The Work in Progress Blog Tour—Take a Peek!

Here’s something a little fun and different. Fellow blogger and author Luanne Castle nominated me to participate in the Work in Progress Blog Tour, so today I have an excuse to give you a preview of my memoir.

The rules of the blog tour are:

  1. Link back to the nominating writer
  2. Post the first few lines of the first three chapters of the work in progress (I included my prologue, as well)
  3. Nominate a few other writers to do the same

Luanne began her blog, writersite.org, a few months before I began blogging in January 2013, and we have been following each other’s blogs for about that long. Not only does she blog, but she has a PhD and an MFA and has taught writing for fifteen years. Most recently, she published her first book, Doll God, which is a book of poetry. Luanne has been a delightful blogging colleague, and I look forward to one day reading her current work in progress, a memoir called Scrap.

My Work in Progress: All Things New: My Journey to Rebirth, Recovery, and a Relevant Faith

As for my own memoir, or work in progress, I have been resting from it since last August, when I queried a publisher who immediately asked to see the entire manuscript. In January, that publisher emailed to tell me they were still evaluating the work, and that “no news is good news in this case.” So I am hopefully awaiting more news!

Synopsis

From a young age, I decided that for faith to make sense, it had to make a difference in my life—a good difference. But when my childhood home gave way to an affair and other family secrets, our Christian beliefs had little to offer me. I fled to college desperate to shed my sad, secretive self. Unfortunately, at college my sadness only intensified; my thoughts turned suicidal. A college dropout, failed suicide attempt, and forty days in a mental hospital were my devastating launch pads into adulthood. They were also the beginnings of a decade-long search for a relevant God. Beginning with a blind date in Texas with a “nice Adventist boy,” a new family, and a secondary teaching job, and culminating with a life-changing prayer ministry, I finally found a Savior who suffered in every way I did, and then I shared him with other women who desperately needed a relevant faith, too.

Prologue

I can never tell, I thought from the back pew of a Texas church. What would they think of me if they knew what I was really like? A few months ago, I was the mysterious Minnesota girl who had showed up on Buc’s arm one Sabbath. Next, I became “Buc’s wife” and “Pastor Gendke’s daughter-in-law.” Buc and I had married in the quiet of my in-laws’ living room, with his father, the retired pastor of my new church, officiating. But we had not invited anyone. I had no wedding shower. There were no formal introductions.

Chapter 1

Playing the Game

1991

Bass notes, synthesizers, and Amy Grant’s alto voice drifted through the sheet that covered my doorway. I winced, pulled my blankets over my head, and rolled over. It was starting again. This was how every Saturday morning started. Just like light after complete blackness hurts the eyes, the drums from the cassette tape hurt my ears, drove me deeper beneath the four-deep pile of covers that substituted for central heating. Dad’s Sabbath music.

I smelled coffee, turkey bacon, and waffles. Dad’s cooking.

Suddenly I remembered: Mom was gone.

 Chapter 2

Home Life

1994

Mom’s bare feet made a sucking sound as she peeled them, one after the other, off the blood-red linoleum, muffin pan in hand. That morning she wore her gray cargo pants and Dad’s blue flannel coat as she served breakfast. We thought the paint would be dry this morning, but it hadn’t dried over night.

Chapter 3

Bombshell

1998

I had big dreams the year my life crumbled. Days before I turned fourteen, my family moved into a newer, nicer house just outside of town. I thought life could only get better from here.

I Nominate…

C.C. Yager–a fellow blogger and author who recently published a novel, Perceval’s Secret, the first installment in a developing series. Cinda has been a great online writing “colleague,” faithfully following and commenting on my blog and posting quality articles on the craft, process, and business of writing.

Trish Ryan–a favorite memoirist whom I hired as my book consultant and who helped me through two drafts of my project. I first discovered Trish and her memoir, He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not, in my local library. Hers was one of the first quality Christian memoirs I had read, and her book and her feedback proved invaluable to me as I revised my manuscript.

Addie Zierman–another memoirist who has challenged Christians to overcome the many cliches we cling to. An MFA graduate and fellow Minnesotan, Addie has just finished her first draft of her  second memoir, which follows up her debut When We Were on FireI read her memoir to get another example of a Christian memoir, and I have continued to read her blog for her beautiful prose, bare honesty, and unique perspective.

