Thursday, April 17, 2014

unspectacularly average

Always do your best. You don't have to be the best as long as you are your best.

That's how I was raised, based partially on Paul's letter to the church at Colosse:
"Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving."
Colossians 3:23 & 24

Growing up, the most trouble that caused me was an occasional annoyance, a nudge when I just wasn't working as hard as I could at something. I would roll my eyes when my parents asked me if I had done my best, but then it would cause a slight twinge of conscience and I would buckle down and focus and pretty soon my grades would be back to the A's I was used to having.

Lately, though, it's been a hard verse for me.

There's a saying, "too many irons in the fire." That's where I am now, partly by choice and partly by necessity. As a result, it seems everything I'm doing is working out to be unspectacularly average. My house is a mess and I get caught up on chores only once in a great while. There are flowerbeds all around our house that I'm supposed to be taking care of, but they're pretty much ignored. Closets need to be decluttered. I regularly score about 70% on my homework. I have a story written that's just waiting to be typed but there aren't enough hours in the day. A baby present for my niece who will be making her gib debut anytime now is still waiting to be finished. This blog goes abandoned for long periods of time.

And yet I somehow manage to fall into bed exhausted at night after the kids have been tucked into bed and Nathan's left for work--after a day of feeling like I haven't accomplished anything.

With so much going on there's nothing I'm doing right now that feels like my best, and that's incredibly hard for me to handle.

So now we come to the part of the post where I'm supposed to reveal what truth I've found in the middle of the chaos. This time, though
I got nuthin'.
I'm stuck with the mess and I'm not seeing what the lesson is that I'm supposed to learn from all of it. To be honest, that's why the idea of posting this one actually hurts me a bit--it is quite literally giving me a headache.

I'm asked how I do it all and I just want to scream that I don't--
that more times than not I feel like I'm failing at all of it because I'm incapable of doing it all to my own satisfaction--of doing my best at everything.

It seems there's a misconception that I've got everything together, and I guess that's what keeps me from pouring out all the mess when somebody asks how I do it all. I don't mind the misconception because I would rather people have that picture of me than let them--
let you--
see my mess.

I've struggled with the idea of writing this, wondering why in the world I would put this out there to be read by people I don't know. And even though the words have flowed out quickly I still hesitate, because what scares me more than the people I don't know is the realization that people I do know will be let in on the mess.

But that was my promise when I started writing here, to be authentic, transparent, and faithful. So here I am, Messy Mandy, hoping that maybe my words will help somebody else realize they aren't alone in the chaos.

Sunday, April 13, 2014



That word has meant a lot of different places for me through the years, and it's pretty likely that it will mean a few more before we settle down. I'm in a place right now where I'm ready for "Home" to become something permanent; I'll be 30 this summer (I'm not sure when that happened...) and I'm more than anxious to get to a point where Nathan and I can put down roots and stop moving our kids around all over the place.

So to get my mind off of the future, I thought I might take a trip down memory lane...would you like to join me?

Home was first a little house in Bentonville before Bentonville became what it is today. Just to show how small this word really is, my first home was 2 houses down from where my sister-in-law lives right now. That first home was a place with next door neighbors who became my third set of grandparents. It was the place where Ralph would take me to get candycorn at the grocery store less than half a mile from the house by way of the airport that was 3-and-a-half miles away. It was a gnarled old tree in Ralph and Velma's front yard where I spent untold hours climbing. It was a big backyard where I picked wild onions and dandelions and it was the neighbors' screen door where my big brother slammed my fingers. I lost a couple of fingernails from that one. It was where I got so dirty playing next door that Velma sprayed me down with the hose before sending me home because she was afraid of what my mom would think. It was Ralph and Velma's bedroom carpet that was so thick your socks would stick to it when you walked and my first bedroom painted purple and with the "big girl bed" I insisted on sleeping in even after I fell out of it. It was the place where I learned about losing someone for the first time when Ralph died when I was just 4.

