Sunday, September 9, 2018

One-Year Bell-Ringing Anniversary

On September 9, 2016, all four of our kids were a couple of weeks into a brand new school year, and I was busy with my first outside-the-home job in over a decade.

We had no idea that cancer was about to enter our lives.

On September 9, 2017, our daughter Aaliyah rang the bell at MD Anderson Cancer Center, signifying the end of her chemotherapy treatment for Ewing Sarcoma.



That year in between?


Traumatic.

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness month, and I'm afraid I have not been doing my part in spreading awareness. But today is September 9, 2018, the one-year anniversary of Aaliyah's end-of-chemo bell-ringing, and I've been caught up in reflection.

When the biopsy of Aaliyah's tumor confirmed cancer, and when doctors explained exactly how large the tumor was and how invasive and how concerning and how tricky and how surprising...I did not think she was going to survive. Yes, I knew that God had the power to heal her, but I was absolutely terrified that He had a different plan.

At night, I couldn't close my eyes because when I did, I pictured a funeral, a casket, a cemetery, a broken family. I kept friends and family up texting late into the night, and I kept myself up crafting Caring Bridge entries until I literally could not fight sleep another minute, and I fell asleep for nights in a row into a tear-damp pillow wishing I had realized what a gift life was.

So, when Aaliyah rang the bell one year ago today, I determined never to lose sight of that again. Never to let everyday annoyances and the busyness of life get in the way of my joy and gratefulness. My daughter survived, and I would never look at life the same again. I would never take another moment for granted. I would never again lose my temper over nail polish remover spilled on the wooden kitchen table or hairbands clogging the vacuum. Never again would I overreact about a lost lunchbox or a missing homework assignment. I would never again let the rush of life pull me away from the priority of my family. 

Yeah, you can probably guess how well I'm doing with those vows.

The new school year has begun, and it has been busy. I am working and writing, and Nate has had a bad run of health. The boys are in football, and our daily life is packed. One day last week I got out of the shower and could only find a hand towel to dry off with. That's how bad the laundry had gotten. Not a single clean bath towel in the entire house. I've lost my temper over messes, and I've let busyness seep in, and everyday annoyances are starting to feel annoying again.

But.

I'm still changed. My perspective has shifted, and it keeps yanking me back, refusing to let me fall into old patterns, refusing to let me forget.

As if I could. 



I hope you won't forget, either. 

In the year since Aaliyah finished treatment, around 1,700 children in America died of cancer. Their parents' nightmares - the funerals, the caskets, the broken families - became reality. We pass through this life for a few fleeting decades, if we're lucky enough to be granted that much time. Love well. Name your blessings. Walk beside hurting people. Pray big, bold prayers even when the diagnosis is grim and your faith has been shaken to the core.

Life is fragile. What's ruling yours today?

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 
- Colossians 3:15

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

A Quick Ramble

Last night I participated in an online author chat with a book club in California. I'd been both looking forward to it and dreading it, not sure what it would be like. But I'm all about leaping into new opportunities this year, and there's still four months left of 2018! So at 8:30 p.m., I curled my hair, touched up my makeup, donned dangly earrings, and changed into Hello Kitty pajama pants for the meeting. Something about wearing fuzzy pajama pants made me feel much more comfortable. 



The kids all thought the whole situation was quite interesting. "Why is your hair curled? Why are you wearing lip gloss? Are you going somewhere in the pajamas?"

Anyway, I banned them from the area and set up my laptop, where I encountered the sweetest group of women. We talked and laughed for more than an hour, and eventually I did show them the pajama pants. After we said goodbye, I started thinking that I would love to be a part of a book club like that. I may have to find a way to make it happen.



In other news, I have taken yet another leap: I've applied for a full-time teaching position at the community college I've been working at for the past two years! I have no idea what the process will look like or even if I will be a competitive candidate, but I'm putting myself out there with the hope and prayer that God will set me there if it's where I should be. 

Only 12 days left of glorious summer. I wish I could say I'm soaking up the days, but I am kind of looking forward to the start of a new school year. I'm craving routine and some kind of structure. 

On that note, I'm signing off for now. Two more days of summer teaching, and I'm definitely in need of some shut-eye.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Leaping through the Summer

Well, we only have three weeks left of summer, and I continue to make small leaps out of my comfort zone and into new experiences in 2018!

1. I submitted an essay to Writer's Digest Magazine, and I received a rejection. However, it was a "good" rejection with encouragement to resubmit, so I call it a win! Brainstorming my next idea for them because I'd really like to break in.


2. Attended the Romance Writers of America Conference in Denver - all by myself! It was a fabulous trip, minus an unexpected bout with social anxiety that my sister Shirlee had to talk me off the ledge from and send a friend to my rescue! I may have enjoyed the downtime in my hotel room almost as much as I enjoyed chatting with other authors and attending workshops!




