My daughters strut out of my bedroom with adult-sized purses dangling from their shoulders. Sippy cups peek through the zipper as the bags drag across the floor.
My oldest daughter adjusts her neon green sunglasses, resting them perfectly atop her head. “Um, excuse me,” she says to me, “do you work for the train station?”
I pause my dish washing and throw the damp towel over my shoulder. “Why, yes I do, ma’am. How can I help you?”
“Where can I find the CMO Red Line?”
“You’re almost there,” I say. “Just take a sharp right at the kitchen counter and head straight. When you’ve reached the floral rug, you’re there. I believe the next train leaves in 10 minutes.”
“Thank you.” She nods like everything I said made any sense, then turns to her little sister. “Come on, Elizabeth, we don’t want to be late for work.”
Elizabeth nods in response, hefting the empty purse onto her shoulder before chasing her big sis across the house.
My heart overflows as they scamper away, and I can’t help but smile. My daughters. So grown up. So ready to be big.
They think they’ve got it all figured out. I shake my head at their trivialized concept of adult life. If they only knew.
After cleaning the dishes, I shuffle the girls into the (real) van, drop them off with the babysitter, and head to a coffee shop for a few hours to write. After all, writing is my God-given calling and I feel like I’ve been slacking. I’ve got blog posts to catch up on, endless revisions to make for Capacity, a begrudging need to start the second novel in my trilogy, and a brand new idea I’m excited to begin. Just thinking about all the words that need to come from my brain exhausts me, so I sip my caffeinated drink and pull out my laptop.
As I take my sunglasses off and place them in my bag beside my water bottle, I can almost hear God laughing.
My daughter. So grown up. She thinks she’s got it all figured out.
He shakes his head and smiles at my trivialized concept of Christian life.
If she only knew.
Sick kids are the worst.
They either calm down and curl up, breaking your heart to pieces, or they suddenly hate everything in the world. You along with it.
My youngest is the hate-everything-in-the-world type. The kind who won’t sleep, won’t eat, but will shout her head off. Constantly.
And she’s been sick for the past week.
At first, my mom-sympathy kicked in. I held her, rocked her, shushed her. I let her scream in my ear all day, then again all night when she couldn’t get comfortable enough to sleep.
The kid had a temperature of 103 and a vehement refusal to slurp down baby Advil. Snot stretched across her face, sticking to her cheeks, the back of her hands, and everything she touched. Not to mention, all her coughs seemed to land directly in my mouth. Then blisters appeared on her tongue and she put herself on a strict animal cracker and ice cream diet. Anything else I offered—including food she specifically asked for—were left uneaten.
She’d poke it with her sticky, snot-covered finger, then grimace as though I just offered her arsenic. “Me no like it.”
“Are you kidding?” Anger swirled inside me. “You asked for this peanut butter sandwich.”
By the third day, my mom-sympathy had vanished completely. I was desperately low on hand soap, baby wipes, and patience for my daughter. Seeing her face in the morning made me want to hide beneath my covers, and the sound of her whining nearly sent me running out the door.
Like I said, sick kids are the worst.
I know, not only because I am a parent of a sick kid, but because I am a sick kid myself.
I’m the hate-everything kind. The one who pouts and self-pities and is never satisfied. But my illness isn’t sniffles, it’s sin. And I’ve been suffering with it for nearly 30 years.
Like my two-year-old, I’ve made tireless requests of my Father. And, because He is a good and generous gift-giver, He grants many of them. He fixes and provides, then slides the blessings in front of me.
I poke at them with my sticky, sin-covered finger, then grimace. “I want something else.”
Fortunately, however, we have a Parent who is much more patient than I am. A Parent whose love is much more perfect than mine could ever be. Instead of running for the door, He runs toward us, forever chasing after our contaminated hearts.
He’s not the grape-flavored Advil that masks the symptoms of our sickness. He is our cure, the only thing that can rid us of this death-inducing disease.
All we must do is drink Him in.
Everything’s bigger in Texas.
The geography, the portion sizes. Heck, even the weather. The hot is sweltering, the rains are laced with glass-shattering hail, and the winds rotate violently until they huff and puff and blow your house down.
Like last night.