Good luck to these writers, and all of you, who have a work in progress! 

Advertisements

Fable of a Freelance Writer

Image

Once upon a time (three months ago, to be exact), a freelance writer developed a blog, some book chapters, and a guilt complex.

You see, this writer started out herself to please—to fulfill a dream, put her heart at ease. No more would she hate herself for putting it off—no longer would her naysayers scoff. 

And so writing a schedule–for she must have a plan–finally, she began:

January

Wake up at 6, breakfast, goodbye.

Then meet with the Lord, at 7 or so.

Eight was for exercise, don’t get flabby!

 Then 9 was for work—let the writing begin!

The plan was to write until 4 or more—

Her memoirs, her art, her triumphant score.

But alas, as soon as she began,

She got the email from the man

Who wanted revisions on his manuscript…

So she said, “Okay, I’ll look at it.”

Then April came…

She’d made no progress

On her own goals…but I digress.

 

April

As the writer looked back on the past three months, she realized she had not stuck to her guns. Besides some blogs and some personal slime, she had nothing to show for her time. Something had happened, but she was not sure what—had she just wasted time, sitting on her duff?

As she searched the memories of her mind, she discovered it was not that she hadn’t tried—it’s just that some stuff had come up inside.

The joy of Jan was followed by blues…somewhere in Feb, kids came up, too. Then, in March, she thought back to home, a topic deserving a fully-fledged tome. So maybe her story isn’t written yet, but perhaps just now its reaching denouement.

What has she learned, this freelancer babe? In three months of blogging, and burbling, and talk? Maybe she just needs to lay off the clock.

  • Sleep in sometimes, and let the mind rest.
  • Talk to a friend, get things off of her chest.
  • Relax, and take the stick out the rear.
  • Go for a run, the fog will clear.
  • Relax, be a wife, and a friend, and a person.
  • Those bad writing days? Well, you win some, you lose some.

As she thought on these lessons she’d learned over time, she decided her life was really quite fine. The dream was not lost, merely delayed—and even if slow going, it still with her stayed. Maybe, she thought, I’ve been under delusion—thinking my story needs a conclusion. Maybe, in fact, I’ve been all wrong—and I’ve been living the dream all along.

 

The Day after Disappointment

What do you do after you pour your heart and soul into something—only to fail?

“I’m confused,” I wrote yesterday to Jim, my former thesis advisor. I had promised to let him know the outcome of my applications, both the MFA and the PhD.

Both outcomes were the same.

“I thought I’d be getting a terminal degree and teaching college for my life’s work,” I wrote. But it seems God has other plans.

So, what do you do the day after disappointment?

Well, after a little weeping and gnashing of teeth, I sat at my computer and got down to business. I have an almost-finished magazine article I’ve been putting off for over a year—and I have known where I can get it published—but I just haven’t finished it. Today I will finish and submit it.

This week I am also going to get back to the “before-thirty” manuscript I’ve been putting off. And lying in bed this morning I was hit with the possibilities of e-publishing some even older work.

It was like some barrier had been removed; some permission given to just do it, damn it—stop waiting for someone to wipe my nose and just move on, already!

A cocoon was what I wanted, I think. Just a few more years before I grew up. But even with the benefit of one night’s sleep, now it seems kinda silly.

I’m almost twenty-nine. I’ve been in school for about six of my eight years of marriage. I already have a book forthcoming with a co-author. I’ve been published in three magazines. And already for several years I’ve been learning about creative writing on my own.

Oh, and just one more thing. Time will tell, but was it a coincidence that yesterday, after opening my mail, and after crying my tears, my queasiness didn’t go away? Was it a coincidence that I also woke up feeling nauseated again this morning, and that I’ve felt that way for the past four days?

If it’s what I think it might be…well, that would be just too clear—and it would carry the kind of poetry this writer delights in—an extra special way for God to tell me that, even in the wake of disappointment, He knows the plans He has for me (Jer. 29:11).

Note: On the day after the day after, I find it was just a false alarm. Oh well. God gave me a distraction to numb the blow. In any case, I still believe He knows the plans He has for me!

