A Library of Friends

When my husband and I moved into our house two years ago, we knew had a lot of books to box up. But after packing everything in our apartment up for weeks on end, we realized that we had at least 30 boxes full of books!

On moving day, our movers dutifully carried the couch, television, tables, chairs, and other furniture to the moving van, and then readied themselves for the mound of boxes. Wrinkling his nose when we told him that the large stack in the dining room contained our library, one of the movers asked us, “what do you do with so many books?”

“We read them, of course,” we replied.

He shook his head, then muttered something about having to carry all of those books down three flights of stairs.

Book artBut what else would you do with books than to read them? I’ll admit, my husband and I are somewhat book hoarders. If there’s a sale at a bookstore, you can bet we’re there. When we moved to the house, we also acquired four brand new, seven-foot tall bookshelves, to contain our growing library. We currently have 11 full bookshelves, two short shelves, and a cube unit. They aren’t all full, but there’s room to grow.

Guests often ask us if we’d read all of our books. I don’t know about my husband’s collection, but I’ve probably read about 60 percent of mine. But there’s always room for more!

Unless you’re a book lover, you don’t really understand the lure of library full of books. When I see my shelves full of books, it’s like walking into a room full of friends. Some of them are dear to my heart, because I’ve read them so often, such as my original copy of Anne of Green Gables, while others are casual acquaintances that I may glance at but probably only skim if I open their covers again. And as for the books I haven’t read, they are strangers that I can’t wait to get acquainted with!

One thing I DON’T have are books that I didn’t like. I have a rule: if I know I will not read a book again, I won’t keep it (Twilight, anyone?). I usually either donate them to the Goodwill, or trade them in at my local Half Price Books.

I may also be a harsh critic when it comes to books. I have a friend who will finish a book no matter what, but I refuse to continue reading a book I’m not enjoying. My motto is, “There are too many good books out there to waste on reading a bad one.” The comparison there is don’t waste time on people that bring you down.

So, what books do you consider good friends, or perhaps strangers you can’t wait to get acquainted with?

A Vacation to Boast About

Within in the past month two friends have vacationed in England, one in Norway, and two other friends will be touring England in 2016. Now I know those are grand, boast-worthy locations to visit, but I, along with my husband and daughter, just returned from a trip that surpasses those, and we can’t wait to do it again: a road trip to Omaha, Nebraska, and Council Bluffs, Iowa.

Ah yes, I can hear you scoffing, accusing me of employing the literary tool of sarcasm. I assure you, I am quite serious. Let me explain why …

A driving trip treats the passengers to a front row view of God’s landscapes. From Minnesota’s gently-rolling hills to the flat-lands of northern Iowa, to the roller-coaster-like hills in the Missouri River valley, the diverse beauty never ends. And the lightening show we were treated to as we entered Omaha was second to none–(although we could have done without the gully-washing rain dumping down on us the last several miles). We even passed signs referencing John Wayne’s birthplace and the bridges of Madison County, but didn’t stop…not this time anyway.)

Superheroes concertWhile visiting Omaha, we took in a wonderful concert by the Omaha Symphony as they played music from superhero soundtracks. As our family members are all superhero fanatics (and my daughter is an aficionado of movie soundtracks), we thoroughly enjoyed the evening. We were joined by a cousin and her husband (with whom we also shared supper and breakfast and much laughter!), and I got to meet fellow Inksper Stephanie Ludwig who dressed fabulously like Peggy Carter (aka Agent Carter). Let me tell you, Stephanie rocked that red dress!

The OasisPrior to the concert, we spent the late morning and early afternoon visiting with my college friend and her family at their awesome campsite. Right on the river, this site–perfectly named The Oasis–boasted tree houses and multi-level decking and sunset views–a perfect place for a writers retreat. Anyone up for a fall retreat??? But best of all was the time spent with friends sharing grilled food and conversation and laughter. I could have spent the entire weekend there and that wouldn’t have been long enough!