Rain pummeled our house. Fist-sized pieces of ice pounded on the windows, threatening to break in. The candle on our countertop shuddered at the voice of wrathful thunder. In the darkness, my husband threw a towel on water gushing into our living room beneath our back door. I simply held my breath, listening for sirens.
“Daddy?” My daughter’s trembling voice floated above the noise. And, like the good father he is, he ran to her side.
The small girl hunkered in her bed beneath thick covers. “Will you hold me, Daddy?”
“Of course.” He laid down and curled himself around his little girl. A human shield. Her protector. “Would you like to say a prayer?”
They prayed together until the rain quieted to a soft tap against the windows.
“Looks like the hardest part of the storm is over,” he said. “Let’s try to get some rest now, okay?”
“Okay.” The shake in the girl’s voice betrayed her air of bravery. “Daddy? If there’s another hard storm, will you come back, please?”
He wrapped her in arms again and kissed her forehead. “Absolutely. You are safe. You are protected. You are loved.”
With that, he joined me back in our bedroom. And, knowing how much I hate Texas storms, he wrapped his arm around me, too. My human shield. My protector.
In his embrace, I could breathe. Having him there beside me gave me peace.
But in his arms, I realized I always try to weather storms on my own, holding my breath until I endure its totality. Never crying out for help. Rarely accepting it, if offered. I absorb life’s thunderstorms, withstanding the beating blows that pelt my skin, trying to outlast the devastation.
This storm will end sometime, I tell myself and grit my teeth. Just get through it.
And yet, even my three-year-old has figured out that storms pass more peacefully when she’s wrapped in the arms of her father.
If her father—a human shield—can provide that sort of peace and protection, how much more will my heavenly Father provide in times of hard storms?
I cry out to my Father now as I experience the struggles of this day—of this life—and ask Him to hold me. And, like the good Father that He is, He runs to my side. He lies down and curls Himself around His little girl. My shield. My protector. While the storms surge inside, trying to break me, He encourages me to pray with Him. To weather the storm with Him, instead of all by myself.
Finally, I relax. I breathe. Surrender.
He draws me closer then, and whispers His promises into my ear.
You are safe. You are protected. You are loved.
Up until about six years ago, I don’t think I’d ever heard the word ‘purgatory‘. I simply thought you died, your soul rose to heaven and you lived there forever. The end. Hallelujah and thanks be to God.
When I started researching the teachings of the Catholic Church, however, I discovered another stage in the afterlife experience. A refining process. A…purgatory.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines purgatory as a “purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.” Purification, it says, is necessary since nothing unclean can enter the presence of God in heaven. Including our sin-stained souls. So even though our sins may be forgiven, we still have sins. We still have imperfections. Even after we die.
“What?” I asked, appalled. “You mean that I can spend an entire lifetime trying to be good and holy, and then there’s MORE work AFTER I die?”
The idea was overwhelming—exhausting, even—and I wasn’t sure if I had the courage or stamina for such an endeavor.
And then I started my writing career.
For years I worked as a journalist before branching out to begin my own projects. First on the list was this dystopian trilogy that had been burning in my heart.
I started writing it in a hotel lobby in San Francisco during a family vacation when my oldest daughter was 13 months old. Now, as she approaches her fourth birthday, I have witnessed my Capacity series grow from a stand-alone novel into a trilogy.
In doing so, I have slaved to improve my writing. I have studied the techniques of good writers, and hungrily consumed articles and books about writing. I have devoted hard-to-come-by spare time to bettering myself in this industry.
Years. I’ve spent years working hard to be skillful, and now I’ve reached revisions.
From a distance, revisions sound pleasant. Fun, even. Like frolicking through a bug-free meadow, scooping wild daisies in each hand, as my manuscript grows stronger with each step. The sun warms my skin from a cloudless, cerulean sky, and my novel—once a victim of incongruity and grammatical errors—is now fully whole. Complete.
In my hands, it radiates with newfound perfection.
Which is not only neat, it is necessary.
After all, no imperfect manuscript can enter the publishing world.
The problem is that revisions themselves are not fun. There are no meadows, no daisies, and certainly no sun-filled cerulean skies.
The result of revisions is heavenly, no doubt.
But revisions themselves are tedious and tough. They require vulnerability and thick skin. They demand you to scour your work for each imperfection—every tiny mistake—and eliminate it.