3. Attended a local writer's meeting at the college where I work. Interesting and fun to get to know other writers of all different backgrounds and genres. A few attendees brought material for the group to read and critique.

4. This has nothing to do with writing, but I gave a "hair talk" for a local adoption group. Interested in a quick overview of what I've learned the hard way when caring for my daughters' gorgeous curls? Here's a link to the presentation: https://prezi.com/view/KI8ttmD80oYv73H6EMKy/ 

5. Put a Facebook author chat on my calendar for next week. I'll be chatting with a sweet group of ladies in California who recently read Dying to Remember

6. Also, nothing to do with writing, but I did a trial class at an Orange Theory location, and it was incredibly hard and awesome! Unfortunately, it was also incredibly out of our budget.

7. Joined a local running club and put in my first 6-miler since the winter!

Maybe I should quit while I'm ahead...but nah! There's too much adventure to be had. As long as I have the health to try new things, I will be courageous. We only pass through this life once, after all. Grab hold of new opportunities that might make your heart sing! They might also lead to embarrassment, disappointment, or regret - but no regret is greater than one unanswerable question at the end of our lives: what if?

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Birth Family Connections

A couple of weeks ago, we hired a searcher to locate our children's birth families in Ethiopia. This weekend, we received photos and updates, and I am sharing the following with our children's blessings.

The boys' birth family. Missing in the photo is an older sister who is married, and another older sister who lives in the States.

The girls' birth father holding the photos we sent him.
 
Let me tell you about my view on adoption at the age of 25, when we first entered into the process:

I just wanted to be a mom. 

I get asked often about our adoption story, and I'm always happy to share it, but the truth is pretty uncomplicated.

Before we got married, Nate and I had discussed adoption and agreed that we wanted to adopt at least one child some day. After an early miscarriage and a devastating visit to a fertility clinic, we had a few options, but adoption was the only one that guaranteed the gift of parenthood.

We jumped right into the adoption world, prayerfully narrowing down our options as we researched possibilities. One thing we were certain of: we wanted to adopt internationally.

I can't tell you how many times we've been questioned, even challenged, on this decision. It always surprised me that anyone would suggest we should have to justify why we did not choose to adopt here in the States. But, for the curious, we had two specific reasons:

1. Nate's sister was adopted from the Philippines when his family lived there in the 80s, and the adoption had a lasting impact on his life, having visited the orphanage on many occasions.

2. We were young and inexperienced, and we had read of several adoption horror stories in the U.S. where a child was sent back to the biological family. In that way, international adoption seemed more guaranteed. (Feel free to laugh. :) Now, with many more years behind us and a much broader understanding of the adoption community, I know how flawed that logic was!)

But our decision to adopt from Ethiopia boils down to one truth: God led us there. 

It wasn't until I held our sons in my arms in 2005 that I even had the capacity to consider how their birth parents must have suffered and grieved to come to a place in their lives when they could do nothing but relinquish their children to someone else's care. 




The weight of that decision anchored itself in my soul the very moment I became a mother, and I grieved over the realization that the blessing of parenthood came to us at the expense of broken hearts. 

In 2010, when we returned to Ethiopia to adopt our daughters, we had the absolute privilege of meeting our sons' birth family, as well as our daughters' birth father and uncle. What a gift that was! But as the years have slipped by, Nate and I have felt a growing burden for those families. We share the love of our children, and in that sense, we are all one family.

It is difficult for some to understand our hearts on this matter. We have received many gentle suggestions that the best thing for our children would be that we not pursue a connection with their birth families. That perhaps such a connection would be confusing to them or bring on a burden of guilt for them. Our hope is that it simply brings peace and comfort to everyone. The kids were thrilled to see the photos of their birth families, to see whose eyes and mouths and noses and smiles they share, to receive answers to many of their questions. 

And the expressions on the faces of the birth parents is all I needed to see to know that taking this step was absolutely the right thing to do. There is joy there. Relief. Peace. Hope. I am only sorry it took so long for us to pursue this connection. 

Years ago, a couple of months before we met our daughters, a fellow adoptive mother sent me this photo she had snapped of the girls with their birth father at their foster care center in Ethiopia. He is praying over the girls, and I imagine he is committing them into the hands of the Lord. It is an image I have carried in my heart for the past eight years as I have also held his family up in prayer.  

It was such a joy to receive photos of their father's smile upon receiving word that the girls were doing well. Our searcher told us that as soon as their birth father was told the news about the girls, he went immediately into his room and praised God. We have a precious video clip of his prayer, and though we can't understand a word, it is clear he is praising the Lord for hearing his prayers. 


I am deeply thankful tonight, and also pensive. We have long planned to visit Ethiopia with our children in 2020, God willing, and this feels like the first step as we open the door of connection with both birth families. 

