Renewing the Writer’s Soul

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If you started the year with grand claims: “New Year, New Me!” and now find yourself returning to the same struggles that held you in 2021, there is something important you must know. You cannot make yourself new. There are times when we crave a renewal, a fresh start, but it’s impossible to create one from within, when all we have to do it are our same old selves. Just as a child cannot grow itself apart from it’s mother, becoming new is a process that must take place from without.

One of my favorite verses on renewal, Romans 12:2, reveals this. “Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.” Now, I’ve always thought of that as an active thing, but the fact is, “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” is a passive phrase. It is not active. It does not command “renew your mind,” it commands “be transformed” and the renewing is done separately. It is done in waiting. 

I find this true in other verses as well:

“God, create a clean heart for me and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” Psalm 51:10
“He renews my life; he leads me along the right paths for his name’s sake.” Psalm 23:3
“But those who trust in the Lord will renew their strength; they will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not become weary, they will walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31
“Therefore we do not give up. Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day.” 2 Corinthians 4:16
“He saved us—not by works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy—through the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” Titus 3:5

But if I cannot renew myself, then how can I, let’s just say, coax God into doing it? I’m a tired writer and mom of two toddlers. We’ve been sick this year too many times to count. My husband worked overtime for three months straight. It became impossible to gather an ounce of creativity. So what do I do? How can I be renewed, if I am not in charge of the process?

I can present myself for renewal. I turn to the sources that can renew. This is more than self-care, this is trusting that God will be faithful to provide a soul-deep renewal. And He does. Here are a few ways I present myself for renewal, that tend to reignite inspiration.

Ways God Renews the Writer’s Soul

The Bible
It’s the ultimate story, and I don’t say that to be trite. It really is the guidebook on writing. It is the world’s bestseller and it weaves hundreds of smaller stories into dozens of larger stories into one magnificent story in the most artistic way. Not only does it have spiritual value for the religious writer, but it has its own creative rites as the book of all books.

Nature
The ultimate creative expression is all around and nothing refreshes me more than time in nature. Walking away from the screens for a bit reconnects me to the real world all around, begging for me to slow down and watch a butterfly flit around the yard, or blow dandelions with my daughter. It renews.

Community
I could divide this into so many sub-sections. From the family that encourages me, to the church that feeds my spiritual life, to the strangers I overhear at the coffee shop who give me a perfect idea for a conversation bit in a story (oh yes, that happens). I believe every unique personality out there is a reflection of a God so endless we cannot fathom it. Spending time with those various people can reveal tidbits of that God, spurring new ideas and refreshing my writing tank. Sure, as an introvert, it can get a bit tiresome, but life as a hermit wouldn’t be very inspirational. (Or would it…)

Music
I’m convinced God loves music and he wrote it into our DNA. Music can transport me to another world. It can be encouraging, turning me to worship. It can be relaxing. It can be sad, when I need to let some feelings out. Music can turn the noise and chaos around me into something with rhythm and movement.

Reading
Reading quality Christian fiction is like hearing an elaborate parable. It can point me to spiritual truths in a new and relatable way. Good Christian novels often inspire me to go back to my own writing and reignite my desire to share truth in parable as well. Jesus loved parables for a reason.

Rest
Rest can come in many forms and it is not purely physical. While, yes, sleep is absolutely essential, rest can come to the body in a half hour in a hammock, a bubble bath and glass of wine, or an afternoon cuddle with a child. But rest can be mental too—and for me, that often means a body in motion. Because when my body rests, my mind wanders. When my body moves, my mind rests. I find running to be particularly meditative, though as I’ve written here before, washing dishes seems to be as well.


Throughout the years, God has renewed me in other ways too. There have been inspirational travels, surprise letters in the mail, even through help from counselors at times. Certainly, there are many ways to be renewed, and often we may feel like the initiators as we seek them out. But ultimately, nothing will truly make the soul new again unless the One that made the soul is involved.

Go and be renewed.



