why red pen is love

I’ll never forget the first time someone tore apart my writing. I sent an editor what I thought to be a complete masterpiece. Surely, she would be so in awe of my incredible skill and wit that the only response she could possibly elicit would be, “This is delightful in every single way. I can’t even believe you came up with this. I have nothing but positive things to say.”

Fortunately (in hindsight), that was not her response. My piece came back full of red ink. It was covered with suggestions, feedback, and then some sentences like, “This sentence is weak,” “I don’t know where you’re going here,” “This is not clever, it’s just confusing,” and, “Take this out. It doesn’t add anything.”

My stomach dropped.

How could she not be utterly impressed by my work? Why did she hate me so much? 

After my pride had taken a massive (needed) hit, I read her suggestions. I thought about them, incorporated them, and then sent the piece back to her, with a little bit of fear and trembling.

Her response?

“Much better. Good work.”

As I’ve been in practice of editing other people’s work for almost four years, I know this look of shock well. I recognize the eyes that say, “How could you? Do you not love me?” when I give something back to someone with some suggestions. And then I empathetically remind them of the helpful truth I discovered several years ago: red pen is actually a form of love.

In my writing (and in my life), red pen symbolizes something much bigger than some scribbles on a page. It means that the person I’ve entrusted to give me honest, critical feedback is taking precious time out of their day to help make me better. Seriously. They’re intentionally investing energy that they could be giving to 1,000 other things. They don’t only want to make me a better writer, but also a more thoughtful communicator and person. I have significant blind spots that I cannot recognize without people I trust speaking into my work.

I’m on my way home from speaking at a high school conference, and before I went, I knew that needed input from leaders and communicators I respect and trust. So I sent it off to several friends, asking for their perspective, and gave them permission to give me brutal and direct feedback. They delivered, in full. One pointed out a significant blind spot of mine, and because of his advice, I rewrote nearly four paragraphs of content to make the narrative stronger and more compelling. One gave some caution about a simple word change that could help me not lose the room, and it worked. I wouldn’t have known or seen these things without their input.

If getting feedback hurts sometimes, I get it. I’m with you. Hear me: red pen is love. It’s a sign that someone is invested in your growth and development and that he not only cares about you, but he wants you to be better. At its core, feedback (in all its forms) is simply information we need that we cannot get on our own.

So embrace the red pen, friends. Ask for it often, no matter your craft. It’s a form of love and respect.

where else would I go?

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I feel like it is my duty to show you this picture.

I’ve been a journaler since I could write legibly, and I have the elementary pre-teen angst journals to prove it. They’re mostly filled with elaborate stories about boys I liked and American Girl dolls I wanted, but in between all the elementary crazy, there’s a question or two tucked in those pages about the meaning of life and spiritual curiosity. We grew up going to church on occasion, and we always showed up for the big holidays, Christmas and Easter. We dressed in our best, sang carols, and read the story of baby Jesus coming into the world as a yearly tradition.

Ever since I was a little kid, I loved learning about this big, infinite God who created everything there ever was. In my little eyes—I could never get enough of him. For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to know God. I’ve been curious about what God had to do with the human existence, if anything at all. As a fourth grader, I can remember being up late at night wondering if life had meaning, if any of this was real, and if the way I saw the color red was the same way someone else saw the color red. I was a spunky, philosophical little thing, asking adults questions like, “Do you think God exists?” as icebreakers to conversation.

During my middle school years, a family friend invited some of us to attend church with them one weekend. I’d never heard of a “Christian” church before, and coming from a very mainline Protestant background–those evangelical-types always seemed a little funny to me. It was everything I didn’t recognize or understand; people were dressed in jeans and approaching God like a familiar friend instead of a frightening man in the sky. I envied the way they spoke of God, as if they are referring to someone they’d just been with that morning, and I wanted to know if I could have access to a God like that.

When the worship leader got up to lead us in music, everyone all around me started singing right out loud, which was startling at first. A few raised their hands, some sang while sitting, and a small crowd quietly hummed to themselves. Because I loved music, I sang along with them, and wondered if the God they were all singing to could hear me, too.

