A book that bares its soul and offers connection: Review of Scary Close by Donald Miller

For all the controversy he generates, I need the reminder that Donald Miller is just a guy trying to make sense of his world and himself through his faith, experiences and relationships.

scary closeOne thing I admire about him as a writer is his willingness to share his failings as well as his strengths, to acknowledge the controversies but not necessarily apologize for his words. It’s been a long time since I read one of his books but his latest, Scary Close, to me, felt like an honest, heartfelt baring of the soul. The Donald Milller I thought I knew from previous work is not the same writer of this book. That’s encouraging.

(Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book through the Booklook Bloggers program in exchange for my review.)

A writer like Miller might be tempted to withdraw and stop telling stories. But Miller opens up, however reluctantly, and talks about how relationships changed him. Healthy ones and unhealthy ones.

He writes much about his relationship with his now-wife Betsy and what he’s learned and is still learning about intimacy. I like to think I’m pretty good at going deep in relationships but Miller’s words challenge me to discover the real me behind the mask I wear.

Scary Close is written memoir-style but the truths Miller shares, what he’s learning about intimacy, are lessons for all of us to consider.

I’m glad my husband read this book before I did so that now we can talk through some of the things we read. Miller’s words make me want to improve my relationships across the board and offer the kind of vulnerability he’s received. (After reading Bob Goff’s generous and gracious foreward, I was so moved by his use of the word “love” that I told a friend I loved her. I don’t usually do this for people who aren’t family.)

Though Miller addresses topics like dating, marriage and parenting, his words apply to relationships as a whole. I love the hope he offers for those of us who have gotten the intimacy thing wrong.

Miller offers grace and encouragement for the journey.

Two things I learned from journalism that help me navigate life

If we haven’t known each other for 8 or more years, you might not know that once upon a time I was a journalist–a newspaper reporter (later a copy editor and page designer) for daily publications in small towns in Illinois. I gave all that up when we moved to Pennsylvania and I became a stay-at-home mom, so sometimes it feels like a different life entirely.

A funny thing happened last week–my name and picture made it into the local paper where I live now. It was a brief mention because I’m co-teaching a workshop at a writers conference with a talented writing friend. I didn’t realize how big of a deal it was until people started telling me they saw my picture in the paper. I guess I haven’t been as vocal about being a writer as I could have been.

A decade ago, in my hometown, it was normal (and sometimes creepy) for random people to say to me, “Aren’t you that girl that writes for the paper?” or something similar. My picture was in the paper weekly. My name, almost daily. I had forgotten what that was like. (Not that I’m looking for a repeat of that experience!)

Journalism was a difficult career for me. I’m an introvert (though I don’t know that I would have known to call it that at the time). I was fresh out of college and not particularly happy about being back in my hometown. I hated conflict and sometimes had to create it because sources or public officials were not cooperating. There were painful times when something I wrote ticked off an entire community and I became their target for hateful words. (One time I couldn’t answer my phone for a whole day because every time it rang, someone was yelling at me.) There was also one embarrassing time when I misidentified a girl as a boy. (It’s a long story but one I’ll never forget.)

Yet when I look back on my somewhat brief career in journalism (Is 8 years brief? I don’t know. It was longer than I expected to stay in the business.) I’m almost nostalgic. (But I could not do the same job today in our social media saturated world. No, thank you.) I can see how beneficial it was for me, not only as a writer but as a person living life.

Alejandro Escamilla | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Alejandro Escamilla | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Two things stand out to me, especially on days when all I see is an overwhelmingly long list of things to do in a variety of life’s arenas. (P.S. Not my real workstation pictured. I would love to return to my Mac ways.)

The first is that there is always work to do, so do something.

I can’t ever remember a time I was bored while working in journalism. Well, maybe once or twice. It was not a large city, after all. But my work was almost never done. There was always another call to make, another story to write, another idea to pursue. I hated Mondays because all I could see was the long list of unfinished work, and by Friday, I might have accomplished most of it but I could always get a jump on the next thing. Breaking news happens fast but follow-ups take longer. Feature articles are always planned ahead of time so the designers can work their magic. “Done” was a dirty word because then an editor would find something else for you to do.