As the weeks roll by this year, change seems to be upon our family, and I find myself often thinking about this verse:

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. -Isaiah 43:19

I cannot wait to see how the rest of this story unfolds. 

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Sweet, Sweet Summer

Summer has officially begun!

Not only that, but I officially no longer have any elementary school children!

We spent our first week of summer lazing around, but we'll hit the ground running tomorrow with athletics conditioning camps and VBS for the kids, and a whole lot of writing and errands for me - to include teaching our 15-year-old how to drive!

Last week I submitted the second book in the Shield series: Luke and Natalie's story. As I wait to hear back on whether or not I'll need to revise (my guess is YES, according to my track record so far), I need to finish up my Art Facts Sheet and then get cracking on my proposal for the third book, featuring Hunter and Triss. 

I bought myself a giant wall calendar the other day so I could set up a writing schedule and keep track of my deadlines. Unfortunately, I realized when I got home that the calendar begins in July, so I had to draw myself a June page - but I made it work.


I still can hardly believe I get to do this stuff, and I'm beginning to have a lot more fun with it, even if I'm a bit of a slowpoke. 

Speaking of being a slowpoke, I've been "running" for about four years or so. I put 'running' in quotes because I am not fast. It's more like jogging. But, oh my goodness. It is so stinkin' hot right now in Houston that my morning jogs have been torture. Nevertheless, I have fitness goals I'm working on along with my writing goals. Hoping to get five runs in this week, as well as two to three fitness classes I signed up for in my neighborhood. I keep signing up and not going. Tomorrow I'm supposed to go to a PiYo class, which I haven't done in weeks. We shall see if I can muster up the motivation. 

In between the writing and exercising, I'll be lesson planning for my upcoming summer courses and hopefully doing a bunch of reading-for-leisure. As for fun stuff with the kids, they've all got pretty busy schedules this year, so I guess we will enjoy our downtime when we can. Planning to use the pool a lot, eat a bunch of watermelon, and play some good old fashioned board games. Of course, we'll also be heading to see Incredibles 2, and we've got to fit in some bowling because it's tradition. We'd like to do a quick beach day trip, and maybe a waterpark. Oh, and Sonic happy hours - can't forget that. I keep reading about a local pie truck I want to check out, too. Oh, who am I kidding? Despite their busy schedules, I still have high hopes for the summer, and I'll be sure to post some pics of the highlights!

Monday, May 28, 2018

Make-A-Wish: Disney Cruise!




The past couple of weeks have been a whirlwind, but I finally had a chance to upload our Disney Cruise pics and sort through them, and I just had to come on here and record the details before it all becomes a blurry memory.

It is still hard to believe that Make-A-Wish sent our entire family of six on a Disney Cruise! It was truly the trip of a lifetime, and we could never have afforded it on our own. We were treated like royalty and absolutely spoiled rotten. :) I could probably write a book with all the details, but I'll condense it to the highlights, and if you want to see more photos, I'm posting an album over on my Facebook page.

Day 1: Monday - Travel
We were picked up at 4:30 a.m. to head to the airport in a sleek black SUV. Our driver wore a suit and and ear piece, and it made me think of the drivers in Dying to Remember - ha! The kids were absolutely giddy, and they all got a kick out of the free Fiji water bottles.



Once at the airport, we were treated to the most incredible travel experience. We were escorted straight to a private check-in area, where our luggage was checked and we were given vouchers for breakfast at the airport. Then we were driven in carts down to our gate.




The airport is normally chaotic and exhausting, but United made our experience truly enjoyable.

We boarded before anyone else, and Aaliyah got a chance to meet the pilot before we were escorted to our seats, where a special treat awaited her, along with a giant bag of goodies for the entire family to share.




The flight was smooth, and we arrived in Orlando a little after 11. By the time we boarded the ship, it was about 2:30. Aaliyah had made herself sick from all the excitement, and the first thing she did was take a nap in one of our two staterooms. Thankfully, by the time we woke her up for dinner at 5:30, she was feeling more like herself, and dinner was a fabulous affair. I think she ate two baskets of bread all by herself.

We saw a show, and the kids explored the ship, staying up quite late. When we got back to the room, Aaliyah had a note with a stuffed Mickey Mouse waiting for her. The note explained that she would be receiving some special gifts over the next few days.


Day 2: Tuesday - Nassau
We spent the day at Atlantis, as it seemed like the most kid-friendly thing to do. We spent all day at the waterpark, going from section to section, flying down water slides, floating along the lazy river and the rapids river, and laughing ourselves silly.



