The Thorn 2019

I went to a play this week.

Yesterday, actually. I went to a play yesterday.

Sweet letters of the alphabet, is it Monday already? When did that happen?

If it is indeed Monday and my brain is not pulling tricks on me, I went to a play yesterday. The annual production of the The Thorn, sponsored by Compassion International.

I cried most of the way through, which is always a good sign.

The Thorn is a two-hour live rendition of the Passion of the Christ, complete with aerobatics, pyrotechnics, and a narrator that will alternately have you laughing until your sides ache and crying—sometimes within several minutes. It details the life and death of Jesus in such an intimate, real way that—no matter how many times I see it—it leaves me weeping and shows me something new about the character and love of my savior. This amazing production was started twenty-two years ago by John and Sarah Bolin, and is now a nationwide production, spending several months of the year touring the United States.

My father was in it this year. As were four of my younger siblings. I’m not going to lie, it was a little weird to see my father get ‘killed’ onstage. Still not sure how I feel about that. He was quite wonderful and very convincing, so I’m very proud of him, but . . . yeah, it was weird.

I was involved with The Thorn as well, once upon a time, working as part of the cast for six years running. You may not have guessed this, my being so introverted and all, but I am quite the drama queen.

Hence the acting.

And my books.

And my entire life.

Ahem.

As strange as it was for me to be sitting in the audience instead of waiting backstage or indulging my inner actress onstage, I very much enjoyed the experience yesterday. The Thorn has made a lot of changes over the last five years, becoming smaller and more mobile as they have moved from a single venue to traveling countrywide to tell the story of Jesus’s death and resurrection. They’ve gotten smaller, the cast has changed—thus my lack of involvement—and the time they spend rehearsing has become so minimal that they can now get the show up and running in a week.

I kid you not.

They’re amazing.

Yesterday was a huge treat for me, and a proverbial stroll down memory lane as I got to see members of the cast I’d worked with for years, hugged people, and caught up on lives. The production is on their way to Denver today, ready for a new city and a new venue, but I’m happy that I managed to catch them while they were here. The work they’re doing is incredibly impacting, and I was blessed to be a part of it for as long as I was.

Sometimes, you really can’t tell about people. Meeting me, I’m fairly sure no one would guess I had been in a theater production. What’s something about you that no one would guess just by looking and would find completely out of character?

For The Writer Who Needs A Break

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Vacations are wonderful things.

Can we all just agree on this one fact? Everyone loves a good vacation.

But not everyone has the time—or the money—to take that week off, or buy that plane ticket.

Been there? I have. Some months, rest is much easier to fantasize about than it is to actually accomplish.

Writer, I am there right now.

This last week has been a tough one. I spent a lot of time working, a lot of time stressing, and way too much time telling myself that I would get to the self-care things later when I ‘had more time’.

Except I never did end up having more time. And the week didn’t end with a weekend to myself and time to recenter. Instead, it went straight through the weekend and blasted into another week without a pause.

Not good.

With no time for vacations, very little for self-care, and schedules that refuse to pause, rest probably feels as impossible to you as it did to me on Monday morning. I knew I needed it, and I also knew that I definitely didn’t have time for it.

But I also knew if I tried to charge ahead without it, I was going to crumble. I know myself, I know my limits, and I know when I’ve reached them. I can drive myself into the floor and ignore my need to refuel for the sake of my pride, but if I do I will spend weeks picking up the pieces.

To me, it isn’t worth it.

So this week is about rest. In the midst of schedules.

Because I still have to go to work, I still have to write, I still have to tackle my to-do list, and I still have to be present. Writer, I am convinced that both are possible. Here are five ways that I intend to rest in the midst of my schedule this week.

1) Meditate.

I am a Christian, and for me, there is only one person who can offer the rest that I need so badly this week. So I will be spending time—while I am working, and during my free time—with the One who made me and knows best what I need.

Other alternatives might be meditation, yoga in the mornings before work, or a walk if you have an hour or so free. Anything to still your mind and your soul and give you a bit of breathing space.

2) Practice intentionality.

For me, that means less time on my phone, more time with a book in the evenings. It means a cup of tea and a workout in the mornings. It means candles instead of ceiling lights, and gentle music at my desk while I plow through projects.

Intentionality is being kind to yourself, kind enough to keep track of your water intake and have a few extra glasses if you’re short. Kind enough to wear your favorite socks to work, or put a little extra effort into your hair and makeup. Kind enough to allow yourself to be a priority, instead of making your to-do list king.

Believe me, your to-do list will feel a lot easier to conquer when you yourself are taken care of and feel loved.

3) Change my mindset.