The whirlwind trip was capped off by having lunch with fellow authors at the Council Bluffs Village Inn. It was a joy getting together with fellow Inkspers Lorna Seilstad, Dawn Ford, and Stephanie Ludwig plus Angela Meyer. We probably could have talked all day!

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So yeah, a trip to England would be sweet, but better than God-crafted scenery, smile-inducing music, and fellowship with family and friends? Never!

A New Way-kind of Summer

Ah, summer.

That magical time of year when anything can happen, or at least that’s what I like to think. It’s a break from the routine of life: from school, from work, from closed-toe shoes, from pants and sweaters, from the mundane routine that can get boring and stale and old. It means seeing family and cousins you haven’t seen for a while, visiting new places, and reading at leisure for more than a few minutes at a time.

Summer 1986
My mom and me on one of our family vacations, probably around 1986.

When I was a kid, summer meant a break from school (even though I was one of the weird kids who really liked school and eagerly awaited buying supplies like pencils and notebooks and colorful folders). My family usually took some sort of vacation, even if it was just camping in a state park. One of my favorite vacations involved camping with my cousins when I was around five or six. My cousin Jamie was three weeks younger than me, and being two towheaded kids, we looked like twins and were inseperable. I have no idea how long that trip was, but I have fond memories of Jamie and I hiking our campsites together, seeing Mt. Rushmore, and exploring Story Book Island in South Dakota. When I was older, we still went camping, but then it was my brother that tagged along with me, even though we had that unspoken sibling agreement to ignore each other completely when it was convenient, and to “not touch” each other in the minivan.

When I got to high school, summer meant one thing: New Way Singers. I had the privilege of being a part of Nebraska Christian College’s New Way Singers program for four years, every year I completed a year of high school. This meant rehearing with about a hundred and twenty other high schoolers for several days at the beginning of June, then sending us all out on three tour buses around the Midwest to perform concerts every night at churches for a week and a half. The three tours would then come back together for a final concert a the end of the tours.

Forty-plus kids on a tour bus with handful of adults for two weeks? What couldn’t be fun about that?

NWS 2000
New Way Singers East Tour, 2000. This was my junior year, the year of the blue polos. See if you can spot me!

I had a blast! I got to do three of the things I love: sing, worship Jesus, and make new friends. We would start each concert with the New Way Singers theme song, which would start with our group of forty singers at the back of the sanctuary. The music would begin and we’d start snapping our fingers to the rhythm, marching up the aisle in pairs of two. When we reached the stage and mounted the risers, we’d keep our backs to the audience until the last singer had reached the stage. Then, on cue, we’d whip around and start singing:

“Start the music! Let the melody begin! Our song is just waiting to be sung!”

NWS 2001 Final Concert
Final concert in 2001, the year of the red racing polos. We always performed one song with sign language.

After each concert, members of that congregation would volunteer to house us students for the night. Believe me, I’ve stayed at some interesting places! Elderly people who wanted nothing more than to hear about our lives, young couples who were on fire for Jesus, and families with kids who wanted us to play with them: they all came to our concerts and opened their homes and hearts to us. There was the one couple who had four of us girls stay in a trailer on their property and had a composting toilet. There was the teenage daughter of a single mother who let us sleep in her room, but she had to listen to Michael W. Smith’s “Friends are Friends Forever” song to go to sleep. I think it looped about 15 times before I finally fell asleep that night. I still can’t hear that song without shuddering. (Sadly, it’s the weird homes that I remember most!).

While the performing was undoubtedly one of my favorite parts of New Ways, the friendships and memories I made are also high on the list. From staying up all night talking on a backyard trampoline, and riding roller coasters until we threw up, to “cruising” through someone’s (extremely small) hometown late at night and praying together with new friends, it was two weeks of my life that I miss just a little bit every summer.

Community

The past year or so of my writing journey has been a bit rocky, to say the least. The worst part was fearing I’d truly lost my love for writing. It seemed to be totally dried up. I couldn’t write new words. I didn’t even have energy for editing (my favorite part of writing). I felt like my grandbaby looks in the photo below (no, she didn’t get hurt!).