Back on the ship, Aaliyah had an envelope waiting for her with tickets for using at Castaway Cay the next day. The tickets gave each of us the opportunity to grab snorkel gear, floaties, and a bike while on the island. She also had a six-pack of chocolate covered strawberries and an invitation for a special character meet and greet the next day. We enjoyed the rest of the evening on the ship, and braved the aquaduct waterslide even though it was quite windy and chilly. The kids swam and raided the gift shops and the sweets shop. We all watched a show together, and then Nate and I were able to spend some quiet time on the 4th deck, which was quite peaceful.




Day 3: Wednesday - Castaway Cay
This place is just amazing. So peaceful and relaxed. We snorkeled and swam and floated around, and I never once worried about the kids. It was extremely safe, with lifeguards as far out as we were allowed to swim, and a barrier to keep scary sea creatures out. :)  Fountain sodas and ice cream machines were free all day, and a great lunch buffet was provided as well. Aaliyah and I used our last twenty minutes to take a short bike ride - a sweet ending to the excursion. When we got back, we went to the character meet and greet. I did think it would be a meet and greet with several characters, but we at least got to meet Mickey, and by the evening when we returned to our room, a folder awaited us on our bed with two 8x10 pics from the meet and greet! Aaliyah also had another note waiting for her with a gourmet assortment of fruit and cheese.




We played Bingo and then let the kids have the run of the ship. I think Wednesday was the pirate party night, too, with fireworks and dancing. Aaliyah was literally wild with joy.

Day 4: Thursday - Cruising
Thursday was our only full day on the ship. By then, I was exhausted and wishing for a couple more days to cruise to just relax! :) But we filled our day and had as much fun as we possibly could on Thursday. Bingo, sweets, yummy food, karaoke, games, swimming, and Beauty and the Beast in the theater - it was all so much fun.


We let the kids stay up as late as they wanted, and at around 11 or so, the girls went back to the room and ordered room service because the boys had already taken advantage of the 24/7 free room service several times, and they wanted to get the full experience. The final treat for Aaliyah was a six-pack of cute little cupcakes. I don't think any of us wanted to go to sleep because we didn't want our vacation to be over.

Day 5: Friday - Debarking
We were so sad to be leaving, but incredibly grateful that we'd gotten to enjoy such a fabulous trip together. We arrived home around 4 p.m. after a long day of traveling. Within a couple of hours, everyone had fallen asleep except for me because my sister was arriving that evening for a weekend trip to Fort Worth for her son's graduation. I drank a lot of caffeine, and she and I had a much-needed weekend together.

One other highlight of the trip I have to add is that Make-A-Wish not only took care of our travel to and from the airport, the airfare, and the cruise itself, but they also gifted us with a check to cover extra expenses and excursions. We received that check a few days before we left for the cruise, and we were surprised by how generous it was. They had literally thought of everything (even prepaid the tips on the cruise), and we were able to let the kids buy sweets and souvenirs and special frozen drinks without worrying about money. This in and of itself was a beautiful thing, as we are forever budgeting when we travel anywhere. We even had enough leftover to purchase some photos (which are ridiculously priced if you ask me!), and we didn't spend a dime of our own money.

What a blessing this trip was to our life, a sweet respite from the trauma we have walked through, and an exciting reward for Aaliyah after all she has endured.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Coming up for air

I've been MIA due to spring madness, among other things! In the past couple of weeks, I have finished out my teaching semester, gone on our Make-A-Wish Disney cruise (details coming soon!), traveled to see my nephew's graduation, and have been furiously working on my next MS, which is due June 4. 

In the meantime, Dying to Remember hit the shelves, which was super exciting...except that none of the shelves near me are carrying it. It was a sad day when I went to Walmart specifically to buy my own book (yes, I consider such nonsense to be a fun outing), to discover that our local Walmart is only carrying two of the six May releases, and mine is not among them! I'm determined to be more proactive next time in contacting my local stores to try to get my books on the shelves. Lesson learned. 

And in other publishing news, Rayne's blog post was released this week from MD Anderson Cancer Center. It still makes me tear up when I read it. Not a day goes by when I don't thank God for what he did in Aaliyah's life, and that our family is still whole. On that note, the people who prayed for us nonstop during that wretched time taught me much about prayer and my own faith. I now love to pray for others in a way I never knew before, so if you ever need someone in your prayer corner, feel free to send me a note

Friday, April 20, 2018

Guest Posts for MD Anderson's Cancerwise Blog

In January, I received an email from one of MD Anderson's communications specialists about potentially writing a few posts for their Cancerwise blog. I had never heard of the blog, but when I got a chance to skim through a few posts, I was excited to be a part of the project.

During the process, Aaliyah and Rayne even had a chance to "write" blog posts of their own. "Write" is in quotation marks because what really happened is that I was given a long list of questions to ask them, and I basically typed their answers word for word, which I submitted back to the communications department. Through the answers to the questions, blog posts were created - using their own words, but pulling out the main themes and structuring the answers into a coherent story. 

