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It’s 6 p.m. and the kids are finishing their homemade mac and cheese at the dining room table. This is our fifth dinner in a row, just the three of us, and I am quick to leave the table to find other things to do after I’m done with my food. So, I’m washing my hands in the bathroom, and even though I’ve been looking at the same soap scum/yuckiness for days (maybe weeks), it’s like I see it for the first time, and suddenly I HAVE TO CLEAN THE BATHROOM.

The kids are still eating, and I’m tracking down a washrag and the baking soda. I don’t bother to change into a “cleaning shirt,” I just attack the grime in the same clothes I wore out of the house earlier in the day. And I’m feeling good because I’m finally doing some cleaning after a week of doing only minimal housework because of a writing deadline and an abnormal school schedule.

Then from the dining room I hear, “MAHHHHHM! Corban spilled your water on accident.” So I stop the cleaning I’m doing in the bathroom to discover a puddle of water on the dining room table that, thankfully, has only made a dry paper towel wet. It could have been library books or a computer or phone because you know how the dining room table is like a magnet for all the things.

Clean that mess. Back to the bathroom. Call it quits before I decide to take the shower curtain down and scrub it like I normally do. Remember that the girl child’s booster seat cover is still in the washer and needs to dry before we go pick up our fourth family member. Start the kids on their Saturday showers because, by heaven, our outsides will be clean on Sunday morning even if our insides feel less than.

Look around at the million other messes in the house and wonder where the energy will come from to tackle those. To cook dinner this week. To meet those writing deadlines. To respond to e-mails and organize events and continue to take care of the house.

I am often overwhelmed by all of it, and I know it probably  means I’m too busy or that this week was just out of the ordinary and things will settle down, and I really don’t know where to cut back or how to say “no” to any of these things.

So, I’m learning to tell myself a couple of words on an almost daily basis.

Do you want to know what they are?

It’s okay.

Revolutionary, right? Two words no one on the face of this earth has ever spoken before.

Simple words. On the surface, almost meaningless.

But those words are propped up by a big important word.

Grace.

But grace is a complicated word, and it’s church-y, and I don’t always understand it and sometimes it’s overused to the point that I don’t even know what people mean by it.

So, when I have a hard time giving myself grace, I say this instead: It’s okay.

It’s okay if your house is a complete mess because you’re tired of all the daily life stuff. Or because you’re chasing a dream, trying to live out a purpose beyond the walls of your house.

It’s okay if you spent $34 at the gas station on “dinner” while driving across the state from a visit to friends because you just want to keep going and not stop. (In all fairness, it was from Sheetz, which has significantly better quality food than your average gas station. I ate hummus. The kids had fruit.)

It’s okay if dinner looks like pizza or mac and cheese or take out more nights than you care to admit.

It’s okay if your preschooler wears the same shirt twice in one week because the second time is picture day and he won’t wear anything else. (By the grace of God, you had time to wash it between wearings, but it’s okay even if you didn’t.)

It’s okay if you don’t fold the laundry, if you forget to wash enough shirts for your husband’s work uniform and he’s getting ready for work as you realize this.

(And it’s okay if you try to make a pretty graphic for your blog post and the application doesn’t save it and you have to scrap the whole thing and try again the next day.)

Are you hearing my heart? Because I need to hear it, too.

There is grace for all this ordinary mess.

grace for ordinary mess

And it will not stay this way.

Today, maybe we don’t have the strength to do it all the way we want to, but tomorrow … well, as my favorite literary heroine famously said, tomorrow is another day.

Give yourself permission today to let something slide. Stop telling yourself you’re a bad mom/wife/person because of (fill in the blank). Get through today and deal with tomorrow, tomorrow.

It’s okay. And it will be okay.

Are you listening, Lisa?

It’s okay.

The past few Fridays have been devoted to Stories of Friendship as I aim to honor meaningful relationships in my life. You can read past stories here and here, as well as a guest post on the subject here. If you have a friend you’d like to honor with a story of friendship, e-mail me at lmbartelt (at) gmail (dot) com.

Last weekend our family took two days and headed west to Pittsburgh to hang out with some dear friends whose home is often a resting place for us as we travel from our home back to Illinois to visit family. Rarely do we get the chance to hang out for an extended time and always when we do, we find ourselves lingering and leaving later than we expected.