Next was the blue house in Green Forest, when we went back to the town my parents had always called home. It was a sponge-painted room I shared with my baby sister and countless bike rides I took all over town with my big brother. It was rides home from the library with bags of books hanging from the handlebars. Home then was a trampoline and a balance beam in the back yard. It was a basketball gym until all hours of the night and my mom's painting greeting us on the big stove in the living room. It was the baseball field and allergies all spring and summer and football games and hot chocolate in the fall. It was trips to gymnastics early on Saturday mornings when other kids were sleeping in and then watching cartoons and it was trips to the farm to stay with my cousins. It was RV trips with those same cousins, my big brother, and my grandparents every summer. It was getting in trouble the first time I was allowed to walk home by myself because I thought it would be fine to stop off and see the rabbit in a friend's mom's kindergarten classroom without anyone else knowing. It was where I learned about the strength of a woman fighting cancer and the strength of my mom as she fought just as hard by her mom's side until the very end.

Third was the white house in Bonner, found for us by a woman who later became one of my mom's closest friends. It was a room of my own, albeit a tiny one. It was sleepovers in the basement and an attic fan rattling into the night all summer. It was a giant dog riding in the bed of my brother's truck and then him climbing through the tiny back window when we went into the store to get something. It was being told to wipe my fingerprints off of the chrome when I got out of Michael's old chevy when we pulled into the high school parkinglot. It was cheerleading and swim team and tennis and high school musicals. It was being a preacher's kid and "Little Mike" and all the while trying to figure out my own identity. It was teenage crushes and teenage heartbreaks and basically teenage drama. It was finding out that family doesn't always mean blood relations when I discovered my "other parents" through my best friend. It was discovering that you can go home again, but that it hurts to leave friends behind when you do.

After a short stay with my grandparents, Home #4 was Pleasant Hills Farm. That was where I discovered just how early 3 a.m. really is and how to overcome your fears by jumping into the middle of a holding pen full of massive Holsteins. It was getting a tan while driving a tractor. It was wandering through the fields on days that seemed to pass just a little slower, yet realizing there were never enough hours in the day to get all the work done. It was more cheerleading and bus rides late at night. It was stopping the milking in the morning to watch the sunrise with Pop. It was helping pull calves and then bottle-feeding a dozen hungry babies. It was laying on hay bales and counting stars and being thrown off a horse only to climb right back on. It was high school graduation parties and where the only guy I've ever loved first told me he loved me and where he got down on one knee and asked me to spend my life with him.

Number 5 was a tiny apartment above the barn where I started married life. It was raccoons fighting in the ceiling above our heads at night, rolling down the eaves. It was kittens rescued from the barn out back after hearing them crying through the tiny bathroom window. It was sitting out on the tin roof to watch a storm roll in and sleeping on the futon in the living room because the bedroom was too hot. It was Nathan recovering from surgery only a month into our marriage and me serving my little sister sticky spaghetti when she was our first dinner guest. It was where I was shaken to my core when my brother was killed in Iraq and where my life started being rebuilt on all that was left--a foundation of faith in the God who understood my questions.

#6 was in Coast Guard housing in Astoria, Oregon. It was a duplex and sleeping on couch cushions on the floor until our furniture was delivered from Arkansas. It was trips to waterfalls and taking the rottweiler and great dane to play on the beach in the salty waves and eating razor clamstrips. It was seeing the Goonies house and the elementary school where Schwarzenegger's character went undercover in Kindergarten Cop. It was doctors visits and hospital tests and asking questions for a year to try and get a diagnosis for whatever was causing Nathan's kidney pain. It was learning to bake bread and making chicken and dumplings all the time because it was cheap and baking pies from the blackberries picked from our backyard. Home then was leading youth group at the First Church of the Nazarene just up the road. It was Mount St. Helen's and Mt. Hood and the Colombia River and Portland. It was getting addicted to coffee thanks to the coffee stands on every corner. It was calling home to tell parents they were going to be grandparents and later calling to say we would be coming home because Nathan was being temporarily medically retired from the USCG.