Brain Food (AKA: My Latest Reads and Listens)

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Have you ever read and consumed so much information, it felt like your brain would pop? Or is that just a type 5 problem? Between speed-reading for review swaps, research for my own books, and a weekend parenting conference, my brain has gorged itself like it was Thanksgiving (over and over). I even came across a tongue-in-cheek article about Post Homeschool Convention Stress Disorder which was perfectly timed. So now it’s time to digest and detox; to let it all sink in, filter out what I don’t need, process it and put it back out there in my own words. Here’s what’s been on the brain table lately.

Books:

I Carry Your Heart by Barbara A. Luker
This was a great dual-timeline read from a fellow Black Rose Writing author for a review swap. It broke my heart into a million pieces, as star-crossed lovers tend to do, but Luker did it in the best way possible. This story is an expose on the types of love out there—passionate, steadfast, familial, and more. It’s a sweet, if somewhat haunting, tale.

Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott
What a classic! It’s been around since the 90s and I’ve heard great things about it for years, and I finally grabbed a copy and started reading. Let me tell you… I feel seen! I read every other paragraph aloud to my husband because I was so amazed at how relatable it was. “Babe, listen to this, is this me or what?” If you are a writer and want more than grammatical tips, pick this up. It gets to the heart and soul of writing.

In Search of Sisters, by Mary Ellen Bramwell
Another review swap for a Black Rose Writing author! This started out slow but eventually became quite a memorable story. I enjoyed reminiscing over my own Europe trip as the protagonist explores the continent. I liked how her search for herself transformed to noticing others more. It makes you want to get out there and talk to your neighbors.

We Too, by Mary DeMuth and Talking Back to Purity Culture, by Rachel Joy Welcher
Each of these books deserves their own post, but I’m going to lump them together for now. As I’ve wrapped up final edits on Outside of Grace, I’ve been pouring over some books related to purity culture and sexual assault as it affects Christians specifically. It’s a topic that I’ve grappled with for 90,000+ words, edited extensively, and spoken with various professionals about. It continues to reveal ways purity culture affected me, and challenge me to deconstruct my beliefs, separating what is actually Christ-like from what was just culturally-imposed. Hard stuff, like I said, deserving of its own post.

The Princess Parables by Jeanna Young
If we’re being honest, most of my reading time is spent with books targeted at 2-5 year olds! I grabbed these at the homeschool conference I attended and my girls love them. They retell Jesus’ parables as princess stories. I’m thrilled to take their love for all things princess and put it into something that tells positive, moral stories instead of the usual…well, you know.

Blogs:


I’ll be honest, I tend to spend more of my time reading quick articles than I do books. Of course, most of that is on pointless bunny trails, but here’s a few articles I sought out and enjoyed recently.

Becky Wade: How to Support Authors (Good look at what authors really make from their books.)
Seven Reasons Why Motherhood is Amazing For You, According to Science (Helpful for *those* days)
Motherhood is the most achievable path to a legacy (Also encouraging)
Why was Mary Magdalene the First Witness of the Resurrection? (Highly recommend!)

Listening:

The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill
Like Bird to Bird, I’ve known about this for a couple years and heard so much about this podcast, I felt like I had already listened to it just because people talked about it that much. I am SO glad I finally started listening to it myself though! The quality is impeccable, the content unnerving, and the conversations it has stemmed with my husband are priceless. We’re currently in the process of shifting away from our old church and looking for a new one, so this has been incredibly well-timed for us as we consider what makes for a healthy or unhealthy church environment.

Teach Them Diligently conference
There were so many incredible speakers at this conference. Heidi St. John absolutely blew me away and left me convicted and well-churched for days to come. Rebecca Spooner was also amazing, each of her sessions had the audience sniffling and trying to subtly wipe away our tears. She touched my heart. And Rachael Carman’s talks were so witty, pointed and well-shared, I went home and practically narrated them verbatim for my husband. If I could adopt her as a second mother, I would. (Also, thanks to this conference, I’ve been reading a lot more of the Bible lately too! It truly left me inspired and encouraged.)


What about you? What’s been in your brain-food diet lately?