Then you must invite others to help you do that.
It’s not easy to give other people a magnifying glass and ask them to find all your blemishes. It’s uncomfortable, awkward, and sometimes downright humiliating. Some writers may not think they have the courage or stamina for such a purgatorial endeavor.
But, if anyone wants to enter the pearly gates of publishing, it is absolutely necessary.
Desperation happens at least twice a week, maybe more.
I mean, I love my sweet girls, but counting to 15 a billion times or rehashing the ABCs repeatedly can get a bit…well, suffocating. Monotonous at best.
It’s wonderful, no doubt. And I love getting to be the one who’s there with them doing these things. Being present in their lives. Helping them grow and learn. Witnessing each new level of development, every lightbulb moment.
But there are times when those things are suffocating. Like I need something deeper. Something with more meaning.
Something like another adult.
In those moments, the craving for another adult is so intense—so real—I can feel it moving beneath my skin. It rises to my throat and squeezes, crushing my windpipe until I fear I may not be able to breathe without it.
“Hey daddy! How’s your day treating you?”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sent that message to my husband, either by text or voicemail.
It’s a flare signal. A plea for my most trusted ally to come to my rescue. To offer me an air bubble, however small, before I have to dive back beneath the waves. To give me just one detail—one syllable, even—from someone whose wisdom has matured a bit more than my three-year-old’s.
Waiting for his response is agonizing. Those long, drawn-out rings on the other end of the line. The blank, lifeless text message screen. My flare signal fizzling out, unnoticed.
And then it happens.
Those three gray dots start wiggling beneath my text message or “The Hubs” pops up on my phone. And even though I’ve been swept away in a tidal wave of temper tantrums and dirty diapers, someone has noticed me. Seen me. Heard my call for help. Someone has seen my distress and started to respond.
In that moment, hope eases the panic and I can finally breathe.
But it occurs to me that I rarely, if ever, send God a quick text message. During my panic-stricken moments, I find that I am desperate for my husband, not my Father. That I mistakenly view my husband as my most trusted ally—the one who will rescue me from drowning—instead of my Savior.
And yet, God is readily available the moment I say His name.
With Him, there are no unanswered ringtones, no lifeless screens.
There’s only rescue.
That’s the word imprinted on every writers’ heart. As if the word itself is made of celestial light and angels’ voices instead of scratches of ink.
It’s the ultimate dream to be mass produced and read by the entire world.
Before I faced the first page of Capacity, that very dream pushed me to the computer. It called to me each day, pulling me into my office like the tide to the moon. Which is appropriate considering I did most of my work before the sun came up.
This dream of being published demanded that I be relentless in my work, fighting for each scene—each scrap—of the story.
Fitting, since Capacity is about a girl named Marian who must fight for each scrap of her own dignity. A young girl whose country requires all eighteen-year-olds to compete against one another to see who is the greatest. To set apart the smartest and strongest, and set aside those who aren’t.
In essence, to see who has the most worth—and get rid of those who don’t.
It occurs to me now, as my husband finishes reading the manuscript, that it feels like my own Capacity is being measured.
A twinge of anxiety tightens in my chest as I begin to let others inside the private world I’ve been building for over a year—and to be evaluated according to its strength.
Will I be labeled Green, like those with the highest Capacities in Marian’s world? Will I be so-so like the Yellows? A subpar Red? Or completely excommunicated like those who fail the Capacity and get sent to the wasteland outside the city?
What is my Capacity? All I know is that whatever it may be, it can only be revealed when I share my work. So I will prepare as much as I possibly can, pray to avoid pure humiliation, and hope that one day I may find myself counted worthy by readers.
After all, it’s the dream to be mass produced and read by the entire world.
My three-year-old loves visiting the penguins at the zoo. It’s not because of the way they waddle like her younger sister or even the way they swim up to the glass. To be honest, it’s not because of the real penguins at all.
No, her favorite thing to do is stand beside the pictures of penguins that hang on the wall.
Because she still doesn’t quite measure up to the Emperor Penguin.
“Am I as big as him yet?” she asks, trying to see how close the top of her head is to the 45″ arctic beast.
“You’re getting closer,” I assure her. “But you’re not quite there yet.”