We were back in the barn apartment for #7, this time with a baby girl in a crib in the corner. It was where I became a substitute teacher for a semester before we moved to Home #8 to finish college. That one was an old house in Russellville that was hot all summer and cold all winter, but we moved in with a 1-year-old and it was ours. It was where I cried over bad physics test grades and put my feet up after a long evening waiting tables. It was where my little girl danced and sang with the Backyardigans and where we learned she would have a little sibling when we weren't quite expecting it. It was where Nathan finished his History degree and where I struggled through physics and wondered why did I ever choose this major? #9 was an apartment for the summer in Toledo when I got the chance for an undergraduate research internship. It was where we slept on blow-up mattresses and sat in lawn chairs in the living room. It was where our little boy had his first birthday and where our little girl went on her first date--a movie with her Pa. It was where I got interested in the world of medical physics and where we met family we didn't really know but who took us in anyways. It was where we heard a gun being shot for reasons other than hunting or target practice for the first time.

#10 put us back in Russellville, a 2 bedroom apartment where our babies shared a room and Nathan worked security at night while I finished my Bachelor's. It was where I applied for grad school and where the rejection letters got sent. It was where my kids got to jump on the bed because it was just a mattress on the floor anyways so what could it hurt? It was where I frantically searched for somewhere to teach and where we were blessed with the opportunity to move to Lead Hill so I could teach science.

Home #11 was a 3 bedroom house outside of Lead Hill, a place where we could see the lake from the back deck in the winter once the leaves had all fallen. It was where our little girl started pre-school and where I graded papers. It was where I questioned my sanity for thinking I could ever be a teacher and where I was humbled by the kids I got the privilege of teaching. It was where my baby boy learned that there is such a thing as being too close to the heater when you're trying to warm up after a bath (burned bottoms aren't fun for little boys still in diapers). It was where I cried over not being good enough to teach and where I made my self sick from worrying that I wasn't doing right by my kids and where I learned I had been accepted to grad school and where I wrote a gut-wrenching resignation letter I was terrified to hand in.

#12 took us back to Toledo, the downstairs half of a duplex. It was where I juggled classes for a PhD in physics with being a mom to 2 young kids and being a wife and where I cried because I didn't feel good enough for any of them. It was where I found out that some people have no idea what it means to have kids but will still tell you just what you're doing wrong. It was where I realized that attitudes are contagious when my sweet little girl came home from Kindergarten with an attitude I didn't recognize and where I learned that my creative little girl might just have some issues in school with teachers who want her to always color inside the lines. It was where I learned that my little boy doesn't see skin color when he looks at someone--that the "orange man" is the one wearing an orange shirt and the "black girl" is the girl with the black hair. It was where I realized that I couldn't put my family through 6 years of me juggling them and school and where I switched over to the Masters in Medical Physics even though it meant losing my stipend and being forced to rely on loans for a while.

We're in #13 now, south of Toledo and east of Bowling Green in a 4 bedroom house. So far, this has been where my kids choose to sleep together on the futon in the playroom instead of staying in their own rooms. It's where I've been thrown another curve with the retirement of my advisor (who, of course, was the only one in diagnostic imaging for the medical physics program) but where I've come to realize that the curves are just part of the roller coaster ride that is my life. It's where my little girl has learned to ride without training wheels and where I've gotten to find out just how much both my babies love music of all kinds. It's where my little girl has asked the Savior to be the Lord of her life and where I've been humbled by the faith of one so young. It's where my husband has started working over night because our baby boy still has a few more months here at home before he starts Kindergarten in the fall and where my little girl has once again found that she loves to learn. It's where she climbs 25 feet up a tree in the front yard and where her little brother prefers to keep his feet firmly on the ground, thank-you-very-much. It's where I've published one novel and one devotional and where I'm currently working on typing up a second story to publish soon and where Nathan encourages me to write because he knows that writing is as important to my well-being as breathing (and because he much prefers me sane) and tells me that my stories are good. It's where he'll start his Master's in Education this fall so he can teach history and hopefully coach basketball and it's where he holds me together when I start to fall apart.

