unmet.
We are constantly being servants.
We are constantly living the life Jesus called us to live.
My infant son has a lot of toys. They’re not sparkling with newness, by any means. No, they are the leftovers—the survivors, really—of his two older sisters. All of them hold their own stories. My oldest daughter favored some, my second daughter preferred others. But all of them were abandoned after years of child growth and development.
One of my son’s current favorites is an orange rubber monkey that squeaks when you squeeze it. Basically, it’s a glorified dog toy. But by golly, he loves the thing. He grasps it in his tiny hand, refusing to let go, as he lifts it above his head and brings it crashing back down. Over and over and over.
Squeak. Squeak. Squeak.
There is only one reason it ever drops from his fingers.
The other day, he was sitting in his little baby chair, smashing the monkey to squeaking bits. I sailed over to him, unclasped the buckles that chain him down, and lifted him from his seat.
“I love you,” I cooed as I brought him to my chest.
Without hesitation, my son sent his cherished toy plummeting to the floor.
“What an honor.” I rolled my eyes in jest. “I’m better than a rubber monkey.”
The words themselves seemed insignificant. Better than a rubber monkey.
But, after I thought about them, the meaning of those words was huge.
My son valued that monkey more than anything in the world. And he valued me even more.
He wanted me more than his greatest want.
How often do I treat my Father that way? What rubber monkeys do I cling to? And when was the last time I dropped those earthly treasures so I could reach for my Father?
In this season of Lent, that’s exactly what we’re challenged to do—to identify our most cherished valuables, then drop them to get closer to our Father.
If we stayed focused on those squeaking rubber monkeys in our lives, we might miss the moments when our Father sails into the room. We might miss it when He tries to unclasp us from the buckles that chain us down. We might even be distracted when He lifts us up and brings us closer to His Sacred Heart.
By clinging to our valuables, we let the Invaluable slip through our fingers.
We’re at the halfway point in Lent, folks, and the rubber monkey I dropped this season was watching TV after the kids go to bed. At first, the transition was rough—uh, hello, the third season of The Man in the High Castle is supposed to be released soon and I’m still working my way through The Crown. I mean, c’mon, priorities people!
But after my husband and I teamed up and decided to spend our nights screen-free, I prefer it now. I don’t feel lacking like I thought I would. Instead, I feel much richer—richer in time, in connection with my husband, in personal pursuits. I’m diving headfirst into my life, not Julianna Crane’s (but seriously, what’s going to happen to her???) I’ve read books, beta read for fellow writers, exercised, and I’ve even gotten to talk to my husband. *gasp*
What about you? How has your Lenten journey been treating you? Have you shown God that He is better than the rubber monkeys in your life? I’d love to hear about your journey (and support and encourage you along the way), so feel free to share your experience in the comments section!
My daughter is a jerktoid.
There, I said it. I know it’s harsh, but it’s true.
She’s selfish, stubborn, and abrasive. She whines and shouts, emotion spilling uncontrollably down her face when things don’t go her way. Then she strikes me in the face when I don’t cave in to her antics.
It’s like raising a viper.
In short, she’s difficult to get along with.
Some would say she’s this way because she’s only two-years-old. And for a while, I was fooled into believing them. But lately, I’m beginning to suspect all of this is engrained into her DNA. She runs on raw emotion as surely as she runs on her two, tiny feet.
And, quite frankly, I’ve questioned whether I really like that.
It’s a difficult question—whether or not you like your own child—and it’s one I find myself ashamed or embarrassed to ask. (Isn’t every mother supposed to love her babies with unwavering ferocity?)
So I tiptoed around it gently, sizing up every angle before coming to my conclusion:
There are many times I really don’t like who she is as a person.
But she’s my daughter, for crying out loud, and I love her.
It knots my stomach to think about our future relationship. One where if I let my liking for her overcome my love for her, we would surely part ways—and do so bitterly. She’d be glad to be rid of me, and I’d inhale in the drama-free air after she goes.
I don’t want that at all.
I want a relationship with her now and when she’s grown. But to do that, I must show her love now. Even when I don’t want to. Even when it’s hard.
Even when I don’t like her.
To do that, there needs to be a truce. A laying down of our weapons. A reconciliation of sorts.
And since she’s only two, I will hoist the burden of that onto my own shoulders. I choose—willingly—to make the greater sacrifice so that she and I can be close.
That, I realize, is exactly what my Father has done for me.
I’m selfish, impatient, and stubborn to a fault. I whine and self-pity, emotion spilling uncontrollably down my face when my comfortable life seems too hard.
It’s like raising a serpent.
In short, I can be difficult to get along with.
I’m beginning to suspect that aspect of me is engrained into my DNA. I function on sin as surely as I do on a good night’s sleep and a full cup of coffee.