The question and answer process was surprisingly therapeutic. Rayne actually had a lot to say that I didn't expect. Her blog post will come out soon, as well as one more of mine.

Here's the link to Aaliyah's post:
3 Things I Learned From Ewing's Sarcoma Treatment

And the link to mine:
4 Things I Learned From My Daughter's Ewing's Sarcoma Treatment

Thursday, April 19, 2018

I Choose Hope

For those of you who don't know me and haven't had a chance to check out my daughter Aaliyah's Caring Bridge page, here's what happened in a nutshell:

On a beautiful Tuesday in 2016, Election Day actually, Aaliyah came home after school running a fever. When the fever stuck around for a couple days, I brought her to the doctor. Within a few hours, we were told she might have cancer. Within the week, our worst fears were confirmed.

She spent the next 10 months undergoing 14 rounds of inpatient chemo, a month of radiation, and a 10-hour surgery, among countless other procedures. She rang the bell at MD Anderson on September 9, 2017, signifying the end of her Ewing's sarcoma treatment. She is a survivor.

I will never take that for granted. I will never stop being thankful. I will never stop telling the story of God's healing power and the expertise of our medical team.

On Monday, she had her six-month post treatment scans. On Tuesday, we heard the news we've been hoping and praying for: still NED!

We will continue to return to MDA every three months for 17 more months before we can start resting a little easier.

Those 17 months stretch before us full of hope, but shadowed by the lingering fear of recurrence. Still, day by day, month by month, the shadow fades because "God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind" (2 Timothy 1:7).

Fear is easy. It is tempting and dark and quiet and isolated and strangely satisfying at times when you just want to wallow for a while.

Hope is hard. It demands peace that surpasses all understanding, faith in what you cannot see, and vulnerability in the possibility that your hopes will be dashed. 

Fear breeds sorrow, depression, anxiety, anger, confusion, self-doubt.

Hope cultivates peace, joy, gratefulness, order, confidence, harmony, and faith.

I will probably always battle fear, but ultimately, when the sun rises each morning, I choose hope - and it anchors my soul.

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure... - Hebrews 6:19


Sunday, April 1, 2018

Adopting a Growth Mindset

On Tuesday, I will attend the final class for the Adjunct Certification Program I enrolled in this spring. It was a LEAP that truly stretched me, and the final class will stretch me even more, as I have to facilitate a 10-minute presentation in front of my colleagues. 

When I signed up for the program, I felt that I was managing my classrooms pretty well, but I wondered if formal training would help me improve. Now that the eight weeks are coming to a close, approximately 40-50 hours of my life poured into studying the art of teaching, the verdict is in: the leap was worth the effort. The training not only informed my everyday teaching efforts, but it inspired me, it grew me, and it opened my eyes to new ways to engage my students - which is a win-win, because a fully engaged classroom energizes me and makes all those non-paid planning and grading hours well worth the sacrifice.

As the weeks wore on, I did grow weary. Life is busy, my husband has been plagued again with debilitating fatigue for months, and my writing career is growing more demanding. 

BUT...I was reminded of how much I love learning. I'm fascinated by the research on how the mind continues to grow as we feed it, and that success is not determined by our intellectual abilities as much as it is determined by our level of determination and grit. (Check out this TedTalk on Grit if you have seven minutes to be inspired.) For as long as I teach, I hope I always look for ways to improve my methods and increase my connection with my students.

In the same way, I think it's time to step up my game with the craft of writing. I have written and studied writing all of my life. Back before AP classes were common, I sailed through AP English and loved every minute of a class most of my classmates dreaded. I studied journalism in college and then many forms of nonfiction writing in graduate school. Since my goal was a career in journalism, I never spent much time studying fiction writing, which is kind of ironic. 

I think I will always be more confident writing nonfiction than fiction because nonfiction requires less from-scratch imagination. Nonfiction work presents me with ready-made stories that I get to craft into compelling narratives that generally are no longer than 2,000 words. On the other hand, fiction writing requires me to concoct every detail of a story and then craft all those details into a compelling and lengthy manuscript (upwards of 50,000 words). I am not innately creative in coming up with original story ideas or envisioning concrete characters. I have spent a lot of time lacking confidence in this area, observing other authors who pump out books several times a year and have seemingly no trouble coming up with new stories. But, as I grew as a teacher during my adjunct certification class, I started to realize that there is room for me to grow as a writer as well.

I know that I will continue to grow my craft as I write and revise manuscripts, but I also know that there are many writers and teachers with knowledge and experience to share that can help me develop my fiction writing skills - and I could really use a boost!

