Writing Blog Tour … what???

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So, I have these friends … I actually have a lot of friends who find a creative outlet through writing. The explosion of the blog-a-sphere has allowed many of my uber-talented friends to have a platform with which to express that creativity.

One said friend is a very, very “old” friend … not age-wise. but length wise … we were college roommates for a couple of summers and then some … was asked by another friend to do a “writing blog tour.”

To be honest, the thought of it freaked me out a bit.

See, I fancy myself as “a writer.” But truth be told “a writer” by very definition … writes. And while I have been told I have a way with words … and I’ve done a couple of things that wowed and inspirited “close” friends … but truthfully? As messed up as this idea is, I feel like I’ll only be a “real” writer when I make money doing it, you know?

Yeah, yeah … the monetization of the creative and all. I know, I know … I’ve told many people to NOT pay attention to that .. but in my own little world, I struggle with it all. Anyway … enough psychoanalysis. Back to the writing tour …

So awesome “old friend” Lisa (you can check her out either at: http://mirkwoodreflections.blogspot.com/2014/05/my-writing-process-blog-tour.html or http://cornerstonehomelearning.blogspot.com/2014/05/my-writing-process-blog-tour.html“When do you find the time?”) asked me to do this writing blog tour “thingy.”

It’s pretty simple: answer the following four questions about my writing process:

“Where do you find the time?”
“How long does it take?”
“Where do you get your ideas?”
“Isn’t it hard?”

SIMPLE, right??  *Sigh*

No … NOT simple! Because, to answer these questions, I have to take a good, long, hard look at myself and what I do … and if I even have the right to call myself a writer anymore because quite frankly, my life is a bit chaotic, and I barely write anything anymore unless it’s curriculum for the classes I teach, or brief one-shot comments on Facebook.

So, I decided I’d break these four question apart. That way, I’d eek out at least four (counting this one, five) posts concerning why I write, and what I do in the process.

OK, so tomorrow (or maybe the next day … I’ve got stuff to do tomorrow), I’ll be commenting on “Where do I find the time to write?” That should be a short post … seeing, I never find time to write …

 

 

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Now it’s us

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I remember when the kids were smaller, and we would brave the world of “eating out”. Usually it consistent of bad fast food, hurried restaurants, just-this-side of clean tables … but somehow, it seemed some kind of reprieve from the mundane life and the craziness of all we had swirling around us.

While one of us corralled the children and dealt the condiments, the other would wait at the bar for the “food”. Usually I was there at the table, listening to the multiple conversations my children had, nodding appropriately, answering when I could It seemed that most times, at a table over in the corner of the place, there would be an “older couple,” sitting there, unspeaking and simply meticulously eating their lunch.

I use to pity them. They seemed so … lonely. I would joke that they had probably been together so long they’d run out of things to say. Midst my own chaos, I would rejoice, because I had so much going on. Even in the crazy, I would love on my kids … try to listen closer, engage more, and fear the day that I would be one of those “quiet” couples without any family nearby.

Today, my husband and I went to Wendy’s. Our kids are dispersed literally around the world right now. Even the ones that still sleep at my home most nights have busy schedule. Friends, travel choir, sports … their own lives. So today, we found ourselves flying solo for lunch.

After we ordered, an entire bus of elementary school children and their parents came in. Chaos ensued … the noise, the clutter, the chatter! One young family set near us … Dad, Mom, a five-year old, a two-year old and a tiny baby. Happy, loud, not getting their order right … frustration with one another, working to keep the kids occupied.

And there the DH and I sat. Quietly sharing a fry. Savoring the chili. Not talking a whole lot, but simply being together on this gray day. Later the busy would hit. It was a uniquely unscheduled day for us, and to just sit there, the two of us, for just a brief minute was … refreshing. We watched, smiling at the two-year old. DH went to get more soda, and I just marinated in the atmosphere for a few.

It wasn’t lonely at all. It was … refreshing.

Yeah, I miss my kids. But those days aren’t over … they’re just fewer and farther between. I treasure the time together and greatly anticipate the crazy-busy summer that’s just over the horizon for us. But for a brief moment, the quiet couple in the corner was us.