And, quite frankly, I’ve questioned whether God really likes that.
It’s a difficult question—whether or not you’re liked by your own Father—and it’s one I find myself ashamed or embarrassed to ask.
It knots my stomach to think about our future relationship. One where if He let his liking for me overcome his love for me, we would surely part ways—and do so bitterly.
But He doesn’t want that at all.
He wants a relationship with me now and in heaven. But to do that, He must show me love now. Even when it’s hard.
To do that, there needs to be a truce. A laying down of our weapons. A reconciliation of sorts.
And since I’m only human, He hoisted the burden of that onto His own shoulders. He chose—willingly—to make the greater sacrifice so that we could be close.
He says so right there in His own living Word:
“God demonstrates his own love for us in this: that while we were still jerktoids (rough translation), Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
A few weeks ago, we took my son to the doctor for his first well-visit. After his near-death entrance into the world (which I talk about here), we held our breath while the doctor examined every crevice, every pore, scouring the kid for any signs of malfunction or injury.
Doc flipped the baby over and inspected each tiny vertebrae running up his back. “He had a bit of a rough start, but I’d say he’s just about perfect now.”
No signs of brain or skull trauma. No jaundice. No heart problems like there had been during labor and delivery.
My son was normal. Perfectly normal.
When it came to height and weight, my baby boy was smack dab in the middle, percentile-wise. His head circumference was shockingly average. And, just like other babies his age, his developing eyes could only see 7-9 inches in front of his face.
There he was—my perfectly normal miracle baby—wiggling on the table, each move crinkling the white paper beneath him. I reached for him then, cradling his delicate neck in my palm.
And he flinched. At his own mother’s embrace.
I eyeballed my arms to estimate their length. Way longer than 7-9 inches.
How could he know someone was going to pick him up? To him, I was just some blurry blob in the distance.
I lifted him and held him close, inserting my face into his tiny world. “Come here, big guy.”
He looked bewildered—completely lost—as his head bobbed around, his bulging eyes searching for the source of my voice. When his frantic gaze landed on my face, he blinked in recognition and his body melted into my arms. Finally, a bit of peace. A glimpse of home in his overwhelming world.
Like my son, I, too am a little short-sighted. But my vision isn’t measured in centimeters or inches. It’s measured in days, weeks, and years.
In the scheme of eternity, my entire life is a mere 7-9 inches.
And I’m so focused on those few, minuscule inches, I’m often blind to the blurry Kingdom beyond.
Instead, I dream within the confines of my limited view, squinting to its farthest reaches to regurgitate how I envision my life to unfold:
- Published author
- Respected mother
- Flawless homemaker
- Supportive, loving wife
And what do I do?
I set my short sights on those pursuits and work relentlessly to win the world, not the Kingdom.
There are no signs of stopping. No breathers. No quitting.
Which, I’ve discovered is normal. Perfectly normal.
Here I am—your typical run-of-the-mill, Type A overachiever—wiggling through life, ramming headfirst into any walls that try to stop me. I’m sure I look bewildered—completely lost—as I scurry about, tirelessly striving to attain everything I can in this short life.
He reaches for me then, cradling my delicate neck in His palm.
And I flinch. At my own Father’s embrace.
How could I know He was going to pick me up? He was just some blurry blob in the distance.
He lifts me and holds me close, inserting himself into my tiny world. “Come here, big girl.”
When my frantic gaze lands on His face, I blink in recognition and my body melts into His arms.
Finally, a bit of peace.
A glimpse of home inside my overwhelming world.
Over the past few years, I’ve had the privilege of getting to know author Laurie Germaine. Not only is this Montana-dweller a talented writer, she’s also a loving wife, a wonderful mom, and an overall incredible woman of God. The writing on her blog is honest and beautiful, and her fiction is downright hilarious. Her upcoming novel, Tinsel in a Tangle, is all of those combined—and it’s hitting electronic bookshelves October 3rd.
In Tinsel in a Tangle, seventeen-year-old Tinsel pursues an esteemed position at Santa’s Workshop, but her clumsy ways make a mess of Christmas worldwide. Now, the only position in her future is a permanent spot on the Naughty List—unless she can redeem herself with the help of some über-talkative reindeer…and one annoyingly cute Kringle.
I got to catch up with Laurie at this year’s American Christian Fiction Writer’s (ACFW) Conference in Dallas, where we delved into her upcoming book and what it’s like to be a writer. Here’s what she had to say…
Why do you write?
Because I can’t not write. I usually have characters jabbering around in my head, wanting to be set free on “paper,” so I try to figure out their stories and write them down. I’m not as quick at this as other writers, but you know you’re passionate about something when you inhale nonfiction books on the subject like they’re bonbons from a confectionery shop. I also look at writing stories as a way for me to (hopefully) encourage other believers in their faith as they follow my characters through their different struggles and doubts.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer? How did you turn that dream into a reality?