It could have been so overwhelming that I just did nothing until I needed to. But I was constantly switching from one activity to the next. I would write a bit of this story then answer a phone call from a source for another story before leaving my desk to go to an interview with a source for yet a third story. Maybe I’d get back to that first story later, but I might have to take a few hours off before heading to a government meeting later that night.

Yes, I got paid and it was part of the job, but it was still stressful. I couldn’t afford to waste five minutes doing nothing if I could use that five minutes to make a call or send an e-mail.

Now, I’m not saying that being constantly busy is a good thing. It’s not. But too often I think something like this: “Well, I don’t have time to finish the dishes or do all the laundry, so I’ll just do that later.” In truth, I generally have time to start the dishes or laundry, even if I can’t finish it. And then I feel better about taking time for leisure later.

As a stay-at-home mom who also blogs and does freelance writing and serves in leadership at church, there is always work to be done. This week’s to-do list includes housework, grocery shopping, writing, buying supplies for the church kitchen, catching up on book club reading so I can lead the discussion while our pastor’s wife is out of the country and I don’t even know what else! (I recently heard this called a portfolio life. It’s an interesting concept.)

Which brings me to my second lesson from journalism: expect the unexpected.

Oh, how I hate this one! I’m a planner, and I like when things go according to (my) plan. I’m not sure how I survived journalism. Even in a small town, news breaks at the most inconvenient of times.

Like at 5 p.m. on a Friday when a fax comes into the office announcing the closure of the town’s steel mill, the major employer in town, and practically no one is available for comment but you can’t go home because you have to try everyone and the story will run the next day.

Or when you’re just doing your usual police rounds on a Saturday afternoon weekend duty and you discover a news release about a family of four who drowned when their van went into the river and you have to spend the rest of the day talking to people who are grieving.

Or on another Saturday when the president who grew up in your hometown (Ronald Reagan) finally succumbs to Alzheimer’s and the stories you’ve been holding and writing and planning for months finally see the light of day.

Sometimes all my plans got pushed aside for something else that was going on. It was the nature of the business and it’s the nature of life.

I still have a hard time with this. I look at the week ahead and think about how calm and peaceful it will be and then 3 out of 4 us end up sick or there are two snow days and three school delays and everything I thought I would get done gets pushed back another week.

Some weeks will go as planned and some won’t. Sometimes I’ll get through my to-do list and sometimes I won’t. What I’m (slowly) learning is that I can trust the Spirit to lead me through the day. As I’m writing this blog post, I could also be cleaning the house, but at this moment, blogging is helping to clear my head for the rest of the day, which will certainly have its stressful moments. Another day might lead me to tackle the organizing projects I need.

I’m good at procrastinating the work I don’t want to do but I’m learning that if I take small steps or knock off a few smaller items on my list, then I’m less overwhelmed. (I also probably need a few less hats, but I’m working on that, too.)

How do you do it? Are you able to find balance in all the tasks of your life? Have you learned something from a job or a role that was surprising to you?

When what I need is less not more

“Mommy, what did you get for Christmas?”

We were unpacking our suitcases and the boxes full of presents we’d carried with us to and from a visit to family in the Midwest over the Christmas and New Year holiday. My 5-year-old son had a long list of answers to this question for himself, as did his sister. I answered him honestly.

“That pretty necklace from Daddy. Time with family. A little bit of money. A coffee mug.” I listed a few things of importance, not wanting to dwell on what I did or didn’t get at Christmas. Sometimes, it’s hard, even as an adult, to remember that the holiday isn’t about gifts and getting.

“And what else?”

I think I told him that I didn’t need anything else, that all of those things were enough. I hope that somewhere in his preschool mind he sees that it’s okay to not get at Christmas.

Our Christmas plans were different this year. We took an airplane to visit family. We spent time in Colorado with family. The kids and I stayed extra time while my husband returned to our home to work.

And one thing people asked us was: “So, did you take all the presents with you?”