Sorry I’m Late

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I tried my very best
To get out the door
But it’s quite hard to hurry
A daughter who’s four

She’s not the only one
Her sister is just two
Rushing out the door
Is more than she can do

We fight about jackets
We fight about shoes
We fight about headbands
And wearing tutus

We bring all the books
We bring all the snacks
And for the baby dolls
We even turn back

So sorry I’m late
And I’ll never be early
But you see I have two
Highly sensitive girlies

Perhaps one day
Will quietly arrive
That I say put on shoes
And nobody cries

There’ll be no more diapers
No blanket or lovey
By then they might even
Ask me for a car key

Maybe then I’ll be early
No little hand to hold
I’ll walk in the door wondering
Why we have to grow old

I’ll help a young mom
Her son’s shoes aren’t a pair
I’ll hold the door open
I’m proud that she’s there

Because I remember when
I walked in those shoes
And I’ll always remember
When mine were just two


[ Written at red lights on the way to something, quite late, of course. ]



The Day I Signed My First Book Contract

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Outside of Grace officially entered a publishing contract in what was simultaneously the most monumental and mundane Monday of my life. It was a day of parenting, full of wiping noses, bottoms, and tears—in no particular order.

After preparing an afternoon snack, I checked my phone and saw an email confirming the contract and welcoming me to the publishing house. I looked up, mental confetti raining all around me, to find a very upset four year old who had dropped her orange slice in the dirt. Showing her my phone and telling her that momma was going to be a published novelist was no use. She really wanted me to wash off her orange.

That was how my lifelong dream was set in motion. After many months of writing and editing, querying and dealing with rejection (and loads of doubt and despair), it all catapulted into publication while toddlers wiped grimy hands on my legs. While the ink on my contract was still drying, my two year old set her wet sippy cup on top of it. Honestly, it was a perfect picture of what this entire process has been like. Jotting notes on my phone while we walk to the park, daydreaming while folding laundry, and working late after the kids go to bed. I frequently hear of people writing their first book in retirement. I’ve even heard plenty of advice that I should wait until then. That I should wait until I’ve lived enough to have a story to tell (and how long is that?). And yes, it’s been hard to get it all done in the 12 hours a week of childcare we have. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love being a writer mama.

So I wrapped up those sticky-cheeked and tangled-hair babies in my arms and rained all that confetti on them in the form of kisses. They didn’t have a clue why, but they knew mama was happy and they were too. And God knew. He knew we had finally found a publisher who caught the vision for this story (two, actually! I got two offers within a week). He knows were it’s going next. And I know I’ll be there, signing books and bribing toddlers with lollipops. It will be wonderful.

Save Some for Me

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My daughter and I

Save Some For Me

I know you want to do big things, to make a difference, to be the change.
I know you pour out your heart and energy into our community.
I know you love people well.
So save some for me, Mom.

Save time for slowing down, for eye-to-eye moments, and heart-to-heart talks.
Save space to play with me, to listen to me, to hear me.
Save room for me to have needs too.
Save some for me, Mom.

You’re managing a home, cooking and cleaning and caring.
You’re working a business, earning and sharing.
You’re learning, growing and making.
Please save some for me, Mom.

Don’t run yourself ragged before you’ve chased me around.
Don’t wear yourself out before I come in the door.
Don’t tire of loving before you love me.
Save some for me, Mom.

In all you do, can I be your most important charge?
In all you do, am I a task or a delight?
In all you do, may I be a part?
Save some for me, Mom.

Keep achieving, Mom, I’m learning from you.
Keep going, Mom, I’m growing with you.
Keep resting, Mom, I find peace in you.
Just save some for me, Mom.


As I head into the new year and set my eyes on goals ahead, this has been on my heart a lot lately. Like many moms (all moms?), I’m subject to Mom Guilt. Balancing life and motherhood is difficult. I frequently have to remind myself that it’s okay for my girls to see their mother work hard and achieve other things. It’s also okay to know when to draw the line and remember that they’re my first priority.

This idea of “saving some” for my kids has been guiding my decisions lately. When I wonder if I can add in one more thing, I have to ask myself—will I be able to save space for my kids? Will this add energy to my life that I can then pour into my children, or will it drain me and leave me empty at the end of the day when they come running into my arms?