I’ve wanted to be a writer ever since elementary school, but even though I wrote throughout my childhood, I couldn’t give it the attention it required until after I graduated college, when I no longer had homework and exams hanging overhead. That’s when I began to turn the dream into a reality. I wrote every spare minute, studied any book on the craft I could find, and completed a correspondence course with the Institute of Children’s Literature. Then, several years ago,
I became a member of ACFW, an online writing community that offers—among other options—monthly courses and a critique loop (which I highly recommend).
The journey has taken longer than my child-self imagined, since negative self-talk and postpartum depression have been huge obstacles to maneuver over the years. I used to feel apologetic about that, but I’ve just recently come to realize this is not a failure. I am, in fact, a success story because I’ve persevered and accomplished my goal despite the depression and self-derision.
Tell us about your upcoming book, Tinsel in a Tangle.
It’s a Christmas fantasy-romance about a seventeen-year-old elf and her misadventures as she vies for an esteemed position at Santa’s Workshop. When her clumsy ways end up putting Christmas in jeopardy, Tinsel lands a punishment mucking reindeer stalls for Santa’s hotshot grandson, Niklas. If she wants a second chance at that internship, she must collaborate with the twinkle-eyed flirt to redeem herself in everyone’s eyes—provided she doesn’t mess up again. For one more calamity will not only bring about the holiday’s demise, Tinsel will be immortalized as the elf who shattered children’s faith in Santa Claus.
So not the way she wants to go down in history.
How did you come up with the idea for Tinsel?
Two pictures inspired the foundation for Tinsel. First, long ago, my mom had given me a 1000-piece puzzle depicting Dept 56’s North Pole Series, and I was instantly smitten. I knew then that I wanted to write a full-length novel showcasing the fantasy side of Christmas, but I didn’t know anything beyond that. Not the characters, not the plot. So I tucked it away for another day. Second, I love that picture of Santa kneeling at the manger. If it weren’t for Jesus’ birth, stories of Santa wouldn’t exist, and I wanted to play off the idea that Santa knows his purpose is to point people to the real Reason for the season. Fast-forward almost ten years to December of 2012, when my writer’s group had a short writing assignment for a Christmas party. In brainstorming for the assignment, I suddenly discovered who my two main characters were, and then through an ACFW course in February of ’13, I discovered the story’s plot and began fleshing it out.
Give us an insight into your main character. What is she like and how is she special/unique?
Tinsel is optimistic and determined. She’s different from the other elves in that she’s human-sized (thanks to her great-grandmother’s unorthodox decision many decades earlier), so she’s constantly fighting an uphill battle to prove her worth to the community. When serving a Penalty for yet another mishap, she discovers she can talk to the reindeer, a talent unique not only among the elves, but also among the Kringle family members.
Which actress would you envision playing Tinsel?
Ooo, that’s a tough question, since I’ve always envisioned a fun, CGI-animated version of Tinsel. After mulling it over, however (and doing some online sleuthing), I think Mackenzie Foy would make a cute, quirky Tinsel. All she needs to do is dye her hair red for a few months of filming. 😉
Which character from Tinsel do you most relate to and why?
Never mind. This is the tough question. Oy. I think I relate most to Tinsel’s friend, Gina. If I’m blessed to write a sequel to Tinsel, Gina will play a larger role, and I’ve discovered our tastes are similar. Who knew we’d share a doll fetish?
Tinsel in a Tangle is a young adult Christmas novel, which is a pretty specific genre. What draws you to that particular niche? Do you plan to keep writing in that genre or will you try your hand at others too?
I’ve always been crazy in love with Christmas. The decorations, the lights, hot cocoa, snow days…for me, it really is the most wonderful time of the year. And since I had so much fun writing Tinsel, I’m sure I’ll write another Christmas novel. But I also have some ideas for inspirational romances and a YA fantasy I’d love to flesh out.
Where can readers find Tinsel in a Tangle and get their hands on a copy?
The digital format is available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iBooks. A paperback version is not yet available, but I’m optimistic (see? I’m learning from Tinsel) that it will be an option through Amazon before this Christmas season is over.
I love what you’re doing with the proceeds from this book. Will you tell us a little more about that?
In a nutshell, I read a nonfiction book several years ago that broke my heart and brought me to a place where I promised God my first published book. Kind of like how Hannah promised God her firstborn son in 1 Samuel 1-2. So, all the proceeds I receive from the sale of Tinsel will go toward helping girls rescued from sex trafficking. Initially, I will donate to Agape International Ministries, agapewebsite.org, but there are two USA-based ministries that have caught my eye, as well. Over time, I might give to one or both of them. Please don’t put me on any kind of pedestal, though, as I often wrestle with generous giving. This is more a matter of being obedient to what I feel God has put on my heart.
