Looking back and looking ahead

Happy New Year! I hope your year is off to a great start.

Four years ago (how can four years have passed since then?), I shared T.S. Eliot’s beautiful passage about last year’s words and next year’s words. These early January days have me looking back at last year’s writing and anticipating what will become of my work for this year.

In December, right on the heels of NaNoWriMo, I had the opportunity to speak with author John Vonhof about my experiences writing a novel in the month of November. My conversation with him is available now as a podcast on his site: Writers & Authors on Fire. I hope you’ll check it out! And if you’re also a writer, his series is a fantastic resource of encouragement and practical advice for writing and publishing.

One thing I didn’t mention in my conversation with him is the twelve pens I ran out of ink in November.

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The fruits of my NaNoWriMo labors: two full notebooks and twelve empty pens

Continue reading

A hard time of year to stay inside

Fall here is beautiful in its own way, not in a familiar North Carolina way, but in a way that catches my breath nonetheless.

The salmon are beginning their run, and happy fisher people (mostly fishermen) are daily swarming the river, giddy with the prospect of catching a big fish. A happy man popped up from the riverbank just this morning, a large, pink fish swinging from his side.

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Why do you think they fish all together instead of spreading out?

Rain came back in a big way, too, over the weekend. More than two inches over four days. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Continue reading

For my nephew and his bride on the eve of their wedding

My dear nephew and his bride,

Your wedding is tomorrow. You won’t have time to really read and take this in today, but it’ll be here when you do.

It’s hard to imagine that the little blond baby I fell head over heels in love with at the hospital not that long ago is ready to take a bride, but the two of you have declared your intentions to walk together from now on. Your new life as husband and wife begins tomorrow.

To wish you well along your journey together, I’ve asked some friends to share their advice with the two of you. I’m including some of my own thoughts, as well as some “white wedding-y” flower photos, all taken since you two first met.

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You may hear, especially this first year, that the first year of married life is the hardest. That may be true for you, as your final year of college will bring its own special kind of stress and difficulties. But don’t get complacent after you’ve made it through the first year: it’s not necessarily true that the first year is the hardest. Marriage will always take effort. Expect ups and downs throughout your marriage. There will be good days and bad days, good years and tough ones. Agree from the start that you will weather these together.

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Marriage is not a contest or a competition. At times, one of you may bring more to the relationship than the other. Accepting that you won’t always contribute 50-50 will save you from many tears and frustrations.

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You are at the same time still young but also grown and ready to make life-changing decisions. Know that you will both change—possibly a lot—in your twenties. Your hopes will change. Your dreams will change. Your goals will change. May you grow stronger together as you encounter these inevitable changes.

Because you are marrying now, before you have figured out your vocations and avocations, you will likely have to make sacrifices for the happiness of your spouse. It may feel too hard sometimes to put your personal dreams on hold, but expect there to be times (maybe years at a time) when your personal goals and dreams do not get to come first.

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I know it’s hard to imagine not wanting to be together all the time, and you should enjoy each other’s company and enjoy many of the same hobbies and activities. But also give yourselves time and space to cultivate interests that you don’t both necessarily share. Think of this space in your marriage as a way to bring out the best in each other. As counterintuitive as it may seem, these differences can enrich your marriage and make you stronger together.

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Your marriage isn’t all about you. You are part of something greater than just the two of you. I hope you’ll find a way to bring your strengths as a couple to share with those around you. And I hope you’ll lean on your faith to help you learn how you are to love yourselves and others as fully as possible. Henri Nouwen wrote it beautifully:

… I have love to offer to people, not only here, but also beyond my short, little life. I am a human being who was loved by God before I was born and whom God will love after I die. This brief lifetime is my opportunity to receive love, deepen love, grow in love, and give love.

Finding My Way Home, 139-40

Speaking of faith, I hope you won’t ignore its importance in your relationship. God’s love is a perfect love and can teach you how to love each other even when you don’t really much like each other. A faith community is also a vital way to grow together, develop abiding friendships, and find mentors and other couples who can hold you accountable for your actions within your marriage. Many of my friends who married young attribute their successful marriage to a strong faith and the communities of faith that have supported them in difficult times.

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I could ramble on, but I’ll stop here. I wish you joy. I love you. I pray you will, together, be exceptional.


As promised here is some advice from friends across the country. Some have had long and happy marriages. Some have learned hard lessons in divorce and remarriage. All have walked the road ahead of you and have wisdom to share with you.

On changing (for good and for bad)

  • “My grandmother told me when I got married (at 19 years old) that whatever they do when you get married they will keep doing. Whatever they do NOT do, they will continue NOT doing. Don’t expect people to change when you get married.”
  • “We are always developing as individuals and as couples. Never stop trying to ‘get to know’ your partner. You are both new people every day.”

On inevitable fights

  • “Using slogans such as ‘How important is it?’ would have resulted in fewer stupid arguments and less resentments resulting from the petty stuff we might notice when we are younger.”
  • “Pick your battles. Everything is NOT worth a disagreement. This advice has helped us to have almost 20 years of happiness.”
  • “I think the word ‘blame’ should be eliminated from the vocabulary. The idea of blame is intrinsically crippling. That is why it is spelled B LAME.”
  • “My mantras: 1. Accept and embrace imperfection, in myself and others. 2. Refrain from personalizing—other people’s feelings are usually not due to you. They are feelings. 3. Pause before reacting. 4. Choose encouragement, not criticism. 5. In discussions, say ‘I feel’ rather than ‘You should’ 6. Approach your days with kindness, savoring and gratitude. 7. Give as you would like to receive. (an iteration of the Golden Rule, of course!) 8. Let go. Let love.”
  • “You don’t always have to be right. In 35 years it won’t matter anyway. When we got married our theme was ‘Divorce is not an option.'”
  • “My advice is to be honest and truthful but not hurtful in the process. Remember, the person you are speaking to holds the other half of your heart. So treat it with care.  There is a gentle way to address all situations and you can NEVER take back words said in spite disguised as honesty.”