The Illusion of the Abyss

Image

This week has been a tough one so far. I don’t like to admit it, but I’ve battled some depression—at least, some depressive feelings. (But don’t mistake me—these are nothing like the suicidal thoughts of yesteryear). I finished my part on round two of my co-writing book project, handed it back to my co-writer, and then sank into a bit of an abyss that looks kinda like so:

The Rough Morning

Scene: Morning comes, time for hubby to wake up. It’s 6 a.m. and dark.

Crap. [my thoughts—bad angel]

“I should get up and make him breakfast.” [my other thoughts—good angel]

But why? He gobbles it down in five minutes, then leaves. [bad angel again]

“But when we decided on this arrangement, it was understood: This was part of my job.” [good angel—you get the point]

Exposition: Then I feel guilt because I’ve been sleeping in more and more lately. [Not sure which angel.]

What is there to get up for? I have ten hours of aloneness stretching in front of me. And I can’t even stand to write for more than five.

“I could clean the house.”

Who even cares anymore? We stopped our Bible study at our house a couple months back. And it doesn’t make a difference to hubby. All he needs is a clear spot on the couch, where he will come home to sit all evening barely talking to me anyway… [definitely bad angel—I understand that my hubby is just tired at the end of the day; I would be, too.]

…And my family is all 1,000 miles or more out of reach. Can’t go visit mom or dad down the street. Can’t see little bro, and big bro is halfway around the world in a mission field. [stupid bad angel won’t shut up]

So why get up?

(I’d like to thank my blogging friend, Harper Faulkner, for inspiring this bit of internal dialogue, although it’s not what I had in mind when I told him I’d try to be more humorous in my posts, like he is. Oh well. Baby steps.)

Starting the Day

At 7 a.m., or 7:30, or 8, or 8:30, the day is brighter, and I can finally stand to face it. So I hoist myself out of bed, trying to brush away the cobwebs in my brain.

I debate how to start the day.

I will pray. I always pray. But maybe I will try to exercise first, because I’m still not thinking too clearly. Maybe exercise will clear out some of the cobwebs.

So I pop in P90X and accomplish thirty minutes of a sixty-minute-long DVD—I didn’t know when I selected it that Plyo-X was the “mother” of all P90X videos—before exclaiming, “You’ve got to be kidding me!”

There’s no way I can do another set of these squats.

Click.

Fast forward through a shower and breakfast.

Now it’s 9:30 or 10. I sit down at my dining room table-slash-workspace, and try to pray.

The Prayer Session

“Lord, I’ll just be honest. I don’t wanna face this day. I know you are big and great and all powerful. I know that you offer me “glorious, unlimited resources” [says the New Living Translation of Ephesians]. I just don’t feel them right now. I feel depressed, and I think I shouldn’t, because you have been so good to me this past year. And I am so thankful I’m able to write instead of teach bratty high school kids this year (oh, am I thankful!).

But I’m so lonely.

And I don’t know why, if I’m so blessed, I’m having these feelings.

Lord, do you have anything to say to me?”

Image

Asking God actual questions that I expect Him to answer is a new thing for me. It’s all due to Paul Coneff and Straight 2 the Heart, or the prayer ministry I have been working with since last July, both learning to pray for myself and with others, and helping to write The Hidden Half of the Gospel with Paul.

Silence.

“Lord, what’s up? I’d like to hear from you right now, because I feel a bit lost. It’s like I’m starting over again.”

I mean lost in my career at the moment. I recognize this feeling from January, right after I finished my master’s degree and before starting this blog. Around that time, I applied to an MFA and a PhD program, and currently [in March] I am still waiting to hear from both. I canceled my birth control in January, too, and am still waiting to see if we’re fertile. I’m almost done helping Paul with his book, and am now waiting to see if he wants to really make me part of his ministry (which I love), or if I’m just to be on call when he has a writing project. I also have this “Before Thirty Project”—my memoir—roughly handwritten in about three notebooks, but the task of polishing and marketing it seems too huge when my life could take a drastic turn any day. And then I have this blog, which I can easily pour all my time into, but I don’t feel that would be very wise.

