My friend April and I used to joke that the moment you blog about something it dies. Routines, recipes, updates on what you’re up to now—as soon as you share them, the routines shift or your schedule or circumstance changes. It seems inevitable, and we’ve seen it happen often enough that we’ve joked, after publishing a post, “Well! That was nice while it lasted.”
Today, Story Warren published an article I started writing over a year ago (in much the same way I describe in the post). When I began it, I was a homeschooling mom, and when I revised it, I was a homeschooling mom, but by the time I submitted it, I had an intimation that all that was about to change. I’ll tell you the full story soon, I promise—it deserves its own post.
What I didn’t know until after I heard the happy news that my piece had been accepted was that my writing life was destined to change as well.
Last spring, I stepped down from my editing responsibilities at Deeply Rooted. I prayed over the decision for months, tossing it back and forth and back and forth. I have been with Deeply Rooted since the magazine’s first issue—five years ago!—and I have loved my work there, every part of it. The nit-picky part of editing, the broad-sweeping-changes part of editing, the finding the perfect verb part of editing, the encouraging a writer as she revises part of editing—this was a hard role to lay down. But I realized that, no, I did not have time to both homeschool my kids and give editing as much energy as I’d like to. And so I stepped down in order (I thought) to focus on homeschooling.
But a few weeks later, homeschooling changed course too.
So, I spent the summer finishing my last editing assignment for Deeply Rooted (the fabulous four-part series by Leslie Bustard running right now!) and then, quietly and without ceremony, removed “Contributing Editor” from my email signature. But, Mitch and I wondered: What was that about? What is God up to?
We pondered and prayed and discussed the subject of “What will Thea do with the time she spent editing or planning homeschool lessons?” I considered returning to Deeply Rooted, but neither of us thought that seemed in the direction God was leading us.
And so we waited.
And the very same week—two days later, in fact—that Mitch started looking into what it might take for me to find work as a freelance editor, work found me: I received an offer from a small publishing house (run by people I adore), asking if I’d consider working with one of their authors on a project.
So, Mitch and I celebrated and I took that assignment and already other options have opened up in other places for potential assignments. And now, on account of our schedule changes (again, story forthcoming), I not only write in the early mornings, as described in the Story Warren article (I knew we’d get back here eventually), but also for hours in a coffee shop, one day a week, where the pastries are flaky and the iced coffee gets tossed about in a cocktail shaker. (I love hipster coffee.)
I am embarking, in seems, upon the seas of freelance editing.
Was it the fact that I tried to write about it that killed the current routine? I joke about it, but no, of course not. I see God’s faithfulness through the whole process, in his asking me to (yet again) surrender something I love, and in his generosity in making something new of that gift—before giving it back to me. May I use this gift and any others for his glory, always.
This was a year of learning. Good portions of it were given to reading curriculum samples, blog posts, and books about homeschooling. But I also learned to tend flowers, to keep a nature journal, and I took to writing fiction.
Here is what you should know about me and writing fiction: in college, I played it safe and studied poetry and creative nonfiction*. I am glad I did, because creative nonfiction is what I do these days, both for this blog and for Deeply Rooted. Nonfiction seemed civilized: one could draw on one’s own life, one’s own actual experiences. Fiction seemed too much like the Wild West to me: people went there and died of starvation, or in a bar fight. There was too little structure, I thought, too few rules. No civilized folk to protest, “But it didn’t happen like that!” No sheriff.
But my last quarter of college, I needed to pad my schedule with a few extra classes, so along with Martial Arts 101, I took a fiction writing class. It was wild and a little terrifying at times. But I loved it. The air was clear and invigorating, the grueling travel to a story’s end worth the work.
And then I graduated.
Fifteen years later, I am trying out fiction again. I thought, maybe there’s no sheriff, but there are certainly good, established neighbors around who can teach me a thing or two about survival. I met a few of them this year through some essays on writing, and I read some stunning novels, truly beautiful books. I am now at work drafting some of those mediocre stories you have to write before you get to (here’s hoping) the good ones.
What I am getting at here is: I read a lot of fiction this year and a lot of books about writing it. I read a lot about the other things I’m learning to do, too. And in doing so I found some incredible books, at least fifty-percent of which I’ll read again (at least once). What a year!
* I’m sure some could argue that there’s nothing particularly safe about either poetry or creative nonfiction, or that writing about your own life is infinitely more alarming that inventing lives to write about, but at nineteen, I preferred the known to the unknown. I knew my own life tolerably well, and I had written a lot of middling poetry and song lyrics. And so those genres seemed safest to me.