I don't know where Home #14 will be, or how soon we will find ourselves there. I don't know if that's where we'll settle, though it's likely there will at least be a #15 for me before we get to set roots.

What I do know, though, is that Home can be all those places at once. Home is family, love, faith, laughter, and tears. It is hard lessons and deep breaths to calm quaking nerves. It is safety and adventure and risk and opportunity. Home is being with the people you love and clinging to the memories of the people you've lost. It may sound quaint and overly simple, but it's true: home is where the heart is.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

I saw love today

I was at McDonalds, of all places, grabbing lunch between classes. Usually if I'm eating somewhere by myself I have a notebook with me. I guess I'm not really alone then, because I get lost in the lives of my characters. Today, though, I hadn't planned on a lunch break that would keep me in the city. We only had class scheduled for the morning, so I didn't have my notebook with me.

So today I got to people watch. Do you ever do that? Just sit back and look at the people around you and wonder if you can get a glimpse of their lives? I don't know, maybe the fact that I do that just makes me nosy. For now, though, I'll just say that it's writing research, a way to make the relationships in my stories seem more like real life.

I was perched on a tall stool by the window and soon the tables beside me started to fill up. The first to sit down was an older man wearing a "Toledo Federation of Teachers" lanyard. When I first walked in he had already been sitting at one table, his things spread across its surface. He had gathered everything back up and moved, though, finding a table tucked away in an area that was sort of sectioned off from the rest of the restaurant--a table which just happened to be in the same area where I was sitting. A couple minutes later an older couple walked in and joined him. It turns out the two men had worked together for years a long time ago, and they had met for lunch every Wednesday ever since. It seemed their conversation picked up right where it had left off, with all three finishing each other's sentences. They were very evidently enjoying the weekly meet up. It was a very clear picture of the love between longtime friends.

Another couple who sat down close by painted a different picture of love. They walked to the table together, him carrying a tray with two chicken sandwiches, a side salad, and two coffees. They sat down across from each other, neither saying anything. He opened her sandwich and then his own, then opened the salad and split it between them. He opened her plastic fork for her and added cream and sugar to her coffee. When she started looking for a napkin, he got up to get it for her. He would bring up something to talk about for a moment, and she would answer him with one or two words. Their quiet lunch together was striking there in juxtaposition to the cheery conversation going on at the table behind them, but there was something beautiful in it. Maybe it was the way he took care of her or their quiet comfortability with one another. Or maybe it was the gold bands shining on the ring fingers of hands sacrificed for one another through the years.

I'm not sure what it was that gave me such a crystal clear glimpse of love, but I'm glad I got to see it.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

aggressive dogs, aggressive sins

Quick, name the most aggressive breeds of dogs.

Don't think about it too much--just name the first breeds that come to your mind when somebody says "aggressive dog."

My guess is, one of these breeds came to mind:

Certain breeds have definitely been vilified lately, named "vicious" by merit of their genes alone.

According to a study done by the University of Pennsylvania a few years ago (and then published in the journal Applied Animal Behavior Science), if those are the dogs that come to mind, you're off a bit... around 100 pounds, give or take a few.

According to their survey of roughly 6,000 dog owners, here's the top 3 most aggressive breeds:
From the AKC
Also from the AKC
From dogbreedinfo

Why don't those little dogs--the dachshund, chihuahua, and jack russell--have the bad reputation instead of the big dogs? Why don't people pull their children away when they see someone walking on the sidewalk with one of these "aggressive" dogs, yet warn them to stay away from the rotties and pits?