Six month baby! 186The last few months, however, I’ve noticed the tiniest flicker of interest deep inside. I pulled up a story I hadn’t worked on for quite awhile. It was fun getting reacquainted with the characters. I puttered around with it, writing in fits and starts.

But last week, things changed. I climbed into my car withCamp Utmost 3 other women writers and off we went to a writer’s retreat in Missoula, Montana. Four women in a car for hours on end. We could have gotten lost in the wilderness of North Dakota (I think that’s an oxymoron) and had plenty to eat for a month. Chocolate, fruit, licorice, brownie crisps, nuts, crackers… We ate for 16+ hours out and 16+ hours back, and still had food left over! And the amount of luggage for a long weekend? Too ridiculous to mention…

But it wasn’t the food that got me energized about writing again. And much as I love, love, LOVE the mountains, it wasn’t the scenery that did it. It was the writers, most of whom I didn’t know before the retreat started on Friday.

Writers can be weird people. We live with movies playing non-stop in our heads (complete with theme music), have conversations with people we make up, and get upset if those people do things we don’t want them to do. Definitely weird. But also sensitive, caring, hopeful, expectant, faithful, and encouraging. Best of all, encouraging.

Group shoulder rubThese gals (and 1 guy) were at all stages of the writing journey – just starting out to multi-published. Many were stuck in their plots, or wrestling with unruly characters. But what struck me the most was how absolutely encouraging everyone was to everyone else. (We’re giving shoulder rubs in this photo, not doing the bunny hop!)

“What do you write? How is that going for you? How can I help you?” Over and over these questions were asked as we got to know each other. Asked and answered. It was amazing. At times we laughed ourselves into tears. We hugged. We wrote ideas and encouragement on post-its for each other. We shared communion, worshipped together, and Human foosballlaughed hysterically while trying to play human foosball.

It was EXACTLY what I needed. And God knew that. I believe He handpicked everyone who was there so just the right group gathered to worship, write, and encourage. Next year the group may look completely different, and THAT will be just the right group. But this was the right group for me. And the right time and place.

I returned home tired, stiff (after hours and hours in the car), and totally re energized. I WANT to write. I’m excited again about this journey. I’m eager to see what’s around the next bend. And most importantly, I believe in myself and my writing again.

Book displays and photo bombersI prayed that the weekend would bring much-needed answers and renewed energy. I got that and so much more in the community of other writers. What a blessing!

 

Blessings Along the Journey

Roller Coaster-Dusso JanladdeMy writing journey has been a cross between screaming down a zip line, hanging on through the ups and downs of a roller coaster, and floating on a lazy river. There have been mountain top experiences followed by long walks through the desert. But I wouldn’t trade a minute of it. I’m thankful for every experience. One of the reasons is the people God has put in my path.

Friends – As Rose mentioned in her post yesterday, I too have connected with writers across the world. What an unexpected blessing! One of my critique partners is from Australia so we spend time learning about each other’s world through the writing process. I got to meet her briefly this September when the train she was taking cross country to the ACFW Conference in Indianapolis made a short stop in St. Paul. Traveling with her was our 3rd partner, from Washington state. Such a blessing to gather together on the station platform.

Camping4 2013

Family – While my immediate family has always known I love to write, it was truly a blessing to experience their love and support when I began the journey to publication in earnest. My husband and kids have walked beside me every step, cheering along the way. My younger brother has also stepped into the world of fiction writing; it’s been a blast to share dreams, experiences and writing.

Critique Partners – Writers who are serious about their craft know, without a doubt, they can’t do it alone. What a blessing to gather with others in a place of safety, encouragement, honesty and love, whether in person or across the miles.

I don’t know where the saying comes from but I love it – God doesn’t call the equipped, He equips the called. One of the ways He does that is through those He puts in our path. I’m thankful for each and every one of them.

Who has encouraged you on your journey?

(roller coaster photo by Dusso Janladde)

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We’re giving away a copy of Rose Ross Zediker’s current release, Wedding on the Rocks to one lucky winner. The contest runs until November 30th. All you need to do it leave a comment!