And it wasn’t half bad.

Sometimes….

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There are “mass” killings at train stations in China this week (30 at one…5 at the one we were at only 4 weeks ago). Understand guns are not allowed..these killings took place with knives.
I talked to my kids there & they said the climate has changed again for Americans (thanks to our over site of not offering our sympathies over the tragedy, the the situation in the Ukraine). They are to “be extra careful” …to not pronounce they are Americans this week…
A couple of weeks ago, there was a shooting at the apartment building my daughter lives at in Oklahoma. Everyone we personally know was fine…
Friends have tragically lost loved ones this last week.
I sit in my local Thai place, sipping Aloe, a taste I acquired on our recent China trip. Quiet, except for the radio and the Thai cook who is singing Motown in the kitchen…a thousand things swirling in my head, the most pronounced loving my kids who are so far from home… Making plans for their return to the home hearth this summer via texts, pictures and stories.

Sometimes…sometimes my heart hurts and I’d trade quite a lot to be sitting in a noisy McDonald’s play land, eating crappy food, just to have them all running around me chaotically, crying and laughing and eating more ketchup than is healthy for any human to consume.

I know they’re going to be OK.

But sometimes…

I want to write a book.

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One of my absolute worse memory of college was a certain professor.

While I’m fairly sure he’s passed by now (he seemed quite ancient years ago), I will not mention his name. Let’s call him Dr. D. Dr. D. was a funny guy … I had him for many of my communication and writing courses. Most of the stuff I took from him was required, you know? So after my first run-in with him, I researched my major courses and, to my horror, I saw I would have him every year — nearly every semester — of my entire college career.

Here was the problem with Dr. D. I was a writer. I wanted to be a writer since I was in seventh grade, and my teacher encouraged some independent projects I had done. I pursued journalism, ’cause, you know, it would be a way to actually make money while I worked “secretly” on the next great American novel. I was set in my path …took every available English and literature and writing course available throughout high school … even did a couple independent studies (a whole semester with Robert Frost? Yes, please …). Imagine my excitement when the college I finally chose had a brand new writing major offered. yourself

When I encountered Dr. D. my sophomore year of college, I was well set on my career path. I wasn’t one of those “let me think about changing my major” kind of kids. For all my rabble-rousing and … experimentation … I was a solid student who got good grades and depended on an academic scholarship to keep me in school. I was involved in on-campus stuff … I worked part-time. So I was focused on NOT dropping out of my love, which was writing.

I really tried in Dr. D’s classes. I got my stuff in on time. I worked on projects. I tried to be creative. I answered stuff in class. I did all the required reading. And I still couldn’t for the life of me get an “A” in his classes. All the jocks got “A’s”. Some of the students I did group projects with got “A’s.” I perceived that I had done something to piss Dr. D. off.

Finally, after weeks of deliberating with myself, I made an appointment with him. It was perhaps one of the scariest things I’d done in my entire college career. We sat in his stuff office … I was quiet, and he finally said, “What seems to be the problem, Ms. Walker?” (my maiden name).

“I … ah …” I stammered. I was not used to being a stammerer. He was intimidating, and I perceived that this man stood between me and my dream. “I was wondering what I would have to do to get a decent grade in your class.”

He looked at me. He smiled, and asked, “I believe I’ve been more than fair in your grades for your projects.” It was true. I was a solid “B” student in his classes. But at that time in my life, before I realized what was truly important in life (the living, not the grade), I was driven for that grade point.

“A ‘B’ isn’t bad … but…” I paused again. He set their with a smug smile on his face. I remember thinking, “This guy enjoys messing people’s lives up …” I took a breath. “I’d like to do better, Sir. I’d really like to 4-point your classes. And I know you give ‘A’s’. And…” I paused, because I was frustrated, but determined to continue. “I think you’ve been grading me unfairly for the amount of work I put into your projects.”

He leaned back. He brought his hands together, and thoughtfully considered his answers. At the time, I say it as his attempt at making me feel insignificant. Now, I realize he was probably trying to respond without blowing my immature ignorance up in my face.

“Ms. Walker …” he began. “I do grade you differently than most of my other students. I agree.”