Notice my mind—see how it races! It does this a lot. I get to thinking about things so frenetically that I can hardly choose one single activity to start my “work” day. Like on a day like today.

“Lord, I don’t even know where to start. What to work on? Can you help me? What should I even blog about? I can’t even decide that.

Since learning to pray dialogically (yep, that’s another grad school word [meaning two-way]), usually I do hear from God. Usually the answers materialize almost as soon as I formulate the question, or I get an impression.

Now, I don’t hear words, but I feel my eyes gliding to rest on my prayer journal.

It occurs to me (and let’s not discount Who is making it occur) that I have been trying so hard to make something happen today, to reinvent the wheel, to even figure out what to pray for—and I’m probably repeating myself. I’ve forgotten something.

Maybe all I need to do is look again at what God’s already told me. (This is the benefit of keeping a prayer journal).

So I open it up and read what I’ve written for the past three months.

Image

Lessons from Prayers Past

Surprise, surprise. I’ve already prayed about all this stuff and more. Common themes in my prayers since January:

  • Loneliness, the sense of loneliness from being alone in this big house all day.
  • Anger that I’m alone. [This usually comes around Christmastime, where I see it in my journal now, and I know it was exacerbated this year because I didn’t get to see my family for the holidays, and I haven’t seen them now since last June.]
  • A sense of being Overwhelmed. [I ended last year at a sprint, having gotten super-involved in ministry for the past year, including this prayer ministry I love, and starting a church choir, and running an in-home Bible study with my husband.]
  • Resentment that I was doing so much for others and yet feeling so little being done for me. My blog readers have a better idea of my feelings than most of my friends, because I hide them (my feelings, I mean).

Image

As I reread these woes, I feel discouraged at first. Gosh darn, and I thought I’d done so much growing over the past year with Straight 2 the Heart!

But as I read, I also see another pattern emerging. For each whiny problem, God’s booming voice answers. I’m alone, angry, overwhelmed, and resentful, but through it all, represented in my messy scrawl, is God’s much bigger voice—His promises, His care.

And to that end, I see something else in these journal entries.

I couldn’t see them while going through the past few months, but now that I look back, I read the following string of answered prayers:

  • For my stress in ministry, God has brought more people to help, such as a new friend at church who has taken the choir idea and run with it. He has also taken away the burden of our Bible study by moving it to a young adult class at our church, which our church desperately needed!
  • For my loneliness, God has added some people to my life, like a niece who comes over sometimes to get tutoring during the week; a Groupon-shopping friend who invites me for spa days periodically; and this blog, where I am meeting more like-minded people all the time.
  • For my loss of family time, God moved my hubby just a week ago to decide (on his own) to buy me a plane ticket so I can take part in a cousin’s wedding in Minnesota next week. Oh, thank you, Lord—how I have missed family!

Image

As I look at all these blessings, I am again overwhelmed, but now in a good way.

“Wow God. Thanks. I know you’re here. And you’ve been here. I just can’t really hear you very well right now, for whatever reason.”

And now I remember something else that Paul told my prayer group and me when we began our training last July:

“When you really start giving your life to God and praying for victory, expect Satan’s attacks to increase. Now that he sees you’re going with God, he will try to stop you any way he can.”

Huh. Actually, for the first few months of prayer ministry, I felt great. Wondered where Satan was. Thought I was getting off easy when all my group mates reported greater attacks from the enemy.

Oh, but he is a master deceiver. And maybe he was just waiting…waiting…to throw me off his trail. So that I wouldn’t recognize his attacks for what they were when they finally came.

Well, they’ve arrived. And each morning this week I’ve had to fend them off on my knees. And I’m still not hearing God like I want to. But I also remember that lots of God’s people went through wilderness experiences. And it didn’t mean God wasn’t there (remember the poem “Footprints”?).

I know he’s here. Though it may take me a little extra time to get out of bed these days, I won’t give up praying. I will hold on—knowing God and I will ride out this storm together—knowing this abyss is just one of Satan’s many illusions—and it, too, shall pass.

This week I will also remember that God has a plan, and that I don’t have to have all the particulars right now. When I look back in a few months or years, hindsight will be clear enough.

Image