If a rottweiler bits someone, it's evident. The damage is there for everyone to see, a glaring reminder of the dangers of big teeth. When a chihuahua bites someone, on the other hand, there's seldom even broken skin left as a reminder.

I think sin is a lot like this.
Every "good Christian" seems to know the hierarchy of sins. At the top you have the most dangerous ones (in no particular order):

As long as you can point to that list and say, "Hey, I'm not doing any of that stuff!" you're good, right?

Just like with the little dogs listed above though, I would argue that it is the "little sins" that are the most aggressive. Sins like:
ugly attitudes
These are the sins that often creep in quietly, able to slip under the radar and hang around for a long time because they don't seem "as bad."

The "big sins" seem worse because their effects are more obvious, but perhaps it's really the "little sins" we should be worried about, the ones that quietly crush our spirits by stealing our joy--or the joy of those around us.

We hear the verse quoted all the time that says God hates homosexuality, but what about these:

"There are six things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to Him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies, and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers." Proverbs 6:16-19

"For I, the LORD, love justice; I hate robbery and iniquity." Isaiah 61:8a

"'I hate divorce,' says the LORD God of Israel, 'and I hate a man's covering his wife with violence as well as with his garment,' says the LORD Almighty." Malachi 2:16

I think it's pretty safe to say that God hates all sin. 

Look at the following verses from Romans:
"Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, He gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed, and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant, and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them." Romans 1:28-32

That's quite a mix of sins in that list, things that would fit anywhere from the very top of the "hierarchy"--God-haters seems to fit there-- to the very bottom--strife? That doesn't seem too bad, right?

The thing is, God says that all of those sins deserve the same punishment.

What's amazing, though, is that God didn't leave us to our sins. He didn't even just stick us with a massive list of rules to follow and sacrifices to make when we mess up.

Instead, He chose to give Christ as the One Pure Sacrifice, the One whose blood was able to cover every sin. Christ chose to suffer death on the cross so we could experience life.

How amazing is that?

Sunday, March 23, 2014

the dreamer and the realist

"I am and always will be the optimist. The hoper of far-flung hopes and dreamer of improbable dreams." ~Doctor Who

It's a strange thing when the two sides of your personality are diametrically opposed. Before you feel the need to call in the white coats for me, let me explain: I'm not talking about split personalities or anything like that (though when I write that may be questionable).

What I'm talking about is the Dreamer--
the one always ready for an adventure, straining to fly when she's told she can't--
in constant competition with the Realist--
the logical one, the one whose feet are planted firmly on the ground, the one who wants constancy.

The Realist is the one who got a BS in physics, taught science to 7th grade and up, and who now sits through classes in medical physics. She is the one who does homework, albeit the night before it is due. The Realist is the one who makes the "smart" choices, like grad school and sensible shoes. She is the one who argues against writing, saying it's a pipe dream
a longshot
too unreliable
and not a realistically viable option.

The Realist is the side of me who makes my hand hesitate, who makes my words unsure because she knows they can never be perfect.

Then there is the Dreamer. She is the one who can't resist a new notebook, the one who scribbles story ideas in the margins of my radiation biology notes.

The Dreamer doesn't care about probabilities, only possibilities.

The Dreamer doesn't care about the smart, responsible choice. She is the one who wants to hide out from the rest of the world with nothing more than a pen (it's the Realist who says bring an extra) and a notebook and just write. The Dreamer is the one who has shoes like these tucked away in the closet:

Can I tell you a secret?

I long for the Dreamer to take over, to silence the Realist. My heart soars when I write, out of reach of all the struggles and responsibilities  of everyday life. I dream of "making it" with my writing, of being able to pour words out onto paper everyday instead of just during stolen hours.

I guess, though, it is the juxtaposition of these two that makes me who I am. The Realist and the Dreamer feed off of one another, and neither would likely survive long on her own.