I have a terrible habit. When I am stressed, I go into survival mode. Nothing really matters but getting through. Not my diet, not how much time I waste on my phone with social media and YouTube, not whether my laundry is done or my house is clean.

Nothing.

My plan is to ‘get to the end’, and until I do, I don’t really care.

The trouble is, sometimes there really isn’t an end. Life goes on, and I end up bumping along behind it, dragged because I couldn’t quite get myself together enough to run alongside.

Writer, there is no end coming. This is it. So it does matter that I haven’t done squats in 37 days. It does matter that my water consumption has dwindled to a cup of black tea and that sip I had this morning before I left the house. It does matter that I haven’t taken my vitamins this week, even though I know what that does to my sanity.

Writer, your life matters. Build the one you want, even amidst the mess and hurry.

4) Stop justifying myself.

I don’t need to explain why I’m tired. I don’t need a list of finished tasks and a certain number of written words to justify being allowed to read a book, or take a break.

I don’t need someone else to give me permission to rest.

I’m terrible at this. I spend way too much time comparing myself to others and working to justify why I’m so tired, why I need a break and a week of rest amid my schedule, and why my to-do list is long enough to prove that I’m an adult. In fact, I spend so much time trying to justify it that I forget that no one is actually questioning why I’m tired.

Except me. 

So this week, I’m going not going to come up with excuses, or reasons, or justifications. I’m going to rest, I’m going to have grace for myself, and I’m going to be okay with not always being at the top of my game.

5) Enjoy the moments.

Writer, there is no hurry. Life will go on, and if you are in a rush to get to tomorrow, you will miss today.

So pause.

Quit the rush.

Take the time to read for a few minutes during lunch break. Choose to enjoy your commute instead of grumbling about the traffic. Turn on some music while you finish that last project, or find an ambiance you like while you’re doing dishes. Play with the dog for a few minutes when you walk in the door, or boop your cat on the nose for me.

Life is going to move on, writer, and it will always feel like it is rushing past. It won’t get easier once you get married, or get that one job, or have a certain amount of money. But maybe—maybe it will get a little easier once we remember to stop and enjoy the moments.

That’s my task for this week. I challenge you to make it yours, as well!

Good luck, dearest writer! May your tea be hot and your dreams wild.

Audiobooks and Blizzards

I love audiobooks.

So, so much.

Really, is there anything better than a good audiobook when you have a thousand mundane tasks to do and no time to read? I don’t think so. Having a story to coax me through the day is a tiny bit of heaven for a hard week, and I took full advantage of my library card and the amazing library app on my phone in the last few days.

It got me through some rough moments.

Seriously though, how cool is it that our library system has audiobooks that we can download AND a mobile app? I so appreciate this fact. Especially since we had a ridiculous storm on Wednesday that turned the horizon into a white blur, snowed until we had knee-deep (and waist-deep) drifts, and succeeded in clocking windspeeds in at 97 miles an hour at an airport near our house.

In other words, I was not able to get to a library. Not easily anyway.

Okay, not at all. I would still be lost if I’d tried.

Which means that a mobile app came in very handy!

Thus far, I am flying through Agatha Christie mysteries—which I like very much—and as many of the Redwall books as I can find—which I LOVE. The Redwall books were some of my favorites when I was younger. Since this seems to be a year of nostalgia—reading through the books that I loved and set aside years ago—I’ve been blazing through the audiobook versions of these brilliant books and loving every minute of it. Brian Jacques was one of my favorite authors when I was a kid, and the first author I was really interested in getting to meet. When he died in 2011, I was devastated. Sometimes, the only way to meet an author really is through the stories.

Since the audiobooks were read aloud by him and a select cast, I feel like they gave me a glimpse into the heart he had for his stories as an author, and that was precious, I can tell you.

So, this week, despite the storm and the rough days we had, I am thankful for audiobooks.

What are some audiobooks that you’ve listened to and loved? Any recommendations for me?

Herb-Woman

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Rose hips grow by the wooden gate, red fruit already wrinkling in the late-summer sun. I pause with my hand on the latch, gathering a few and storing them away in my apron pockets before I go inside. They smell of hot wind and dust, but brewed into a syrup, they’ll cure cough and treat strep throat.

Inside the sandstone walls, the air is scorched and still. The grass beside the path has withered and turned gold, and the gravel paths are hot beneath my bare feet. The sisters sent for me two days since. They said the dry weather brought a plague with it, driven in the wind with the dust and the pollen of the ash trees.

Plague or not, the disease must be severe. They wouldn’t dare allow me to tread within their sacred walls otherwise.

Abbess Duval comes to meet me across the grounds. Two of the sisters are with her, their gray robes and white headdresses too heavy for such unbearable heat. Her voice is harsher than I remember, more grating, as if age is catching up with her. Or perhaps I’ve been away too long, and I’ve forgotten more than I thought. “Myla. You look well.”