I don’t remember anything about the sermon that day, but I do recall picking up a Bible for myself that morning and reading it with my own eyes. The first thing I read was in Romans 10:11-13, “For the scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between the Jew and the Greek, for the same Lord is Lord of all, who richly blesses all who call on him. For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” I couldn’t stop reading. I took a Bible home with me that morning and poured over its pages for the next several weeks.

I met Jesus that year.

I was in seventh grade, and seventh grade is a particularly cruel time in anyone’s life—much less a girl’s. Seventh grade was a hard year for me for all kinds of reasons, but mostly because in lots of ways, I felt like I was losing my sense of home. Although my parents tried their best to maintain stability through the divorce (and I can never thank them enough for that), there was an inevitable piece that always felt broken and torn, no matter how much we wanted to put it back together. I had two addresses instead of one, different closets, different school busses—all kinds of different, really, and I had the zits to prove it.

But there on that Sunday morning, Jesus became my home. And every time I come to write, I come back to that truth—that there in my awkward years of wearing leopard-print pants with clogs (true story), Jesus met me. It was a naïve and simple faith, but it was Jesus all the same.

I’ve grown since then. My understanding of who Jesus is has continued to change and evolve, my perspective of God is bigger and richer, and in many ways harder and more complex. I don’t believe there’s a simple answer to everything anymore and there are days I actually long for the simple faith of my youth. But even still–even in the midst of my existential wandering, questions, and doubts, every time I come back to the Word, he is there, reminding me. Jesus is my home.

As I prepare my heart for Advent this year, I’m reminded of the picture at the end of John 6 when Jesus is talking to his disciples. At that point, many of his followers had decided he was no longer worth following, and Jesus says to them, “You don’t want to go away too, do you?” And Peter replies, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life.” I relate so much to Peter in this exchange–as I continue to grow and pursue God, I’ve watched people walk away from Jesus or just quietly drift into a faithless sleep. And I’ve drifted, too, of course–I’ve been in and out of a vibrant faith, sometimes even crawling my way back to trusting and believing God. But Peter’s words to Jesus touch me. When the uncertainty or pain of life feels like it might swallow me whole, I am just like Peter, saying, “Where else would I go, Lord? You are my home.”

During this Advent season, it has not escaped me that regardless of our circumstances, or no matter how far away God feels sometimes, he is not like our feelings. He is so much more, so much bigger. We can have as much of God as we want, and he withholds no good thing from us. 

My husband and son, reading Unwrapping The Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp
My husband and son, reading Unwrapping The Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp

a deep sigh of relief

a deep sigh of relief

We took a little four-day vacation this week, and I finally put my money where my mouth is: I turned off email, deleted social media from my phone, and reduced the noise and clutter. I filled the silent spaces with nothing but thoughts, prayer, books, and laughter. I let myself be bored and remembered that the world doesn’t always need me.

Verdict: it was good.

Isn’t that a humbling thought? The world can go on without us. Happy fall to you, friend, wherever you find yourself today. I sincerely pray the same for you–a deep sigh of relief in a manic and rushing world.

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. –Matthew 10:29-31 (ESV)

what i’m listening to, watching, and reading | march & april

Spring took a really long time to emerge this year, and I will be the first to say that wow, I was struggling. If I saw snow one more day, the suitcases were coming out. I have always loved cold weather and seasonal change, except this year when the snow held on for dear life, I wondered if my flesh was actually going to leave an imprint on our living room walls. (I clearly do not exaggerate.) And since having a tiny person makes it harder to leave your house in the winter months, we may or may not have made a “game” out of bath time. Twice a day. But actually, we have a pass to the Indianapolis Children’s Museum and our church has an unbelievable indoor park, so we took serious advantage of those things the past couple months.

As I look back on the past couple of months, I feel all kinds of grateful. While they have certainly been long and dreary, they have also been full of growth and (necessary) change. And most of it has come from what I’m listening to and reading, so I’m excited to share some of those things with you, as well. Here’s what I’ve been into the past couple of months…

Listening… The podcast rage has continued, so first up, N.T. Wright. One of his fans collected a bunch of his (free) talks/sermons and put them in podcast form. Thank you, fan, I am loving it. Also, The Art of Simple with Tsh Oxenreider. She’s taken a little break from podcasting this month, but since I recently discovered this podcast, I’ve been digging through the archives. There are lots of others I could pass along, but the simpler the better, so we’ll start there.