So today’s story of friendship is dedicated to this couple: Josh and Rachel.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is them more than a decade ago, when the story of our friendship began. Before Phil and I were an “us,” Josh and Rachel were friends of ours. I met them at a weekend retreat for college-ish age students. It was a terrifying experience for me walking into it because all of these people had grown up with each other and I was an outsider. I’m an introvert anyway, so being an outsider compounds the problem. I could have slipped through unnoticed but Josh is one of the first people I remember taking the time to talk to me.

I remember sitting on a couch, fading into the background, and him jumping over the back of it and nearly knocking my head with his feet. Then it became a running joke, how Josh almost killed me at my first retreat. And Rachel, a talented musician and singer, welcomed my feeble attempts at guitar and singing after I’d barely learned how to play.

This couple has always been an encouragement to us. They have ties and roots in Illinois. They understand where we come from. They love Chicago as much as we do and Rock River Bible Camp holds a special place in their hearts as it does ours.

About the time we moved to east-central Pennsylvania, they moved to western Pennsylvania, and it’s been a blessing to have friends who know our experiences in the past and the present. Friends we can pick up with immediately and don’t have to explain our messy past lives to. Not much anyway.

We raid each other’s fridges when we’re staying. I dig through Rachel’s cupboards looking for coffee because I know she’ll have some. We look out for each other’s kids. We talk about life and books and ministry and artistic callings and balancing all of the things we love. Rachel’s dad officiated the marriage of Phil and me, so that’s practically family right there. And when we visited their current church on Sunday, people asked if we were Josh’s family. I wanted to say, “Yes! He’s our brother!” because some relationships feel like that.

Our friendship spans more than 10 years. That picture up there was then.

This is our now.

pa kidsSo much has changed in our years as friends. Multiple moves. Lots of kids. (I remember when all these kiddos were born and now they run and jump and talk and laugh and fight and wrestle and hug!) And our friendship has rolled with the changes.

We had a chance this weekend to take a group picture of the four of us while eating breakfast out (Josh arranged for a sitter to watch our crew of munchkins so the grown-ups could enjoy breakfast! Do you see why we’re friends?!) and I totally forgot! So, the picture of the kids will have to suffice.

I’m giving myself a few tears just thinking about these precious friends and how much they add to our lives.

It is rare to have a friend couple that has lived in the same two states as we have and had many of the same hopes, dreams and desires.

Our couches and guest rooms are always open to each other.

So are our lives.

I wish everyone could have a Josh and Rachel in their lives.

(Maybe you do! If so, tell me about them!)

 

I don’t know much about Kara Tippetts except that she’s fighting cancer and fighting for life every day. Maybe you’ve heard of her. She recently wrote a public letter to a woman who has scheduled her death. And she’s written a book called The Hardest Peace. I haven’t read the book, but in promoting her book, she’s asking for stories. Stories of others’ hardest peace–where we’ve learned to expect grace in the midst of life’s hard (the subtitle of her book).

I’m not fighting her battle, but we all fight our own battles, and grace is for all of the battles, for all of the fighters in all the arenas.

And the battle I fight is against the things I cannot change.

Namely, the past.

Sure, it’s the past, but I blame it for my present and worry that my future will be radically different because of things that happened then. Things I cannot change.

So peace for today eludes me because I haven’t made peace with the past.

I’m not sure what that looks like anymore.

I used to think it meant surviving it. And survive it, I did.

Surviving the hard times used to seem impossible. There were days I was certain I wouldn’t come through it alive or anything looking like human.

But it’s four years later. And I’m still alive.

I wonder, though: Am I living?

We got through a hard time in our marriage, and we’re so much better for it. But now that life has settled back down, now that the crisis has passed and urgency worn off, I find myself drifting into seas of bitterness, oceans of regret. If I’m not careful, I’ll drown in them.

Peace, then, is what could keep me afloat.

And peace, in part, comes from letting go.

I learned this to a point last year when I released some things, big and small.

But I don’t think I really let the past go.

And that doesn’t mean that I have to forget it, exactly, or pretend it never happened.

Maybe it has more to do with this thought Tippetts shares in her book:

hardest peace

Finding peace means recognizing that I don’t get to control all the things that happen to me. That maybe–certainly–there’s a larger story being written. One that doesn’t include a perfectly planned out (by my standards) life. As a writer, I can relate to these words. There are scenes in my stories that are hard to write because they wreck someone’s world, but it’s for the greater good.