In that moment, it occurs to me that we have hearts for comparisons. We want to be bigger, stronger, better. Always. There’s something in us—even at three years of age—that simply has to stack up. Even to a freakin’ penguin.
You’re not quite there yet.
The words roll off my tongue to encourage her—after all, she is much closer than she used to be. But when I think about it, I hate hearing that message myself. I can’t stand it when I’m not quite somewhere. I want to be there, wherever it is.
I take a look at my daughter, whose blond hair reaches the penguin’s chin, and realize she’s got a ridiculous measuring tape. Who uses a penguin to measure their height? It seems warped, twisted somehow, like it’ll never give an accurate read out.
But what do I use as a measuring stick?
Almost instantly, tons of comparisons come flooding back to me.
- My favorite movies and TV shows reminded me that I could be much more disciplined with my eating habits. That, surely, if I gave up guilty pleasures (or food all together), I could look like that beautiful actress onscreen.
- A co-worker’s fat commission check implied I could have matched pennies and dimes if only I had worked harder or been more competent at my job.
- The upper end of the corporate ladder inspired me to become a slave to work…or risk the shame of not stacking up.
- Oh, and did Jill just buy a new house right after she got back from Thailand?
Measuring sticks, all of them. All broken, imperfect measuring sticks.
And yet, I let them measure and define my worth.
So what do you use as a measuring stick?
Because when we compare ourselves to anything that is not Christ, we scrap and fight for something that is imperfect. We spin our wheels, straining and struggling, to be something that is not perfect.
In short, we use a pretty ridiculous measuring tape.
And I don’t want to settle, comparing myself to an Emperor Penguin. I’d rather measure myself against the King of Kings.
“Am I as big as Him yet? As kind and loving as He?” I will ask.
Then He’ll look at me and see how much I’ve grown—how much closer I am now than I used to be—and He’ll smile, those eyes of His filled with grace.
“You’re getting closer,” He’ll say. “But you’re not quite there yet.”
And for once, I’ll feel the victory in those words.
It’s true what they say: It takes a village to raise a manuscript.
Okay, no one actually says that, but it’s true nonetheless.
Over the last year, I have poured countless hours (and cups of coffee) into Capacity, the first installment of my dystopian trilogy.
It’s my baby, and I try my darndest to take good care of it.
But I’m definitely not the only one who’s contributed to the nourishing and flourishing of this project.
Each Saturday morning, my husband—the rightful captain of our marriage, though he disputes that fact—spends special “Daddy Daughter” time with our girls so I can roll up my sleeves and get to work.
Each week, my Writing Buddy (and the best Writing Buddy in the world, I might add) looks over new chapters, and pours out great insight as to how to make them stronger.
And, I’m lucky to say, one morning each week, a family member graciously takes care of my kids so I can spend time with imaginary people.
It’s through the collaborative efforts of this small but powerful village that Capacity has grown and strengthened. Without you all, it would still be struggling through its first plot twist.
But, because of you, the 325-page manuscript is in the hands of my alpha reader. My husband. My champion. The one who gets a sneak peek into every aspect of my life, whether it’s beautiful or in need of critique. We have even designated one night each week to “Reading Time” after the kids go to bed.
And you know which book he’s choosing to read?
That’s a pretty cool feeling.
But, best of all, it’s a great reminder that Capacity—and my writing career in general—is out of my hands completely and in the hands of someone else. Not simply the Alpha, but also the Omega. I have received His love and blessings on this journey already, and even if His ultimate vision differs from my own, I cannot wait to see where He will lead me.
“Is nap time over now?” my daughter asks for the fifteenth time in the same amount of minutes.
“No, Marie. Go back to your room.”
Casually (and oh-so-conveniently), she wanders through the play area on her way back to her room. “Can I take this car with me to my room?”
“Having another toy in your room won’t help you rest. Leave it alone and go to bed.”
She huffs her displeasure—making sure she’s putting on a good show—before returning to her room empty-handed.
From one bedroom, my one-year-old wails, pleading to be let out of her crib. From the next room, my three-year-old starts kicking the walls. Or doing construction.
“Lord, please help them rest,” I beg, imagining the rest of the day without naps.
Loud voices. Tears. Whining. Tantrums.
“Seriously, God,” I pray. “Help them sleep. They’re so much better off when they’ve rested.”
But I can’t even fold my hands in prayer.