JENNIFER EDWARDS IS BACK HOME AGAIN…Wedding On the Rocks Cover 1

When she traded small-town life for the bright lights of Chicago, Jennifer Edwards yearned to discover a world beyond Faith, South Dakota. So when her father’s illness calls her home to run their cattle ranch, she tells herself it’s temporary. Then why is she even thinking about a future with archaeology professor Brett Lange-the boy she left behind-whose life’s work is digging up the past?

Twelve years ago, Brett had a crush on Jennifer the size of the T-rex that put his hometown on the map. Now she’s a citified magazine editor who prefers designer duds to dungarees. Except that’s not the real Jennifer. Brett needs to make her see how a little faith can go a long way in uniting two perfectly-in-sync hearts.

Blessing in a Dressing Room

I’ve heard it said many times that God brings the people you need into your life, even if you don’t know you need them.  I believe that, because it had to have been through divine intervention that one of my dearest friends entered into my life.

If you keep up with this blog, then you’ve heard me say many times that I grew up a military brat. My father was a lifetime Navy man, and we were a lifetime Navy family.  That meant moving often – usually about every two to three years. And when you’re a Navy brat (or any other branch of the military) you learn how to make friends fast. You also learn to be discerning about the friends that you do make.

That’s a skill that stays with you through life.  I can tell within a few minutes of meeting someone if we’ll be fast friends, good acquaintances, or just strangers that had a brief interaction. It’s not judging a book by it’s cover, so to speak. It’s knowing if there is that instant connection that means you’ve found someone you can build a bond of trust with.

My friend, Jennifer, was a fast friend whom I’m convinced that God brought into my life for a reason. I was working two jobs when I met her and living an hour from where I worked. That meant that my days often started at five in the morning and didn’t usually end until after three the next morning.  I was sleeping an average of two or three hours a night, and it was killing me.

One night at my second job as a dressing room attendant in a store that stayed open until midnight during the week and two a.m. on weekends, I was telling a colleague that I really needed to find a roommate.  On multiple occasions I’d dozed off while driving home from work in the wee hours of the morning, and I was beginning to fear that I might end up dead on the side of the road.

A few minutes into the conversation this woman stepped out of a dressing room and said, “Who needed a roommate?” I confessed the need, we chatted for a while, and I was moving into her apartment a couple of weeks later.  It wasn’t until we’d been friends for more than a dozen years that I found out that she had been terrified to ask that question.  What drove her was certainty that if she didn’t find a roommate she would soon be unable to pay her bills.  As it was, the year that we lived together often found us with $20 between us to last for the week.

It was the best year of my adult life, and that’s not an exaggeration.  Since then, Jennifer and I have lived life together. It’s been fun and funny, sad and exhilarating. But I know that no matter where I am, she’ll be there.  She’s pulled me out of a nervous break down, celebrated all of the amazing blessings I’ve had, and been the best listener on the planet. And I pray that I’ve done one-tenth of the same for her.

I do believe that God brings the people we need into our lives.  I’ve had (and still have) other friends that are just as important to me as Jennifer. Sometimes, we don’t talk for months or even years. But then we’ll reconnect and it’s like there is no gap between the moment we last spoke and this interaction.

God knows that as human beings we need those girlfriends that step in where no spouse or family member can. And I believe he puts those people into our lives that we need, no matter how solitary our jobs may be or how often we move from one place to another. It is His blessing on us that fills a need that He designed us to have.

Awkward Cowardly Lion Moments

It was a lovely Monday afternoon and I had been especially busy cleaning up after a long weekend I had been too harried to keep up with. I hadn’t fixed my hair or put any makeup on yet and realized I had only a few minutes left to get uptown to the pharmacy and renew my prescriptions. Figuring there was no beauty contest going on inside the store, I dashed there before the office closed. Did I mention I had a pimple on my nose?

