How writing makes me a better person

Eight minutes changed my whole day.

Between grocery shopping and preparing lunch for the kids, I had squeezed in a phone interview for an article I’m writing. Phone interviews were a daily part of the job when I worked for newspapers, but since I’ve been a stay-at-home mom and sometimes-freelance writer, they’ve been rarer. Because predicting a time of day when the kids might offer me a few minutes of uninterrupted time to speak to another adult in a semi-professional capacity is about the same as picking winning lottery numbers. In this particular circumstance, I took a chance (and my husband was home and available to referee briefly as needed) and it paid off.

After I ended the call, I eagerly and willingly put the rest of the groceries away and engaged the kids in reading and play time before we sat down to lunch.

Maybe that doesn’t sound like a big deal, but for me, wanting to play with my kids doesn’t come easy. See, I’m a task person. I see a job that needs doing, and I do it. (Unless it’s washing dishes and then I ignore it for as long as possible.) I need activities to have purpose. Sometimes playing Barbies or taking a walk around the block at a snail’s pace seems pointless to me. And don’t get me started on seek-and-find books, which are my daughter’s absolute favorite right now.

Measuring productivity as a mom is hard. I know that playing with my kids, reading to them, taking walks and the like are all part of their development and do have purpose. It’s just that I can’t always see it. Which is why I often choose housework or errands over straight-out playtime.

Here’s what I’m learning, though. I was called to be a writer before God gave me children. I know that some moms feel called to their role. I’m not sure that I do. So when I have the chance to exercise my calling — a phone interview, writing an article, attending writers group, leading Bible study — I become a better wife and mom. Those things fill my tank and restore my sense of purpose. Being a mom is important work, and I know that. However, there’s more to me than my mom-ness.

While my husband’s been in seminary, he’s had one night class almost every semester. I’ve taken those nights as my writing/creative nights. Looking forward to that time helps me get through the cleaning, the picking up toys, the breaking up fights that encompass the rest of my day.

For me, writing is a need. When I don’t do it, I suffer and so does my family.

I learned in Sunday School this week (via video teaching from John Ortberg and Dallas Willard in The Divine Conspiracy) that one of the best things you can do for the people around you is to take care of yourself. Writing is part of my self-care plan.

For you, it might be something different. Art. Youth group. Talking with a friend regularly. Volunteer work.

How does [fill in the blank] make you a better person?


Saturday Smiles: World Peace edition

I know almost nothing about current events and/or sports except the snippets I catch from my husband’s ESPN viewing habit. So I have NO clue why some guy, whose name is World Peace, is in trouble for some kind of physical altercation on the basketball court. But the irony is so funny, as are the many tweets and Facebook statuses I’ve seen about it.

That’s something to smile about. Unintentional humor gets me every time.

We had our own “world peace” funny in the house this week. While playing this game, Isabelle decided the faces needed friends not matches. So she set down United States boy and picked up the Afghanistan girl and said, “There. They can be friends.” I have no idea how this translates to foreign policy, but maybe we need to get the U.N. to play this game and give everyone a friend. Later she matched India with Iran and said they could be friends. There was a lot of boy-girl matching going on, so if the foreign policy gig doesn’t work out for her, she can always run a dating service.

She is the source of many smiles this week.

Like when she pretends to be a cat.

And finishes her first-ever soccer clinic, complete with end-of-session medal.

One afternoon, I was lying on the couch because I could not keep my eyes open any longer. (Tell me you’ve been there!) She comes right up to my face … or should I say, she backs up to my face, pauses then walks away. I asked her why she did that. “I tooted on you. It was a BIG toot.” My husband, who was supposed to be working on a paper, busted out laughing. Trust me when I say, she is his child. This is learned behavior from a Dad who often shows his affection in dad-like ways, like tooting in their general direction. What was funny to me was how funny he thought it was.

I’d never considered that teaching your kids about Jesus could have unexpected side effects. Isabelle was singing to her brother out of the hymnal (she can’t read it yet) and her song went something like this: “He makes us happy when we sing. He makes us happy. He makes our ants die, die, die forever. They die forever.” Our kitchen is currently under attack by ants and I’ve launched a counter-attack in ant traps. Isabelle has been fascinated by the illustrations on the back of the packaging that show ants dying. Stay with me; I’ll get back to Jesus. Later, she and Corban were playing with a Little People ambulance and an Ariel doll (Barbie sized). Ariel was sick, or as Isabelle said, “She died forever.” Izzy carried her to the play kitchen oven and put her in because it was “a dark lonely place.” I assume this is her interpretation of Good Friday and not something altogether sick and twisted. Let’s go with Good Friday.

I’m amassing a collection of photos for which my son will hate me when he’s a teenager. Here’s the newest addition.

Here’s a more respectable one for him. He was jealous of the Izzy-as-cat picture at the time.