I started this book when Josie was small. I wanted a big novel, so I got a big novel, and I began to read. But—alas!—I grew painfully bored after a few chapters and, being sleep-deprived, found myself dozing off during passages that were probably important. I shelved Middlemarch with a sigh and thought, Not right now. But this summer I picked it up again, grew bored in the early chapters, dozed off during some important passages, and found myself wanting to quit around the same spot where I had dropped off before, but I pressed on, and I am so glad.
This book is beautiful, stunning, breathtaking—any number of adjectives apply to its slow development of character, perfect pacing, and fitting conclusion. A few chapters from the end I began to realize that Middlemarch would join the ranks of my favorite novels. By the end I wondered if it hadn’t topped the list.
I took Notes From the Tilt-a-Whirl with me on vacation last summer and proceeded to underline and dog ear it heavily—every other passage, it seems, is brilliant and brightly written. Wilson’s thoughts on this world, the wildness of it, were just right for reading on a cabin’s front porch overlooking a lake.
We had a neighbor who kept the best-curated Little Free Library around. After a summer of supplying me with Wendell Berry, Flannery O’Connor and more (and I, in turn, kept it stocked P. G. Wodehouse, E. B. White and more), they moved and I mourned. Now it houses the usual department store crime novels and cast-off magazines (alas!).
But before they moved, I found this gem: I knew nothing about the author, only that it was about writing novels, and so I grabbed it. Margot Livesey looks at how writers learn from great writers by reading their stories; she discusses Shakespeare and Flaubert in glorious detail. This is one of my best free library finds to date.
Aimee Byrd’s vision of women in the church is a challenging and uncomfortably convicting one. She both points church leaders to Scripture passages that press us to revisit some of the habits we’ve settled into within the church, and she encourages women to be knowledgeable about Scripture and quick to spot false doctrine.
One of my favorite features of the book was a chapter in which Byrd quotes passages from well-known books marketed toward Christian women and trains readers to ask pointed questions of the text. I’m sure she’ll offend every reader at least once, but in a good way, a way that means she’s prodding at something that needs examination. It is worth noting, though, that she doesn’t do this just to rile people up: her arguments are firmly rooted in Scripture, and her concern is loving, if direct. This book gave me much to ponder.
I read and adored Goudge’s Eliot Family Trilogy last year, but this book was even better. Imagine an L. M. Montgomery novel set in the English countryside, with an protagonist not in the dawn of life but in its twilight, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what’s to love about The Scent of Water. I already look forward to rereading it.
In this graceful little book about humility, Hannah Anderson explores why it matters that we know our place as branches to Christ’s vine. She draws on stories from her community in rural Appalachia, and writes of plants and the rhythm of the garden in a way that reminds me of Lilias Trotter’s Parables from the Cross. I loved the way she framed the wisdom of this book within stories and linked it to the outside world.
When I realized that I wanted to teach the girls to keep nature journals, I also realized that I needed to keep one myself—the habit wouldn’t take if I didn’t. So I made myself a little bag of supplies, dug a tiny sketchbook out of my desk, and checked this book out from the library. In it, John Muir Laws explains the concepts behind keeping a nature journal, but he also discusses drawing and painting techniques, explores a number of different mediums, and quietly cracks jokes as he goes.
This quickly became a favorite book, not just because I was new to nature journaling and it was helpful, but because Laws describes certain concepts so clearly that my art skills leveled up more in the few months I spent with this book than they had in the previous ten years. He’s a master at explaining complex techniques in a few short sentences, and the step-by-step drawings throughout this book are worth their weight in gold.
Flannery O’Connor is adept at describing her own work and the work of a writer in a way that cuts to the heart of things. This won’t surprise you, if you’re familiar with her stories. She does cut right to the heart of things. But for a writer trying to write stories that aren’t entirely aimless or bland, O’Connor is a sharp-tongued, discerning, articulate teacher. I am still reading these essays and have been reading them slowly for months, but I feel confident ranking them here because I’ve yet to find one that didn’t send me to my notebook with some new thought to ponder.
Du Maurier’s eerie novel about a young wife haunted by her husband’s deceased first wife is perfect from start to finish. Du Maurier’s eye for detail brings a scene to life with the mention of one fallen moth, one forgotten corkscrew. And the twists and turns of the plot! Egad! This book, too, has joined my list of frequently revisited favorites. (I wasn’t able to photograph this one because I promptly pressed it upon a friend.)