Watching… Only two shows are happening around these parts, Parenthood and Mad Men. It’s true, I live-tweet my heart out during Parenthood and ruin the show for people with DVR or Hulu+. Apologies all around. The season finale was this past week, which means you are now set free of my Twitter feed. (Although, I won’t be offended if you unfollow me. If it was possible, I would unfollow myself.) And to my fellow Mad Men friends, what did you think about the first episode of Season 7? I have so many thoughts but I want to wait for the next few episodes to flesh them out. I will say this: if the series ends with Don jumping off a building, I will spontaneously combust. (As a side-note: being married to a history teacher and watching Mad Men is the greatest combination. Right when the opening scene started this past week, Kyle casually whispered, “Oh okay, this is right before Nixon’s inauguration.” I’m sorry, what? He just knows everything.)

Reading… Our life group has been going through the gospel of Matthew this month, so that’s been at the top of my list and where my heart is really resting. But the reading challenge continues, and Kyle is winning by a long shot. I’m in the middle of The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger and he is… almost finished with my list. His self-discipline and fast-reading skills are unmatchable, so I should have known. I’m also reading Every Good Endeavor by Tim Keller, Sabbath as Resistance by Walter Brueggeman, and On Writing by Stephen King. And I should also mention here one of my new favorite cookbooks, The Kinfolk Table by Nathan Williams, which is full of unfussy, understated recipes from people all over the world.

Eating… We’ve established that I go in phases, right? Okay, so now I’m in a homemade biscuit, blueberry crisp, and sparkling water phase. All three of those things, all day every day.

Needing… Since I’ve mentioned laundry almost every time here, I will say instead that I clearly need a laundry system. Help, friends. HELP. I am open to all suggestions and will consider throwing out most of our clothes.

Feeling… Grateful for spring, the fresh air, our life group, our church family, and our back porch.

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it’s back: what i’m listening to, watching, and reading | february

It’s been a while, and I’ve missed doing these posts. In many ways, they serve as a reminder for me of how I’ve grown, what I’ve learned, and ways I’ve continued to change. So I’m bringing it back! Here’s what I’ve been listening to, watching, and reading this past month.

Listening… These days, it’s all about podcasts. For everything. Spiritual growth, parenting, friendship, writing, literature, family dynamics–you name it, there’s a podcast for it. When I’m home with Keegan, doing laundry, cooking, cleaning, etc., I’ve started listening to podcasts in the background as a way of practicing soul-care.

Watching… Parenthood took a little hiatus this month for the Olympics and so television has fallen to the wayside. Have I ever told you all about how my extended family keeps a running email dialog about The Bachelor? Well, they do, and it’s amazing (my grandmother has the best commentary of all). I tried to watch this season just to keep up, but I was so bored I fell asleep. So I’ve been watching recaps from Kristen and Sarah because they’re far more entertaining and I have a friend-crush on them both.

Reading… In case you missed it, Kyle and I are in the middle of a little reading challenge, so I started off with The Calvin and Hobbes 10th Anniversary Book. And I love itAlso on my nightstand now is Song of the Exile by Karen Davenport and a couple other books for work. I confess: it’s been almost four years since I’ve read a fiction novel, which is just gross. I’m back in the groove and it feels good.

Eating… It’s true, I needed some extra incentive to lose the baby weight from Keegan. I mean–let’s just call a spade a spade, I gained 70 (!) pounds during pregnancy. It was outrageous. So I’ve been using Weight Watchers for the past six months and I love it! It helps me keep a balanced perspective when it comes to my body and lose weight in a healthy way.