I was shocked. I didn’t know what to say. Everything in me was fighting back tears. I refused to cry in front of this horrible man. I was taking mental notes to share with the Academic Dean later. I would get this guy kicked out. He was sitting in front of me, admitting he was unfair and bias against me.

“Would you like to know why I do so?” I was quiet, but managed a nod.

“I have seen from your first class with my that you are a gifted writing. You have a wonderful way with words, and are a very good communicator. However, you lack the discipline it takes to truly be a great writer. My withholding ‘easy’ grades for you is my attempt to make you understand that it will take more than raw talent to succeed as a writer. You will need to develop good practices. You will need to hone your craft. You will need to really, truly want it if you are to succeed.” He continued looking at me.

But I didn’t know what to say.

At that point, I realized that he was right. OK, not at that point. I was angry, and all I could think of was I was lazy, and incompetent and “he” would keep me from accomplishing all I dreamed of. As my anger subsided, I began hearing different voices. How I couldn’t do it. How the idea of being “a writer” was ridiculous for me. I began letting up. No, I still did well in my classes. I think I may have ended up even getting one “A” from Dr. D. But it was at that point I think I lost the drive to really, truly write for a living. I think I thought I could never do it … because I could never figure out the discipline of it all.

I went on … did a lot of writing. But I have to be honest, all these years later, I still think about his comments whenever something becomes hard. Especially a writing project.

I’ve done a lot. I’ve been married nearly 27 years. Raised four amazing children. Survived a life of ministry for 26 years. Used my skills (mostly unpaid) for lots of people’s’ benefits. I mean, I write all the time. But I haven’t yet been able to crack my personal code on what it would take for me to really, truly wrestle all the thousands of ideas I have in my head down and onto a page.

It’s not that life is empty. But it’s definitely incomplete.

So I’m attempting to come to terms with it all. I hit a “magic” life mark this year. There’s a ton going on in my personal life. I’ve been able to find things to make money, but while they have been exciting and nearly fulfilling much of the time, there is a void.

A void that I know I can fill. A void that has been unappeasable for so many years. But something I’m coming face to face with, realizing I am the only one who can do it. I will need to remind people around me that this “discipline” issue will bring fruit in many areas of my life. But it’s time to tame the proverbial monsters of my memory and prove Dr. D. wrong.

Not for him, anymore. But for me.

Overwhelmed …

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It’s Sunday. That means I’m not usually on social media in the morning (except “Postsecret,” of course … ).

So today, when I finally got on my computer, I found this on my page:

Gina, I LOVE that you are a visionary parent. I love seeing/reading how you help your children navigate into adulthood, fulfilling their dreams, even though it means they are far away. How blessed they are to have your love and support and encouragement and help as they establish themselves. It encourages me to keep in mind a bigger picture for my boys. It’s one thing for me to tell them they can be and do anything they want, it’s a whole other thing for me to believe in them enough to help them gain experiences that will open doors for them. Thanks for being an example of what a Godly mother does to be a visionary parent.

I didn’t know what to say. My friend, Candice is an amazing woman in her own right. She and her husband are raising three beautiful boys while they both work, are avid runners, camp, enjoy a full life –and an occasionally cake ball, but that’s another story…I see this young family in the midst and throws of life with little kids, and I remember what it was like.

I’m not going to lie. “Visionary parenting” was never in my vocabulary when the kids were little. Most days I was like most moms … happy to get a shower, get them dressed, fed and keep them from killing one another. We did make some intentional choices, it’s true. My biggest one was to NOT do many things I had seen my parents do (or to do those things they didn’t). My folks were great, don’t get me wrong. But I did take from them some very definite ideas about the kind of parent I wanted to be.

I do remember a lot of sacrifices. Even today, I still wonder if some of the choices I made were right. Should I have home schooled them? Did they “miss out” on good stuff? Should I have worked more? Taught them more? Made them more (or less) self-reliant? I remember reading somewhere that, “Behind every great kids is a mother sure she screwed them up.” Yes … I see that hand in the mirror.