On compromise

  • “Marriage is a compromise where things don’t turn out like she or he wants, but instead how the couple, as one, wants. It’s worked for 32 years and counting. There’s no more you and me; it’s now us and we.”

On your future together

  • “Talk about money, and save money together. Start now, not later.”
  • “Do not hurry to have children.” [I would add: be willing to revisit your decision not to have children, as your desires may change over time. They may not, but be open to an honest conversation on this huge decision.]
  • “Make time to do things together. Plan mini vacations.”
  • “Remember that in marriage there are many ups and downs. There will be days you wake up and are so in love with your spouse and others you can’t seem to stand to look at them, but these times are normal and will ebb and flow. It doesn’t mean the love is gone; it returns! Stay patient and work and remember it isn’t always easy, but with God in the center of your marriage, you can conquer all!”

On luck and blessings that will keep your marriage going

  • “I know this isn’t a very Christian perspective, but I feel extremely ‘lucky’ that our marriage has been what it is. We were so young and naive.”
  • “These are the only things I can think of that are authentic and sincere: May you laugh together every day, find things you love to do together and separately, and grow up together.”

To all the rest of you reading this, what advice, blessings or well wishes would you add to send off this young couple into their marriage?

Seeking the right church fit

Perhaps one of the hardest parts of moving has been the search for a new church to call home. After visiting several churches, my husband and I recently went to a service that felt more right, not a perfect fit, just a better fit than the ones we’ve visited already.

It wasn’t because of the Christian pop rock concert that blared on stage as we took our seats. I’ve been to my share of loud concerts (probably more than my share, as my brother played in a rock band when I was in high school, and I went to as many of his shows as I could, and I still love to go hear live music). But this was too loud for my increasingly tender ears, a sad reminder I’m not as young as I used to be. The band tucked in a traditional hymn, though, and my spirit lifted a nudge.

The preacher was warm and inviting, delivering a strong sermon with a deprecating sense of humor. We took communion, the first communion my husband and I have had since arriving here in December. Too long to fast from such an important sacrament.

We decided we’d go back again.

My husband was away this past weekend, but we talked shortly before the service time, and he encouraged me to go, even though I’d be going by myself. I went but arrived late, not a surprise for those of you who know me. But this lateness was intentional—I was hoping to miss some of the loud music at the beginning.

Shortly after I arrived, a young guy with an old beard stood up and welcomed us, offered up a prayer, ushered us in to a time of worship. And then it happened. He picked up a banjo and sat down with the rest of the band.

A banjo. The part of my heart that so loves bluegrass sat up and payed attention, hopeful about what was to come. Romans 5:5 promises, “and hope does not disappoint.” The band launched into one of my favorite bluegrass gospel songs, I’ll Fly Away. I sang as loud as anyone around me, maybe louder.

The sermon, part of an ongoing series about the names of God, focused on the story of Abraham, Isaac and the provision of a ram in the bushes following God’s test of Abraham’s faith. In that story, Abraham named God as Jehovah-Jireh, the God Who Provides.

God provided me with what I needed to feel more at home at this church, beginning with a few chords from a banjo and a familiar, well-loved song.

God showed off a little more, then. The old-beard young guy invited us to take a gift at the end of the service, to remind us that we are meant to find ways to be a blessing to others. The gift? Balm (and an arrow loosed toward the heart) for this gardening girl:

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Did the church know how much this tiny clay pot with seeds and soil would mean to me?

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I’m excited to see what these seeds become, but the gift has already been a blessing.

Are you struggling to find a church where you feel you belong? Let me encourage you to keep trying. You may have to try many different churches, and you may have to try a lot of services at the same church before you find a home.

If you want to understand better the “why” of belonging as much as the “how” of belonging to a church community, I encourage you to read Lessons in Belonging by Erin Lane. I read this right after moving, and it helped remind me that I was going to have to do more than just sit in strange pew after strange pew but that the journey was so worth the effort.

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She approaches the whole topic of belonging to church in an honest, funny, sometimes breathtaking way. She quotes Emily Dickinson in the book, “Tell the truth, but tell it slant.” I could have highlighted truths told slant on every page of her book. Read it, and you may just find it’s the kick in the pants you need to start visiting churches. And who knows what ways Jehovah-Jireh will show up and show off by providing precisely what you need to get your heart to open up to the new possibilities of church?

The vanishing front porch

Welcome to the front porch

One evening, as my husband and I sat on our front porch, one of our neighbors walked by and called out to us, saying, “I love to see people using their front porch!” He was pointing out a rarity in our neighborhood, despite several homes having beautiful, welcoming front porches. Most of those porches sit vacant and unused. Even ours sits unused more than it should.

I think air conditioning has forever changed what used to be a sacrosanct aspect of southern hospitality: gathering on the front porch with friends at the end of a day’s hard work. After all, who wants to sit out on the porch battling mosquitos and suffering from the heat and humidity when indoors is so cool and refreshing, not to mention bug-free?

Maybe busyness has also changed how hospitable we are. And I don’t just mean those of us who live in the air-conditioned south. Continue reading