So, my next LEAP for 2018 is attending a writer's conference. I attended the RWA conference a few years ago with my sisters and my mom, and we had a blast, but life circumstances aren't lining up for all of us to go this year, so I was just planning to stay home. The idea of attending the conference alone is a little intimidating, to be honest.  But my husband encouraged me to go anyway, and I have to admit that the idea of a few nights to myself in a hotel room began to sound pretty enticing. So I reserved a hotel room and booked my airfare to attend RWA in Denver in July. 

I can't wait to listen and learn and grow more as a fiction writer. My nonfiction dreams are still very much alive, but simmering on the back burner for now. In the meantime, I'm diving into a list of fiction writers' reference books (you can view them on my "the craft of writing" list over at Goodreads) to expand my horizons as I plug away on manuscript revisions for the second book in the Shield Protection miniseries.

Be encouraged today: If you have an idea or a goal or a dream you want to pursue, don't let the fear of failure stop you. 

"Failure is so important. It is the ability to resist failure or use failure that often leads to greater success."
-J.K. Rowling

Friday, March 2, 2018

Why Avoiding Conflict Backfires

I hate conflict.

I am an expert at keeping the peace, abdicating decisions, and not rocking any boats.

Sounds like a pleasant way to live, right?

Fight, Flight...or Freeze?
Oh, but there's a cost...because avoiding external conflict leads to something even more painful: internal conflict. I see internal conflict as a quiet battle within the heart, mind, and soul...the frustration, the resentment, the self-doubt, the confusion you can't or won't find the words for...and the insidious fear of fighting for what you really want. I suppose much of conflict avoidance arises from a place of fear and the fight or flight decision. In my case, it's more like the fight, flight, or freeze decision - and I usually freeze.


Maybe I avoid conflict because I lack the skill of peaceful conflict handling. Maybe I avoid it because it hurts when someone I care about is angry with me. Maybe I avoid it because I'm a peacekeeper at heart, and conflict seems like the polar opposite of peace.
The truth is, external or internal, conflict is almost always uncomfortable, which is why many people steer clear of it at all cost. But conflict avoidance usually backfires - all the unaddressed issues bubbling up until they can no longer be ignored. At that point, peacekeeping is out the window, and war has begun.

Over the past several years, I have begun to identify my tendency to avoid conflict in nearly all situations. I've also started to discern when that avoidance is appropriate - and when it's a copout. (FYI, it's usually a copout.)

Addressing Romantic Conflict
Interestingly, as I've become more self-aware of my conflict avoidance tendencies, I recently had a writer's epiphany.

I have submitted several iterations of three different manuscripts to my editor, and she always offers incredibly insightful suggestions, but I keep repeating the same mistake anyway: The romantic conflict between my main characters is practically nonexistent.

While working on proposal revisions for my next book, I've been doing quite a bit of thinking about the romantic conflicts between the hero (Luke) and the heroine (Natalie). I went a little crazy today, and I pulled out a giant poster board to map out the main elements of the manuscript. (I only had a leftover neon pink from a child's school project, so it's kind of hard to look at.) I started with the easy stuff - the descriptions and backgrounds of main and secondary characters, the faith arcs and romance and suspense scenes, and then I stared hard at the big empty block I'd left for one of my biggest problem areas: romantic conflict.



A perfectly timed article happened to come across my Facebook feed today, written by my editor, so I spent a few minutes reading it. As I considered her suggestions on how to build what's called a black moment (the time in a romance when it seems like all hope is lost for the relationship), I realized something.

Perhaps the reason I have such a difficult time torturing my characters and breaking their hearts with romantic conflict is that, well, I hate conflict. Surprise, surprise.

Conflict and the Happily Ever After.
Let's face it. I'm writing a romance to create a fictional story about the kind of love everyone dreams about but not many people find. And in my fantasy world of happily ever afters, conflict does not exist.

Except there's a problem.

Facing conflict is necessary for growth. I cannot shy away from all conflict if I desire growth in my relationships, in my career, and in my psychological health. In the same way, my characters can't avoid conflict, or they will be static, their motives unclear, their romance one-dimensional.

There was something therapeutic today about mapping my revisions out on that bright pink poster board. I began to recognize the depth of my own pursuit of conflict avoidance, while also discovering what it is that threatens to ruin Luke and Natalie's chance of a Happily Ever After. My editor wrote in her article that "the darker the black moment, the happier the HEA feels in comparison." I think that principle applies to real life, too. Out of the depths of tragedy and despair, life blooms again - and usually sweeter than ever before. 


Friday, February 23, 2018

Landed a New Contract!

It was not even on my radar that today might be THE DAY. 

I was busy packing for an overnighter with my daughters when the phone rang. I thought I heard my son's name on the caller ID, so I didn't pick up because I was in a little bit of a trip prep frenzy. I was about to text and ask what he needed when I heard my editor's voice on the answering machine. 

I dropped everything and ran - literally RAN - across the house to find the phone. Yes, we still have a landline. I have no explanation. 