I find that my children will demand every bit of me—even when I’m home with them all day, on my hands and knees playing with them for hours on end, they’ll ask for more. It’s okay, healthy even, to show them what boundaries look like. To show them that Momma does more than just play games. But at the end of the day, I need to have saved some space for them. I need a day off where I can spend it playing. Even thirty minutes off, where I’m not worried about my to-do lists, and I can see things through their eyes again. Because the world through the eyes of a child is a beautiful thing. They are beautiful gifts. So I will save some for them.



Recovering From a Case of The Gimmes

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My daughter recently recovered from a bad case of the Gimmes. Of course, it’s like the cold, there will be different variants of it that pop up over time—particularly over the holidays—but thankfully we seem to have found a quick solution.

After a rough week of the Gimmes, my daughter came home from ballet class immediately demanding MORE. She wanted to eat out for dinner, she wanted to be entertained, she wanted someone to play with her. All this from the child who had just had a grandparent visit and gone to her weekly ballet class. That should be treat enough, right? Of course, the Give Me bug can be a nuisance to anyone, but I seem have a personal pet peeve that goes beyond normal reactions. So I was upset, more upset than I should have been, and I set out to fix it.

We talked. As any [honest] parent of a preschooler will admit, that does nothing. So we moved on to the next step and read a nice story about generosity. Also nothing.

Step three. This is where the real magic happened. In a particularly lucid moment, I grabbed a brown paper bag, a paper plate, and two green markers. I handed my daughter the paper plate and markers and told her to color a big, scary, green monster. She did her absolute best. I told her to keep adding details until we both felt it was complete. Then we glued the monstrous head onto the paper bag to make a puppet and we played two games.

The Green Monster Games:

  1. The first was a tickling game. The Green Monster would attack unsuspecting passersby, growling, “I want more!” And the only way to stop him was to name something you were thankful for. So that mean old Green Monster attacked my daughter, nibbling at her ticklish neck and growing for “More! More!” until my daughter shouted out, “I’m thankful for my dress!” And with a whine, he melted away like the wicked witch of the west.
  2. The second was reading game. We have a book of Aesop’s Fables, so we pulled it out and found the story about the goose that laid golden eggs. In short: a poor couple discovers their goose lays golden eggs and they soon become quite wealthy. But they always want more. Eventually, they cut into that goose to get all the gold at once, only to find it’s a plain goose on the inside. Throughout the story, I had my daughter hold the puppet, and any time she heard a phrase like “I want…” or “I wish…”, she was to attack the book (or me) with her puppet.

Honestly, with fun and giggles, it worked magic. She even started to think wanting or wishing was bad, so we had to backtrack a bit and tell her it was alright to want something, but we needed to stay grateful for what we have. The Green Monster got such a workout that the paper bag died before long. But since then, when she starts to catch a case of Gimmes again, we are usually able to offer a quiet reminder that “it sounds like you have the Green Monster,” and she tends to calm down.

Going into the holiday season, when they are given so much, many children begin to get the idea that they can have anything and everything they ever wanted. As Joshua Becker beautifully explains on Becoming Minimalist, “You allow them to keep looking for happiness in the next toy, the next game, the next purchase… Maybe if they were required to find happiness in the toys they already have, they just might find it.” (Quote changed slightly from “he” to “they” because hello, girl mom here.) It’s also part of the Diderot Effect. The more we have, the more we want.

So as we wrestle against the tyrants of consumerism and marketing to keep our Christmas sane and sweet, we’re probably going to need a new Green Monster to have on hand. And in the meantime, we’re focusing our November on two immune-building activities: Thanks and Giving (not just giving thanks). We’ve cleared out toys to give to others and we’re filling in our Thankful Tree every evening at dinnertime. It’s been a sweet month and I see my children growing, but I know they (and I) will continue to wrestle against the Gimmes throughout life. It’s only natural. I’ve realized my original anger at the problem was unjustified—she had simply caught a bug that we all catch from time to time. But I want to do everything I can to help my children grow a healthy immune system. Because hey, I need it too.