Looking back, I have to admit there was some intentionality in place. Who we surrounded our kids with (because they all need other adults than their parents). What opportunities we made happen for them (travel …camp … trips… lessons). What classes we studied … what books we read … and the constant, never-ceasing dialogue that I’m quite sure they got tired of (probably still).

And yes … telling them anything was possible. Giving them a sense of their place in the bigger world picture. Helping them know the universe wasn’t about them … but reminding them of a sure and definite purpose they had. Trying to help them never doubt they were here for something bigger … maybe not grandiose, but important none-the-less.

I can’t even formulate the words that would let you know how proud I am of the people my kids are. And it’s not about the cool stuff they do. Or the way they are self-reliant and prepared for the “real world,” whatever that means. Yeah, all that is important — cool. They are all brilliant and gifted in different ways. They are all seeking God’s direction in their lives. That’s great, don’t get me wrong.

But the thing I love most about my kids are that, while I might have been a “visionary parent,” they have this innate ability to make me know I couldn’t have done anything more important with my life. I see that most, when it’s just the six (now seven!) of us, sitting around, laughing, being stupid. Or when the three oldest graciously bring “significant others” into our family and I stand back and am so proud of the choices in friends and partners they have made. Or when it’s just me and one of them … and they pour out their hearts and dreams and their own visions for where they are going.

It’s priceless, my friends.

So today, I will rejoice in the beautiful complement my friend has paid me. I will turn the praise back to my husband, my support system, and my God. They are all equal partners in this journey. And I will look forward with eager anticipation as to “whatever” will come next for my kids and I. And … I will quietly be overwhelmed at the goodness in my life.

Turn the page …

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I have a birthday coming up. I’m NOT going to say exactly how old I’ll be, because most days (with a good color job) I can pass for younger … but let’s just say it’s a “major” milestone … and zero years have not been traditionally good to me.

But this one’s going to be different.

I was thinking today about my last zero birthday. We had just survived what was perhaps the most traumatic time in our lives. Actually, on my birthday, I wasn’t 100% sure I was going to yet survive. We had been moved from a job we’d loved for 10 years, a beautiful house, and a church congregation we had grown up with and loved into a quaint but cold and leaky little rental (provided for by some very generous friends). Christmas that year had been made possible by some other extremely generous friends. We were without work, without moorings, and I was personally  without much hope.

I had been left numb. I still had my loving husband … but he was distant and depressed and fighting his own demons at the time. I had my four beautiful children … but they were young, and they had been my priority throughout the tough times, so while they “knew” something was wrong, I tried my hardest to make their transition as smooth as I could. That meant holding back most things the best I could, and attempting to keep their lives “normal.” I had fabulous friends who tried their best to support and love us, but their lives continued on, somewhat disrupted, but they held hope in what was to come.

I tried. I tried to find something to hope in. But I felt (right or wrong) abandoned by my family, my friends and my God. People tried to help. But no one else lived in that house, and in my head. I took a job I hated to help support the family — a job that compromised my own children and my time with them. They were often left to fend for themselves, because neither of their parents were capable of truly being “there” for them.

It was a dark time.

And now, looking at another zero birthday, I am happy to say I’ve turned the page. Turned quite a few, to be honest.

My “little” kids are now big … one married, one in college, one a senior and the last in high school. And I’ve picked up another one! We are now in a community where the people are broken and imperfect, but my God they know how to love, and laugh, and live authentically alongside us. I’ve stopped trying to “be” something I can never obtain, and work daily on being who I am. I have a stray cat who makes his home with us, and he is a great comfort many days. I cook … I love to cook. I love good coffee, and building into the lives of amazing “kids” that are my children’ friends, and a special group of young career men and women that challenge me and push me to not get old. I write, but not books (not yet, anyway). I take pictures that make people happy, and let them remember important events in their lives, and that chronicle our lives in living color. I learn … this is my year to learn Italian, to sew aprons, to craft more and perhaps even embark on a new career.

And I have people in my life that have made it rich, and full and stand in the face of my statement 10 years ago that I was “done making friends” and heartily laugh. And I join them, because I was so very wrong.