My hands are too busy folding four loads of laundry. I need to fly through them so I can unload the dishwasher, refill it with the dirty stuff piled in the sink, clean the house, and hope I can squeeze in a blog before nap time ends. When the kids wake up, it’ll be time to shovel snacks down their throats, cart them off to gymnastics, then race back home to greet the babysitter so my husband and I can make a youth group engagement up at church.
I can almost hear God say it.
When do YOU rest?
I look around at all the junk littering the countertops, the dishes crusted with day-old food, the overflowing hampers. And those are just the things I can see from my spot on the living room rug.
How on earth can I rest when I’ve got so many things to do? So many people to take care of?
To me, the answer is clear: I can’t.
So I get back to praying that my kids will sleep so I can be productive.
In that moment, I can almost hear God chuckling. At the hypocrisy. The immaturity. The self-righteousness of it all. Like the world depends on me to make it turn. Like organizing the countertops has some sort of priority in the grand scheme of things. Like it will alter someone’s life if it doesn’t happen.
The fog of fatigue settles in my head, and I imagine how the remainder of the day will look without rest.
Loud voices. Tears. Whining. Tantrums.
But this time they’re mine. My stern brow, my short fuse. The deep breaths through my nostrils when I’m about to lose it.
My kids pick up on these things and copy them. In those moments, they look too much like their mother and nothing at all like their Father.
Because of me. Because of my weariness. My refusal to rest.
Casually (and oh-so-conveniently) I unplug my phone from its charger on my way to the sofa.
“Can I at least bring my phone and read a little? Scroll through Facebook?” I wonder.
But having a toy with me won’t help me rest. Even a three-year-old could understand that. So I leave it there, just one more thing junking up the counter. One more thing I’ll have to take care of later.
I walk, empty-handed, over to the sofa and stand there with gritted teeth. Like I need to mentally prepare myself to lie down.
How is the absence of work the hardest work to do?
But the moment the cushions absorb my body, I feel better. Less hurried. Less anxious. Less fatigued. Rest, I realize, has some sort of priority in the grand scheme of things. It alters people’s lives when it doesn’t happen. Not only is my own life affected, but the lives of my children and husband as well.
My mind clears, the fog of fatigue rolling away, and His words finally come.
Everyone is better off when you’ve rested.
My kids have a gift.
That’s what I call it, at least. Their ability to find me anywhere—at any time—is impressive. Albeit a little smothering.
After some pitter-patter footsteps and a series of “MOOOOM!” shouts, they seem to have no trouble locating me at any given moment. Even if I’m on the toilet.
So much so, I’ve learned not to try to do anything privately anymore. It just upsets the children. Instead, I invite them with me—even to the restroom—and they happily follow.
When I’m desperate (and in need of a shower), I’ve tried giving them their favorite things—milk, Mickey Mouse and graham crackers. But even that doesn’t do the trick. Their Momdar is still alerted. And sure enough, before the water warms, my youngest toddles into the bathroom to offer me crackers or play on the floor outside the glass door.
As if just being in my presence is better than anything else in this world.
I’m a wanted woman, that’s for sure. And these kids are in hot pursuit.
It’s in those long, dragged-out moments—when my desire for privacy is so palpable it practically slips beneath my skin and starts crawling—that I realize God actually wants us to seek Him this way.
He wants us to be in hot pursuit.
He doesn’t want one moment of peace and quiet to Himself.
He wants us. All of us. All the time.
He wants us to have a God-dar that beeps when we’ve strayed too far away. And He wants us to search, to ask, to call out His name until we’ve found Him again. Until we can sit at His feet, knowing that His presence alone is better than anything else in this world.
And yet, I find that really tough to do.
After all, if I had the choice to spend time in God’s Word or mindlessly enjoy snacks and TV shows, I probably wouldn’t even hear the proposition. My eyes would already be glued to the next episode of The Man in the High Castle while I shoved another Nutella-covered animal cracker in my mouth.
But what if His absence upset the children? What if we were in hot pursuit?
Because the truth is, He invites us to go with Him everywhere. All the time.
Sometimes He’ll invite us somewhere exotic and beautiful. Fun, even. Other times He’ll invite us to some pretty filthy places. But no matter what, He’ll be there, too.
And I want to be a child who happily follows.