He looks innocent, but he gave us a “first” this week. We’d been to storytime at the library, where he and his sister had made ladybugs, and somewhere along the way, his ladybug lost an eye. By the time we sat down to lunch, it had lost both eyes. Corban’s had a bit of the sniffles lately, so we’ve been blowing his nose a lot. Just before lunch, Phil had Corban on the couch blowing his nose when I heard Phil exclaim, “Corban Ranard!” Wondering what warranted such a reaction, I rushed to the living room to find my husband holding one of the googly eyes from the ladybug. It had come out of Corban’s nose on one of the blows. I don’t remember Isabelle ever sticking anything up her nose. I think we’re in for a treat with this one.

Two workouts in this week plus a chance to get out of the house on a nice-ish sunny day in the middle of the week. The rest of the week was surrounded by cold, gloomy, rain-type days.

My husband’s senior banquet … a date night equivalent. We dressed up. I didn’t have to cook. Someone else watched the kids. The celebrations begin.

Three papers stand between my husband and graduation. Last week it was seven papers/assignments. One step at a time.

Happy Saturday!

Anthem Thursday: Oh My God

I came home one night and my husband was listening to a Jars of Clay album on Spotify. This song is on it, and it’s one of my favorites because it helps me express what I feel about suffering and injustice.

“Oh My God” is such an overused phrase these days, especially when shortened to OMG. There are valid times to say “Oh My God.” The song gives us plenty of examples.

Enough from me.

Epic road trip: review of Harriet Beamer Takes the Bus by Joyce Magnin

A bet between a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law can’t end well, right?

Rest assured, it’s not as bad as it might sound. In fact, it’s better. It’s the premise for Joyce Magnin’s latest novel, Harriet Beamer Takes the Bus.

When Harriet Beamer, a 70-something widow, falls off a chair while hanging ornaments on the Christmas tree, her son and daughter-in-law decide it’s time she move from her home in suburban Philadelphia to their home in California. The catch is: she only has to move if her ankle is broken. Harriet, never one to turn down a bet, agrees. When the X-ray comes back showing she’s broken her ankle, Harriet has no choice but to keep her end of the bet. She packs up her salt-and-pepper shaker collection and puts her basset hound, Humphrey, on a plane. Realizing she’s never been anywhere, she decides not to get on the plane with her beloved canine. She’s going to move to California, but she’s going to see some sights along the way.

What follows is Harriet’s bold, outrageous and sometimes frightening journey across the United States on public transportation, with a few alternate means. Her trip is nowhere near a straight shot from east to west, which is how she intends it.

I’ve been a fan of Magnin’s books for about a year. (Read my reviews of a couple of her other books here.) She weaves a tale that is remarkable and inspiring with characters who feel like old friends. Magnin has a knack for creating outrageously believable scenarios and is a master of imagery. A person Harriet meets doesn’t just have wrinkles. He has more wrinkles than the prunes Harriet ate for breakfast. The book is brimming with clear pictures of people and places. What a treat.

FAVORITES: In the midst of Harriet’s travels are nuggets of wisdom that hit you almost out of the blue. Harriet is on a physical journey and a spiritual journey.  What she learns spoke to me in the midst of a journey of unknown destination in my own life.

FAULTS: If there is any fault at all, it’s that Harriet  Beamer may not appeal to a younger generation because of her age. Although with the popularity of Betty White and her friends on television, there is hope. And I do hope that readers of all ages pick up this book, or download it, because just like our grandparents’ generation, Harriet Beamer has something to teach us all.

IN A WORD: Vicarious. Reading Harriet Beamer Takes the Bus makes me want to travel and do unexpectedly courageous things. Now. Not when I’m 70. I even marked a couple of places in the book to look up later as possible travel destinations.

Harriet’s journey continues on her blog. Yes, that’s right. Harriet Beamer has her own blog. You can follow her ongoing adventures here. I’m eager to catch up on her travels.

Side note: If you’ve got a Kindle, Magnin’s first book in the Bright’s Pond series, The Prayers of Agnes Sparrow, is free (as of Tuesday night). Check it out here.

About the Author

Joyce Magnin is the author of five novels, including the popular and quirky Bright’s Pond series and the middle grade novel “Carrying Mason.” She is a writing instructor and frequent conference speaker. Joyce lives in Pennsylvania with her son, Adam, and their crazy cat, Mango, who likes to eat nachos.


In exchange for this review, I received a free advanced digital copy of the book from Zondervan.

Grace changes everything

I am a judgment junkie.

Maybe that just means I’m human. Sometimes, I can’t help myself. I see someone dressed a certain way, or behaving a certain way, and I come to a conclusion based on almost no information.

That sort of thing would have gotten me fired in the newspaper business. Snap judgments, incomplete stories, speculations … that’s the stuff of tabloids and, too often, television. Facts and truth — these are the things on which I built my journalism career.

I read this quote recently, from a book I’ll review later on this blog. The author wrote it in the context of suffering and the meaning of suffering, but I think it applies in daily life as well.