I need to trust that the same is true in the story of my life.

The hardest peace. What a challenging thought. That peace doesn’t always come easy. But that it still comes.

Do you a have a story about finding the hardest peace? Share yours, too, and link to it here. Then head over to the contest for the book release here and enter to win prizes, including copies of the book.

 

It’s quite a feat to write an Amish novel that doesn’t read like your typical Amish novel but Elizabeth Byler Younts has done it and I couldn’t put this book down. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for my review.)

promise to cherishThe story takes place during World War II, when Eli, an Amish man is sent to work in a camp as a conscientious objector and is later transferred to the Hudson River State Hospital to assist the nurses in caring for those with disabilities. There, he meets Christine, a nurse, and though they aren’t friendly at first, their common work brings them together. When Christine faces trouble she can’t escape, Eli offers her refuge in his Amish community. But their friendship brings more trouble and invites a visit from Christine’s past that almost destroys their relationship.

Yes, it’s partially set in an Amish community. Yes, it’s a romance. But the story was so well-written and so captivating that I forgot it was an Amish book. That is what I love about Younts’ stories. They draw on her Amish history and experiences but they are not the typical worn-out stories like some in the genre.

I look forward to more of Younts’ work and appreciate the blend of family history and American history she takes in this series. A great follow-up to her debut novel, Promise to Return. Though they’re part of a series, you don’t necessarily have to read them in order. I actually liked this second book better than the first (and that’s no insult to the first book!)

If you’re less than thrilled with the Amish fiction offerings out there, then I recommend this book. I read every Beverly Lewis book I could get my hands on when we first moved to Amish country but quickly grew bored. That’s not a problem for me with Younts’ books.

Visit the author’s website to learn more about her and her Amish heritage.

What do you like or not like about Amish fiction?

If you’ve never read it, would you ever consider it?

Occasionally, I get invited to participate in these chain-letter-type of blog tour things where you’re nominated by someone to answer a bunch of questions and then pass it on. I was a glutton for chain letters as a kid, though don’t ask me why my parents let me mail off a bunch of handwritten letters (and use stamps!) to avoid some kind of curse.

That’s not at all what this is about.

my-writing-processThe My Writing Process blog tour aims to direct readers and writers towards new books and friends. When you are invited to participate, you simply answer the four questions below and then pass the torch on to three fellow writers.

The lovely Lisa Betz nominated me for this tour, and I’m happy to oblige because sometimes it’s fun to answer questions about writing. (Sometimes. Not always.)

I’m finally getting more comfortable talking about myself as a writer and not feeling like some kind of slacker with a pseudo-job. So, here’s a bit about my writing right now.

1. What am I working on?

Well, I’ve been writing a novel for the last, like, three years. Yep. Three. Years. Maybe longer. I’m hoping the next one won’t take me that long, but sheesh, that sounds like a long time. I finished the first draft this summer. So, now I’m reading it through again, editing, polishing, answering questions I didn’t think about answering the first time through. I’ve learned a lot about writing in the last three years, so I’m excited for this re-writing process. Earlier this year, I learned from a published author that another term for a first draft is a discovery draft, and that has changed my entire outlook on what I’ve been doing for the last three years.

And it explains why after I wrote “the end,” I went back to the beginning and changed many of the character names, as well as the title of the novel. My current working title is “The Dawn of Hope.” It’s a mostly contemporary story about a girl named Hope who doesn’t have much hope for her future, and some things she learns about her family’s past that help her move forward with her life. There are some historical scenes, too.

2. How does my book differ from others in its genre?

I’m not even sure what genre I’d put it in right now! I recently learned about frame stories, which intertwine historical and contemporary storylines, and while that’s close to what I’m working on, it’s not exactly what I’ve accomplished so far. So … I’m sure this will sell really well to an agent or editor because I can’t even answer my own questions!

3. Why do I write what I write?

I love stories of all kinds, and I’m especially drawn to those stories that combine historical and contemporary storylines. I love the link between past and present, and I have more story ideas along these lines. I think it’s fairly common for writers to write what they like to read, so count me among that group!