Today, I’m blogging over at Putting on the New. You can read the rest of this post here.

To the boy who turns 5

All I did was write the title of this post, and already, I’m nearly in tears.

It’s not that I don’t want you to grow up. I do want that because that’s the way of things.

Sometimes, though, I wish it didn’t happen so fast.

Wasn’t it just a minute ago that you were barreling into the world via emergency C-section because you were bigger than life?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

And seconds ago you were a smiley baby I snuggled tight while trying to balance your needs and your toddling sister’s needs.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Now you’re five. You’ll be on your way to kindergarten next year, and though I am looking forward to the days of having my own schedule again, I have to admit that I will miss you.Corban and mommy

You’ve never known anything but a mom who stays home with you. And these last two years, when your sister went off to school, it’s been just you and me, precious time I wouldn’t trade for anything because I saw your personality bloom.

You’ve become my helper. At grocery shopping. At running errands. At washing dishes and doing laundry. You’ve kept me sane through some insanity because you are funny and compassionate and easy to please, when the occasion warrants.

Corban cooks

I thought I knew everything about babies and children after your sister was born. Having a second child seemed easier than the first time around. But you’ve kept us on our toes–from the numerous ear infections as a baby to the urgent care visit in Illinois to our first trip to the ER for a “pediatric head injury.” You live life wild and hard and sometimes you have cuts and bruises and scars that appear from where you’ve tried to take out a wall on accident. (Even when you play soccer with your sister, we see the football–the other kind–potential in you.)

Without you, I wouldn’t know that it was possible for a person to be noisy from the moment they woke up to the moment they fell asleep. The house is quiet without you. I’m not 100 percent sure what’s going on inside your brain, but occasionally, during the noise, all the thoughts and questions and ideas leak out. I can’t wait to see what happens when you’re in school.

Corban dragon

And speaking of questions: you have so many. I can’t really complain because I was the same way as a child. Even as an adult, I’m asking questions all the time, even if I don’t voice them. You love to know how things work and the reason for things. Just the other night, I was amazed by the workings of your little brain. We walked downtown in the city, you holding my gloved hand with your gloved hand. We hadn’t taken more than a few steps from the car and you were studying a building and a staircase, trying to figure out where it went and how it got there. The amazement I heard in your voice made me pause to be amazed, too.

This, too, is what you’ve done to me. You’ve made me notice things I wouldn’t otherwise see. Because of you I see trucks of all kinds on the road. I know the difference between a bulldozer and a backhoe and a skid loader because that’s what you want to read about. I’m learning about trains and bridges and trucks because those are the non-fiction books you find at the library. (And you want to read every word because you want to know how it works.)

Before you were born, I wondered if I had enough love for two children. In some weird way, my love wasn’t split; it was multiplied.

Corban batman

And now you’re 5 and the years have already passed so quickly. And I wonder if I’ll blink and you’ll be on the verge of manhood. Will I always see you as a little boy?

You bring so much life to our lives. I know we don’t have a lot of proof of our love, at least not in the form of pictures. It’s true what they say about subsequent children and the lesser amount of photos. We were too busy loving you and your sister, figuring out our life as a family of four, becoming a healthy place for you to grow up. You might never read these words, or maybe you will someday when you’re much older, but let them reflect all the love I don’t say, all the love you don’t see when you look for pictures of your childhood. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

You are so very loved, wanted from the moment we knew you were coming, even though it scared us.

We can’t imagine our family without you.

Happy birthday, Corban. You are, and will always be, what your name means: a gift given back to God.

The words I really need to hear right now

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.

A vote for summer (and fall and winter and spring)

In less than a week, summer will (unofficially) be over. At least where we live, the kids go back to school next week and the carefree, do-what-we-want days (I stole that line from my coolest Colorado cousin) will be over.

Back to setting alarms and packing lunches and meeting the bus twice a day.

Back to homework and enforcing a regular bedtime and the end-of-day reunion of family.

Honestly? I’m going to miss summer.

summer

We’ve never been close, summer and I. Although I’m sure I enjoyed the break from homework and school when I was a student, summers sort of lost their allure when I got my first job out of college. Summer was like any other time of the year. I got up, I went to work, I came home. Except it was more humid than other times of the year.