The offer was for a two-book contract, and even though I had submitted a proposal for three books, disappointment didn't even register. I was thrilled. And slightly terrified. Now comes what I've been working for and also dreading...writing books on firm deadlines. But then, my word for 2018 was LEAP, and scheduling deadlines for two complete manuscripts in one year is a leap I'm excited to take. 

The next two books will round out a three-book mini series that starts with Dying to Remember, which reminds me...

About an hour after my phone call with my editor, my advanced copies of Dying to Remember appeared on my porch! 

It was an epic writer's day, to say the least. I'll be offering a giveaway soon, so stay tuned!

Sunday, February 11, 2018

The New Student

Last week, I attended the first class for the Adjunct Certification program I signed up for at the college where I teach. I entered the classroom feeling nervous and curious. I left feeling inspired and energized. 

Elie Wiesel once said:
I love the idea of walking in the footsteps of those who've gone before me, especially in the teaching arena. Prior to my first semester of teaching two years ago, I hadn't stepped foot in a classroom in more than a decade - and never as an instructor. As it turns out, passion and subject matter expertise can carry a new instructor pretty far, but I found myself wishing I'd had some formal training. 

As I faced different challenges within my classrooms, I became curious to learn how other teachers facilitate their lessons - and what I could do to improve. This class I'm taking offers just that: a chance to learn from the instructor and my peers, and to be introduced to materials I wouldn't otherwise have the slightest idea of how to search for. For a time, I will walk in the footsteps of those who have gone before, making new paths with my own footprints from time to time as I grow in knowledge and confidence. So glad I took this LEAP, and can't wait to see how the class unfolds. 

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Leap #2: Proposal Submission

Very late Tuesday night (or early Wednesday morning, technically), I finally submitted my proposal to my editor at Harlequin. Sometimes I wonder why it takes so much courage just to click "Send" on an e-mail. 

As soon as I sent the e-mail, however, I just felt relieved. Whatever may come, I took another flying leap. I completed a project I set out to complete, and for that I choose to be happy. The proposal was somewhere around 60 pages, including a detailed synopsis of the first book with three chapters, plus a brief synopsis on each of two additional book ideas. 

While I wait to hear back on the proposal, I will write. I'm working on a couple of projects. I'm spending the most time on the LIS book, which is written but needs to be revised quite a bit. On the side, I've been doing some interesting research for a mainstream fiction book I've had in the works for years. I came to a point where it was mostly complete, but missing authenticity. Parts of the novel take place in the past, and I couldn't decide if I wanted to set those chapters in the 20s, 30s, or 40s. After watching a couple documentaries on the times (America in Color is a series on Netflix that covers several decades of American history, and even my sons found the episodes we watched to be interesting) and checking out a few books at the library, I'm pretty sure I've settled on the 1920s. In fact, today I came across a piece of history that aligns so well with my story, I could hardly believe it. I'd been trying to figure out some missing details for an important scene - some whys and hows that I just didn't have enough knowledge for - and it all came together for me today when watching the 1920s episode of America in Color

In addition to the LIS and the research, I am slowly working on one short freelance piece at a time. I miss working with magazines, and I'd love to start getting back into some journalistic writing again.  The freelancing component of my work is definitely taking a backseat to the other two projects, but on days where I want to tackle something smaller, it's nice to have a little side project to work on.

In case you were wondering where I'm finding all the time to do this writing, I have to admit that I'm not finding a lot of it lately! I'm in a three-week crunch period of piano practicing right now because I have a couple of accompaniment gigs coming up that require me to learn a bunch of music and attend a bunch of practices. So, I'm being kind to myself for the next couple of weeks before I get back to what has been a pretty regimented writing routine. My writing goal through February 10 is to revise a chapter a night of the LIS book, and do research for the mainstream whenever I have spare time.

My progress for the next couple of weeks will be slow, but two leaps in one month seems to be a good start to the new year. :)

Saturday, January 20, 2018

January's Leaps

Well, I committed to the word Leap, and I made one leap today: I submitted my application  for the Adjunct Certification Program at the college where I teach English. A couple of years ago, I took a huge leap when I applied for an adjunct faculty job after having been out of the workforce for over a decade. 

I'll be completely honest - I had actually applied to teach at the same college several years prior, but when I was called to schedule the interview and I learned that I would need to present a teaching demonstration to a panel of professors, I chickened out and canceled. I had zero experience teaching in a classroom environment, and I didn't know the first thing about creating a lesson plan. I was terrified of humiliating myself. I've had that problem all my life, and I still struggle with it. 

But a couple of years ago, for various reasons, I decided it was time to face my fears and try for the job again. I'm so glad I did. Teaching is the only job outside of my home that I have truly loved, and as I start my third semester I have decided to commit to a few workshops and seminars to help develop my teaching skills and strategies, and also to network and become more involved at the school. New endeavors generally scare me, so this program is pretty intimidating, but the application is in, so BOOM - I leapt!

