In Which I Get a Little Personal…

A few months back, I published a new book. It has done as well as I hoped it would, and like always, it’s been fun to see my words making their way in the world. But this book has raised some concerns with a few readers, many of whom reached out to me to let me know their feelings. The issue has even popped up in a handful of reviews. What’s the big deal? It generally revolves around this question: Why did I choose to put a married gay couple in my novel?

I don’t love that this is a question that even needs to be asked. That doesn’t mean I didn’t expect it. Because I know my readers. My writing career began writing for a small publishing house that focuses on clean, faith-resonant fiction. Content did not need to be religious. But it did need to meet a certain set of standards. I knew those standards; and I knew, when drafting, exactly what my readers had come to expect. Gay characters was not it. To clarify a few issues raised by some readers: no, I did not write this book with a political agenda in mind. It is not propaganda. It is not indoctrination. Love Redesigned is a silly book about fashion and sibling rivalry and falling in love, with a main character who happens to have close friends that are gay and married. That’s all. And yes, I probably could have written the book differently. Written the characters differently. Taken out the gayness and made the story work without it. Though the characters formed in a more organic way (I didn’t intentionally make them gay, they just appeared in the story that way. I can’t really explain, but fellow writers, you get me—), I did have a moment when I considered whether or not I wanted to change them. And I didn’t. Really, I couldn’t.

I am a woman of deep, abiding faith. My relationship with God is very important to me. It is a cornerstone in my marriage and in the way my husband and I approach parenting. It’s important to me that you know this because I am an ally for the LGBTQ community not despite my faith, but because of it. It has been two years since my then fifteen-year-old child came to my husband and me with a look in their eyes that said it was time for a big conversation. Though we had suspected a confession was coming, it was still a sobering moment. As a parent, you want your kids to be safe. To be loved. To be accepted and celebrated for what they have to offer the world. We had always believed ourselves LGBTQ allies in theory, but now it was personal. Now it was our kid.

When it’s your kid, you can’t say, “Sure, I’m supportive,” even while thanking your lucky stars it isn’t “a challenge” you have in your family.

When it’s your kid, you can’t go to church and not worry about the fact that most organized religions are still struggling to find a place within their chapels for the LGBTQ community.

When it’s your kid, you can’t ignore the pressing need to reconcile what religion has taught you with the reality sitting at your kitchen table in need of love and acceptance and support.

I would be lying if I told you we weren’t terrified in those early days. What if we said the wrong thing? Parented in the wrong way? Even more, what if we couldn’t stop the world from being unkind? Couldn’t stop people from defining our child by a classification that shouldn’t matter but stupidly does? What if everyone failed to see the creative, brilliant, capable human that we saw? And so we prayed.

I have said a lot of prayers over my six children. Some days, it feels like I’m uttering one constant prayer. For my own patience. For endurance. For courage. For enough love not to sell the lot of them to the circus and book myself a oneway ticket to crazytown. For their health and safety. For their happiness. For the little ones not to kill each other over who gets to use the best Switch controller, the one that wasn’t thrown down the stairs when someone lost at Mario Kart. For the teenagers to learn life’s most important lessons speedily and with as little collateral damage as possible, particularly to their own hearts. For their faith to persist. For them to feel comfortable asking the hard questions and wrestling their way to answers. Even with all those prayers…never has a prayer felt as significant as the one I took to God over this.

The answer was immediate, the overwhelming peace and assurance tangible.

I know your child. I love your child just as they are. I’ve got this.

I have prayed countless times since. And every time, the answer is the same.

Trust in ME. Love your child. That’s your job.

The reach of my words is not very big. I have not sold millions of books. But I can still do my part. Representation still matters. I would really only need ONE person to read my book and feel a little more comfortable in their own skin, a little more filled with hope that a happy, fulfilling relationship might be a possibility for them or their child/sibling/cousin/nephew/neighbor/friend. Fortunately, it’s been more than one. And that makes all the critical feedback worth it.

I believe that experience is often life’s greatest teacher. Until you have an LGBTQ loved one find their place in the world (if you haven’t already, trust me, you will) you’re welcome to lean on my experience, on my unwavering conviction that the path forward is a path of kindness and acceptance. I know God loves his LGBTQ children. I know He wants them to be happy. To be supported and accepted for who they are.