I’ll celebrate this zero year with my feet on foreign ground. My husband and I are headed to China to see our oldest and his beautiful wife. We’re going to eat street food, experience the ancient quiet of a Buddhist temple, and stand in Tiananmen Square, soaking in the history. I’ll miss my other three, to be sure. But the opportunity to personally drink in one of the oldest cultures in the world draws me even against my apprehensions and fears.

It’s been a long, hard week among the members of my community. Sad passings — relatives, spouses, livelihoods — and I know people who are reeling and hurting and I hurt alongside of them.

I want to tell them so badly to not lose hope. I want them to know that life will never be the same … but life will go on. I want to stand beside them as their grieve, but also reassure them that eventually, they will be able to “turn the page” as well and look forward to whatever comes next. I want to tell them these things because I know.

I know because I’ve been there. I know what it feels like to drag myself through dark day after dark day. To want to run, to give up, to just stop. But they shouldn’t. They can’t. Because each day … each year … brings a new chance, a new opportunity … a new page.

 

 

New Year

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I love this holiday! Everything is possible … even the improbably is possible every January 1st. Last year was good … full of ups and downs and joy and sorrow. Like most years. But different.

The word for 2013 was “transitions.” I had my first-born graduate from college … and acquired my first daughter-in-law! My first two move away from home … my third begin his senior year and my last begin high school. My first child and his wife became the first in our family to live overseas (in China).  My elderly dad settled in for what will be the remainder of his life with us.

I’ve wrestled with who I am … nothing new for 2013, mind you, but I could physically feel a shift this year, like when you are standing still and the entire world slides a bit under you. It wasn’t like standing in the ocean, when all the sand is sucked from under your feet and you’re not sure if you’ll be standing for long. No, this was a slide into a new paradigm. All this wrestling and contemplation has left me different. Better, I think. I guess we’ll see.

What’ll 2014 hold? Last year went out wrought with tragedy for many people we love. Sadness visited more than one home we care deeply for, and it drove home for me the shortness of life … the importance of each and every moment. In the quiet week that is between Christmas and New Year, we had time of respite … while our kids were dispersed, my DH and I spent a lot of time just … being. It doesn’t happen very often. I treasured those times, know the crazy will be at our doorstop in no time at all.

I’m learning to hold moments close … I think my word for 2014 will be “savor”. The food, the moments, the laughs and yes, even the tears and melancholy because those times serve as contrast for the good. I want to savor the lives that intersect mine … I want to savor new experiences, new foods, new hobbies and new lessons. I want to hold those times close, let them flow over me so that I can take them in and treasure them.

Happy new year, friends and family! Like you’ve seen, it’s a gift of potential and possibilities. Don’t squander it.

Most asked questions.

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This is from my China kids. Some if you don’t subscribe to them, but you should! Their take on daily life abroad is insightful, funny, and educational!!! Enjoy!!

Bare Feet to the Road

Marissa & Wes:

– What is yours apartment like?

Our apartment is one of our favorite places to be. Its our little bit of “America” and comfort on hard days. It’s comparable to an American apartment. There are eight apartment buildings all by each other where all of the foreign teachers live, some of the Chinese teachers live, and even some of our students’ families live. We live in a twelve story building, and our apartment is on the tenth floor. Our living room has a sectional, a tv (that isn’t connected to any channels) and a balcony that you can see our school from. Our dining room has a table big enough for four chairs to fit around, the fridge – which is a little smaller than most American fridges – and the water cooler, or, “water machine” (you cannot drink the water in china so everyone has a water machine…

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It’s here …

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(reposted from a Facebook Note):

Let me preface this by saying I understand that, in the grand scheme of life and death, these things are small. My children are alive, healthy, and I still have 3 1/2 years until my youngest disembarks the home hearth for “her” life. I got it. There could be so much more tragedy and pain, I know … I know.

 

That being said … this has been the summer of great joy … and great sadness for me. There has been a graduation or two … a wedding … an nephew’s engagement … my final two entering high school  … and the two oldest leaving home.