As is the case with most things in life, I'll search for some kind of balance. The Dreamer will let words stream out across the page, dancing beyond the boundaries of margins. The Realist will steady my hand and keep me grounded, something I suppose is a good thing.

So now, if you'll excuse me, the Realist and Dreamer have conspired together to tuck the kids away with a movie before bed. The homework due tomorrow has been done today, so now come the stolen hours...

Friday, March 21, 2014

20 things I know to be true

*Inspired by Sarah Kay's TED Talk

1) God is "I AM"; I am not.

2) I would give my last breath for my kids.

3) A walk through a cow pasture can make you feel better

4) can chocolate cake.

5) Life is unbelievably, painfully, beautiful.

6) Dreams are hard to catch, but they're worth chasing.

7) Love is always worth fighting for.

8) Family is a blessing

9) ...and family isn't limited to blood relations.

10) "Faith" and "religion" aren't synonyms.

11) Risks are worth taking.

12) Writing is linked to my soul.

13) Microscopes reveal amazing things.

14) A good cup of coffee calms frazzled nerves.

15) It feels good to laugh until it hurts.

16) Reading lets you escape.

17) Sometimes praying is hard.

18) Learning is more important than being well educated.

19) Being afraid and being courageous aren't mutually exclusive.

20) There is much I don't know.

***What about you? Leave me a comment telling me something you know to be true--I would love to hear it!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

old enough for fairy tales

"That's not really my thing, but it's neat that you wrote a book!"

It's always said with a smile, and I'm sure the people saying it are genuinely being nice, but every time I hear those words it stings a little. There's a tiny place in my heart that breaks just a bit more.

We start out on fairy tales--cut our teeth, so to speak, on stories of magic, sword fights, and adventure. They are the stories that fuel young imaginations, that bring a hopeful twinkle to bright, eager eyes. Tales of fantasy inspire dreams and encourage dreamers.

Why, then, do we have such an aversion to them when we "grow up"?

I know I don't help matters any. When someone asks me about my story THE PROPHECY I stammer and stutter. I mutter out something along the lines of, "Oh, it's just a fantasy--you know, kings and sword fights and magic and that sort of thing." Then I change the subject as quickly as possible.

Mostly it's because I am incredibly uncomfortable talking about myself, but part of it is because I expect whoever I'm talking to to say, "I don't read that sort of thing, but good for you for writing a book!"

I'm sure the pictures on the covers of most fantasy novels go quite a way toward driving people away from fantasy. There's only so many books with half-naked people on the front that you can comfortably display on your bookshelf, especially when the scantily-clad people are always holding weapons and facing monsters. In my experience, though, fantasy stories are definitely one place where it's true that "you can't judge a book by its cover."

Besides the covers, you usually find those unpronounceable names; names without vowels or with four vowels in a row (I'm guilty of that a bit myself with names like Paodin, Syndria, and Tundyel). Besides the superficial, I can't really say why so many people avoid reading fantasy. What I can say, though, is what I see in fantasy...

Fairy tales are the stories of dreamers. They are tales of magic, epic adventure, friendship, and loyalty. They are the tales that pull you out of this world and into another, one in which everyone has a destiny to fulfill. They are fulled with sweeping landscapes and people chasing dreams. They are stories of people learning how to become who they are supposed to be, who they need to be.

Fantasies remind us that everything always comes back to the ultimate struggle: good vs. evil, right vs. wrong. They are the stories that tell us to fight for what we believe in. In them we see flawed, imperfect people trying desperately to do what's right.

In fairy tales we see our hopes and dreams. We find encouragement to face the monsters, even when they seem impossible to face. In fantasies we find ourselves.

“I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again." ~C.S. Lewis, in the dedication of THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE to his goddaughter Lucy

****If you haven't gotten a chance to read it yet, THE PROPHECY will be available free for the Kindle Friday and Saturday! I would love for you to pick up a copy and let me know what you think...maybe even if it isn't really your "sort of book." :)