There are people, right now, in your midst, that need your love. There are teenagers who need support and validation. Suicide rates among LGBTQ teens are alarmingly high, particularly within faith-based communities. Please watch your words. To imply that someone is broken, that someone is sinning simply by existing, is dangerous and damaging and wrong. And people are dying because of these judgments. We must do better. We must teach our children to be kind and inclusive. We must make room in our hearts and in our congregations.

If you are interested in learning more about how to be a better ally, please message me. I have links and podcasts and books that I am happy to recommend, and of course, a willing listening ear. And if you just want to read a fluffy romance with a couple of secondary characters who are loving supportive friends that just happen to be gay, well, I can help with that too.

Full Circle

motherhoodIt doesn’t feel like it was all that long ago (It was) that I sat across the counter from my mother, her elbows propped up on the blue Formica of her kitchen while I laid bare the troubles and worries of my pubescent heart. I can’t remember any one specific conversation, (I’m sure they were all riveting and incredibly important) but I do remember that she was there whenever I needed someone to listen, willing to give me her eyes and her focus and most of all, her time.

I never thought about what that time meant to her. I didn’t think about what she might be sacrificing, what dreams or pursuits she might not be pursuing. I didn’t think about the sleep she wasn’t getting or the books she wasn’t reading or the conversations she wasn’t having.

Of course I didn’t think of those things. My head was too full of teenage boyfriends and friendships and swim meets and SAT scores and all the general injustices that accompany adolescence. My head was too full of my own future to spare anyone else a thought.

But now my future has landed me here. In my own mother’s shoes with a house full of children, the oldest starting high school in just a few months, the next two on the brink of those critical teenage years. Suddenly, I am on the other side of the counter at 11:47 PM when my eyes are screaming for sleep and my husband is drifting off and I haven’t had a conversation with him since 1963 and if I could just say hello . . . But there are still bills to pay and emails to answer and laundry to fold and there’s my daughter on the stairs, still awake because she just needs to talk. (SHE. JUST. NEEDS. TO. TALK. At Midnight. When everyone else is sleeping. And there is an early appointment that means everyone even the three year old needs to be out of bed in six hours. Wearing something besides pajamas.)

So we talk. For however long it takes (FOREVER) and with whatever words are necessary. (Have you tried…? Have you thought about…? Those feelings are real… I understand… I hear you… I hear you… I hear you…)

I channel my mother in those moments. My mother, and God, because heaven knows I don’t have enough patience to handle them on my own. The brutal honest truth is that sometimes I have dig deep – DEEEEEEP – inside myself to find those “Let’s talk about it” words. Because I don’t want to talk about anything. Really I just want to take a shower by myself without anybody knocking on the door and telling me they need their blue jeans dry before the morning and also did I write them that check they asked for because the field trip is tomorrow and they will not be allowed on the bus if they don’t have the check IN THEIR HAND and can I just bring the checkbook to you right now and you can write it for me real quick? Here’s a pen. And a towel so you can dry your hand.

How didn’t I see? How didn’t I realize how tired my mother was?

I didn’t sit down to write a tribute to my mother, though she most certainly deserves one. I didn’t even really sit down to complain, though I’ve managed to do a fair bit of that. I suppose I’m just reflecting on the funny way life brings us full circle, turning us around so we see things from one side, and then the other.

Because, now I see both sides. I know how much my mother’s listening meant to me because I lived it. And I’ve got that knowledge to go on when it absolutely isn’t humanly possible for me to listen/help/comfort one more time. Maybe ever again if I don’t just get some sleep. When I am JUST DONE, I recognize that surely my mother had those moments too. And she survived.

There’s a phrase my mother used to say that never held a shred of meaning for me in the moment.

“If there’s a war in the middle east,” she would say, “you children would find a way to make it my fault.” When that sentiment is echoing around in my brain, (because yes, Mom, my kids do the same thing to me) I wish I could pull my children clean through to my side, fast forward them into adulthood so they could SEE the injustice of being blamed for so many things. (My shoe is lost. My homework is ruined. I don’t like this dinner. My uniform is dirty.) Somehow though, I don’t think the lesson would be quite the same if the learning happened that way– All look, and no live. I don’t really think it would stick.

Instead, we’re left to push through our own experiences, collecting wisdom like tiny grains of sand, hoping one day they might add up to something big enough to hold in our hands. I realize now I shouldn’t be all that surprised if, in a few more years, I recognize that whatever wisdom I’m holding in my hands looks an awful lot like what my mother is holding in hers.