4. How does my writing process work?

Sporadically and frantically. Because I also blog and do freelance writing, I don’t always give my novel the attention it deserves. So, when I make the time to write, often in the evening, I write until I can’t write anymore or until it’s time to sleep. I don’t aim for a set number of words or a chapter or anything, but I do like to get to a point where I can continue the story the next time I sit down to write. It’s like if I think I know what’s going to happen but haven’t written it yet, then I’m more excited to get back to it.

When I started the novel, I just started writing. I didn’t plot or sketch characters or think up backstories–all work that I have to do now that I already have a skeleton of a story. Next time, I’ll spend more time thinking through some of these questions before I start writing. I think it will make things easier.

Also, these things help. Gifts from a writing friend.

writer survival

So, how’s that? Not a lot of earth-shattering revelation, but a little peek into my brain and my computer.

Now the part where I’m curious about what people are working on but know how valuable writing time can be. So, I pass the torch (with no strings attached!) to:

Kelly F. Barr

Rachel L. Haas

Greg Smith

Have fun writing friends!

A few weeks ago, we started talking about friendship here, and today’s post is another installment. Do you have a story of friendship you’d like to share? Send me a few paragraphs and a photo to lmbartelt (at) gmail (dot) com and I’ll post it on a Friday. Check out the previous posts in the series about my friend Dawn and about Lisa Betz’s friend Carol.

Our husbands were friends first, a side effect of seminary classes, but they bonded like brothers even to the point that people would ask if they were brothers. At the time, they both sported longish hair and beards and had similar builds. I knew of Beth but had not met her until their family temporarily moved in down the street from us. It was another of those relationships where we were online friends before we met in person but clicked the more time we spent together.

From the start, Beth made me comfortable with who I am. She is an authentic person who does not pretend to have it all together or claim to be better than anyone else. She puts me at ease. With her, I can spout all my frustrations, laugh at things I think I shouldn’t find funny, share dreams and fears and struggles. I remember the day I told her about our marriage struggles. How we hit rock bottom and were clawing our way back up. She cried with me and asked probing questions (the good kind). But the thing I remember most is how she spoke hope to me. She believed this would not be the end for us. And she continues to see beyond circumstances to what could be.friends at the beach

Beth is fun and genuine and despite what she might think, one of the most beautiful people I know. She has a heart that beats wild for Jesus and His people. She is a fighter for what’s right and just. She loves coffee and her husband and her kids and when I have been with her, I am refreshed.

This summer, our families vacationed together at the beach–a move that could have ruined all the friendships. But, thanks be to God, we are better friends for having done it.

Hers is one of many treasured friendships I have, and I can hardly believe we’ve only been friends for a couple of years.

(And I hope we are still friends after I post this picture of us at the beach. We were kid-free that day and loving it!)

If I had a sister, I would want her to be like Beth.

Do you have a friend like that? Share your story with us!

The-Mason-Jar-cover-e1412111942122I just don’t know what to think about this book. It had a lot of potential, but I didn’t feel it lived up to it. The premise was interesting, but there were some major flaws in the writing. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book in exchange for my review.)

I was confused about some scenes and dialogue exchanges where the person I thought was talking wasn’t the person talking. There was a lot of backstory dumping where readers are given loads of information about what happened in the past. And in the early chapters, the lead character is informed that the book her ex-boyfriend wrote is about her except he changed her name, but we have no evidence of a name change. She is called “Eden” throughout the story. And on the back cover, she’s called Savannah, but I never saw that name in the book.

The author compares the story to a Nicholas Sparks tale. I’ve not read any Sparks; I’ve only seen The Notebook. And the only real comparison I saw was the inclusion of a scene between the two leads that takes place in a downpour. From what I know of Sparks, this is classic.

I just couldn’t get into the story. I cared just enough to see how it turned out. And the cover is gorgeous, which is really the highlight for me. I’m sorry I didn’t like it more. I think it could have been great, but for me, it fell way, way short.

Read on for the official launch celebration information.

James Russell Lingerfelt‘s debut novel, The Mason Jar, is hot-off-the-press and causing quite the buzz. It’s even been optioned for a feature film and is in pre-production.

Catch the spark by entering James’ Kindle Fire giveaway!

masonjar-400-click

One grand prize winner will receive:

  • A Kindle Fire
  • The Mason Jar by James Russell Lingerfelt

Enter today by clicking the icon below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on October 19th. Winner will be announced October 20th at James Russell’s blog, Love Story from the Male Perspective.

masonjar-enterbanner

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