The greeting is formal, painfully so, and I don’t respond to it. My eyes drift around the grounds of the convent, lingering among the trees of the orchard, the well-tended gardens, the bleached linen flapping on the lines. Beneath the rigid discipline of the convent is an air of unkempt neglect that would never have been allowed under normal circumstances.

“How many?”

The abbess’s lips pinch. She’s always hated my impudence. “What?”

I look at her, hearing the steel in my own voice as I say hoarsely, “How many did you bury before they convinced you to send for me?”

Her face whitens, her thin, bony frame taut with rage. She stares at me for a long moment, her nostrils flared and her black eyes scorching me, but it has been a long time since I feared her wrath. At last, she hisses quietly, “Sixteen.”

Her voice is terrible, the number worse. I bite my tongue, resisting the urge to hit her in the face, to slap her as hard as she does the novices that sweep the floors outside her chambers. Instead, I step past her, gathering my ragged skirts in one hand as I cross the lawns to the infirmary doors. “It’s a wonder the lot of you aren’t dead by now,” I say over my shoulder, and the words feel like a curse in my mouth. One of the sisters makes a quick sign to ward off evil, and I laugh.

That’s all I am to them. The witch. The healer they threw out of their home for daring to understand herb and root, seed and bark better than they did themselves. Among the villages to the south I am the herb-woman, in the valleys I am the bone-knitter, loved and sought after and respected.

Only here do I get no respect. Only here do they call me a witch and wipe my dust from the stone floors.

The air is cool inside, protected from the hot sun by the stone tiles on the roof. I lived in this house once. Even loved it. Now the floor is littered with pallets, the sick twisted in their damp sheets as they toss and turn, their faces shiny with sweat. Novices pad quietly from bed to bed, sponging brows, spooning broth into mouths, coaxing a disturbed patient to lie back again. Easing death. Their faces are pale. They are too young for this, and the knot in my breast loosens.

I will not punish children for one woman’s sins.

They draw away from me as I cross the room to the empty fireplace. I can see the fear in their eyes—the hope too—and it makes me smile. “I need fresh water,” I tell them. “Elmwood and as much birch bark as you can gather. Lavender, willow wythes, sweet bindweed, and whiteleaf oil. Mother Abbess will show you where it is.”

Three of the girls scurry off. They are like mice, like shy, timid little mice, and they watch as I build a fire in the hearth and hang an iron kettle over the new flames. The smell of death seeps from the rafters, from the cool floors, but the lavender will sweep it away, and no more will die now.

The witch has come, and hated or not, I bring healing.

For The Writer Who Is Having Doubts

I have a question for you.

If I was to meet you in a coffee shop, and we were to sit by the window to watch the rain or in the corner where it’s private and cozy, and I was to ask you to tell me about yourself, what would you say?

Would you start with your job, your education, your career? Would you talk about classes at the local college or the job you secretly hate but desperately need?

Or would you tell me about your passions? About the stories you keep hidden away on your computer and in your notebooks? About the dreams that keep you up at night and the characters that are constantly following you?

Why do we always start with job titles? A year ago, if I was asked about myself, I would tell people that I was a nanny. I picked up kids from school, I wiped snotty noses (or snotty noses were wiped on me), and I was the tyrant who declared no one was allowed to eat mac-n-cheese unless they were wearing pants. Never-mind that I had written five books and was currently working on a biography I had been commissioned for, never-mind that I had a blog that was growing in popularity or had written an article that would shortly be coming out in a magazine. I was a nanny. Most of the time, that was all I ever said.

Then, one day, I did my side-step pat answer in front of a family member. And not just any family member. My dad.

And he called me out on it.

Because I’m not a nanny. I work as a nanny to pay my bills and have the money to buy books. I am a writer and an author with years of experience and career goals and a heck of a lot of passion for what I do.

But I wouldn’t admit it.

Has anyone else done this? We spend hours and hours on our stories, put more work into a single project than most people put into their essays for an entire year of college, and then we just—downplay it. Laugh it off.

I’m not a real writer.

Except that wasn’t true. And I suspect that it isn’t true for you either, even if it is something that you’ve said about yourself. But, unfortunately, just as no one out there can tell you that you aren’t a ‘real’ writer, I can’t be the one to convince you that you are.

You have to settle that in your own mind.

But, although I can’t convince you of this myself, I can be the one to encourage you in that direction. So, here are my five truths for those of you have doubts about your authenticity as a writer.

1) If you write, you are a writer.