Our family summers in recent memory have had their positive moments, but I’m becoming one of those moms who enjoys her relative freedom during the school days. So, I sort of feared this first summer following our firstborn’s kindergarten year.

I found a groove with one child all day long and in what seemed like an instant, I was back to having both kids all day and one of them is in constant need of social interaction. Summer could be a disaster, I predicted.

And then it wasn’t.

There were family visits here and there and long drives in between. There were outings and adventures and days of sheer boredom in between. There was togetherness–oh, there was togetherness–and times I wanted to have JUST FIVE FREAKING MINUTES TO MYSELF WITHOUT ANYONE TOUCHING ME. (Have I mentioned I’m an introvert?) And a long separation that was almost too much to bear.

There were trips to the library and reading on the porch and visits with friends and an amazing vacation and countless memories that are falling through the cracks of my mind. (And parks! We went to the park so many times!) summer 2

There were plans that came about and plans that didn’t.

And you know what? Summer was great!

Today, I was mourning the upcoming loss of time with my daughter. She’s a creative, imaginative, passionate spitfire of a human being in a small package but she’s crazy fun to be around, even when she’s pouting. As we drove to get school supplies, just the two of us, I felt the need to tell her how much I would miss her when she went back to school.

And then an hour later I was thanking God that she was going back to school because she couldn’t stop fighting with her brother.

I can’t have it both ways, I know. I can’t have our family all together all the time (at least not without some major changes to how we live and I’m just not sure that’s our best option) and I can’t send the kids away forever. (I would never do that, by the way, even on the hardest days.)

Just the same, I couldn’t have endless summer because I’d miss the colors of fall, the slowing down in winter and the rebirth of spring.

I will miss my daughter when she’s at school, but I can’t wait for those big hugs when she comes leaping off the school bus at the end of the day. Or the big smile on her face when she sees me at her school. I love hearing the stories of her day and storing up our tales to share with her.

I will miss the freedom we have in the summer to take a family adventure on whatever day suits my husband’s work schedule, but that just means we have to be more intentional about scheduling our fun on other days. (We already have some plans!)

Part of me wants to regret all the things we didn’t do this summer–all the projects and the exploring that just didn’t fit into our lives–but that would rob us of the joy we did have.

So, summer, I’m sad (really!) to see you go, but I know you’ll be back again next year. And fall, I’m ready for you! (Okay, that’s false bravado. I’m not ready AT ALL. But bring. it. on.) And winter, you just wait your turn. I promise to make hot chocolate and try to enjoy the snow again this year but don’t get too eager. And spring, my love, you’ll be what keeps me hanging on during those subzero mornings waiting for the school bus to arrive.

Play nice together, seasons, and I’ll give each of you your due. I’ll look for the best and turn away from the worst. (Okay, I’ll probably still complain loudly on Facebook about snow days and shoveling and heating  bills.)

It’s hard to say good-bye, and I hate transition times, so I might be singing a different tune in a week or two. For now, though, we’re squeaking out our last bit of fun this week and preparing for the return of routine next week.

Thank you, summer of 2014, for reminding me of all you have to offer. You’ve earned a place among my favorite seasons. (Spoilers: It’s a 4-way tie.)

How was your summer? What’s your favorite season and why?

What I learned when my kids went on vacation

Last year, we sent the kids to their grandparents for two weeks out of necessity. As in: this move is NOT going to happen unless I get these kids out of here. I’d come to the end of my abilities to pack boxes and clean and move stuff with two summer-lovin’ children under foot, so we begged (I mean, it didn’t take much) the grandparents to find it in their hearts to save these poor children from their stressed-out parents.

They obliged. We moved. And we all lived happily ever after.

Then summer happened again, only this time there was not a pressing need to send the children away. But work schedules being what they are, Camp Nana and Papa as we’re calling it, has become our summer thing, and this year it again stretched almost two weeks because that’s what had to happen.