 

My daughter is happily adjusted in Oklahoma. She is working, going to school, and learning to live near the boy she believes will become her husband someday soon. I love them both desperately, and am excited to see how this years molds them, builds them, and grows them. We text pretty much daily. We skype ever week or so. I even get to see her in a couple of weeks, when two friends and I hit the road in my cute little VW diesel bug for a “mom’s only” road trip.

 

My son and his wife have been on an odyssey of sorts. They had planned months ago to move to China to teach English. They made preparations, they filled out their paperwork. They purged through their stuff time and time again. And they were prepared to leave August 21.

 

But the Visa didn’t come.

 

So, they reassessed. They adjusted jobs. They made phone call after phone call to their Chinese employers. To the airline. To the Visa place. To the employers … literally hours and hours of phone calls. Trepidation over whether they should even go. Finally, the plans set in place. They were leaving September 10.

 

And the Visa didn’t come.

 

So they delved deeper into frustration and questions and all those things that surface when plans are not quite what we thought. They weathered this time with grace and beauty and patience and love. They were simply incredible through this experience. They were gracious with their families. They were encouraging. They were persistent. They were here for things they hadn’t planned to be … to see my daughter move out first … they went to their first Tiger’s game together … they spent precious, deep time with us and me a gift I could never, ever repay. All with great love.

 

And then last week … the Visa came. And today, we drive them to an airport, and put them on a plane for a 25 hour epic adventure that will find them waking up two days from now in Wuhan, China. A half a world away from me. For almost 10 months. They are filled with great joy … and great apprehension.

 

And I am 3/5th empty as another part of my heart flies far away.

 

So, just a moment of grief. Just a moment of reflection. I have so much to do … son #2 is preparing for graduation … searching colleges … finishing high school. Daughter #2 is well into her freshman year … making friends … surviving chemistry … stretching and learning.

 

And all around me life goes on. People live, people die …hopes and dreams are built and achieved and adjusted and let go. So much swirling, changing, and yet oddly standing still while I watch my little boy board a plane with the love of his life to fly far, far away physically, and paradoxically drill his way deeper into my heart.

 

So, today is the day. Finally, the day they’ve waited for … and yet another day I’ve dreaded. Chin up, though. It’s good. It’s good, and healthy and the beginning of an adventure of a lifetime for them. I know all of this. You don’t have to remind me.

 

It’ll just take a little time.

 

Not so far away

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Last night (this morning?) I had the opportunity to Skyp with my kids who are currently teaching in China. They are well … adjusting. It’s a lot to be in your early twenties, and thrown into a new culture to teach their next generation of scholars and leaders. But they are adjusting well, and are actually enjoying their transition.

Early in the week, I helped my daughter who lives in Oklahoma on a class-end project via Skyp. We talked, laughed, and I got to reassure her that yes, she is as brilliant as I tell her, and to see her sweet, sweet face as we worked though grammar and structure. I was reassured … she’s a long, long way from home and I miss being able to just be with her. 

My other two kids are still in high school. One leaves next year, the little One is sure her path will take her to Europe, England, Ireland … who knows? All I know is my breath quickens when we talk, and I beg her to give me a little space and time. We do, after all, have three years to figure it all out … 

When I was growing up and moving out, my parents were lucky to get a weekly phone call from me. I hate talking on the phone … I would write an occasional letter, most of which I found after my mom died in her dresser … sorely few of them. 

I am thankful … oh, so very thankful … that I live in a time when my kids who are 19 and thirty hours from me are only a quick click away … that we can share the mundaneness of life. Just before the kids left for China, all my chicks here called the girl and her boy in Oklahoma, and told each other stupid jokes, laughing and making faces just like they do when they are all sitting around my living room, watching chick flix or eating my husband’s homemade caramel corn. 

So, in the midst of this traumatic transition of life for me, I have come to realize that thankfully, these beautiful children of mine really aren’t that far away. I can still see them, talk to them, look into their eyes and remind them of how precious they are to me. Sure, I can’t hug them … but I will again, before long. Thanks to Estonian developers Ahti HeinlaPriit Kasesalu, and Jaan Tallinn, Danish Janus Friis, and Swedish Niklas Zennström, who had also originally developed Kazaa … the forerunner to what we know as Skyp. 

Today, I’m just a little more content.