As I stepped up to the window I made a joke to the dower faced woman who turned and ignored the humor of my comment. After I walked the entire length of the store patiently waiting for my meds, I ended back up at a very busy window. No smiles. I sat down on the bench and was joined shortly thereafter by another younger woman who sat talking to herself agitatedly and (gasp) she actually burped without apology. I stood up as nicely as I could and waited once more patiently behind several people who either had no insurance cards on them (but they HAD insurance!), who grumbled about the price of the pills, and one person who moved ahead of me without acknowledging my presence.

I did get my pills right before the window closed for the day. The even more sour-looking pharmacist assistant quickly rang me up without looking once at my face. I found out later she didn’t tell me they shorted me ¾ of one of my prescriptions. Sigh.

Awkward. Unsure of myself. Self-conscious to a fault. Inside my head I stood there wringing my tail in my hand like the Cowardly Lion from the Wizard of Oz. My roar felt more like a pathetic “mew”.  I hate awkward cowardly lion moments.

Everyone has those days. When someone doesn’t laugh at your joke. When people are unbelievably rude without apology. When another person’s mood starts to darken your outlook. It’s those moments that I remember I have friends who love me even with my blemishes and flat hair. They will laugh even when it’s not funny, or at least say something funny to cover up my awkwardness and make me feel good anyway. Accepted. Loved. Without the confidence of loving girlfriends, I don’t know how I’d make it through the awkward moments in life.

On the way home I imagined telling my friends that the pharmacist needed to break out the happy pills for his employees. Or that they need to dispense out larger OTC doses of patience and manners these days. I laughed not only at my lame humor, but because I could go home and share this with my friends. How blessed I am to share the trials and victories in life.

I think maybe those people were having an awkward moment day too. Hopefully they were able to go home and share it with a friend so the burden of that day wouldn’t be so heavy.

Proverbs 17:17 “A friend loves at all times.” (Amen!)

You Gotta Have Friends

For the several years of my writing journey, I went it alone. And got nowhere fast. I finally met Peggy, a co-worker at a fragrance company. She encouraged me to attend writers’ conferences and group meetings. She did both with me. I became a stay-at-home mom shortly afterward,  joined two local groups, and attended every conference within my range and budget. Most of the writers I met didn’t write in my genre and were older than me with grown kids.

In 2005, I discovered ACFW. My husband drove me to Nashville with our toddler son in tow. My jaw hung open at all the Christian writers there. I was hooked.  For the next two years, we trekked to Dallas. I didn’t know a soul any of those years. I’d see friends hugging, squealing, and going to dinner and wish I had some writer friends.

In 2008, I was bummed that the conference was in Minneapolis. Too far and our son was in real school by then. I finally joined the online group and bonded with my crit partners, Lorna, Brenda, and Jeri online. Since then, my writing buddies expand every year. I met Linda at the writer’s meeting in Little Rock. After we met once, she asked if I wanted to ride with her to the ACFW Conference in Minnesota. My parents were certain she was a serial killer. I met Lorna and Brenda face to face there, and sold my first book at that conference. I wouldn’t have been there without my God-provided chauffer. That year, I had friends to go out to dinner with. And the friends expanded. I met Marlene and Dawn through Lorna.

Lorna and I soon bonded through signing our first contracts, dealing with our first deadlines, and so much more. I talked her ear off on the phone on numerous occasions. In 2009, I hitched a ride with her and Dawn to ACFW in Colorado. In 2010, I met Kim and made part of the road trip to Indy with Regina thanks to our trusty chauffer, Linda. I only have Jerri, Shari, and Kav left to meet and I’ll officially know all the inkspers.

The great thing about writing friends—they really get me. They know the desires of my heart, they know what drives me, and they hear voices too. And we’re all okay with that. By the way–in the picture–it’s tea in the wine glasses.

Through ACFW conferences, I’ve had some big names personally encourage me: Lenora Worth, Margaret Daley, Deb Raney, Mary Connealy, Kaye Dacus, Christine Lynxwiler, and Susan Downs. I’m floored by how many multi-published authors I’ve gotten to know through ACFW. In return, I’ve tried to be an encouragement to others still on the journey. What authors have touched your journey?