This book is the reason we skipped squash this summer and planted row upon row of flowers. Benzakein runs Floret Farm, a small flower farm not far from where we live, where she grows and arranges gorgeous blooms. In this book, she gives tips on planting, tending, and harvesting her favorites, as well as some ideas for arranging the harvested flowers. Cut Flower Garden was a glorious spring read.
Deeply Rooted, Issue 12: The Calling is out! This issue is every bit as beautiful as its predecessors and features a wealth of rich theological articles, as well as beautifully written, practical pieces. Hunter Beless writes about inductive Bible study; Ann Swindell writes about balancing motherhood and creativity. My friend Jennifer Harris shares a biographical piece about Lilias Trotter, accompanied by gorgeous reproductions of Trotter’s work.
I contributed a piece titled “Our Children Are Immortal,” about why we parent differently when we remember that our work doesn’t end when the last child moves out of the house, but when we enter our eternal home together. This piece took a long time to write and the subject is dear to me, not least because I share the story of how we ended up having not three children, but four:
When our third child was a still a baby, my husband and I thought we might—just maybe—be through having kids. Three daughters made a nice set, we decided. They fit comfortably around our kitchen table, comfortably in our 900 square foot house. Everyone had a place when we read aloud—one under each arm and one on my lap.
We began to think fond thoughts of leaving our baby-raising years behind. . . .
As always, the magazine is beautiful, rich, and challenging. Where else can you find a recipe for a fruit galette in the same volume as an article on election?
The centerpiece of our backyard is a large pile of dirt—the leftovers from an unfinished gardening project. That pile exerts a magnetic pull on my daughters, who spend their afternoons excavating it, summiting it, and harvesting from it the makings of mud pies. There are days when I glance out the window at them and promptly go turn on the bathtub.
But when my husband walks in the back gate after work, my daughters do not run to the tub—they run to him. With dirt in their hair and on their hands, they hug him and chatter happily, less concerned with how they look than with who they’re talking to. When I think of prayer, that is what I see: my disheveled daughters and their dad, who sees the mud and the smudged cheeks, but delights in the daughters beneath them.
Come to Him Like Little children
The “Abide” series is finished! You can read all of the posts (including my newest post, on prayer) at the links below:
The newest issue of Deeply Rooted arrived at my house last week, and since then I’ve loved flipping through its pages, sampling articles and admiring artwork. I’m anticipating a nap time some day in the near future, when I may sit out on the front porch and read with my feet on the porch railing and a cat in my lap.
But that probably won’t happen. I’ll probably read this issue in the pick-up line at school or in bits and pieces throughout the day.
And that’s okay. Deeply Rooted is a magazine meant for women who want deep refreshment in small bites and for women who are able to linger over the articles, savoring them like a feast.
My article for this issue, titled “The Good Gift of Feeling Left Out,” was a hard one to write:
Being a member of a church is not unlike being married. The first few years for me were like something from the end of a story, where the heroine decides that at last, after everything she’s been through, all is well. I was glad to be there with my husband, making friends and singing my heart out to old hymns and understanding new things about God with the suddenness of a light switched on in a dark room. All was well.
But a membership covenant is no more an end to things than a wedding is. Five or six years into life at our church, I found myself wondering uncomfortably if those early years were not an epilogue but a prelude to something much bigger, something I had not fully understood when I signed up.
We have been a part of our church for twelve years now (that’s much of my adult life, most of my married life, and all of my time as a mom), and in those years we have experienced a lot of joy in deep fellowship. We have also suffered some deep, deep wounds. Writing this article hurt, and I think that’s a good thing. Submitting it brought a measure of relief, and seeing it in print felt even better.
But that piece is only one in a curated collection of works. Lexy Sauvé wrote a beautiful piece titled “Thoughts From a Recovering Minimalist.” Dianne Jago assembled a playlist of music by Christian artists for people who aren’t overly fond of the usual Christian music (sound familiar?). And my dear friend Jennifer Harris contributed her first piece, a rich and satisfying look at how we can sow seeds of wisdom in our children. (You can order a copy of this issue here.)
Whether you read it in a leisurely manner or in bits and pieces, I hope this issue of Deeply Rooted is a blessing to you, too!
Hi, I'm Théa! I review classic literature, poetry, nonfiction, fantasy, picture books—children's books luminous with grace and beauty. These are books our family loved and that I think you'll love too. Thanks for stopping by!
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