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On Fridays, I’ve been telling you stories of meaningful friendships. You can read past posts about the friend who got me through hard times, the friend who takes me as I am, and the friends who’ve been on a journey with us across states. And you can read this guest post about a friend who was right next door. Maybe you have a story to tell too? Send it to me at lmbartelt (at) gmail (dot) com, along with a picture, if you have one, and I’ll post it here on an upcoming Friday.

tbt Lisa & Nikki

This is my favorite picture of Nikki and me, taken years ago when we were counselors for a week at Rock River Bible Camp. I love it because it is SO not our personalities. At least, not obviously. We’re the quiet introvert types. I mean, when this picture was taken, Nikki was a librarian and I was a journalist. Writer. Librarian. Not exactly the roles that bring to mind fun-loving party types.

But to me, this photo describes our relationship.

Nikki and I became friends at a time when we both needed a friend. We were post-college, career women in our 20s without boyfriends or husbands or children like so many of the people we knew. We’d both gone away to college and returned to our hometown area, attended the same church and were trying to figure out what exactly God had in store for people like us. (That’s what I was trying to figure out anyway.)

We started hanging out with other people our age at the church, half of whom Nikki was related to. I was sort of an outsider having not grown up in that church, but they all accepted me, Nikki included, and somewhere along the hanging out, she and I got to be really good friends.

After my second roommate moved out, she and I started talking about the possibility of living together. I remember this conversation because the conditions were not ideal. At the time, I lived in the smaller half of a house in town and she lived with her parents. To make this roommate thing worked, we decided we’d need to move to the larger half of the house and Nikki would need a raise of a certain amount at work. Both seemed a bit impossible on our meager salaries, but God surprised us both and made it happen.

Living with Nikki (I can’t remember now if it was years or just a year–I’m old and my memory isn’t what it used to be) was one of the best times of my life. Sure, we had bumps along the way. I was a bit immature and didn’t know that friends could disagree and still be friends. We didn’t always agree on things, but I mostly remember it as a time of deep friendship. And I think where individually we might not have been brave enough to do certain things, together, we spurred one another on.

Nikki traveled to Ohio with me for a friend’s wedding, and we stopped to visit an island along the way. We made our half-house a welcome place for people to gather and weekly hosted our friends for food and hanging out and looooong nights of Trivial Pursuit. We watched Anne of Green Gables and Pride & Prejudice and swooned over these love stories.

And as our own love stories began, we confided in each other our deepest feelings. I remember the day she told me about her growing feelings for the man she would marry. And the day I confessed that I was falling for Phil. We encouraged each other in those relationships. It was her idea that I dress as Phil one year for Halloween. (Sorry, I’m not sure where those pictures are!) She gave me this plaque as a reminder of our friendship. I still display it prominently next to a poem she wrote me about our friendship. best friends

Our lives have us in two different states right now, but she is one of the friends I most want to spend time with when we’re in the same state, even when it’s almost impossible to make it happen. Not long ago, I purposed to meet her for lunch and hang out for an afternoon so she could know the state of things in our marriage. It was the kind of conversation I wanted to have in person. And though I was afraid our friendship had changed because we’d been apart and things had changed so much for me, I was grateful to discover that things had changed for both of us, but our friendship remained. (I am now plotting a double date night for us when we’re home next. This is your fair warning.)

Not all friendships stand the tests of time and distance, but I’m grateful this one has.

Nikki is still an encouragement to me, and I’m blessed to call her “friend.”

rare birdRare Bird is the kind of book I usually try to avoid. Books are an escape for me, and stories of tragedy are ones I don’t often want to consider because they’re just too hard to read.

How incredibly selfish of me. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book from the publisher through the Blogging for Books program.)

While I wish no one ever needed to read this kind of book much less write it, I’m so grateful that Anna Whiston-Donaldson poured out her grief journey on the pages of this book. Losing her son Jack at 12 years old in a freak neighborhood accident–unthinkable. I related to her thoughts about doing enough right things to keep her family safe and feeling like a failure when it wasn’t enough. Whiston-Donaldson is real and raw about the stages of grief, about unexpected losses of friendship after a tragedy, and how hard it can be to go on. And yet, her story is inspiring. It does not gloss over the reality of pain and suffering, but it doesn’t leave it as hopeless either.

This book made me cry real tears for a boy I never knew. I laughed at family stories so vivid I felt like I was there. And I felt the edges of terror creep into my soul as the depths of grief sought to overtake this family. A couple of times I even uttered, “no way,” at the visions, dreams and messages she received about Jack after his death. (I am not one to quickly believe in messages from beyond, but I also haven’t experienced that kind of loss yet, so what do I know?)

Rare Bird is a beautiful story. And a terrible one. And I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book quite like it. You don’t have to have experienced loss to read this book but if you have had a loss like hers, it’s a must read. Whiston-Donaldson’s words are tender and poetic at the same time they’re jarring and harsh. It’s a glimpse into grief that few of us see firsthand.

A word of caution to those sensitive to language: Whiston-Donaldson uses words that some people might find offensive. But in the context of grief and loss, they are entirely appropriate.

An unforgettable memoir about an unimaginable tragedy and an incomprehensible faith that sustains.

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!

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