There is no test you have to take, no badge to earn. Whether you are starting now, clumsily, a little awkwardly, or you are a veteran with years behind you, you are a writer if you write. If you want proof of this, ask yourself if there is something else you would rather be doing. Can you come up with a list a mile long of all the things you would rather do than write?

Or, in your empty moments, in the time you have free and the stolen minutes that are your own, do you reach for your story first?

If so, you are a writer. Without a doubt.

2) Publishing is not the gate.

Publishing is important. For most of us, it is the endgame. We want a career, we want a readership, and we want a published book in our hands with our name printed across the front in shiny letters.

And you know what?

It’s going to be great.

But you do not have to have a published book to be a writer. Writing is a journey, a winding, everlasting journey full of pitfalls and unexpected heights, and publishing is only one peak among many. If you are not published yet, you can still be a writer.

3) There is no one kind of writing.

Articles. Blogging. Novels. Nonfiction. Poetry. Whatever else you can think of that I may have forgotten. If you love words, if you are drawn by the blank page and have more ideas than your poor brain can hold, you are a writer. You don’t need a 250-page novel to be a writer.

4) Writing is a journey.

I said this already. But it bears repeating. Writing is a journey, not a destination. You do not have to reach a certain level of competence to call yourself a writer. You do not need a certain number of comments, or blog posts, or awards to call yourself a writer.

We are all apprentices. Our craft does not lend itself to masters. (In fact, I am fairly certain that once you reach the level of a master, you disappear into your books and are never heard from again.) We are all learning, we are all developing our skills, and we all have work ahead of us.

Take a deep breath, writer. You have a long way to go, but you have a long road behind you as well. Enjoy your surroundings and love what you do, because writing is all about the journey.

5) You decide.

Writer, you decide how much effort you are going to put into your stories, or your poetry, or your articles. You decide whether you write once a day or once a month. You decide how much passion and energy and dedication you put into your work.

You decide whether or not you are a writer, and no one can take that decision away from you.

So embrace it. Be passionate. Give it your time and all the mental energy you can spare. Make goals for yourself and stick to them. Write when it’s hard, when you’d rather be doing something else. Write when the fire is hot within you and the ideas are flowing. Choose who you want to be, and then own it. Never, never be ashamed of who you are or what you love. Other people may not understand, they may not choose to acknowledge what you do, but they can’t take your passion from you.

You are a writer. And only you can choose whether to embrace it or not.

Good luck, dearest writer! May your tea be hot and your dreams wild.

When Hope Is Painful

I ended up in Target this week.

I didn’t actually set out to go to Target. Nor, in fact, did I have anything I intended to buy. But it was early and I was in town and waiting for someone and nothing else was open.

So I ended up in Target, reminding myself on repeat that I was not to buy anything, because there was nothing that I needed and I didn’t have money to spend on impulse buying.

Spoiler: I totally bought something.

If you guessed it was a book, you get a prize.

Because it was a book.

In my own defense, I seriously tried. The book was called Girl, Wash Your Face, by Rachel Hollis, a beautifully honest book about the lies women believe. I saw it, flipped through the pages and thought, I should definitely read this. Then, like the good, responsible person I am, I pulled up the library app on my phone and reserved it, because I’d never read it before and I like to know a book is good before I spend money on it.

Then I checked my hold and found out I was four hundredth in line and most of my resolve went out the window.

Most of it. I actually left the store, reminding myself that I have a conference to go to next month that I have to save money for and jobs with spotty hours.

Then, halfway through the parking lot, I felt God say very quietly, go back and buy the book.

So I did. Because it doesn’t usually take a lot of convincing to get me to buy a book.

And guys.

Guys.

This book was exactly what I needed, especially after a week of anxiety and missed goals. I bought it and immediately read the entire thing.

No, I devoured the entire thing. Heart and soul. I started it in the car, read for about an hour in a bubble tea shop, and had it finished sometime that afternoon. By the time I’d finished the last page, I felt a little shell-shocked, a little convicted, and massively encouraged. The book went through twenty lies that the author had caught herself believing at one time or another, each given a chapter of their own, and nearly all of them hit and hit hard as I read them. They reminded me what my goals were, they showed me my fears, and—most of all—they gave me hope.

And, writer, hope is painful.

Honestly, I’d forgotten how painful. It’s much, much easier to laugh off your dreams, to keep them knotted up in a safe ‘someday’, and to wish but not hope. Hope is risky, hope opens our heart to disappointment, and hope means believing in something despite evidence to the contrary.

But without hope, dreams end up as nothing but a fanciful wish we had once.

So, writer, today my wish for you is that you would have the strength and courage to hope. Because as painful as hope is, life without it is far more difficult to navigate.

What are you hoping for this week? What are some dreams you’ve had that need you to rekindle the hope for?