Writing and Mother Guilt. Where’s the Balance?

balanceSo  I can’t promise this isn’t going to get a little ugly, guys. I’m feeling the need for some good old fashioned truth telling. Some full disclosure, laying it on the line. Are you ready?

A few weeks back I wrote a post about balancing motherhood and writing. I still stand behind everything I wrote in that post. But that day, I was feeling optimistic and happy and in control. Today? Not so much. This might be what they call, the other side of the coin…

Here’s the thing. Being a Mom and a writer at the same time is really hard. Okay, maybe scratch that. Being a Mom and only a Mom is really hard. It is busy, and exhausting, and mentally trying. It is bone weary, patience wearing, heart wrenching work. It is HARD. Last night I told my kids that sometimes being a Mom is like running on a hamster wheel, doing the same things over and over. You wash the same dishes, you fold the same clothes, you pick up the same messes over and over only so they can be undone all over again. The thing is, there’s no way to get off that stupid hamster wheel because your running is what’s generating the energy to keep everything else in the house going. (A note: My kids help, okay? They work like crazy and fold laundry and do lots and lots of chores. I’m not their slave. They earn their keep. But I’m still in charge. They’re little still. They need supervision. I still have to help them help. Know what I mean?)

And it isn’t just the menial work of maintaining a house that feels hard. The mental pressures of being a Mom are tough too. When things don’t go right, everyone looks to Mom. When someone is unhappy, they look to Mom. When someone needs to finish a project or needs a new Sunday shirt or needs help practicing an instrument/learning a new skill/perfecting a cartwheel, they look to Mom. The need never stops. There is always someone who needs something or wants to tell you something or needs you to fix just one more thing.

I get it. I know that I will blink and they will all be grown. I know that there will come a time when I miss having so many happy children around me, that I will miss the noise and the chaos. (I don’t know… I kinda doubt that last one.) I GET IT. But sometimes, right now, for example, I just need to say out loud that it’s hard. I’m not wishing the time I have with my children away. I’m not counting down the days until they are grown. Really, truly, I love what I do. But I’m tired, guys. So much of the time, my brain is tired.

And here’s where the conversation gets dicey. See, I have this thing that I love to do. Writing makes my brain NOT tired. It makes my brain happy. If I had the time, I could sit and write all day. Grow roots out of my bum, forget to eat, sleep. Obviously, I have six very good reasons why this shouldn’t happen. (And also, food is good. I don’t really want to forget to eat.) But writing makes me HAPPY–genuinely, full smiles happy.

Which is tricky. Because mothering makes me happy too. Mothering makes me happy because it’s what brings me closest to God. It humbles me, it strengthens me, it teaches me to rely on God when I feel used up and drained out. In many ways, it sanctifies me, because I know that through serving and loving and caring for my children, I am becoming a better person. It is a happiness that comes from outside myself–a happiness that is rich and full because, well, these kids are pretty amazing.

Writing, on the other hand, is a very me-focused happiness. I get lost in the worlds of my novels. I feel real and strong emotion for my characters. I feel smart, and useful and validated. Sometimes it’s just writing related activities–working on a conference planning committee, or networking with other authors, or working as a critique partner. Doing these things, I feel like I am challenging the brain inside my head to do wonderful things, things that are far more stimulating than, say, unloading the dishwasher for the 300th time.

I guess the million dollar question is where’s the balance? I’d be lying if I didn’t say that every second I spend writing doesn’t affect my role as a mother. Because mothering is FULL TIME PLUS OVERTIME ALL THE TIME work. It doesn’t stop. With six kids in the house, homeschooling half of them, music lessons, church service, sports, general household maintenance, and just ALL THE THINGS, I could stay busy from sun up to sun down and still have work left for the following day. When I’m writing, (or doing writerly things) there is always something on hold. And that’s hard. It’s hard not to feel guilty. It’s hard not to feel like there’s something I could be doing with my time that might benefit my children a little more. Except, if I never wrote, I would be losing a part of myself that brings me a great deal of joy and satisfaction.

I want my life to be about my kids. I want to be a good Mom. But also, I need my life to be a little about me too. I’ve heard people say that by taking care of my own needs, I’ll be doing more for my kids in the long run. And in theory, I totally get it. It’s only in application that it still feels hard.

Balance is an elusive thing. I wonder, sometimes, if I will ever figure it out. I do know I won’t stop trying. I will keep mothering and (even if it’s only at 2 am) I will keep writing.

What challenges your sense of balance in life? How do you stay focused on the good things?