Wearing… Stitchfix. I went on a purging rampage this past fall and got rid of so much stuff. And this sounds ironic, right? Like I purged everything to just buy more things? It’s actually been the opposite. I got rid of the sizes that will never fit me again, the clothes that just look ridiculous, stopped shopping clearance racks, and got rid of anything that had been sitting on a hanger for a year. If I hadn’t worn it, I said goodbye to it. Extra bonus? I consigned as much as I could and earned some extra cash. Insert Stitchfix. It really is like it sounds: a personal stylist delivered to your door. I’ve only done it a couple of times, and probably won’t for another year or so, but the items they sent me (particularly pants because wow pants and I struggle) fit so well and I wear them nonstop. If you do decide to do it, here’s my advice: be as specific as possible, use Pinterest to your advantage (the stylists look at your style board to get inspiration for what to send you), and put a realistic price for your budget.

Needing… To start and finish the laundry. We’ve got a situation here, people.

Feeling… Grateful and excited about things to come. I’ve joined a writing group and continue to learn from the amazing women from The Influence Network. We had a local meet-up recently (photo by Kaitlyn Meeks) and it was fun to just learn and hear about what other women in my community are doing.

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Enjoying…My job. I get to work with an unbelievable team of creative people and can be found pinching myself on a weekly basis.

What about you? What are you enjoying these days? Listening to? Reading?

on working and mothering

Back in October, I was out to lunch with baby in tow when I overheard a conversation that usually makes me cringe. It was between two moms, and they were going back and forth about their other mom-friends, when one of them said, “It’s just sad to me that ________ doesn’t really get to spend time with her kids, you know… because she’s chosen to work and have someone else raise them.”

Oh, for the love.

I’ve been at this “working and mothering” thing for almost a year now, and I have big feelings about it. But before we get into my big feelings, I want to start by saying–hopefully with humility and grace–that this entire conversation is a privileged one. As human nature goes, we tend to insulate ourselves with people who look and talk like us, and forget that others live with many different realities. In 2012, only 64% of children lived in a home with two married parents. And of that 64%, quite a few lived beneath the poverty line. So, let’s start there.

Here’s my other disclaimer: I very much have an equal partner. When Kyle is out of town, it’s a felt loss. When he comes home from work, he picks Keegan up and spends time with him. Kyle does laundry, unloads the dishwasher, pays most our bills, and does almost all the outside work. I know that I am fortunate to have someone who is fully invested, and I do not take him for granted. He champions me, encourages me, and supports me. Let’s just admit it: without him, this conversation would look a lot different. I know that.

When we found out we were having Keegan, we began seeking advice and praying about how to tackle the working/mothering decision. If you haven’t caught on by now–I love advice, and sometimes to a fault I can’t make a decision without at least five people weighing in. So I asked many women, mostly those who were older than me, and they all had different responses with many contrasting circumstances. Some never entertained the question because their family couldn’t afford it. One couldn’t get a work visa because she wasn’t an American citizen, so the decision was made for her. Some worked part-time, in and out of the home, and some stayed home full-time or worked full-time. In every scenario, they were all mothers raising their children, regardless of logistics.

Three months after Keegan was born, I was given an amazing opportunity to do what I love with very flexible hours. And for us, it’s the perfect balance. I work part-time and our childcare situation is wonderful. I truly could not ask for a better person to watch our son while I’m working. And here’s my big conclusion: IT’S ALL GOOD. I believe every single mother should make the choice based on what is right for her family, her own unique makeup, and her family’s financial situation. We’re all sacrificing, and every woman’s decision will look different because she is different, and so is her family.

For some women, their dream includes the minivan with crushed up goldfish and that is beautiful and worthy and true. And for others, their dream might be that but their reality demands something else, so let’s encourage them instead of shame them. For others, they come alive doing all kinds of other things and you know what? That’s okay, too. That doesn’t take away from her motherhood. Let’s not shame one another because we’re living different stories. Isn’t there enough insecurity in parenting? Don’t we all wonder if we’re doing it right and if we should be doing something different or better or more? Is it just me? And mostly, why do we care?

I’m saying this because I sense that we’re all growing tired of this being an “either/or” conversation. We don’t need tribes on this one. We need life-giving conversations. So let’s champion one another. Let’s trade high heels and exchange yoga pants (well…) and share stories about the things our children do that make our hearts explode. And then can we put down the working/stay-at-home swords and replace them with laughter and solidarity? Let’s try that instead.

And yes, this is my call to go live in the clouds. I happen to like it up here.