Given our extremely limited perspective, it is premature to leap from “I can’t see the reason” to “There is no reason.” We cannot condemn what we don’t fully understand. (Godforsaken by Dinesh D’Souza)

How did it come to this? How can I so easily dismiss people as less worthy or less talented or less intelligent or less anything than me? What, after all, makes me so special?

The answer is:  nothing.

This occurred to me as the kids and I were walking home from church last week. We’d had a potluck, so in addition to our usual baggage, we were toting the food leftovers. Actually, the kids, who had just eaten a FULL lunch, were eating tortilla chips straight from the bag as we moseyed the three blocks home. I think our son ate half a bag. I was half-horrified at what people passing by would think and half-uncaring because I’d been sick for a week and didn’t have the energy for a fight.

Weeks earlier, I had mentally shamed a mother who allowed her son to eat lunch meat straight from the bag while in line at the grocery store deli counter.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to walk in her shoes while my son left a trail of tortilla crumbs on our street.

Grace changes everything.

Before I was a mom, I thought if your kid left the house with a dirty face, then you must be a poor mother. Or if you let your kid eat candy more than once a day, you weren’t trying hard enough. Or if you yelled at your kids in public, you were probably abusive. Or if you were on food stamps or WIC, you were irresponsible, lazy and/or uneducated.

Grace changes everything.

God has graciously given me the opportunity to walk paths I never would have chosen for myself. As a result, I’ve received more grace than I knew was available. And I’ve given more grace than I knew I could give.

Grace is a work in progress in my life, both in the giving and the receiving.

I have much to learn.

I don’t think it’s enough to look at someone in circumstances different from ours and say “But for the grace of God go I.” Because God’s grace is available to them as well. I need it daily. They need it, too.

Grace changes everything.

Most importantly, it changes me.

How has grace changed you?

Saturday smiles: back to our normal edition

Major theme of the week: We’re healthy! And by “we” I mostly mean “me.” I’m learning that the old adage, “If momma ain’t happy ain’t nobody happy” rings true and you can substitute other words for “happy” like “healthy,” “calm” and “peaceful.”

So, Momma’s healthy again, which is one reason to smile, and I can eat food again, which is another reason to smile because I like food to have more consistency than Jello and more flavor than crackers.

The hubby is in the midst of his final papers and projects for seminary, and he was home for supper on Thursday, so I said I’d make whatever he wanted for dinner. We had pork burgers, seasoned fries and a salad. I’ve never made a pork burger in my life, but it was good enough that Phil said we could make them again sometime. Hitting the spot for dinner is a big deal for me. I still feel like a novice in the kitchen sometimes.

Speaking of my husband, I love watching him react to the ridiculous awesome antics on Top Gear. He’s like a little kid, and I mean that in a good way.

A friend brought this pretty lilac bundle to our house for a playdate on Monday. Their springy fragrance permeated the house all week and reminded me of the lilac bushes that lined the property between the house where I grew up and the neighbor’s. My dream house would have at least one lilac bush in the yard.

And speaking of purple, a friend and I got pedicures this week. It’s one of our coping mechanisms while our husbands read, write papers and try to figure out life after seminary. A survey of the kids for what color I should get on my toes yielded these answers: “Red!” (from Izzy) and “Blue!” (from Corban). I wasn’t initially crazy about either color, so I went for purple, which I think is a combination of the two. At least, that’s what I told them. Maybe it’s vanity, but I always like looking at my feet after a pedicure.

Corban is taking good care of his monkey named Baby. These days, he wraps Baby’s arms around his waist and gallops through the house, or down the road, yelling “Piggyback, piggyback.” One day he did this all the way to the library and back, which is a 20- to 30-minute walk each way.

After cleaning the bookshelf and weeding the holiday related books, the kids have rediscovered the recordable stories their Nana and Aunt Charlotte and Uncle Zach have sent to them. One of my favorite things they do when they “read” these books is they talk back to the voices. “Can you hear me Nana?” “Are you there, Nana?” and “I LOVE YOU!” (in response to a “We love you!” in the story from their aunt and uncle). How I wish the family could hear them from here.

And Corban is offering to pray more often at mealtime. Mostly, he says, “Dear Jesus, goodbye.”

We’ve had some good outdoors time this week, too. The boy in his truck always cracks me up.

One of the biggest developments is training wheels for the little girl.

On subsequent rides she was wearing a helmet. Please don’t report us for child abuse.

I’m off to writers group this morning, which makes me smile before I even get there because I love being with other writers and learning more about the craft and encouraging each other in our ventures.

Happy Saturday!

Anthem Thursday: If I Ever Needed Grace

I’m learning a lot about grace right now. Giving it. Receiving it. What it is. What it isn’t. The most profound truth I’ve encountered about grace this week is that I would have needed grace even if I had never sinned. (Source: Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy).

This song says what my heart feels right now while our family is in the throes of transition.

I need grace. How ’bout you?