What was your favorite thing about writing Tinsel? What was the hardest?
Writing Tinsel was cathartic for me, since I was trying to rediscover my joy in the craft. At the onset, I asked myself what makes me happy, what makes me smile, and the answer was a no-brainer: Christmas and German. Thus, getting to stay in the Christmas mindset for almost three years and playing around with the German language were my two favorite things. Figuring out the climax of the story was the hardest. That section, and the chapters surrounding it, went through many more revisions than the rest of the novel.
Tell us about your cover (it’s so cute!) and how it came about.
Clean Reads uses a couple different designers for their book covers, and Amanda from AM Design Studios created mine. Taking into consideration the back-cover blurb of my story and an image I was drawn to from Shutterstock, Amanda came up with the end result. I was soooo giddy when I first saw it, because let’s face it, people do judge books by their covers, and this one reflects everything about Tinsel: the red dress connotes Christmas and romance, the pose of the girl speaks to its whimsical nature, promising the reader some good chuckles along the way, and there’s even a reindeer in the background, an animal crucial to the success of Tinsel’s story.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
I’ve been a huge fan of Janette Rallison for a long time, have recently fallen in love with Kasie West’s books (P.S. I Love You and On the Fence are my two faves), and I discovered Kristin Rae a few years ago with her debut novel, Wish You Were Italian. All three are extremely talented writers.
What advice do you have for writers?
Oh man, you might have just opened a can of worms.
Learn the craft, learn the “rules,” then write until you know those rules so well, you know when you’re breaking them and why. It’s so easy these days to publish your work on Amazon, but just because you can doesn’t necessarily mean you should. You might not be ready, and you really want to present the world with your best work.
Writing a book is similar to becoming a doctor, actually. It takes a lot of time and study to do it well. Most successful authors (if not all authors, period) stand on a foundation of manuscripts that will never leave their computers or laptops. I certainly have mine. Write your best work, learn as you go, and then be willing to set it aside if need be and start on a new manuscript. Don’t think of that first, second, or third manuscript as lost time or effort, since you will be pouring into the new manuscript everything you learned from working on the first one(s). And never forget a writer is always learning, no matter how many books are under his/her belt. I had studied the craft for over 15 years by the time I put Tinsel through the ACFW critique loop, and I was floored by how much I still learned from the other writers critiquing my “baby.”
How can readers find out more about you and your work?
Two weeks ago, my son entered the world.
It took a lot of work to get him here, including 20 hours of labor, an emergency c-section, and a ton of healing. When the doctor pulled him from my womb, it was clear my baby had been through the wringer. His forehead protruded outward over his swollen-shut eyes, the back of his head flopped to the side like a smashed melon, and bruises blotched every inch of his face.
It’s no wonder when he arrived, all he wanted to do was sleep (praise the good Lord!)
He’d fall asleep in the hospital incubator, bundled tightly in blankets spotted with blue and pink footprints. He’d find comfort in the arms of friends and family, barely waking as they passed him from one person to the next. He even slept cozily in the arms of night nurses whom he’d never met.
Over time, the injuries from labor and delivery faded away. The swelling was first to recede, then the bruises. Bit by bit, my son’s face—who he really was—began to emerge.
I smiled down at his healing face, his head too heavy for his narrow neck, and cradled him in the crook of my elbow.
This was my favorite of all his resting spots. Right there in my arms, close enough to feel his choppy breaths on my skin. Close enough to admire my handheld miracle as he whimpered and adjusted himself in my arms.
Before my eyes, I witnessed the wounds lift from his cheeks, his lips, his forehead—as though the damage simply evaporated into the air, leaving behind the gentle, spotless skin of a newborn.
Deformity to perfection. All he had to do was rest.
Where do I rest? I wondered after nearly 36 hours of no sleep.
In my delirium, I pictured myself trying to get cozy in the folds of my wallet, constantly distressed by its lack of cushion. All too often, I toss and turn there, unable to relax, as suffocation sucks life from my chest.
If only I could pad the pockets, I could rest easier, I lie.
But the truth is I typically squirm out of the arms of the One who offers true rest.
Only when I lay my weary-laden head in the crook of my Father’s elbow can I truly find peace. Only then can the swelling of my sin recede. Bit by bit, my face—who I was really created to be—begins to emerge.
He smiles down at my healing face, my head too heavy for my weakened spirit, as He cradles me.
This is His favorite of all my resting spots. Right there in His arms, close enough to feel my breath grow calm against his Sacred Heart. Close enough to admire His miraculous handiwork as I whimper and adjust myself in His arms.
He gazes into my small face and then lifts the wounds of sin, leaving behind the gentle, spotless skin of a newborn.
Deformity to perfection.
All I have to do is rest in Him.