My second leap is coming very soon, also! My proposal for another book (or more?) is in my sister Shirlee McCoy's hands right now, and as soon as I incorporate her feedback, I'll be submitting it to my editor. It's taken me longer than I wanted it to take, but what else is new? Shirlee actually took a first look at the proposal about a month ago, and she noticed some pretty serious issues I hadn't really spent enough time mulling over - especially involving character development. I really value her input, seeing as 1) she's written over 40 of these books, 2) she's my sister, and 3) she shuffles a lot of stuff to find time to look at my writing and actually provide meaningful feedback.

I actually have so many ideas for my next leaps that I'm not sure what I want to do next! Maybe focus on my mainstream women's fiction that has been sitting around unfinished for at least five years now. Maybe spend a little time submitting some magazine pitches or personal essays. Whatever I choose, I will be consistently working on my next LIS manuscript as I wait to hear back from my editor.

I did decide that every time I made a new leap, I would treat myself to some kind of reward. I think applying to the Adjunct Program was a pretty small leap, so I think I'll just order myself a new book on Amazon tonight, and schedule a reading-in-pajamas day for myself sometime soon. I can't remember the last time I read all day long, and I think it will be good for my soul. :)

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Leap!

It is 4:30 a.m. on the third day of a brand new year, and I've been up for an hour already.

In my fantasy world, I am the kind of person who rises each day before dawn and writes soul-grabbing prose before the rest of the house wakes up. I read somewhere that when you write first thing in the morning, you harness your most creative thoughts. Truth is, I woke up to use the bathroom and couldn't go back to sleep.

I tossed and turned for a while, prayed for a few people who came to mind, and finally gave up on sleeping. In a little while, the rest of my family will rise and we will make our way to the airport to head for home.

We arrived at my parents' house in Maryland, the home I grew up in, at around noon on Christmas Day, said goodbye to 2017 together on New Year's Eve, and ushered in a new year together over the past couple of days. Our kids got to enjoy everything we'd hoped for them: a Christmas with tons of family around, a week of arctic weather, a day of snow tubing, and even a few hours of actual snow that coated the streets and sidewalks and yards for a couple of days. It goes without saying that we also enjoyed multiple feasts and unending treats. My mom is an amazing cook and we are very talented food consumers. 

Even after more than 11 years away, every time I get on a plane to fly back to Texas, I feel more like I'm leaving my home instead of heading back to it. My Maryland roots are strong. Plus, I will never stop missing my family.  Also, if I'm honest, I've boarded many Texas-bound airplanes overwhelmed with sorrow and even dread...not because I have anything in particular against the "Friendship" state, but because I was often going back to some really hard stuff.

This morning, something different is in the air  -- and it's not just the remnant wafts of the fantastic spaghetti-and-from-scratch-meatball dinner or the loaves of pumpkin bread my mom concocted yesterday. This morning, it's hope. 

If hope had a scent, I imagine it would smell something like a cool spring breeze and the half dozen or so whoopie pies I stuffed my face with this week. It is exhilarating and tantalizingly sweet.

It's also terrifying.

When you stared death in the face with your daughter just months ago and now her cancer's gone, but the three-month scans are coming up, you hope. And you fear.

When you trudged through a decade of your spouse's unrelenting pain and illness and have been witnessing for months now what seems like it could be his recovery, you hope. And you fear.

When you grasp hold of a dream that's been blossoming in your mind and decide it's time to go for it, come what may, you hope. And you fear.

Thankfully, hope trumps fear every time. (For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. Isaiah 41:13)

I've never chosen or even considered a defining word for an upcoming year, but if I could go back and choose one for 2017, it would have been Hope. I was challenged to choose a word for 2018 and I'd like to say that I spent time in prayer and scoured the Bible and meditated on what my word should be. But my word literally jumped into my mind and stuck: Leap!

I'm not a risk taker. I'm more of a dip-my-toes-in-the-water kind of girl. I like baby steps. I've always got a fall-back plan and an escape route. I almost never leap. 

Leaping, after all, involves a high risk of falling. But so does baby stepping across a chasm or dipping toes in a raging river. Leaping is standing on a wide, flat, solid rock, peering beyond a great chasm of risk and a raging river of fear, and deciding that the tiny patch of grass you can barely see will offer more growth and joy than the safe, flat rock ever could...and then mustering every ounce of courage and gathering every bit of strength and whispering every desperate prayer, and jumping...knowing all the while that you may very well fall short of that patch of grass. 

No safety net. No escape route.

Falling hurts, which is why I hate risk. But I hate fear more.

So, in 2018, I will hang onto hope. 

And I will leap.

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. --Isaiah 43:19