I’m writing this now while the house is still quiet and the kids are off visiting baseball’s greatest stadium (Wrigley Field, if you didn’t know) for the first time, but by the time you read this, we’ll all be together again in a van hugging the mountainous curves of Pennsylvania on our way back home.

I’ll admit: I felt selfish when I told people the kids were going away for two weeks. I mean, it’s not like I have another job and need someone to take care of them for me, and even though it’s hard sometimes and I’m exhausted, it’s not like I wasn’t going to survive summer if they didn’t go. I didn’t need them to go, but I wanted them to go, and I will tell you without hesitation that I look forward to days when my time is more flexible on a regular basis.

But I will also tell you that the idea of nearly two weeks without my kids terrified me. I had plans, no doubt, but I was worried that with so much time, I would end up doing none of the things I had planned.

Do we look too eager?

Do we look too eager?

That partially came true. My house is still messy in spots. I have not cleaned like I thought I would. I talked myself out of having a yard sale and took the stuff to Goodwill instead. (Because really, an introvert’s nightmare is inviting strangers to stop by your house all morning and dig through your unwanted stuff and maybe make conversation.) I barely kept the dishes clean, which happens during an average week in our house.

This vacation was not a total loss, though. Far from it.

Here are some things I learned:

  • My friend Alison invited me to share her favorite writing spot so we could be introverts together.

    My friend Alison invited me to share her favorite writing spot so we could be introverts together.

    Alone time is good but it can easily turn into loneliness. I enjoy solitude. And quiet. And with a husband who works a full-time job with sometimes odd hours, I got a lot of that. I read many books. I wrote. And eventually, I got lonely. He would come home from work and I’d talk his ear off for 20 minutes straight because I hadn’t uttered a single solitary word out loud all day. When my life is busy with kids all day, I don’t think I need anymore of people. But, as it turns out, I might be lonelier than I think. News flash: introverts need people, too. We just don’t always need them as much as extroverts.

  • I have a lot of feelings. The first day without my kids, I was tired from a long day of driving and dealing with a lot of emotional thoughts. I cried for the better part of a day. I’m not usually a frequent crier because I don’t make regular space in my life to deal with my emotions, so when a major event triggers the tears, a flood of biblical proportions occurs. When I’d gotten past that day, I figured I was good to go. Then one night, Phil came home from work and I just cried without a reason, at least not one I could identify. I concluded that I had more time to think and feel and think about how I feel, which set me off again. I don’t think these are bad things, at all. I think it’s a sign that maybe I need to let myself sit with my feelings more instead of pushing them into a back closet because I don’t have time to deal with it.
  • My mom is a superhero. I’m pretty sure this has been true my whole life, but I’m only now seeing the irrefutable evidence. Every day, she posted pictures to Facebook of all the fun things they were doing. Legoland with their uncle! Parade! Carnival! Splash pad! McDonald’s for every meal! Fireworks! Gardening! A trip to Wrigley Field! It wore me out just thinking about it. (And did I mention she doesn’t drink coffee? She MUST have a superpower called unlimited endurance.) I’ve slept in past 8 a.m. more days these last two weeks than I’ve probably done in the last six years. She makes it look easy, but then again, I am just getting the Facebook version. (No offense, Mom. You’re still a star in my book!)

    Let's make our own Tie-dyed T-shirts! Why not?!

    Let’s make our own Tie-dyed T-shirts! Why not?!

  • I’m not responsible for an unforgettable summer. When school ended, we had plans. We were going to do family things and go on adventures and make summer memorable. And now it’s halfway through July and we’re headed to the beach soon and we’ve barely come up for air since the first week school was out. Then I remembered all the fun things the kids have been doing with grandparents (see above) and the experiences Phil and I have had with and without them and our upcoming beach trip. And I realized: they’ve ALREADY had one heck of a memorable summer! So, thank you, grandparents all around, for making memories with our children so I don’t have to wear  myself out entertaining them daily.

My kids have been my best teachers these last six years. Now I know their absence can serve as the same.

Have you ever been separated from your kids, spouse or parents for an extended period? What did that time teach you?