“You need to read this!” challenge

Surely you’ve experienced this too, right? You read a book, watch a movie, think it’s just about the best thing that’s ever happened and your spouse is, shall we say, unenthusiastic?

Well, we’re finally doing it. I pick five books for Kyle, he picks five books for me, and we read. I’ve actually been unofficially wanting to do this for a while, but after Sarah Bessey wrote about it, I was all, “Okay, it’s on.”

Here’s some background.

Kyle has wanted to do this forever. So we decided, from now until summer ends, we’re each going to read five books of the other’s choosing. We had a few ground rules: first, it had to be something the other has never read (this should be obvious, but much to Kyle’s surprise, I’ve read more fiction than he anticipated). Second, we set a 300 page limit, mostly so we still have time to read what we want. And third, no doubling-up of authors.

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Here’s what I chose for Kyle:

1. A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L’Engle–As a kid, I discovered my love for words while reading A Wrinkle in Time. Ever since, she’s been my muse. I go back to her when I’m feeling dried up and out of words. I read her writing when I’m feeling uninspired and dreary. And in many seasons of life, I’ve resonated with her questioning and depth of faith. This is truly a book I come back to again and again.

2. The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning–During my sophomore year of college, I felt like I was rediscovering Jesus and what grace really looked like–for me and for others. I’m forever thankful for his work and can certainly relate with his description of “ragamuffin.” This quote sums it up, “The deeper we grow in the Spirit of Jesus Christ, the poorer we become–the more we realize that everything in life is a gift.” (p. 81)

3. Love Does by Bob Goff–I read this in two days, and I’m a slow reader. I couldn’t put it down. As someone who almost always hesitates and second-guesses myself instead of just loving people, his book messed me up in the best of ways.

4. Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist–This book is so dear to me. I read it during a very bittersweet season of my life, and I couldn’t shut up about it. She has taught me so much about being present: in my home, in mothering, in my marriage, in friendships, etc. I have quotes from her all over the house, so it’s time for Kyle to get some context. She asks a question near the end that still resonates with me, “I don’t know anyone who has an easy life forever. Everyone I know gets their heart broken sometime, by something. The question is not, will my life be easy or will my heart break? But rather, when my heart breaks, will I choose to grow?” (p. 233)

5. Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright–It’s impossible to summarize what this book has meant to me (and so much of his work in general) in just a few short sentences. In some insane ability, N.T. Wright continually calls me up higher in the way I see Jesus. He has been called “the C.S. Lewis of our time” and I wholeheartedly agree.

In Kyle’s own words, here’s what he chose for me:

1. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway—Of all the Ernest Hemingway’s works to choose from, I am picking The Old Man and the Sea because it encapsulates everything about Hemingway in under 120 pages: his terse prose; protagonists battling against an uncaring world; more being left unsaid than said. It is a succinct response to Hemingway’s belief of the nada that faces everyone—you must fight against it.

2. A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean—“In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fishing.” Norman Maclean uses fishing as a way to connect with a brother he ultimately could not help. This story explores our desires and inabilities to help those closest to us. For me, this book was a gateway to Hemingway’s short stories.

3. Silence by Shusaku Endo—Powerful and layered, Silence explores the survival of European Christianity in xenophobic Japan during the 16th century. Partly narrated, partly epistolary, Endo’s book takes the reader to the verge of apostasy and asks the question, what does God’s silence mean?

4. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger—Holden Caulfield resonates with my inner-teenager. Irreverent, anti-social, ornery, Holden tries to hold on to an innocent youth to stave off what he perceives as a phony adult world. He struggles to cope with death and growing older—two subjects that hit far too close to home.

5. The Calvin and Hobbes 10th Anniversary Book—Calvin and Hobbes is the single greatest comic strip of all time. Every time I reread the strip, it gets better. What I love is the truth Watterson captures using a 6-year-old and his tiger. This particular Calvin and Hobbes book is wonderful because Watterson leaves comments throughout. My favorite quote of Watterson’s is “The best comics expose human nature and help us laugh at our own stupidity and hypocrisy.”

So, if you could make your spouse/best friend/mother/dog read one book, what would it be?